back to article Samsung's new image sensor promises better snaps in smaller devices

Samsung has announced a new image-sensor technology for smartphones and tablets it's calling "ISOCELL" – for "isolated cell" – that it says will improve color fidelity in low-light conditions, provide a higher dynamic range, and allow for slimmer devices. "ISOCELL technology is yet another innovation that significantly raises …


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  1. LarsG

    Game changer?

    Not likely, smart phone cameras will remain a compromise item.

    1. Bob Vistakin

      The iPhone will have that in 2 years time

      Oh wait ... Jobs has gone - make that 3 years. And it'll just show black squares.

    2. andreas koch

      @ LarsG -

      I'm afraid that might not be the case.

      See what happened to audio: has MP3, the compromise, beaten all other, better formats? Yup. Most people don't even know there's anything else (I don't think you can't take a tech news site readership as the average.).

      Of course your 70D takes the better images. but you also take about 30 minutes to line up your shot of this snail on this branch next to that hill in this light at this time of day; you're lugging around 4 different lenses, a flash gun and a Giotto tripod and 3 spare batteries. Then you spend 2 hours tweaking the last bits into shape in Lightroom and Photoshop.

      You post the result on DeviantArt and get 12 positive comments.

      All while Tracy Trash gets shot 120 times by her BFF falling 3/4-pissed of a dirty bog in Tower Hamlets. On a Nokia 520. Gets 2.7 million views in the first 24 hours on TwatBook and rises to be an internet celebrity and the next Jade Goody. Streets, bridges and hospital wards are named after her.

      But you're still right somehow, They are a compromise.

      1. Dick Emery

        Re: @ LarsG -

        True art does not require approval ratings.

        1. andreas koch

          @ Dick Emery - Re: @ LarsG -


          True art does not require approval ratings.


          Philosophically correct, ethically indisputable, but economically impractical. 'Cause it ain't gonna pay the bills if no one knows about it.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Haven't Sony been doing this in their CMOS sensors for years?

    It's what their Exmor R™ CMOS Sensor is...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Haven't Sony been doing this in their CMOS sensors for years?

      Sony supply sensors to loads of people, Nikon especially.

  3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    You'd get a lot more megapixels if you just made a bigger sensor. Really, you can double or even triple it without impacting my usage of the device at all. And I get a better camera. Wot?

    1. Christoph Silver badge

      If the sensor is bigger, the lens system has to be bigger as well. That's why DSLRs are much bigger than smartphone cameras.

    2. Gerhard den Hollander

      you will also need a bigger lens, and therefore a large focal range, meaning increased Z-height

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        I'm okay with increased Z height. What is with the obsession on minimal-height phones? Give me some girth to that thing, dang it! Unless the phone is flexible, I want it to feel like it's sturdy; some extra millimetres will help in that regard.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          S4 zoom

          Sounds like you are the one the S4 zoom was targeted at.

          Seriously, if you need a camera significantly better than you can get in a smartphone, the only way you'll get it is to turn your DSLR into a phone. Most of them already have everything they need for this except a 3G radio, get them to add that and you're gold. As a bonus the lens is already so big and heavy they can easily add a much larger battery than any phone has so you can get a week of talk time, in case you want that.

        2. Christoph Silver badge

          I want it to feel like it's sturdy; some extra millimetres will help in that regard.

          If you double or triple the size of the sensor, you double or triple the dimensions of the lens system. So the camera is 8 to 27 times bigger, not just a few millimetres.

          1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            I'm a note 2 user. 8 to 27 times the size of the lens system would go practically unnoticed. ;)

  4. Christoph Silver badge

    Why bother with megapixels?

    Most of the pictures will never show up anywhere but on a screen. Very very few will ever get printed. So why bother with more megapixels than a screen will hold?

    Keep the megapixels down and the pixel size up, and you get better pictures, less noise, and better low-light sensitivity.

    The top-end cameras have ludicrous resolution unless you are printing in a glossy magazine.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why bother with megapixels?

      I thought the point was that applied to front sensors, but not nearly so much to back illuminated sensors where more pixels doesn't degrade light gathering power to such an extent. For a given sensor size, the number of photons arriving does not depend on pixel count. But more pixels mean potentially better edge detection and colour gradients, because a single on-monitor pixel can be the result of sharpening and smoothing performed on a number of pixels, while with a low res sensor this is not possible. This is why the Nokia detects over 30Mpx but then rounds them down to 5.

      Obviously at some point the wavelength of light becomes a complicating factor, but taking that as around 500nM, a phone sensor with a 10mm diagonal could still theoretically have around 200Mpx of fundamental resolution, if the electronics and the optics could stand it.

