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UPDATE:The OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro are now official with Snapdragon 888 chips, super-fast charging, and cameras made in partnership with Hasselblad. You can learn more about them at the links below:
Today's phones, even the midrange ones, are increasingly starting to sport rich 5G connectivity, high refresh rate displays, and modern 7nm or even 5nm processors, so what's left to differentiate from the Android or iOS pack?
Why, the camera prowess, of course. Phone makers are increasingly turning their attention to what's on the back instead of what's at the front of their phones (you know, a largely bezel-less display and a punch hole, or a notch, if you are unlucky), and developing their camera kits at breakneck pace.
It turns out that you can, and the recent flurry of camera sensor rumors and announcements comes to reiterate that 2021 will be one of the most exciting zear for mobile photography this side of the Nokia PureView or optical zoom introduction times. Why? Well...
Record large camera sensors line up for 2021 flagships
While having a 108MP camera sensor sound impressive on paper, and Samsung did everything in its power to improve the focusing abilities and computational algorithms in order to extract as sharp and clear photos from more than a million tiny 0.8 micron pixels, the megapixel war has its limitations.
Chief among these is the autofocus range, of course, and, despite that Samsung improved its third-gen 108MP sensor drastically from the 2nd generation in the S20 Ultra in that respect, the resulting photos are still soft around the edges, as you can see in our comparison below, and the closeup focusing abilities stop at the paltry 15 inches or so.
50MP Samsung ISOCELL GN2 sensor specs and features
Huge 1/1.12" sensor size with large 1.4 micron physical pixels (vs 1 micron for the rumored Sony 50MP IMX766 in OnePlus 9 and Find X3)
Default 12.5MP mode with binned 2.8 micron pixel giants
New Dual Pixel Pro autofocus with both left/right and top/bottom focusing phases
Efficient Staggered-HDR and Smart ISO Pro for greatly improved dynamic range
120fps 4K slow-motion video
Now, we don't know where this one will end up, but it's been rumored for a while now, and was even bandied about for the Note 20 Ultra, so we keep our hopes high that Samsung will surprise us with a unique handset later in the year. Alternatively, the 50MP ISOCELL GN2 unit may be delivered to other flagship phone manufacturers to showcase its abilities.
50MP Sony IMX766 for OnePlus 9 and Oppo Find X3
The new 50MP IMX766 is a relatively big 1/1.56" sensor with 1 micron pixels, enhanced night mode algorithms, and has been developed together with Sony for phones from the Oppo, Vivo, and OnePlus brands.
Thus, we keep our hopes high for the OnePlus series cameras, especially in light of what the rumored camera set for the Find X3 series is - two of those 50MP sensors to ensure color coordination for both the main and ultrawide cameras.
50MP Sony IMX800 for Google Pixel 6 and Huawei P50
Sizewise, however, the most impressive phone camera sensor of 2021 might end up in the Google Pixel 6 and Huawei P50 series. Last year, the P40 models scored an exclusive 50MP 1/1.28” IMX700 sensor, but its size is nowhere near to what Sony is prepping for the P50, and, allegedly, for the Pixel 6.
The Sony IMX800 is rumored to be exactly an inch of gigantic size, equal to the largest ever sensor put in a phone - the 1-incher in the Panasonic Lumix CM1 which was more like a compact camera rather than a phone.
The Lumix CM1 is about to be dethroned - yeah, it was nominally a phone but also fat
All in all, from 1" and up is where the professional photography action happens as you can see in Wikipedia's comparison of common camera sensor sizes.
What else can we expect from the 1" Sony IMX800? Well, besides huge pixel buckets of light that will inevitably improve night and movement shots, it will most likely sport Sony's omnidirectional autofocus that made a cameo in the IMX766 that is in the OnePlus 9 and Oppo Find X3. For ISOCELL GN2, Samsung calls it Dual Pixel Pro autofocus but it's most likely the same thing, merging both left/right and top/bottom focusing phases.
If it ends up in the P50, it will most likely use a RYYB pixel matrix, too, but when time comes for it to appear in Google's Pixel 6, all bets are off. In any case, color us excited as 2021 may very well turn the year of mobile photography, and the S21 Ultra, as souped-up in that department as it is, may just be a harbinger of things to come.
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