Samsung's New Patent Could Vastly Improve Low Light Photos

Samsung are one of the more inventive electronics businesses on the planet and have a history of filing patents for all manner of new developments, from flexible smartphone devices to wrap-around screens and to today's announcement, a new digital camera technology. Some of these patents very obviously make it into production electronic devices whereas other patents are either embedded into products or are not taken into production for one reason or other. Today's article concerns a new way of capturing colors for digital cameras and it is not clear when this technology could be included into Samsung's future camera assemblies, or perhaps licensed to other sensor manufacturers such as Sony.

Current digital cameras use filters to screen out different colors and use the results of these to build the image. However, the issue with different color filters is that each additional layer removes some of the available light. The effect is compounded by additional filters (as we must if we are to capture full color images) and the result is that the amount of light reaching the sensor can be reduced by as around two thirds. This, of course, makes the sensor and software's task of replicating the image that much harder and results in blurry, grainy shots with a lot of artificial noise introduced by the software attempting to interpret what the sensor is seeing. We have seen developments using the existing technology designed to improve low light and colorful photography, including mechanical optical stabilization and larger pixels, but Samsung's patent introduces a new way of separating out the different colors without losing so much light.

Samsung's technology revolves around concerns splitting incoming light using refraction, so that different colors (or wavelengths) are directed towards subpixels in both the blue and green colors. Reading through the technical notes, there appears to be a further split to divide off the green color towards green sub-pixels, but ultimately this means that the camera sensor would see reds, greens and blues separately with significantly less light loss. The beam splitting refractive element is integrated into one of the sensor's layers and whilst there are of course many questions surrounding how quickly the technology could be introduced into a device, if the technology is able to be manufactured and introduced into smartphones it could make a significant difference to both low light and color reproduction.

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David Steele

Senior Staff Writer
I grew up with 8-bit computers and moved into PDAs in my professional life, using a number of devices from early Windows CE clamshells and later. Today, my main devices are a Nexus 5X, a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and a coffee cup.
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