Samsung on Monday introduced its new ISOCELL Bright HMX image sensor for smartphones, and it is capable of capturing a staggering 108 megapixels. It is the industry's first mobile image sensor to top the 100 million pixels mark. Interestingly, the nifty new shooter will make its debut in a Xiaomi smartphone before it finds its way into a Galaxy device.
While the ISOCELL Bright HMX sensor belongs to Samsung, the company says it was designed in "close collaboration with Xiaomi," which announced last week that an upcoming Mi handset will feature the new 108MP shooter.
"For ISOCELL Bright HMX, Xiaomi and Samsung have worked closely together from the early conceptual stage to production that has resulted in a groundbreaking 108Mp image sensor. We are very pleased that picture resolutions previously available only in a few top-tier DSLR cameras can now be designed into smartphones,” said Lin Bin, co-founder and president of Xiaomi.
The sensor is the first to adopt a large 1/1.33-inch size, Samsung says. This allows it to absorb more light than a smaller sensor, and in theory should result in clearer photos in poor lighting conditions, with less noise muddying up the image.
Samsung is also touting its pixel-merging Tetracell technology. According to Samsung, this allows it to imitate big-pixel sensors to produce brighter 27MP images.
"In bright environments, the Smart-ISO, a mechanism that intelligently selects the level of amplifier gains according to the illumination of the environment for optimal light-to-electric signal conversion, switches to a low ISO to improve pixel saturation and produce vivid photographs. The mechanism uses a high ISO in darker settings that helps reduce noise, resulting in clearer pictures," Samsung says.
Of course, the standout feature is the raw number of pixels, as Samsung and Xiaomi are entering uncharted territory in the mobile space. At the same time, cramming more pixels into an image will not necessarily result in a better looking photo—the skills of a photographer still apply, as do other traits of the sensor.
Still, this is an impressive leap in megapixels, one that could potentially put smartphones closer to the elusive goal of taking photos that are on par with a DSLR camera.
Samsung says it will begin mass producing the ISOCELL Bright IMX later this month. It remains to be seen when it will find its way into a Galaxy phone, though the Galaxy S11 is a plausible destination, if it does not end up with Samsung's ISOCELL Bright GW1 sensor (64MP) that was introduced in May.