What’s next for smartphone camera tech?

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S20 Ultra

Samsung Semiconductor is currently one of the major players in the mobile photography space, belonging to Sony and Omnivision as the top three image sensor suppliers in the smartphone industry.

The company is currently on the multi-camera wave and is increasing the use of 108MP sensors significantly. What’s next for the image sensor company and what does it expect in 2021? Android Authority interviewed Jinhyun Kwon, VP and Head of Sensor Marketing at Samsung Semiconductor to find out.

Connected: The best Android camera phones you can get

Bigger pixels or more megapixels?

Samsung just announced a brand new line of camera sensors, all of which contain tiny 0.7 micron pixels and high resolution sensors. From the 32MP Isocell JD1 to the 108MP Isocell HM2, the latest sensors include more megapixels at the expense of pixel size.

Conversely, the South Korean giant previously offered sensors like the 50MP Isocell Bright GN1, which is roughly the same size as its 108MP sensors while offering larger pixels. Then what is the right approach?

“Samsung’s thinking on this matter is simple – both approaches have their own merits, and as a semiconductor solution provider, our goal is to have the best solutions for ultra-high resolution with smaller pixels and relatively lower resolution with larger pixels our customers, ”explains Kwon.

Samsung pursues two approaches with its image sensors, each with advantages and disadvantages.

The executive also points out the benefits of each approach, saying that high resolution sensors allow zooming in or cropping without losing image quality. Large pixel image sensors fill a niche in the market for consumers who prefer brighter images, Kwon said. But they also offer another advantage.

“Large pixel image sensors may not offer extremely high resolutions of over 100 MP, but they can provide ultra-fast autofocusing with dual-pixel technology and brighter results,” he says, adding that these sensors are therefore ideal for those who do take quick snapshots.

Continue reading: Why the size of the camera sensor is more important than more megapixels

Samsung still seems intent on getting ever higher megapixel numbers, and Kwon says there is no set limit to how far the megapixel race will go. However, he adds that the maximum number possible depends on factors such as the pixel size and the optics of the camera module.

“With more pixels, there should be opportunities for new applications. Sensor technologies, including pixel size and pixel resolution, are being further developed to meet the different requirements of manufacturers and users. After all, the resolution of the human eye is around 500 MP, and that would be the ultimate milestone for the entire industry. “

The future of video

8K video recording is arguably the biggest camera trend of 2020 as Samsung, Xiaomi, LG and several other brands adopted the recording standard for their smartphones. We usually see mid-range phones adopt these standards after a while, but we may still have to wait.

Kwon explains that 48MP + sensors that allow 8K recordings have been around since 2018 and have landed on medium-range devices since last year. However, 8K recording offers more than one compatible sensor. Regarding this, he says: “… from a market perspective, the 8K market is still at an early stage and it will take some time for the feature to expand to the mid-range. While image sensors with 8K capabilities may be available right now, other relevant components such as mid-range mobile processors must also be ready. “

We’ve also seen how 4K has evolved to offer advanced features like HDR and more. Kwon anticipates this will happen in the future:

We assume that 8K will take a similar path as 4K and 60 fps and HDR offers. High definition video requires at least 60 fps for smooth and seamless movement, and HDR can capture scenes in different lighting environments without loss of image information.

In particular, Kwon cites HDR as one of the biggest challenges for video on mobile devices, citing power consumption, image artifacts, and other tradeoffs:

Although there have been various solutions and mobile processors that support HDR within an affordable power budget for still images, video HDR requires a longer time and a larger power budget, making it more difficult to implement. So the key to 8K with HDR would be controlling power consumption.

4K is also going nowhere, as the recording standard has also been available for medium-range phones in recent years, going back to phones like the Nokia 7 Plus and the Xiaomi Mi 8 Lite from 2018/2019. Samsung Semiconductor sees another area of ​​development in 4K slow motion.

“Right now, FHD 240fps is becoming more and more popular on devices, and there are products that support FHD resolution up to 480fps or 960fps that allow super slow motion recording. Although 4K at 480 fps or 960 fps may not be available anytime soon due to the high cost and high power consumption, 4K 240 fps could be expected for now, ”explains Kwon.

We haven’t seen 4K 240fps yet, but Asus is one of the first brands to offer 4K at 120fps for the Zenfone 7 series, which allows for sharper slow-motion images. Evidence suggests that OnePlus is preparing an 8K / 960fps option as well, but we’re almost 100% certain that this is a software-enhanced solution and not native 8K / 960fps video.

What’s next for mobile photography?

Samsung Developer Conference Notch Displays

Samsung confirmed it was working on in-display selfie camera technology back in 2018, and since then ZTE has offered the first phone with this technology in the A20 5G. However, the Samsung representative confirms previous industry sentiment regarding the challenges for the technology such as: B. the “quantity and quality” of the light that reaches the selfie camera. According to Kwon, transparency, light diffraction, and color distortion are all challenges OEMs face with this technology.

Kwon also warns that we’ll have to wait and see how good the first phones with built-in selfie cameras are. And with Xiaomi holding the feature off until 2021, we hope many brands will take the time to get it right instead of rushing to be the first.

The Samsung Semiconductor team also gave us a general idea of ​​what to expect in terms of mobile photography in 2021:

While photo and video quality would definitely improve in 2021, the basic setup of multi-cameras with wide-angle, ultra-wide-angle, and telephoto lenses would likely be similar to that of this year’s flagship devices.

The team adds that mobile processors offer more powerful NPUs and multi-frame noise reduction technologies. These enhancements could enable phones to perform better in extreme lighting conditions and “enhanced AI-assisted solutions” for a better experience.

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