Apple iSight supplier Sony unveils new 21MP CMOS sensor with 4K video, phase detection AF

Posted:
in iPhone edited November 2014
Apple partner supplier Sony on Monday announced an upcoming 21-megapixel CMOS sensor with onboard plane phase detection autofocus signal processing, 4K video output and still image HDR, all features that could trickle down to a future iPhone model.




According to Sony, the Exmor RS series IMX230 is the first stacked-type sensor to offer local phase detection AF, a technology that allows for rapid focusing on fast-moving subjects. Apple branded the tech "Focus Pixels" when it introduced the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models, which themselves sport early-generation Exmor RS sensors.

By stacking circuitry below the sensor's backside illuminated pixel array, Sony was able to squeeze in advanced phase detection signal processing hardware to parse data from 192 available AF reference points (Focus Pixels). The Sony sensor used in the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus is thought to offload phase detection processing to the A8 system-on-chip. With onboard capabilities, however, autofocus on the next-gen part should be much faster.

As noted by Chipworks, the iPhone 6's iSight module sports these so-called Focus Pixels laid out in the green channel across a large portion of the pixel array. In testing, AppleInsider found phase detection to be incredibly fast, almost to the point of being instantaneous.

At 5,344 pixels-by-4,016 pixels, the IMX230 has 21 effective megapixels, allowing the sensor to push out 4K video. In conjunction with improved pixel placement, the image processor supports HDR video recording and adds the same capability for still image photography.

In addition to the IMX230, Sony revealed it is working on an as-yet-unnamed 16MP sensor with phase detection and HDR imaging. Apple will likely build on Sony's new designs for next year's iPhone refresh, though is unknown whether that model will be the IMX230, the 16MP variant or another Sony part using pixels 1.5 microns in size.

The Cupertino tech giant traditionally opts for older generation hardware, like the current Exmor RS-based module that appears to be an iteration on 2012's IMX014 design, and extracts high-quality images through in-house image processing on board the A-series SoC.

Sony's IMX230 is slated to head out to smartphone manufacturers in April 2015, while the 16MP version is set to debut later next year.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 38
    A perfect example of why you should never buy current hardware, ever. Just keep waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. /s
  • Reply 2 of 38
    A perfect example of why you should never buy current hardware, ever. Just keep waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. /s

    Thanks for that. Best thing I read all night! :smokey:
  • Reply 3 of 38

    You are absolutely rite.. Look like all iphone 5s users will be filming 4k videos than those using the iphone 6... once they upgraded their phones next year..

  • Reply 4 of 38
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post



    A perfect example of why you should never buy current hardware, ever. Just keep waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. /s

     

    Even better, people should always wait... For a pointless spec to improve... like MP (when your focusing distance is 7mm for your tiny sensor and plastic lense)... Quicker focusing will fix physics don't you know!

     

    And 4K video... my.oh.my.. Why does it look worse than 720P on my 2008 real video camera ;-).... Shhhh don't bother the people waiting for their shiny spec...

  • Reply 5 of 38



    We all know Sony only manufactures hardware for its personal use and its friend Apple right -- yeah right. So Sony has now offloaded on the mucho-mega pixel chip with no Ax chip needed for lightning fast AF. Certainly they would not sell to an Apple competitor would they? /s

  • Reply 6 of 38
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Damn_Its_Hot View Post

     



    We all know Sony only manufactures hardware for its personal use and its friend Apple right -- yeah right. So Sony has now offloaded on the mucho-mega pixel chip with no Ax chip needed for lightning fast AF. Certainly they would not sell to an Apple competitor would they? /s


     

    YEs, the quick focus is in fact a catchup for the massive video processing done by the A8X.

  • Reply 7 of 38
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,507member
    I'm not convinced of the need for a 21MP sensor yet. The problem with smartphone cameras is there is not optical zoom. Using higher Rez sensors allows a high quality image even with "zoom", which is actually cropping.

    I've wished that Apple would use newer sensors though. The 16MP version would be about perfect. And with the option for 128GB storage, there is enough space.
  • Reply 8 of 38
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,166member
    A perfect example of why you should never buy current hardware, ever. Just keep waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. /s

    ... maybe we should just start leasing home level technology rather than buying, even a family plan ... Apple should start this and allow a trade in as soon as the next great model comes along.
  • Reply 9 of 38
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,166member
    melgross wrote: »
    I'm not convinced of the need for a 21MP sensor yet. The problem with smartphone cameras is there is not optical zoom. Using higher Rez sensors allows a high quality image even with "zoom", which is actually cropping.

