Sony announces new smartphone camera sensor featuring 48 effective megapixels

Sony 48MP IMX586 CMOS sensor

Of course, comparing a DSLR sensor to an eight-millimeter-diagonal smartphone sensor isn't an entirely straightforward comparison, and the IMX586 is no exception.

The Sony IMX586 stacked CMOS image sensor may not sound particularly thrilling, but this new camera module could have big implications for the firm's smartphones.

For those who don't know, Sony produces a lot of the sensors that go into smartphone cameras, with numerous leading phones choosing Sony sensors to power their cameras - in fact, Sony sells a lot more sensors than they do smartphones. The sensor features 48 effective megapixels, the highest available.

High resolutions on tiny sensors usually mean disappointingly noisy images, but Sony claims that the industry-first 0.8-µm bit buckets on the IMX586 were "designed and manufactured with techniques that improve light collection efficiency and photoelectric conversion efficiency over conventional products", possibly leading to crisp images despite the tiny individual pixel wells.

Sony 48MP CMOS sensor
Conventional image vs. IMX586 image

But it's worth taking a look outside the box, as Nokia introduced smartphone cameras with 40MP years ago, the Nokia 808 PureView and Lumia 1020, which were twice the size of the IMX586's sensor and therefore had significantly larger pixels that could capture more light.

As we all know, just increasing the pixel count doesn't automatically mean the image quality is going to be better. Output speeds and dynamic range on the sensors are four times greater than conventional products thanks to Sony's image signal processing tech.

In fact, the greater the megapixel count, the smaller each pixel is, creating more of a chance of coloured noise in low-light photography. With the IMX586 Sony uses a Quad Bayer filter that merges four adjacent pixels together for low light shooting.

In addition to this, Sony's also shrunk the pixel size down to an impressive 0.8 μm. It also brings features like image plane phase-difference AF, HDR imaging, and supports 4K shooting as well, at up to 90fps, while 1080p recording goes up to 240fps, and 720p recording goes up to 480fps.

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