OmniVision Technologies, a Chinese company in the business of building smartphone camera sensors, has announced a new range of sensors designed to capture a higher dynamic range of colors with even less visual noise than earlier generations. OmniVision is manufacturing four new sensors based on the company's second generation PureCel Plus and PureCel Plus-S technologies. These are available in 16MP and 20MP flavours with an optional "4C" configuration, which combines pixels for improved low light sensitivity but at the expense of the resolution of the final image. All four sensors use phase detection autofocus and are capable of recording 4K video. OmniVision Technologies are preparing the new sensors for commercial production and is aiming to have the sensors ready for smartphone production in early 2017.
The sensors use full-well capacity (FWC), which allows each pixel to capture more light before it starts to clip the highlights. OmniVision Technologies cite that their latest sensors are improved by 20% over the former generation of sensor. Furthermore, OmniVision are also offering a new high dynamic range called zHDR. High Dynamic Range requires great processing from the smartphone processor but OmniVision's new zHDR is able to capture two separate exposures at the same time by a clever arrangement of pixels within the sensor; in line with the "z" in the name, they are arranged in a zigzag way, with OmniVision designing one set to deliberately underexpose a shot and the other set is designed to overexpose the shot. zHDR then combines the two shots to provide an image with a wider dynamic range than otherwise could be recorded from the sensor. The result to photographers is a richer, potentially more accurate blend of colors from the camera. OmniVision's other technological advances in the four new sensors include a different pixel structure arrangement using a composite metal grid incorporating deep trench isolation: this is a means of reducing light contamination between individual pixels, and increases the sensitivity of the camera by 12.5% – which makes it easier to take better quality pictures in low light conditions.
OmniVision's advances in camera sensor technology follows the industry trend of ongoing refinement and improvement in smartphone cameras. 2016's flagship smartphones have offer a selection of impressive cameras using a number of different techniques to obtain the results. As 2016 reaches a close, the current smartphone camera champion is the Google Pixel (and Google Pixel XL), which is ahead of a tightly packed group including the Samsung Galaxy S7 edge, Apple iPhone 7 and HTC 10. It will be interesting to see how OmniVision Technologies' new sensors stack up compared with the Sony camera sensors that many of 2016's flagship smartphones use.