Apple expected to sit out on megapixel horserace with 2014 iPhones

Posted:
in iPhone edited March 2014
Smartphone manufacturers are expected to continue their battle for pixel-pushing dominance in 2014 with new cameras of 13 megapixels and beyond, but according to one insider, Apple is currently expected to sit out on the megapixel race this year to concentrate on other ways to better images from its next iPhone.

iPhone


People familiar with the matter have told AppleInsider that Apple will likely forego a high-megapixel camera in its 2014 iPhone offerings, in favor of tweaking other image-enhancing components. In other words, megapixels are less of a priority for Apple than overall image quality.

The current iPhone 5s is a good example of how Apple is not interested in playing the numbers game when it comes to camera sensor pixel count. Instead of boosting the number of pixels in the iPhone 5s camera, Apple enlarged each pixel's size to 1.5 microns in diameter, a 0.1-micron increase from the iPhone 5. The larger surface area increased the sensor's light gathering capabilities by 33 percent compared to the previous iSight rear facing camera.

Outside of the camera sensor, Apple refined the iPhone's optics package to allow for greater light transmission. The 5s brought a faster f/2.2 lens group into the mix, offering better low-light performance and improved image quality.

This does not mean that the next-gen iPhone will stick with the same 8MP iSight camera as the iPhone 5s and 5c, but may suggest Apple is planning a more conservative upgrade route. The most recent resolution change was seen with the iPhone 4S to iPhone 5, which brought a 3MP bump.

Apple's apparent lack of interest in "out-megapixeling" its competition comes as a number of upcoming high-profile smartphone releases from iPhone competitors are expected to reach 13MP and beyond. In a research note issued this week, KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo detailed how major manufacturers are racing to shoehorn 13MP+ CMOS image sensors (CIS) into this year's handsets, including Samsung, numerous Chinese brands, and even Amazon, which is expected to enter the smartphone market in the next 3 to 6 months.

Suppliers
Source: KGI Securities


Sony has been the sole provider for Apple's backside illuminated iPhone CIS products since the iPhone 4S. This is interesting considering he also expects the Japanese electronics giant to be the dominant supplier for this year's round of 13MP+ sensors, taking a 65.7-percent share of the market.

"In terms of technology, Sony leads CIS suppliers with its BSI process, which boasts better sensitivity and color saturation quality," Kuo writes. "In 13MP and higher spec, the smaller pixel size creates more difficulty to sensitivity and color saturation. This is where Sony's BSI process stands out."

Shipments


The analyst sees shipments of smartphones carrying 13MP+ cameras growing 70 percent year-on-year, a rate significantly higher than that of phones using 8MP and 5MP shooters. Leading the charge is Samsung, which will also use Sony's CIS, as well as a variety of lesser-known Chinese brands.

Marketshare of 13MP-and-above smartphones will continue to rise in 2015 as higher resolution sensors replace the current high-end smartphone standard of 8MP. By the end of fiscal 2014, 13MP cameras will account for 65 percent of these high-resolution components, Kuo says.

Further, next-generation application processors (APs) coming out this year will offer support 13MP+ image sensors, meaning lower-end smartphones can use the technology as a growth driver. As seen below, most AP makers will have some sort of offering in 2014. The only company to keep its chips premium is Samsung.

Rival Samsung, however, is one of the main contenders and will ship the Galaxy S5 with 16MP camera in the next couple of months.

CIS


One final graphic from Kuo's projections show Sony will launch a 21MP 1/2.4" CIS in the last quarter of 2014. Although the pixel count is nearly triple that of Apple's current iSight camera, the introduction may hint at the direction in which the company will be pulled by component purchasers as the megapixel race continues.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 151
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 5,171member
    But but...its all about the megapixels! More megapixels, means better photos!!!

    /s
  • Reply 2 of 151
    enzosenzos Posts: 344member
    Better 8MP of goodness than 30MP of crap. Indeed if it improved low light perf and S/N I'd be happy if there were a 5MP setting, which is more than enough for on-screen viewing.
  • Reply 3 of 151
    elmoofoelmoofo Posts: 100member
    ...and as we all learned from their marketing at the Oscars, Samsung phones aren't capable of taking a decent picture.
  • Reply 4 of 151
    abazigalabazigal Posts: 114member
    I think the article means the last recent increase from the iPhone 4 to 4s, which saw the camera improve from 5 mp to 8 mp.

