By Yongin Park, EVP,
Head of Sensor Business Team, System LSI Business
Snapping pictures or videos throughout the day has become a lifestyle and are not just for special events any more. Whip out your mobile camera in front of a delectable-looking meal, to record your latest dance moves, or when you just feel like you’re having a good hair day, and you’re ready to share your images with friends. These changes have become possible with remarkable advancements in recent mobile photography and at the very heart of the revolution are the mobile chips that transform light into digital data.
The image sensors we perceive the world through, our eyes, are said to be about 500-megapixels. Compared to most DSLR cameras today featuring 40Mp and flagship smartphones at 12Mp, we as an industry still have a long way to go.
Simply putting as many pixels as possible together might seem to be an easy fix. But that would result in a massive image sensor taking over the device itself. In order to fit millions of pixels in today’s smartphones with bleeding-edge specs such as higher screen-to-body ratios and slimmer designs, pixels had to inevitably shrink for even more compact sensors.
On the other hand, smaller pixels could mean fuzzy or dull pictures, due to the smaller area that each pixel receives light information from. The dilemma between the number of pixels and their sizes becomes a balancing act that requires solid technological prowess.
Cutting-edge Pixel Technologies
Drawing from the technology leadership and experience from our memory business, Samsung has been doing exactly that with image sensors as well. In May, 2019, we were able to announce the industry’s first 64-megapixel sensor, and just within six months, brought 108-megapixel sensors to the market.
For the latest 108-megapixel image sensor, ISOCELL Bright HM1, Samsung implemented its proprietary Nonacell technology that dramatically increases the pixels’ light absorption. As an enhanced version compared to the previous Tetracell technology with a 2×2 array, Nonacell’s 3×3 pixel structure allows, for instance, nine 0.8-μm pixels to function as one 2.4μm pixel. This also mitigates low-light settings where light information are scarce.
In 2019, Samsung was also the first to bring image sensors based on 0.7μm pixels. The industry had considered 0.8μm as the last stop for pixel technologies but to our engineers, ‘technological limitations’ are just another challenge that motivates innovation.
Helping People with Sensors that Go Beyond Our Senses
Most cameras today can only take pictures that are visible to the human eye at wavelengths between 450 and 750 nanometers. Sensors detecting light wavelengths outside of that range are hard to come by but their use can benefit a wide range of areas. For instance, image sensors for ultraviolet light could be used for diagnosing skin cancer by taking pictures of the cancer cells in different colors. Infrared image sensors can be used for more efficient quality control in agriculture or other industries. Samsung is doing research in areas such as these where we can bring our leading-edge chip technologies to enable new opportunities that enrich the lives of many.
Not only are we developing camera sensors, but we’re also looking into other types of sensors that can even smell or taste. Sensors that go even beyond human senses will soon become an integral part of our daily lives. We’re thrilled of the potential of sensors that can make the invisible visible and help people with the ability to go beyond our senses.
Aiming for 600-megapixels
Applications for image sensors have mainly been in smartphones so far, but are expected to expand into other emerging fields such as autonomous vehicles, IoT and drones. Samsung has been leading the small-pixel, high-resolution sensor trend that will continue well past 2020 and will be prepared to ride the next technology tide with a comprehensive product portfolio that meets the various needs of device manufacturers. Through relentless innovation, we’re determined to open up endless possibilities in pixel technologies that might even deliver image sensors that can capture more detail than the human eye.