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Nexus 5 to feature a MEMS camera? Probably not

We find it unlikely that the Nexus 5 would feature a MEMS camera from DigitalOptics as recently reported. Here are the reasons why.
October 2, 2013
Camera modules on LG G2

An alleged Nexus 5 log file made the rounds recently, revealing some of the specifications of the upcoming smartphone. Now, MyCe and AndroidWorld, the two sites that originally leaked the file, found a possible reference to the Nexus 5’s camera.

Scouring through the log file, the two sites found what they believe to be the code number of the camera module on the new Nexus: IMX179. Some quick research lead the two sites to an 8MP camera module equipped with a MEMS (microelectromechanical system) actuator manufactured by DigitalOptics (DO), a San Jose-based company specializing in imaging systems for smartphones. MyCe and AndroidWorld then connected the dots and concluded that the Nexus 5 will feature an 8MP mems|cam from DigitalOptics.

If this supposition would be accurate, it would be a huge deal – MEMS actuators are faster, longer lasting, more compact, and more precise that the conventional voice coil motors (VCM) actuators in most cameras. MEMS technology also enables some interesting applications, such as taking multiple images of the subject at different focus zones and combining them into one image, allowing the user to select the preferred focus level. Here’s a demo video of the tech, courtesy of Engadget.

However, we find it unlikely that the Nexus 5 would feature a MEMS camera from DigitalOptics, for several reasons:

  • The log file only contains a reference to “IMX179”, which is the Sony-made sensor equipping some versions of DigitalOptics’ mems|cam camera modules. But other camera module makers may use the same Sony sensor. In fact, the recently launched Meizu MX3 is equipped with an IMX179 sensor, but we couldn’t find any reference to it featuring a DigitalOptics MEMS camera.
  • According to a DigitalOptics press release from August, production of the mems|cam will ramp in Q4 2013, with “high volume capacity” to be added in 2014. The Nexus 5 is expected to launch this month.
  • MEMS cameras are relatively expensive – the price is $25 per module for a batch of 10,000 units. For comparison, the Note 3’s 13MP camera is estimated to cost about $15. While that may not seem like much, keeping the cost of the Nexus 5 in check is probably a big concern for Google.

We can’t rule out this report as 100 percent incorrect, but for now, we think it’s just a case of wishful thinking.

Update: here are a few samples taken with the Meizu MX3, which features a Sony IMX179 sensor.

Remember that the camera module may be different on the Nexus.