The world's largest supplier of mobile camera sensors won't sit still while Samsung is eating its lunch with the rumored second generation "Bright Night" 108MP sensor
that is expected to make a cameo in the Galaxy S11
Sony just announced
a new phone camera sensor technology that has been developed exclusively for and will first appear in Oppo's Snapdragon 865-laden X2 flagship that will also be released in March to take on the S11 directly.
After the restrictions that the US placed on Google for its Android exports to Huawei, companies like OnePlus, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi sensed an opening and are working hard to take advantage of the market vacuum by outdoing themselves with new mobile technologies and eye-catchy designs.
Sony calls the sensor that will be in the X2, and probably many other high-end phones next year, the 2x2 On-Chip Lens (OCL) solution. It will bring "all pixel omni-directional PDAF
" technology to our phones, which is a fancy way of saying it will be focusing and refocusing almost instantly, even in low-light scenarios.
As for the sensor itself, it's not gunning for ultrahigh resolution like Samsung's Tetracell family that goes up to 64MP
even. Rather, Sony explained during the ongoing International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) expo that:
We created the world's first all PDAF CMOS image sensor using 2x2 on-chip lens architecture. That had 1/2 inch 48M pixels with 0.8µm Quad Bayer coding for high resolution and HDR function, and all PDAF pixels achieved a minimum AF illuminance level of 1 lux.
The sensors built on the technology will still use the Quad Bayer filter array, and allow for pretty high resolutions that have pixel-binning advantages like merging the brightness and color information from multiple dots into one super pixel.
Sony 2x2 on-chip lens (OCL) sensors
By moving from individual lense array for each pixel to ones that encompass more pixels at once, Sony has managed to eliminate the slight differences in light sensitivity between the individual pixels, thus improving focus and HDR performance, as well as reducing noise potential in certain scenarios.
Current on-chip lenses (left) vs Sony's new 2x2 OCL sensors (right)
What does that all mean? Better pictures, of course, and, coupled with the Snapdragon 865
processor that allows for faster and richer dynamic range calculations, the pictures taken with phones like the Oppo X2 should give whatever sensor Samsung is cooking for the S11 a run for its money.
All in all, next year is shaping up to be the most exciting for smartphone cameras in a good while, as the improvements will actually be on the hardware and sensor side of things, too. In the past couple of years companies like Google, Apple and Samsung focused mainly on software trickery and sensor count increases when it comes to improvements in the photographic department, but 2020 will take us in a whole different (and exciting) direction.