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Apple switching to Sony camera sensor and optics for the next iPhone

Posted: , by Daniel P.

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Apple switching to Sony camera sensor and optics for the next iPhone
The move from 5MP to 8MP Sony camera sensors for the 2011 iPhone was actually in the rumor mill since last Spring, before even the 5MP shooter in the iPhone 4 was announced.

Apple's traditional sensor supplier OmniVision shares took a dive last summer, when a rumor spread that Apple might be moving to Sony for its next generation iPhone camera sensors. The same thing with OmniVision's stock happened yesterday, giving even more merit to that claim. The backlit imaging sensor that OmniVision supplies for the iPhone 4 is shooting very good HD video, but as far as still shots are concerned, there have been a lot of complaints about yellowish tint indoors, and wrong color balance outside, something that no backlighting can remedy. From that point of view, the rumor is certainly believable, considering that Apple only wants the best for its gadgets.

Apple might have been eying Sony's new Exmor R camera sensors, as found in the Sony Ericsson Xperia arc (you can read our preview and check some camera samples here), and the recently announced Xperia neo. The 8MP camera sensor there is backlit, which helps it cope with low light situations, similar to what the current 5MP OmniVision sensor in the iPhone 4 does. Watch a video demo of what backlighting does with the Exmor R sensor a Sony Ericsson rep gave us at the MWC Expo last week after the source link.

Sony also has a 16MP Exmor R sensor, which already found itself in a phone at the FCC, but it is not a smartphone, rather a member of the CyberShot family - S006 to be precise. With the advent of the dual-core Tegra 2, TI OMAP4, and Snapdragon chipsets, there will be a hardware capability of supporting up to 18+ megapixels of resolution, maybe that is why Sony decided to jump ahead of the game, and offer a 16MP CMOS sensor. The size is 1/2.8", whereas the size of the 8MP Exmor R that might go into the next iPhone one is 1/3.2".

Both are far cry from the biggest sensor in a phone - the 1/1.8" 12MP camera in the Nokia N8, but Sony has created a novel arrangement of the photo diodes, tailored to the fine pixel structure, which should additionally bring high sensitivity, and less noise in low-light situations, or so Sony claims. The merits of Sony's Exmor R backlit sensors are exemplified in a few comparison shots below, showing the detailed and bright pictures that the sensor can capture, compared to a regular 5MP phone camera sensor.

Apple switching to Sony camera sensor and optics for the next iPhone
Apple switching to Sony camera sensor and optics for the next iPhone

OmniVision actually recently announced an 8MP camera sensor of its own - OV8820 - with the above mentioned low-light enhancements, HD video at 60fps, and Full HD at 30fps, which should have been ready for mass production in March, but production problems have occurred, meaning it might not be ready soon enough for going into the next iPhone in a few months, so we could see it in consequent batches, if at all.

Well, Sony Ericsson's cell phones have probably the best cameras in the industry, if we don't count the almighty Nokia N8, and that sensor doesn't really fit in a very slim phone, so we can't blame Apple for swapping OmniVision with the best. Now put a Xenon flash next to that 8MP sensor, too, Apple, and we will be completely sold.

Have a look also at our own sample HD video with the 8MP Exmor R camera sensor to gauge what video capture with the next iPhone might look like.

source: EETimes & Electronista





18 Comments
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posted on 24 Feb 2011, 04:27 2

1. 530gemini (Posts: 2198; Member since: 09 Sep 2010)


Awesome. I'm already quite happy with the iphone4's camera. This would even bring it up a notch better.

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 04:33

2. IOS5 (unregistered)


Why no canon! It's a good news but where is canon and kodak in this game!

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 04:45 2

3. calamazoou (unregistered)


because mobile sensors are a totally different ballgame than point-and-shoot cameras...

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 09:07

7. BaiGanyo (Posts: 308; Member since: 07 Feb 2011)


Yes, because canon is a tiny little company that only makes a few point and shoot cameras. That's their entire contribution to the world of imaging lol.

posted on 26 Feb 2011, 14:39

14. justsaying (unregistered)


.....um....maybe you have just lived under rocks or fail to watch tv...or read other gadget sites.....but canon has some of the best rated digtal cameras out on the mark for professional use that go way beyond a point and shoot.....but i can understand if your knowledge of cameras is limited to what you see in stores...because then yes i would say it is dominated by canon for point and shoot.....it is almost as if they know what they are doing.....by places point in shoots in generic department stores for the average buyer......anyway some time if you happen to ponder a little site of cnet you can see some of the awesomeness that is canon...i mean its no nikon...but that might be advanced yet

posted on 27 Apr 2011, 20:14

16. Zack (unregistered)


Canon, Nikon and Pentax all use Sony sensors in both their point and shoot and DSLR cameras.