    I don't mind the next iPhone sticking with 8mp, but can apple also improve the iPad's camera to 8 mp as well? The iPad's current 5 mp camera seems like an artificial limitation just to ensure the iPhone retains the better camera quality between the two.
  • Reply 5 of 151
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    Megapixels matter, but only to a point. I'm sure if they are not adding pixels this year they have their reasons. Phones are very thin, anyway. Perhaps phone manufactures including Apple should consider stacking the cameras vertically inside their phones so they can put in better cameras than the physical thickness will allow.
  • Reply 6 of 151
    rob53rob53 Posts: 2,636member

    I found a website site, cameraimagesensor.com, that has some mobile phones listed with information about their sensors. The iPhone 5 sensor size is 1/3.2" with a sensor dimension of 4.54×3.42 mm. The Nokia Lumina 1020 with it's huge sensor of 2/3" and sensor size of 8.80×6.60 mm means it's 4X the size of the iPhone 5. With 38MP (effective pixels), it's actually a bit more than 4X the number of the iPhone's 8MP (effective pixels). This should mean the pixel size is at least close to the same size so they both should about the same amount of light gathering capability. The Lumina's size is also the reason why it requires a big bump on the phone and why it takes up so much real estate inside the camera. Camera physics require a certain focal length to cover that large sensor. There comes a point where trying to cram a good quality CMOS sensor into a small device just doesn't fit the size requirements of that device. There have to be trade-offs.

     

    One thing this article leaves out is the photo compression factor of the cameras in these phones. How much data is lost to this compression to allow more than a few photos to reside on the phones internal memory? We all know the Samsung phones don't have very much memory left for photos with all the garbage that's loaded on them so just how many 38MP photos will fit on the Lumina? What happens with video? What happens with a panoramic photo? How long does it take these photos to transfer to your computer or the cloud?

     

    btw: my Canon 60D's 18MP sensor is 22.30×14.90 mm or 9X the size of the Lumina and has a pixel size of 18.5 microns; way more than any mobile phone would ever be capable of using. 

  • Reply 7 of 151
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    I wouldn't be surprised if we see a doubling of capacity, H.265 and 4K video this year.
  • Reply 8 of 151
    formosaformosa Posts: 261member

    Please, Apple, stick with 8MP and continue to improve the lens (f2? optical stabilization?) or sensor size. The dual flash in the 5S is fantastic.

  • Reply 9 of 151
    razorpitrazorpit Posts: 1,796member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post



    I wouldn't be surprised if we see a doubling of capacity, H.265 and 4K video this year.

    I think 4K is jumping the gun a bit.  It will come but I don't think it will happen until the "6S" or "7".

  • Reply 10 of 151
    What is "conservative" about improving the image quality and functional capabilities of the camera? The megapixel race ended in high end DSLR cameras years ago.
  • Reply 11 of 151
    solipsismx wrote: »
    I wouldn't be surprised if we see a doubling of capacity, H.265 and 4K video this year.

    Yes, that's relatively easy to achieve with enough processing power and storage. The sensor might need a spec bump, but not by much.
  • Reply 12 of 151
    herbapouherbapou Posts: 2,227member
    Megapixel count still helps for digital zoom. Since most phones dont have optical zoom, you cant just discard that spec...
  • Reply 13 of 151
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    razorpit wrote: »
    I think 4K is jumping the gun a bit.  It will come but I don't think it will happen until the "6S" or "7".

    Yes, that's relatively easy to achieve with enough processing power and storage. The sensor might need a spec bump, but not by much.

    Here is my thinking on 4K video. The 8Mpx camera can already is equivalent to a 4K frame. And Apple recently hired that sole developer who wrote a clever app that would allow the device to take something like 10-20 8Mpx images per second. If Apple can use a faster sensor they could probably get that up to 30 still shots per second which would then be 30 frames per second for 4K video.
  • Reply 14 of 151
    mknoppmknopp Posts: 257member
    So, Apple will choose quality over cheap marketing.