      1. Christoph Silver badge

        Re: Why bother with megapixels?

        As I understand it, the problem is that with tiny pixels you get less photons per pixel. So you get lower signal to noise, and much less sensitivity to low-light conditions.However much later processing you add, you've degraded the original signal.

    2. squigbobble

      Re: Why bother with megapixels?

      My feelings exactly. My main annoyance with my N900's camera is not the resolution or even the noise when you zoom right in on the image, it's the fact that I can't take a decent pic without the flash in what my eyes are telling me is daylight. It's an office hours phonecam, 9am-5pm daylight required. Even a 60W bulb in a small room isn't bright enough for it. I'd rather have 8MP and a pic that looks like what my eyes can see than 24MP and bright-sunlight-only operation.

  5. Zola

    This article mocks higher megapixels

    But the fact is that the Nokia PureView 41 megapixel sensor IS revolutionary because all those extra pixels and the large sensor are used in the right way that rely does benefit the end user. Extra megapixels just for the sake of it however is a complete waste. This point shouldn't be overlooked.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This article mocks higher megapixels

      The pureview at 42mp is made to look a chump by about Xperia z1 with half the pixels, adj it's fair to say mp are meaningless marketing drivel

      1. Zola

        Re: This article mocks higher megapixels

        The pureview at 42mp is made to look a chump by about Xperia z1 with half the pixels, adj it's fair to say mp are meaningless marketing drivel

        Can you zoom in (lossless) and reframe on your Z1? No, thought not.

        Some of the tricks you can achieve with PureView are unachievable with any other sensor, including the Z1, because of the techniques employed by Nokia making the most of the 41mpx.

    2. Mr C

      Re: This article mocks higher megapixels

      Right, i expected to find someone in here who would mention Nokia.

      AFIAK thats the real bar that other companies have to reach for.

      Its so much better, bit bulky though, but i don't think anyone can claim they did something revolutionary without being compared to Nokia's sensor.

  6. Shades
    Paris Hilton

    What About Software?

    Its all well and good improving the sensors if the processing software behind them is poor. Case in point would be my HTC HD2. While it still had Windows Mobile on it, no matter what settings were fiddled with, the shutter speed could be measured in seconds, resulting in every image being blurred unless you managed to stand completely and utterly still, massive over exposure and an awful blue tint to practically every shot. Low light performace? Don't even go there! To say I was a little disappointed with the performance of the camera in what was a very high end device (when it was first released) would be a massive understatement.

    Naturally, I thought this was down to the hardware - HTC never had a good reputation for the sensors in their devices. That was until I ditched WinMo, after HTC decided to drop support for it and even pulled patches from their website, and installed CyanogenMod on it. The first time I used the camera app my jaw dropped to the floor... the quality of the images, compared to those taken under WinMo, was nothing short of staggering! The shutter speed was damn near as makes no difference to being instant, images were correctly exposed, white balance detection had improved and the blue tint had gone. All with exactly the same sensor as under WinMo. I've since taken some beautiful and colourful shots (for a 5MP camera phone) that I would never, ever have been able to capture prior to the installation of CyanogenMod.

    So, I can't help but wonder if, in the MegaPixel race, that the quality of the processing software is being overlooked? Or maybe its just the that I have a warped impression of the quality of certain software thanks to the blantantly p*ss-poor coding ability at Microsoft

  7. Steven Roper

    Nothing changes

    Back in the 80s I was shopping around for a new stereo. In store after store, I'd see outrageous claims for the power of these cheap all-in-one systems - 600 W here, 1500 W there. Watts PMPO, that is. Meaning that the system could theoretically output that power level for a second or two here and there, with a load of distortion, before blowing its caps out of its arse, but nowhere near that on a continuous basis.

    Try asking the salesmen how many watts RMS or the signal-to-noise ratio and I'd get blank looks at shop after shop. They'd try all sorts of weasel tricks to convince me that PMPO was a valid measure of a stereo system's quality and that'd be my cue to move on.

    After that it was MHz for microprocessors, which we quickly established as PMPO-level bullshit even back in the Commodore 64 days. The Zilog Z-80 could be clocked at 4 MHz while the humble 6510 only did 1, but the overheads of the Z80 made it the inferior processor. Same with the 12 MHz 80286 of the IBM PC vs the 7 MHz 68000 of the Amiga - and the Amiga blew the PC away in terms of performance.

    These days it's megapixels. I have an Olympus FE 240 pocket camera (nothing fancy, but at least it has an actual lens on it) and a Samsung Galaxy S2 phone. The Olympus is 7 megapixels, the phone is 8. Guess which one takes the better pictures?