    I've wished that Apple would use newer sensors though. The 16MP version would be about perfect. And with the option for 128GB storage, there is enough space.

    Having recently moved up in the Canon DSLR line and am certainly enjoying that extra bit of crop ability for stills from a higher pixel count. Yes zooming in HD, up to 3 x with no quality drop, requires these high numbers but imagine what will be needed for a 4K video crop zoom!
  • Reply 10 of 38

    Oh goody. Rolling shutter effects in stunning 4K.

  • Reply 11 of 38
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by melgross View Post



    I'm not convinced of the need for a 21MP sensor yet. The problem with smartphone cameras is there is not optical zoom. Using higher Rez sensors allows a high quality image even with "zoom", which is actually cropping.



    I've wished that Apple would use newer sensors though. The 16MP version would be about perfect. And with the option for 128GB storage, there is enough space.

     

    No, a high rens sensor doesn't give you a higher quality image. It allows you to crop, but your losing just a lot of quality in the process. It is much better for you to move and get the proper framing than crop. That's true even with a DSLR.

     

    The base quality of the image no matter the MP is related to the sensor size. The Sensor size then deterimines how thick the camera module can be. In a smart phone, there's no magic. The only way to get a bigger sensor in a smart phone is making the camera module much thicker (thicker phones).

     

    BTW, I've got a Canon G16 (2013 Camera)  a camera just bellow the level of the DSLR and that camera has a 12 MP sensor and its performance is extraordinary compared to any smart phone no matter what MP they have.

     

    Canon's top range camera the $7000 dollars 1-ED-X is 18 MP

     

    All their recent DSLR cameras only recently got 20MP and their sensors and lens are ridiculously better than a smart phone of any kind.

     

     

     

    DSLR crossed into 20MP only recently BTW and in their case, it on

  • Reply 12 of 38
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post





    Having recently moved up in the Canon DSLR line and am certainly enjoying that extra bit of crop ability for stills from a higher pixel count. Yes zooming in HD, up to 3 x with no quality drop, requires these high numbers but imagine what will be needed for a 4K video crop zoom!

     

    Yes, it is good to be able to crop. But, you have a DSLR (where it make sense considering sensor size and the quality of the optics. It makes no sense in a very small sensor. Maybe if they could increase the optical path without degradation they could use a bigger sensor in a cell phone, but that's not the case right now.

  • Reply 13 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by foggyhill View Post

     

     

    No, a high rens sensor doesn't give you a higher quality image. It allows you to crop, but your losing just a lot of quality in the process. It is much better for you to move and get the proper framing than crop. That's true even with a DSLR.

     

    The base quality of the image no matter the MP is related to the sensor size. The Sensor size then deterimines how thick the camera module can be. In a smart phone, there's no magic. The only way to get a bigger sensor in a smart phone is making the camera module much thicker (thicker phones).

     

    BTW, I've got a Canon G16 (2013 Camera)  a camera just bellow the level of the DSLR and that camera has a 12 MP sensor and its performance is extraordinary compared to any smart phone no matter what MP they have.

     

    Canon's top range camera the $7000 dollars 1-ED-X is 18 MP

     

    All their recent DSLR cameras only recently got 20MP and their sensors and lens are ridiculously better than a smart phone of any kind.

     

     

     

    DSLR crossed into 20MP only recently BTW and in their case, it on


     

    Yep, even "low-resolution" DSLRs kill phones for quality. I have an EOS-1D Mark iii that's only 10MP, and I sold a bunch of shots on 20" to 30" canvas. That said, I've gotten images from my phone published in magazines... it's about the light more than anything, and how you use the light if there is very little of it.

     

    Canon's top of the line DSLR right now is the EOS-1D C, and it's $10K. Interestingly, it's identical hardware to the EOS-1D X, and the price difference is for the firmware that provides cinema shooting features.

  • Reply 14 of 38
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,213moderator
    At 5,344 pixels-by-4,016 pixels, the IMX230 has 21 effective megapixels, allowing the sensor to push out 4K video. In conjunction with improved pixel placement, the image processor supports HDR video recording and adds the same capability for still image photography.

    HDR video at 4K is amazing but it only does 720p @ 120fps. The iPhone does 1080p @ 240fps.


    [VIDEO]


    Hmm, super slo-mo or HDR? Both please. I think 1080p video is ok for smartphones and 240fps is a good feature but HDR video would be nice for the iPhone 6S. Also optical stabilisation in the 4.7" model.