    Yeah, sounds about right. I am sorry, but anyone who buys a Samsung phone gets what they deserve a POS with a large marketing budget. I was shocked when I found out how little usable space is provided on the Galaxy phones. To me this is toeing, if not crossing, the line of false advertising.
  • Reply 15 of 151
    19831983 Posts: 1,224member
    Due to the aspect ratio of 4K video - 16:9 and 21:9, if Apple sticks with the 4:3 ratio 8MP sensor in the next iPhone, it won't be able to incorporate 4K video even if it wanted too. It would require at least a 13MP 4:3 aspect ratio sensor to achieve that I think.
  • Reply 16 of 151
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    1983 wrote: »
    Due to the aspect ratio of 4K video - 16:9 and 21:9, if Apple sticks with the 4:3 ratio 8MP sensor in the next iPhone, it won't be able to incorporate 4K video even if it wanted too. It would require at least a 13MP 4:3 aspect ratio sensor to achieve that I think.

    I didn't consider aspect ratio but I am also not aware of any iPhone that shots in 21:9.
  • Reply 17 of 151
    mpantonempantone Posts: 1,609member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Ireland View Post



    Perhaps phone manufactures including Apple should consider stacking the cameras vertically inside their phones so they can put in better cameras than the physical thickness will allow.

    That doesn't work in practice, because there are compromises that aren't realistic for camera phones.

     

    To stack the camera module vertically, you need a reflex mirror. Yes, that's been done before, since the 17th century, starting with the camera obscura.

     

    The main issue is that the primary lens grouping needs to be in front of the reflex mirror for reasonable optical performance. That's fine for an SLR, the lens is mounted on the exterior of the camera body. However, with a reflex mirror, optical companies often select special retrofocus lens designs to improve image quality. These retrofocus designs require bigger glass, more elements, and result in greater costs and more weight/bulk.

     

    An SLR company can simply make the lens bigger and advise the user to get a tripod if it's too heavy. You can't do that with a cellphone camera module.

     

    When the back lens element is very close to the focal plane, you do not need to resort to retrofocus lens designs, and the lens can be much smaller. This is most noticeable when you compare 35mm film SLRs (e.g., Canon EOS body from 10-15 years ago) with 35mm film rangefinder cameras (e.g., Leica M6). The 50mm lens on the SLR is gigantic compared to that of the rangefinder, even though the focal plane shutter gate is exactly the same dimension (24x36mm).

     

    If a cellphone manufacturer tried to stack the camera module vertically within the housing, the reflex mirror itself would force the primary lens group in front of it to protrude out of the handset by a considerable amount. The other option would be to miniaturize the parts (including the reflex mirror) to the point where the lens would not protrude, but that decreases lens resolving power, sensor area size, etc. to the point where a standard camera module would give better performance.

     

    The reflex mirror design works well in many instances, but not when compact equipment is a priority. If you walked around with an SLR all day, you'd know because your neck would be sore.

  • Reply 18 of 151
    sudonymsudonym Posts: 233member

    Apple is doing the right thing here.  Nobody really pays attention to the megapixels anymore - all people want is a good picture.  Apple should have no trouble convincing the average consumer that less megapixels means better pictures.

  • Reply 19 of 151
    gwmacgwmac Posts: 1,799member

    Higher res photos and videos will require a lot more storage space. Hopefully that fact alone will push Apple towards the 32/64/128GB options.  I don't think most people shop for a smartphone based on 8MP vs. 15MP and let that be the deciding factor. Tech people know the MP count doesn't necessarily mean a better photo. I do think Apple at least has to reach 10MP though as there is a psychological threshold of going to a 2 digit MP count vs. a single digit. Although it is very true that the MP war with DSLR cameras ended years ago that is because the vast majority of those customers are very tech savvy. Smartphone consumers aren't this savvy so Apple are smart to focus on image quality but at the same time do need to at least marginally bump it up so these people can grasp there is an improvement. Either that or launch a advertising campaign explaining the difference. 

     

    The front facing camera has become just about as important as the rear facing one so Apple do need to step up their game a bit in that one as well which has not tended to keep pace with the rear camera in improvements. Selfies are here to stay. 

  • Reply 20 of 151
    asdasdasdasd Posts: 5,668member

    How about never increasing the megapixels ever again. All you get with more megapixels is a bigger possible picture with no pixelation. At the moment it could be blown unto the size of a wall. And you spend more space. Even stored as Jpegs or Mp4 the camera and pictures waste space.

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