Samsung Preparing ISOCELL Image Sensor for Better Low-Light Performance

September 24, 2013 - Written By Lucian Armasu

Samsung’s smartphone cameras in smartphones have always been some of the best in the market. However, it’s been rare for them to be the best in the market, and by a large margin. With all the competition ramping up its smartphone camera performance, from the Moto X to Sony Xperia Z1, it’s not surprising to see Samsung wanting to invest in better camera sensors, such as the new ISOCELL image sensor that will be used in high-end smartphones next year.

The new ISOCELL sensor improves on the old BSI one by adding “physical barrier between neighboring pixel”, which means more photons can be collected and that’s what will improve image quality. This will increase the dynamic range of photos by up to 30 percent. Samsung admits that this move is in response to other competitors coming out with better and better cameras.

Strangely enough, it seems that the new sensors will go back to 8MP images. I don’t think 8MP is a terrible resolution, and it definitely offers more processing speed over 13MP shots, while performing better in low-light (bigger pixels). However, the S4 actually showed me how much more details a 13MP camera can offer, and I hope that’s not lost when they move to an 8MP camera again. If they can keep the same level of detail as the S4 has, then I have no problem with them moving to 8MP, but right now I’m pretty skeptical about that.

If they can, though, I would welcome it, again for the benefits I’ve already mentioned. But if it will indeed regress significantly in terms of details, then I’m not sure I’ll like the trade-off anymore. We’ll have to see how it actually performs before we can make up our minds about it.

I do hope that this isn’t a shortcut to not having to use a larger sensor in the Galaxy S5. If their choice was between using a 13MP module with a 1/2.3″ or 1/2″ sensor, and an 8MP module with a 1/3″ sensor, then they are making the wrong choice. If anything I’d like to see them use both an 8MP module and a 1/2.3″ or even larger sensor.

This is the sort of “leap” I’d like to see in camera hardware for most Android OEM’s, and it would be very frustrating if they’re slowing themselves down on purpose to cut costs or make thinner devices. OEM’s should strive to make their camera 2-3x better next year, not just 20 percent better. It’s long overdue that Android OEM’s stop lagging behind Apple and Nokia in this department. There are so many of them, yet they still can’t provide an awesome all-around camera experience.

It’s pretty embarrassing, and it needs to stop soon. I think they all know what they have to do, and they just need to do it (as large sensor as possible, Xenon flash, great OIS, better lens, super-fast auto-focus, great HDR, etc) , even if it costs more.