Samsung’s latest sensor chips will enable even thinner and smaller smartphones to take advantage of the latest camera technologies. Announced last week, the new Fast 2L9 and Slim 2X7 chips join the company’s line up of ISOCELL sensors designed for smartphone cameras.
The ISOCELL range is currently divided into four distinct categories – Fast, Slim, Bright and Dual – depending on their key attributes. The two new chips both offer high resolution in small packages which allow thinner smartphones to be designed without a camera bump.
ISOCELL Fast 2L9 is a 12-megapixel sensor with small 1.28μm pixels, making the whole package more compact than the previous generation which used 1.4μm pixels.
What’s more interesting, however, is that it features Dual Pixel technology which employs two photodiodes in each pixel rather than one. It’s this dual pixel capability which enables Google’s new Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL phones to shoot ‘Portrait Mode’ images with a single camera rather than two – representing a huge reduction in both hardware costs and design complexity. Dual Pixels also enable faster autofocus and superior object tracking.
It should be noted that despite being able to offer ‘Portrait Mode’, dual pixel chips such as the ISOCELL Fast 2L9 can’t function as a replacement for the ‘Dual’ range which can still offer telephoto and wide-angle zoom capabilities not possible with the type of fixed lenses currently employed in single-lensed smartphone cameras.
The 24 megapixel ISOCELL Slim 2X7 is an especially compact chip, thanks to its tiny 0.9μm pixels which Samsung claims are the first in the industry to fall below 1.0μm in size.
Reducing pixel size generally results in lower image quality, hence many smartphone manufacturers boasting large pixel size as a key benefit, but Samsung has mitigated this effect through improved technologies. In particular, the ISOCELL Slim 2X7 features improved deep trench isolation (DTI) which reduces interference between pixels and increases the amount of light information each pixel can store.
To further improve performance in low-light scenarios, the Slim 2X7 features Tetracell technology which combines four adjacent pixels into one larger superpixel to increase sensitivity to light. When light is more plentiful, information from the original small pixels can be retrieved algorithmically. This allows the camera to select either a high-sensitivity low-light mode or a high-resolution bright-light mode as required.
These improvements result in a 24-megapixel sensor which still provides good performance at a lower resolution when it gets dark while remaining small enough to fit inside the slimmest flagship smartphones.
Samsung may no-longer sit at the very top of camera quality charts but the company certainly has the hardware technologies required to regain the top slot – even if software is becoming an increasingly dominant factor.