According to its own website, Samsung is now working on a next-gen 13MP back-illuminated sensor, called S5K3L2, that’s meant to go into phones and tablets sometime next year. The news comes after we have already heard that Samsung has been working on a 12MP sensor (S5K3L1) that’s currently in production for upcoming devices.
The new sensor will be a pretty standard 1/3.2″ format, with a pixel size of 1.1µ. The picture resolution will be 4208×3120, and will shoot videos at 30 FPS. According to Samsung, the images will be able to maintain high contrast even when shot at those high frame rates. Their camera sensors are also the most energy efficient in the industry, so that should help with battery life too, when shooting a lot of pictures in a row. We won’t be able to put these affirmations to the test for a while, though.
As far as megapixels go, phone cameras seem to be moving into point and shoot territory, and at this rate it won’t be long until they go into low-end DSLR territory as well, but with much less overall quality than those devices, of course. The problem with increasing the megapixels is that the pixels have to be smaller and smaller, especially if the manufacturers try to maintain the size of the sensor, or make it even smaller. And when the pixels are smaller, it means they capture less light and the pictures are of less quality.
Now does this mean a 13MP picture will look worse than an 8MP picture? Not necessarily, and most likely it won’t, because manufacturers also come up with other improvements. But my point is those improvements would have an even bigger impact if the number of pixels was maintained rather than increased, especially if they aren’t going to increase the sensor size.
When they increase the megapixel size, they have to work that much harder to increase the quality of the picture. And at this point having a ton of megapixels on a camera doesn’t make much sense, unless you want extreme zooms on your PC. But otherwise even a 2MP photo is enough to cover a Full HD display (which has around 2 million pixels).
Speaking of sensor sizes, although I would never have bought Nokia’s PureView 808, because it ran Symbian, and I wouldn’t have been interested in it if it ran WP8 either. I am still hoping Nokia will pursue that camera strategy and continue to use such large sensors in more of their flagship phones. We could even see it become a trend; a trend that I am hoping other manufacturers from the Android world pick-up on.
Unfortunately, even Nokia seems to have given up on that, and now it is only pursuing low-light performance and stabilization. These are still very worthy goals, and I hope other manufacturers try to beat the Finnish company on this, but the quality of the pictures will be much, much lower than what they were on the PureView 808.
Am I asking for all their phones to have extremely large sensors? No of course not, but seeing how Samsung, HTC and others want to release several “flagships” a year, I think they could make at least one of them have highly superior phone cameras, for those of us who really care about taking good pictures with our phones.
But now that dream may have died with Nokia refusing to pursue that strategy, so I wouldn’t expect huge advancements from either Nokia, Samsung or Apple in terms of picture quality, other than some incrementally improvements every year, in the next few years. From the looks of it neither Samsung’s 12MP camera, nor the 13MP one will have optical stabilization, although hopefully they will put it in the latter one now that they saw Nokia doing it! They are already using this technology on the recently announced Galaxy Camera with Jelly Bean.