    Surely Apple has enough shipping volume that Sony can built a custom sensor for them. The part is listed as costing $18. Apple will be shipping over 250m units between all the iOS devices with cameras. That's $4.5b revenue just from Apple.

    If they just add a 1080p 240fps mode to the sensor, that's good enough, even if it means cutting the sensor down a bit. The iPhone is only 8MP so anywhere between 12-21MP would be fine.
  • Reply 15 of 38
    pmzpmz Posts: 3,433member

    I wouldn't trade quality for more megapixels.

     

    BUT, if we can get the same overall quality that the 6 Plus delivers, plus more megapixels, in the next iPhone camera....I will be happy.

     

    Looking at the photos I've been taking (which are stunning..can't believe how good the 6 Plus is) on my Retina iMac....i could use a few more megapixels.

  • Reply 16 of 38
    <div class="quote-container" data-huddler-embed="/t/183476/apple-isight-supplier-sony-unveils-new-21mp-cmos-sensor-with-4k-video-phase-detection-af#post_2641156" data-huddler-embed-placeholder="false"><span>Quote:</span><div class="quote-block">Originally Posted by <strong>melgross</strong> <a href="/t/183476/apple-isight-supplier-sony-unveils-new-21mp-cmos-sensor-with-4k-video-phase-detection-af#post_2641156"><img src="/img/forum/go_quote.gif" class="inlineimg" alt="View Post"/></a><br/><br/>I'm not convinced of the need for a 21MP sensor yet. The problem with smartphone cameras is there is not optical zoom. Using higher Rez sensors allows a high quality image even with "zoom", which is actually cropping.<br />
    <br />
    I've wished that Apple would use newer sensors though. The 16MP version would be about perfect. And with the option for 128GB storage, there is enough space.</div></div><p> </p>
    melgross wrote: »
    I'm not convinced of the need for a 21MP sensor yet. The problem with smartphone cameras is there is not optical zoom. Using higher Rez sensors allows a high quality image even with "zoom", which is actually cropping.

    I've wished that Apple would use newer sensors though. The 16MP version would be about perfect. And with the option for 128GB storage, there is enough space.

    The Lumia 1020 I use for portability photography has optical zoom (and is over a year old) and also comes with 41MP sensor. In itself it's not important but the software and hardware allows for lossless zoom, reframing and cropping. Other advances such as optical image stabilisation and 2 flashes (LED and Xenon) produce beautiful photos. I also have a lot of control over things like EV, ISO, focal length, etc. Did I mention the phone is over a year old?

    So no it's not a problem with smartphones. If you want this stuff you can get it now. Lumia 1020 should only cost you $400 or less.
  • Reply 17 of 38
    1020 is also still arguably the best smartphone camera on the market. Wish I had the same features on my iPhone (for $1000 it should).
  • Reply 18 of 38

    Cropping does not = zoom.

     

    Cropping away pixels only works well if you have very good glass in front of those pixels. If there's not enough light, too much movement of subject or camera, lens flare, C/A, purple fringing, defraction (?SP) etc then cropping will make these flaws more obvious.

     

    SO, if a 41MP sensor in a phone has glass good enough to capture pixel level sharpness without lens errors, then congrats. There are times where you have plenty of light and stillness where this will work fine. Glad to hear the 1020 is a good camera. Enjoy it. Don't look around and see that it's not considered the best camera on a phone. 

     

    More MP means smallER pixels (or sensels). Smaller means they can not physically collect as much light as their larger counterparts (unless some wonderful new tech comes out). You'll notice that the 'speed' of the glass on your iPhones has increased. The widest aperture number has decreased letting in more light which is HUGELY important. Then there's bokeh and other glass attributes...

     

    As mentioned before- IF there's a way to pack more MP while retaining the same light gathering capability and quality of lens then great. Do it. Physics dictates that to do that we need larger lens groups at this point. 

     

    Crap, I didn't even mention dynamic range captured. That's a whole 'nuther important variable. Oh, and noise too (aka digital grain). 

  • Reply 19 of 38
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Rich Gregory View Post



    Don't look around and see that it's not considered the best camera on a phone. 

    What is considered the best camera phone on the market? After a year the 1020 is still getting the plaudits where I look. The iPhone 6 is a huge leap for them and is just about there. It blows the 1020 away with speed of camera taking though, but that's to be expected with much better internals.
  • Reply 20 of 38
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post



    A perfect example of why you should never buy current hardware, ever. Just keep waiting. And waiting. And waiting. And waiting. /s



    Or be on AT&T's NEXT program and trade in your phone every year. Can't wait 'til Sept '15!

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