Samsung has announced a new image sensor for smartphones that it claims has the “smallest pixel size in the industry.” After introducing 0.8μm pixels on its 48- and now 64-megapixel sensors, which have seen widespread adoption from Chinese smartphone makers throughout 2019, Samsung is now producing the world’s first image sensor with 0.7μm pixels.
The ISOCELL Slim GH1 is a 43.7-megapixel (7,968×5,480) sensor designed to offer high resolution in a small physical size. Samsung says it offers “the optimum solution for slim full-display devices,” suggesting it’s intended for selfie cameras; the company currently offers a 32-megapixel 0.8μm sensor that’s often used that way.
If you know anything about camera sensors, you’ll know that small pixel size is traditionally considered a bad thing, because each photosite has less light gathering ability and runs a higher risk of introducing noise. These new high-resolution phone sensors, however, work a little differently. In low light situations they combine four pixels together, which in this case should produce a 10.9-megapixel image with the light sensitivity of 1.4μm pixels — still not huge, but reasonably large by smartphone standards.
In practice, of course, resolution and pixel size aren’t the most important factors when it comes to overall smartphone photo quality. Some of the best phone cameras around use regular 12-megapixel sensors. But I’ve found that for mid-range devices, these small-pixel sensors can deliver a lot of detail in good light without the excess noise you’d expect in low light. (Stay tuned for some 64-megapixel sensor testing soon.)
Samsung says it expects the ISOCELL Slim GH1 to go into mass production by the end of this year, so we’ll likely see it make its way into phones in early 2020.