back to article Samsung Galaxy S11 tipped to escalate the phone cam arms race with 108MP sensor

Samsung is expected to next year release its newest flagship, the Galaxy S11. And, as is the case with any high-profile phone release, details are steadily leaking from the chaebol's notoriously porous supply chain. The latest scuttlebutt comes from Bloomberg, which reports that the Galaxy S11 – and its clamshell Galaxy Fold …

  1. werdsmith Silver badge

    In the dedicated camera world the high pixel count cameras, that appeared because of the marketing people using big numbers to impress gullible buyers, were trounced for image quality by lower MP in the same sensor size, because of lower noise.

    1. Stork Silver badge

      My impression is that there is not much difference these days. At least according to Mr. Hogan, (www.bythom.com) at lower ISO (<800) you get close to same DR in the D5 at 20.8MP as the D850 at 45MP. But 45MP requires really good optics and preferably a good tripod too - error margin is small if you want ll from it.

      How do they get to 108MP?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > How do they get to 108MP?

        Perhaps it's 3x36 stacked Foveon-style?

        ;-)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        How do they get to 108MP?

        By having a 108 megapixel sensor. They don't care if it gets better results or not, that's only required in the pro market where photographers don't care about specs but only about results.

        Selling phones has been about specs for years - variously fighting over not just camera megapixels but also screen size, display pixels, battery size, number of cores, screen to body ratio, number of cameras... Megapixels has been forgotten the last couple years in the "number of cameras" wars, but it looks megapixels is making a comeback.

        1. Stork Silver badge

          I think we quite agree that 108MP is completely pointless.

          But really, one of the reason Nikons pro sports model (D5) is only 20.8MP and the "everything else" top DSLR (D850) is 45MP, is that it takes too much time moving all that data off the chip and onto the memory card - and for pro sport photographers, smaller files to upload is an advantage too.

          For output size, 20MP should do nicely for A2, still allowing the viewer to go really close without seeing pixels.

          In serious cameras, you have to go to medium format to be anywhere near 100MP.

          Regarding noise, sensors are getting close to the limit where randomness of photons is an issue.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            I think we quite agree that 108MP is completely pointless.

            I don't agree.

            It's a way of getting around a total lack of decent optics on the mobile. Whereas I am quite happy with my DSLR which has less than one tenth the pixelage, I actually have an optical zoom for magnification that is physically impossible to fit on a phone since "focal length" is an immutable law of optics; there has to be distance between the sensor and the lens and if you are dedicated to getting a pancake flat device then ergo you can't have any focal length and therefore can't have a worthwhile optical zoom.

            What you can however do is just have a trillion pixel sensor, discard most of them and then use sheer megapixelage in addition to the tiny focal length you can get to obtain some "megapixel magnification" to obtain something which sort of has a similar effect to a worthwhile optical zoom.

          2. Vehlin

            It's not about upload size per se. It's down to burst shooting. Sports photography is about grabbing a burst of shots and getting a good one out of the set, a smaller image size allows more images to be stored in the camera's buffer (and faster writes to the memory card to clear the buffer).

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              What about faster memory cards? If they've reached the point they can capture 4K60 video, what's hampering their use in high-res burst shooting?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Megapixels stopped getting much mention a few years ago

      But in the last year or so the megapixel wars seemed to have returned with a vengeance. Maybe that's because people realized that more pixels meant they were smaller and collected less light / more noise, or maybe because they started competing on the number of cameras.

      Either way we're already reaching diminishing returns in number of cameras so I guess it is back to the megapixel wars and I guess they hope people have forgot about the reduced dynamic range smaller pixels guarantee.

      1. overunder Silver badge

        Re: Megapixels stopped getting much mention a few years ago

        It's not pixel count, it's sensor size.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not necessarily. No longer can a phone push out a high number just to capture the headlines, they have to back it up with great photos - every single review of a high-end smartphone will spend a good section to the quality of the camera.

      Having high megapixels can allow you to combine multiple pixels into a larger pixel element for a better quality image, it can be used to reduced noise, better low light exposure, even single-shot HDR (real HDR, not HDR -effect), or you can have true pixel digital zoom (albeit lower quality, lower res).

      Smartphones have all but wiped out the need for compact cameras (although there are some use cases for them, and you get a better optical zoom for less money). Prosumer DSLR and similar cameras become a lot more about the lenses than purely the sensor as they used to be.

      However smartphones, by fa,r have the most innovation and quality from such a tiny sensor and small lens, that would've been thought impossible a few years back. No-one could have predicted the quality of photos that is possible today on a smartphone as the expected limitations keep being surpassed. Even the results that they can get from clever software and OIS is really impressive. I have my two DSLRs at home that I am using less and less as I find that 95% of the time the camera on my smartphone produces results that are totally acceptable for my use cases.

      In reality, a non-photography enthusiast can take some very good pictures on a smartphone, that they would never be able to take on a DSLR with similar minimal training.

  2. Long John Silver
    Pirate

    How do cameras with tiny diameter lenses offer high resolution?