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 05:30 2

4. and1one66 (unregistered)


Wew, can an Exmor-R sensor of Sony Ericsson handsets beat or at least make as good as what Nokia did to their almighty N8 (set aside of 4 extra megapixels of Nokia N8)?

Well, I think you should check out first if this Exmor-R sensors that Sony Ericsson boasting can be compared to Nokia N86 8MP's (with latest firmware of course) variable aperture camera.

posted on 02 Sep 2011, 00:19

18. symbian santibanez (unregistered)


lol..i've test camera n8 with my xperia arc....without flash and low light condition..n8 suck....

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 08:18

5. calamazoo (unregistered)


since when Nokia N86 does Full HD video at 30 fps? :-)

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 17:10

10. and1one66 (unregistered)


Did I say N86 can record HD videos? I'm just talking camera here, photos, right? Please, use your senses when posting comments.

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 08:56 2

6. BaiGanyo (Posts: 308; Member since: 07 Feb 2011)


if apple is so great, why don't they use an apple camera? Oh, i forgot, apple doesn't manufacture anything. Well, i'm sure slapping together a bunch of sony and samsung parts will work out in the long run lol. It works for the sharper image roflmao. Everything on spec. Pathetic....

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 10:08

8. Dave DaDude (unregistered)


Are you serious with that comment? Apple uses components from other companies and still manages to outsell those same companies. But I guess you're so busy hating Steve Jobs and everyone in Cupertino, that you forgot to take note of that!

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 20:28

12. coolkalpesh (Posts: 9; Member since: 13 Dec 2010)


I just saw BaiGanyo's comment on some other article as well.. he doesn't know a thing.. he is almost wrong with all his comments.. there is no point in replying him.. he is wrong period..just move on..
I think he hates apple/steve jobs/cupertino and can go to any extend of making false comments to make them look bad..good idea will be to just ignore his comments.

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 12:28

9. DontHateOnS60 (Posts: 849; Member since: 20 Apr 2009)


"Well, Sony Ericsson's cell phones have probably the best cameras in the industry, if we don't count the almighty Nokia N8, and that sensor doesn't really fit in a very slim phone, so we can't blame Apple for swapping OmniVision with the best. Now put a Xenon flash next to that 8MP sensor, too, Apple, and we will be completely sold."

First of all, the N8 is the best in the business, like you said, so Apple isn't going for the best. They're going for second best (which hasn't even really been proven yet). As far as I know, the Pixon 12 is still second best, a with the Satio right there as well.

Second of all, you're not going to see a xenon flash in an iPhone, so long as Apple is trying to make devices so thin, paper will be referred to as chubby. You need a good amount of space for that flash, which is why the N8 has the hump it does. Frankly, all these phones getting thinner and thinner it's getting rather annoying because we aren't going to see any really good camera flagships from anyone other than Nokia. I was hoping to see a SE with a 12MP sensor as good as the N8's with xenon and Android on board, but if the Arc is any indication, LED is all we'll be seeing from now on. It's BS.

posted on 24 Feb 2011, 17:18

11. and1one66 (unregistered)


Your right about that. Xenon-powered phones are rather thicker than those of Apple iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S II, and Sony Ericsson XPERIA Arc. Apple iPhone 5 seem to be thin also as its predecessor, hence you cannot put a Xenon flash in there. That is why even it has Exmor-R sensor, still, its shots are only good for cellphones, but not like Nokia N8 whose shots can even beat an 18MP DSLR camera! Can you imagine that? A 12MP camera from a phone can outdo sometimes a DSLR camera?

posted on 25 Feb 2011, 15:14

13. bob de grau (unregistered)


The bump in Nokia N8 is mainly from camera module not the flash.

posted on 28 Feb 2011, 02:13

15. franklin (unregistered)


the hump in N8 is really coming from the mechanical shutter. But you don't really need mech shutter to adopt 12mpix camera and xenon flash. you can have decent xenon flash with global shutter and then you can eliminate that 1-1.5mm hump. So I don't really see why iPhone 5, or 6 for that matter, cannot have xenon flash.

posted on 13 May 2011, 13:34

17. Speedfreak (unregistered)


C'mon people! You guys really thnk that the N8's better! It's only because u guys have tested it. I'm damn sure neither one of you have got ur hands on the S006. Just watchng some gud samples or reading some reviews wont do. Has there ever been a benchmark involving the S006 and the N8? When there will be you'll know. Moreover, the K800 was released in June 2006 initiating the production of the cybershot lineup. N8 is not even able to beat that!!! N8 might be gud but is no match for the S006 and when the latter is available globally, the former will vanish...

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