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The S21 Ultra's new 108MP sensor tackles a major issue with S20 Ultra's camera

From autofocus to low-light quality, there are a couple of key improvements to the Galaxy S21 Ultra's main camera sensor.

Published onJanuary 14, 2021

  • Samsung Semiconductor has announced the 108MP Isocell Bright HM3 sensor.
  • It’s the main camera sensor on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
  • It brings improved autofocus performance, 12-bit image output, and better low-light snaps.

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra marked the first time that we saw a 108MP camera in a flagship phone (Xiaomi’s Mi Note 10 being a mid-range device), packing an Isocell Bright HM1 sensor.

Unfortunately, it quickly emerged after launch that the S20 Ultra suffered from significant autofocus issues, as it struggled to focus on objects in some scenarios. Fortunately, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is equipped with the new 108MP Isocell Bright HM3 sensor, and it seeks to address some pain points around the HM1.

For starters, Samsung Semiconductor confirmed to Android Authority that the sensor packs a new Super PD Autofocus Plus feature for more accurate autofocus.

Our first impressions: Samsung Galaxy S21 series — cheaper, but are they better?

“Super PD Plus adds AF-optimized micro-lenses over the phase detection focusing agents, increasing measurement accuracy of the agents by 50%,” the company explained, adding that it should specifically improve photos of fast-moving objects and low-light snaps. There’s no word if this will improve autofocus performance when taking close-up shots of objects (as some users reported problems with this on the S20 Ultra too), but this issue could be due to the inherent size and accompanying focal length of Samsung’s 108MP sensors.

The second major upgrade over the S20 Ultra’s sensor is Smart ISO Pro technology (as opposed to Smart ISO seen on the HM1). Much like the earlier sensor, this feature delivers real-time HDR by capturing both high and low ISO frames and then combining them. But this time, Samsung Semiconductor is promising 12-bit images — which the Galaxy S21 series can indeed output — as well as a 50% improvement to light sensitivity and therefore better low-light shots.

Would you buy a phone with a 100MP+ camera?

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Samsung’s Isocell Bright HM3 has plenty in common with the HM1 otherwise, so that means a 1/1.33-inch sensor size and 0.8 micron pixels. You’re also getting nona-binning technology once again, combining data from nine adjacent pixels into one, and churning out images that are roughly equivalent to results from a 12MP 2.4 micron camera. And Samsung is also touting “seamless” transitions between 12MP and 108MP modes.

We’ll be sure to put the Galaxy S21 Ultra cameras (including the 108MP shooter) to the test. Would you buy a smartphone with a 100MP+ camera though? Take our poll further up the page!