    Oh well, I suppose they've got to keep trying. But for me, every time I see these bullshit measurements touted as an informative factor of a product's quality, I am reminded of the PMPO days and my youthful trek around town to find the ideal stereo.

    1. PaulR79

      Re: Nothing changes

      I often wonder what would have happened if the 286 had lost out to the 68k processors. Would we now all be using computers with Motorola CPUs based loosely around the original 68k series or would PowerPCs be leading the charge with Intel playing the role of AMD?

      1. Belardi

        Re: Nothing changes

        No, not really. The 68000 series chips were better made than the intels in that era. With bigger demands and more budget - Motorola would spend more to develop faster CPUs. AMD is weaker than intel because they have far less R&D resources - partially due to Intel's anti-competitive practices and AMD's own inability to meet demand. During the P4 era, AMD was clearly the much better CPU - but the market pushed for intel. Just before Core2, AMD sales were very high... stepping into a computer store and you would have found 4 out of 5 PCs with AMD CPUs.

        An Amiga 500/1000 with a 7Mhz 16/32bit CPU that would run circles around a 33mhz 386 using Windows 3, even with less memory.

        (Amiga was always a 32bit OS, which MS didn't have a common 32bit OS until Win95 and NT4)

    2. Belardi

      Re: Nothing changes

      "The Olympus is 7 megapixels, the phone is 8. Guess which one takes the better pictures?"

      Actually again, its NOT the megapixels. The lens, bigger sensors and more can and WILL effect picture quality. I have 3 cameras... a PRO DSLR $2500 (6MP) a Mid-range Canon that was $600 7 years ago (8MP) and my pocket camera I recently purchased (16MP) $100.

      My DSLR is far better than my 8MP camera... but its heavy, more complicated. But I'll use the 8MP camera for crowded location since its more portable. For family and doing quick and easy good photos, it'll be my $100 camera. Again, its the weakest of my cameras. I also have it set to 8MP to save space... as I don't use such photos for printing. My 24" monitor is 1920x1200... so for MOST people, anything over 6/8MP is overkill.

      My 8MP camera on my phone gets the MOST usage. This is why P&S cameras are pretty much going out of style. But phones still have TINY TINY censors and TINY lens and cannot compete with any real camera over $100. But for most people - a camera phone will and does work fine.

  8. PaulR79

    I can hardly wait for slimmer phones!

    "and allow for slimmer devices"

    I put it to an HTC person before that slimmer phones that sacrifice battery life are not wanted and I'd rather have a slightly more bulky (10mm is bulky? I own a Nokia 5110!) device if it meant even 33% more battery life. The response I got was that the market wants slimmer devices and they'd be crazy to go against that. That was even after I'd pointed out the Motorola RAZR MAXX which didn't add huge bulk. Until the manufacturers realise there is a market for more 'chunky' devices with better battery we're stuck with this obsession. It makes me sigh greatly when the only real solution is, mostly, a battery case that ends up turning a <10mm phone into 25mm or more phone.

    1. Geoff Campbell

      Re: I can hardly wait for slimmer phones!

      Get something like a Galaxy S4, and add an extended battery from eBay. Adds a few millimetres to the thickness, doubles the battery life. Sorted.


    2. MrDamage

      Re: I can hardly wait for slimmer phones!

      Agreed. I far prefer a phone with a bit of chunk to it, than these wafer thin lightweight things that you have to wait until it rings before you can work out which pocket its in.

      then of course they get so thin you can only hold them with your fingertips, and not a good, solid grip with your hand.

      Just like supermodels I guess. slim, stylish, pretty to look at, but prone to breaking if you try and give it decent fondle.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Re: I can hardly wait for slimmer phones!

        Spot on! I find modern phones quite uncomfortable to use. I'm forever dropping them when just trying to shift position on a long call - what? You didn't know you could talk to people with them - That never used to happen with the old feature phones that were shaped much closer to the natural curve of your hand.

        I'm also not impressed by the Mpixel race, and still using an 'ancient' 3.2 Mpixel Olympus that's reasonably compact but has a decent size lense.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SIII Mini

    Nice phone, but the camera is almost worthless. Even showing the photos on a monitor reveals them to be made up entirely of coloured smudges. I'm with Trev on this: give me a thicker phone with a larger sensor and a half-decent decent lens (but, ah, don't worry so much about a Windows OS, thanks).

  10. Matt_payne666

    all these people saying 'I don't want a skinny phone' and then referring to the nokias as too thick?

    what a fickle bunch!!

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