Sony outs 21-megapixel IMX230 sensor with 192-point autofocus for fast objects, can we say Z4?

Sony just launched what might be its best smartphone camera sensor yet, the 21 MP stacked IMX230 where the company uses image plane phase detection autofocus for the first time in a phone sensor. This plane phase detection tech is borrowed from mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, and, with its 192 AF points, will allow for blur-free tracking and snapping of fast moving objects, like kids, cars or pets.

Furthermore, the new Exmor RS IMX230 will now shoot not only real-time HDR video as before, be it in 4K, but also real-time HDR images, similar to Samsung's S5 and Note 4 handsets, which would bring out darker areas, and tone down bright ones for a more even exposure throughout the frame.

The company also said that it will be making a 16 MP sensor with the same image plane detection AF tech, which might go into midrangers we guess, and that would be a heck of a midranger. The 21 MP IMX230 is 1/2.4" in size, which is a tad smaller than the 1/2.3" in the Z3, for instance, but the difference is negligible. 

We will see how these more than 20 million 1.12 micron pixels behave in terms of noise suppression and low-light performance on that confined space, but at least on theory the new sensor sounds mighty promising, and hopefully we will see it in the upcoming Z4, as Sony states it will be put in mass production April 2015.

Sony Launches Exmor RS

The Industry's First Stacked CMOS Image Sensor with an Image Plane Phase Detection Signal Processing Function for High-Speed AF

Tokyo, Nov 17, 2014 (JCN Newswire via COMTEX) -- Sony Corporation today announces the commercialization of the Exmor RS IMX230 for smartphone cameras and other devices requiring increasingly sophisticated image-capture functionality. With 21 effective megapixels, this stacked CMOS imaging sensor features compact size, higher image quality, and improved functionality. This is the industry's first CMOS image sensor for smartphones to be equipped with an onboard image plane phase detection AF signal processing function to achieve excellent focus tracking of fast-moving subjects. The High Dynamic Range (HDR) function, which captures both backgrounds and subjects clearly and vividly even in high-contrast scenes such as backlit locations, now supports high-resolution still images and 4K video recording. This new CMOS image sensor will ship in April 2015.

Rather than the traditional back-illuminated CMOS image sensor's support substrate, the Exmor RS uses a chip consisting of signal processing circuits, on top of which is stacked a pixel section consisting of back-illuminated pixels for an original stacked construction. This kind of stacked CMOS imaging sensor, which delivers superior image quality and high functionality in a compact size, was first commercialized by Sony in 2012.

The new IMX230 is a type 1/2.4 stacked CMOS image sensor with a significantly improved 21 effective megapixels, and it is also equipped with a newly developed signal processing function. These features fulfill the growing needs in smartphone photography for high-speed autofocus (image plane phase detection AF) and clear, high-quality capture of bright and dark areas even in backlit scenes (HDR imaging). Image plane phase detection AF is a technology used in mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, and HDR imaging now supports not only 4K (4096 x 2160) high-resolution videos but also still images. Sony also plans to extend the lineup by adding a 16 effective megapixels stacked CMOS image sensor equipped with image plane phase detection AF and HDR imaging functions by the end of the next fiscal year.

IMX230 Main Features

Image plane phase detection AF

This function enables the camera to capture quick-moving subjects and makes accurate, high-speed autofocus tracking possible when shooting still images and videos, such as kids and animals constantly on the move and other fast subjects including athletes at sporting events. Dedicated image plane phase detection AF pixels are discretely incorporated into the screen of the image sensor, and the distance to the subject (range) and lens position for focusing are calculated based on the information obtained from these dedicated pixels. Up to 192 AF points can be used. All of this is instantaneously carried out by the stacked CMOS image sensor's internal image processing circuits, making it easy to enjoy shooting photos and videos of fast-moving subjects on a smartphone or other device.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging

This function enables the camera to record still images and videos that reproduce details and rich gradations in the highlights and shadows of high-contrast scenes, such as those found in backlit environments. This is made possible by setting two different exposure conditions and applying the appropriate signal processing to the image information obtained from each condition. Through improved pixel placement and signal processing, this new HDR imaging function is now compatible with both video recording and, by popular demand, still image capture, the latter a feature that was not available previously(1). The enhanced resolution and generation of images with a wide dynamic range enable a high level of visibility and the production of images with vivid backgrounds and subjects, even in backlit conditions. This function is also compatible with 4K (4096 x 2160) high-resolution video recording.


(1) The HDR movie function announced on January 23, 2012 supported video recording only.

source: Sony



1. realjjj

Posts: 375; Member since: Jan 28, 2014

This is in response to Omnivision announcing their 21 and 24MP sensors a couple of weeks ago.

2. smarttechbadworld

Posts: 74; Member since: May 07, 2014

The z4 and the s6 are gonna crush the m9 this time.