    I need a point of reference in order to understand present day digital camera technology: I shall take this to be fine-grain 35mm film emulsion (say ASA 25). How do bog-standard phone/cameras rate in this regard and how much better is the device mentioned here?

    A point of puzzlement is how lens systems of tiny diameter collect sufficient light to offer impressive resolution? Cameras used by professional photographers boast lenses of large physical diameter just as did the previous generation of cameras for analogue photography.

    I am aware that numerical aperture can be defined as the ratio of focal length to effective lens diameter. Presumably miniaturisation of lenses coupled with tiny focal length enables maintenance of a good working ratio. Even so, there is the matter of how lens aberrations such as chromatic and spherical are corrected in such tiny optical assemblies; in general this entails a combination of lenses.

    A pointer to an authoritative source would be welcome.

    1. Barrie Shepherd

      Re: How do cameras with tiny diameter lenses offer high resolution?

      I'm certainly not authoritative, and am happy to be shot down, but I think I remember (it was along time ago) from school physics that a pin hole camera, with very small pin hole, offered the best resolution and depth of field but, because of the very low aperture and minimal light transmission, this could never be resolved on film because the long exposure would not enable a decent exposure before other physical events wreaked the deliverable resolution.

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: How do cameras with tiny diameter lenses offer high resolution?

        After a web search I found https://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/film-resolution.htm. There is an argument that to get the effective 35mm colour film 'resolution' would require a full frame digital sensor of 175Mp and even then it may not look as good as film due to its contrast response ...

        1. Steve Todd Silver badge

          Re: How do cameras with tiny diameter lenses offer high resolution?

          I’d take anything Mr Rockwell says with a huge pinch of salt. Film, being an analog media, has some response to small details above what is regarded as its limits of resolution (the photographic world measures this by MTF50, the point at which the contrast difference between a black and a white line falls to 50%). Digital cameras hold on to colour/contrast differences better, tending to cut off more sharply as they reach the limits of the sensor and/or lens.

          The other factor is the speed of the film you are using. Faster films use bigger silver grains which have lower resolution.

          The upshot of all of this is that a good, slow, 35mm film can resolve around 20-24M pixels of data, but there may be slight differences if you scan it above that size.

          1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

            Re: How do cameras with tiny diameter lenses offer high resolution?

            Thank you for pointlessly reiterating the excellent material that is detailed in the article I linked from Mr Rockwell yet at the same time so kindly dissing the author for no obvious reason. You did of course make no attempt to address his final argument about the Bayer matrix reducing the effective resolution of a colour digital sensor ...

            1. Steve Todd Silver badge

              Re: How do cameras with tiny diameter lenses offer high resolution?

              Bayer resolution is nowhere near as important as you seem to think (the human eye is less sensitive to colour than spacial changes). Worst case the effect is about 1.6x the number of raw pixels for the same spacial resolution.

              I’ve been through the arguments before many times. By the time DSLRs reached 16.7M pixels (in the form of the old Cannon 1Ds mk II) then it became very hard to distinguish the difference. At between 20-24M pixels they are pretty much identical, with the DSLR tending to edge it in terms of contrast and sharpness. At 21M pixels I’ve made A2 prints that were sharper and more detailed than anything I’ve printed onto A4 from film. You can buy 50M pixel DSLRs these days.

    2. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

      Re: How do cameras with tiny diameter lenses offer high resolution?

      From the cryptic PR, it sounds like Samsung wants to use a dynamic level of downsampling to tune SNR versus resolution. They've chosen 2x2 cell color filters and I don't think their re-mosaic plan will work as well as they claim. Removing mosaic patterns at high resolution requires some shape tracing - a feature that doesn't work on noisy pixels. I'm not an expert on the math to calculate the diffraction limit and maximum illumination area, but even hitting 1/4 resolution seems like it would need a lens that doesn't fit in a cellphone.

      My 12 Mpix S9+ loses details to noise filtering even at ISO 50. I'd have low expectations for the 108 Mpix S11.

  3. whoseyourdaddy

    Now if they can fit in a f1.2 1" diameter lens

    Sticking with Apple. Next...

    1. Jan 0 Silver badge

      Re: Now if they can fit in a f1.2 1" diameter lens

      Perhaps I could knock up* a mount to attach my Cannon F0.95 "Dream" lens to my phone? With a focal length of 50mm it might make an awesome telephoto - for small values of might.

      *maybe by cannibalising my 7s?

    2. Unicornpiss Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Now if they can fit in a f1.2 1" diameter lens

      Sticking with my old Galaxy S5 until it dies. Or I get sick of the increasing amount of newer software that doesn't want to support its old OS. The 16MP camera still takes pretty good photos, and it took Apple ages to exceed it, though they do have some clever tricks in their photo app. But with an SD card slot, IR emitter, and easily removable battery, it remains very functional and relevant. It's also proven durable, as I am not easy on phones.

      To me buying a new phone is almost as aggravating a task as selecting a new car, which is also part of the reason I keep my old phone. My next phone may not be a Samsung, but it would take a major paradigm shift from Apple to make me switch.

