Sony recently unveiled the IMX586, the company's newest image sensor offering for smartphones. The Japanese tech firm claims that its latest product is the first sensor to feature an ultra-compact pixel size of 0.8-micrometers. Furthermore, this product, which has a resolution of 48-megapixels, offers the highest pixel count among image sensors targeted towards handsets. The increased resolution of the IMX586 sensor should allow smartphones to shoot high-resolution images even when using digital zoom, and the product's compact size of 8.0-millimeters permits tech firms to incorporate the sensor into many smartphones.
While the small pixel size of the sensor allows for increased resolution, it negatively impacts the quality of the images captured by the camera, especially in low-light conditions. Thus, Sony incorporated technologies that should improve the product's ability to collect light. For example, the sensor uses a Quad Bayer color filter array, which arranges the pixels in squares that each contains four pixels of the same color during low-light conditions. While this setup reduces the effective resolution of the sensor to 12-megapixels, this array increases the pixel size to 1.6-micrometers. In addition, the product incorporates the tech firm's proprietary exposure control and signal processing technologies, which results in four times greater dynamic range compared to other image sensors. The Japanese tech firm further noted in its announcement that the imaging module can record 4K video clips with a frame rate of 90fps, and it can also capture 720p slow-motion videos with a frame rate of 480fps.
Aside from Sony, other tech firms are also developing sensors with smaller pixel sizes and increased resolution. For example, the South Korean tech giant Samsung recently unveiled a new imaging technology dubbed as ISOCELL Plus, which improves the light sensitivity and the color fidelity of sensors by replacing the metal grid that separates the pixels with a new material that reflects less incoming light. Samsung noted that this technology allows for the development of sensors with pixel sizes of 0.8-micrometers and resolutions of 20-megapixels or even higher. Samples of Sony's IMX586 modules will start shipping to device makers in September 2018, and it is priced at JPY 3,000, which translates to $27 at the current exchange rate.