3. vincelongman

Posts: 5724; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Weren't they already were crushing the M8? I hope M8 drops the ultrapixel, and use one with 1.5 μm pixels like the 6/6+, or better yet use this sensor

9. limporgyuk

Posts: 371; Member since: Nov 06, 2013

If you buy a phone just for it's camera. The camera on my G3 sucks compared to camera on my M8. Its not all about megapixels.

16. microsoftnokiawin

Posts: 1268; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

I can't talk about the m8 but the M7 camera is crap as it was good with close up images but that was about it

19. tiara6918

Posts: 2263; Member since: Apr 26, 2012

How can you be so sure about that? I have never heard the z2/z3 being one of the best android phones. It's not about the specs, it's about the accessibility and usage. Besides, I can find so many articles on the internet about this-​hone-2014-11 The htc one series is the best and that will continue in the future

4. jeeta444

Posts: 154; Member since: Mar 24, 2014

Impressive SONY !

5. vincelongman

Posts: 5724; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

All looks very good, except 720p 120 fps isn't as good as 240 fps in the 6/6+'s sony made sensor Also the next phones with Lollipop's raw support are going to be great I wonder if iOS 9 will also add raw support

18. microsoftnokiawin

Posts: 1268; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

off topic it's funny how windowphone was the first to add Raw support kind of a surprise that they had something first for a change aha I wonder if Microsoft will take pureview to the next level or the milk it back on topic I would like to point out that something could be a certain resolution but that doesn't mean quality what I'm trying to say is it could have a really high resolution but still have crappy quality only time and comparisons will tell though

22. vincelongman

Posts: 5724; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Yep, the 1020's pics are still among the best, if not the best The next 1030 will be amazing too

24. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013

Well they did just sign a canon deal. Canon are still among the best.

27. microsoftnokiawin

Posts: 1268; Member since: Mar 30, 2012

yeah they are but I hope they keep the car zeiss lenses

6. josephnero

Posts: 783; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

Can't wait for Z4. Sony sensors are the best.

7. vipervoid123

Posts: 163; Member since: Aug 27, 2013

I guess Sony might sold this sensor to competitor company ~ While Sony will using different sensor for their flagship ~ The IMX220 have been exclusive to Z series since Z1 , then only available to competitor with Z3 onward ~ Therefore I think Sony might have another exclusive sensor to the next Z-series ~

8. vuyonc

Posts: 1091; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

What took Sony so long to use PDAF in their smartphones? Anyway hopefully their software and ISP work out of the box and not in a few months like my Z1 did. Z4 is looking good :)

25. elitewolverine

Posts: 5192; Member since: Oct 28, 2013


10. kent-gaga

Posts: 609; Member since: Apr 10, 2012

Xperia Z4 is going to be introduced in january 2015 so it's not really possible for it to have this sensor installed

11. mohammad7888

Posts: 2; Member since: Nov 17, 2014

Well, it's nice. But where is that curved sensor ? Where is the APCS (Active Pixel Color Sampling) sensor ? What was all about the 1/1.5" sensor ? I hope Sony wont disappoint us.

12. ggg377

Posts: 20; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

But still no OIS.

26. kent-gaga

Posts: 609; Member since: Apr 10, 2012

OIS has nothing to do with the sensor fyi

13. pwnarena

Posts: 1129; Member since: Feb 15, 2013

but some sony devices will just mess it up with the wrong software/processing algorithms. i say some because other devices apparently take great photos. sony's device quality inconsistency is baffling.

14. solidsnake695

Posts: 132; Member since: Jan 04, 2013

this sensor will be useless if sony give horrible sofware algorithm like z z1 z2 z3 that poor post processing from sony needs to end

15. mawhob2222

Posts: 219; Member since: Mar 22, 2014

Samsungarena, what about new sensor? also bad hhhhhhh

17. Af1rPA

Posts: 712; Member since: Jun 12, 2014

I have nothing against Sony but I have to say that example image looks fake. As if their senor can pick up that much detail on the picnic basket. I'll gladly wait and eat my words when the sensor gets released, hopefully on the Z4.

20. PhotoPixel

Posts: 32; Member since: Feb 11, 2014

o No No No No ((( This the same camera, even smaller than previous. Give us CURVED sensor, we don`t wat see this another 20mp sh*t ((((((

21. bubbadoes

Posts: 1225; Member since: May 03, 2012

Or just go out and buy a SLR and stop pretending, expecting smartphones with a $8.00 camera configuration maxx to do it all!!!

23. Chuck007

Posts: 1411; Member since: Mar 02, 2014

Isn't April a bit late for the Z4? It should already be in mass-production before then correct?

28. Ruturaj

Posts: 1484; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

Does anyone knows about numbering scheme of Sony, as note 4 has IMX240, Z2 has IMX220 and Nexus 6 has IMX214?

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit for samples and additional information.