    3. Steve Todd Silver badge

      Re: Now if they can fit in a f1.2 1" diameter lens

      When sensor size is quoted as 1/1.3” they are using comparisons to old image tube sizes. In actuality the sensor is about 10mm in its longest axis. The lens that goes with it is also very short focus, and as such you’d expect an objective lens of about 5mm in diameter to be still quite fast (circa f2).

  4. macjules Silver badge

    None of the above

    Nah. I’m sticking with my Escobar Phone thanks. Comes with hot and cold running Russian hookers and all the marching powder one can sniff, and all for under $350. Sorry Apple and Samsung, but you do not even come close.

    1. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: None of the above

      ...plus, when you take it out to show people, you get to yell “Say hello to my little friend!” in your best Pacino voice, right?

  5. Wade Burchette Silver badge

    New phone from Samsung

    Perfect! I've been thinking about getting the S9 for a little bit. With the S11 coming out, I can now pick up the phone I really want for a lot less. My wallet thanks you Samsung.

  6. tempemeaty
    Facepalm

    Finally

    When pro gear for football games got to 20mp I got all hot and bothered over 15yrs ago. Since chip tech loves Moore's law I figured image chips would get to, not just film resolution, but film surface size to get enough color and resolution density to surpass film shortly thereafter. I sold a huge load of Nikon and Canon gear so I wouldn't get caught with all my money tied up in old tech. Then image chip tech stagnated. It never got fully beyond film level resolution to print. The only saving grace was I still didn't need film anymore and film got to be to expensive to use.

    So fast forward 15+ yrs to today. FINALLY a fscking image sensor that is a bit larger and one that hits triple digits in megapixels for consumer level use. Sheeeeeiiiiiit that took it's time.

  7. Sleep deprived

    a fairly pronounced camera bump on the phone's derriere

    Then they should locate that bump higher up on the phone to reduce the part that sticks out of the pocket on the user's derriere.

  8. Matt_payne666

    It's the same sensor array as used on the Xiaomi note 10... currently the best smartphone camera out there according to DxO... beating the iPhone 11pro.

    The sensor is significantly bigger than the current bunch of phones too so bigger pixels too.

  9. osmarks

    I'm kind of expecting the next pointless phone camera gimmick to be IR/UV sensors, since moar megapixels and moar cameras can't go for that long.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Most phone cameras already detect infrared. It's how those "read your pulse with your camera" apps work. Some designs filter the IR, some don't. Easy way to check is to point the black end of a remote control (or a Wii Sensor Bar) at the camera and let it do its thing. IIRC, most Samsung phones don't filter the IR.

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Burglars use this to detect night time CCTV. I know that because military bases use IR floodlights that you can detect with a camera. Checking with a camera though is suspicious, you can buy a small bar of metal that lights up in IR so you can discretely notice when you are in IR light.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      pointless phone camera gimmick to be IR/UV sensors

      Au contraire - there are quite a few use cases where a sensor like that would be very, very useful..

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    meanwhile

    my S2 (modded) does very thankyouverymuch.

  11. quartzz

    do phones do optical zoom or image stabilisation yet?

    1. joeW
      1. Is It Me

        lots do image stabilisation, and more are now doing multiple lenses on different sensor to do optical "zoom" but are in reality two or three fixed focal length lenses.

        1. joeW

          There's some with proper sliding optical zoom too - the trick is to turn it sideways inside the phone body and use a periscope-style reflector at the end.

          https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2017/3/1/14755916/oppo-5x-zoom-camera-prototype-hands-on-mwc-2017

          https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2019/03/new-huawei-phone-has-a-5x-optical-zoom-thanks-to-a-periscope-lens/

          1. quartzz

            cool. but I take it if I want those features, I'll have to settle for less than 100MP

  12. David Austin

    "felt fairly safe, with few standout features distinguishing it from their predecessors"

    Outside the more avant garde stuff like folding phones and flexible screens, is that really a surprise? What more could you honestly add to a phone at this point? Even the budget end can surf the web, take an OK picture, stream a movie, and listen to music (Oh, and make the occasional phone call).

    Don't take this as a negative: Since around the iPhone 4s/Galaxy S3 days, the pocket computers we all carry around have been so crammed with features, about all you can do is make the numbers bigger and faster

    I'm excited to see what the next big leap forward is, but I'm glad I'm not the engineer or marketing bod that has to try to come up with what that is.

  13. JDX Gold badge

    time-of-flight (TOF) sensor

    If the industry talk is to be believed, this will come with three additional sensors, including an ultrawide-angle lens, a 5x optical zoom and a time-of-flight (TOF) sensor.

    A what now? I am assuming this has little to do with aviatics?

    1. IsJustabloke
      Meh

      Re: time-of-flight (TOF) sensor

      It measures the round trip time for an artificial light source, such as a IR focusing beam. It will accurately measure the distance of the subject at each point fo the frame. It should give better focus performance.

  14. BigAndos

    Sounds like another one where marketing wanted a big number to shout about! My phone has a 12MP camera which takes perfectly good photos cheers.

  15. Imhotep Silver badge

    Complete With Spy Chip Photo

    "The latest scuttlebutt comes from Bloomberg"

    Not exactly an unimpeachable or even credible source for IT matters.

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