Sony’s smartphone division continues to turn in unimpressive performance, but the company remains the market leader in image sensors. Its latest design, the IMX586, promises a leap in image quality by dramatically increasing the resolution to 48 effective megapixels (8000 x 6000), which Sony says is the highest pixel count in the industry.
Image quality isn’t simply a matter of adding more megapixels — that can be counterproductive, with smaller pixels leading to noisy photos in low light. The 0.8-micron pixels used in this sensor will be the smallest on the market, in fact. But Sony says it’ll get around this by using a quad Bayer color filter array and allowing each pixel to use signals from the four adjacent pixels, which supposedly raises light sensitivity to the equivalent of a 12-megapixel image captured with 1.6-micron pixels
Phones from Nokia’s 808 PureView in 2012 to this year’s Huawei P20 Pro have experimented with similar pixel-binning techniques on sensors with 40 megapixels or more, but Sony’s IMX586 is likely to be a more mainstream solution. Sony is keeping the size down to 8mm diagonal, meaning there won’t be the need for a huge camera bump, though the lens in front of the sensor will of course play a big part in the camera’s ability to resolve an image. The focus is also on producing usable 48-megapixel images rather than downsampling by default — this might not be incredibly useful for everyday snaps, but it should at least allow for much better digital zoom.