Sony may not be a top 5 smartphone maker. But the company has a pretty major presence in the mobile space thanks to its popular image sensors that are used in smartphone cameras.

The company’s next image sensor is called the IMX586, and it’s a stacked CMOS image sensor with support for 48 megapixel photos. Sony says that’s the highest pixel count of any camera sensor designed for smartphones.

Of course, more pixels doesn’t always mean better photographs. But it certainly doesn’t hurt… particularly if you want to print out a large copy of a photo or crop a section instead of zooming.

While the high pixel count is the new camera’s hallmark feature, Sony says the IMX586 image sensor has a few other tricks up its sleeve, including a low-light photo mode that uses input from four adjacent pixels to increase light (and color sensitivity) for photos shot in the dark. This means you’ll only be able to get 12MP photos instead of 48MP images when using this feature, but since plenty of competing cameras top out at 12MP, that shouldn’t be a big problem for most users.

The low-light mode also helped Sony cram a 48MP sensor into a tiny space. The camera uses 0.8 μm pixels, which would normally result in crappy photos in low-light conditions.

Sony’s camera also supports slow-motion video capture. You can shoot:

  • 4K video at up to 90 frames per second
  • 1080p video at up to 240 frames per second
  • 720p video at up to 480 frames per second

Other features include support for HDR imaging, RAW image output, and image plan phase-difference autofocus.

Sony says samples of the new image sensor should begin shipping in September, which means we could see phones featuring the Sony IMX586 sensor later this year or early in 2019.

The company does face some competition in the high-pixel-count space. Huawei’s P20 Pro has a 3-camera system that includes a 40MP image sensor and two other cameras. And the Nokia Lumia 1020 used a 41MP camera in lieu of an optical zoom lens way back in 2013.

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5 replies on “Sony’s new image sensor will bring 48MP photography to smartphones”

  1. I’m definitely interested in this being included in my next Smartphone, as long as they take advantage of the benefits of the high pixel count. This brings the possibility of having a crop-zoom (digital zoom) feature that allows you to have a “telephoto” mode that simply crops the inner part of the image to give the effect of zoom, but still retain a decent pixel count.

    For example, my Galaxy S9+’s 2nd camera has a 52mm lens (that is it’s 35mm photography equivalent). If it had a 48mp sensor, that could probably allow you to crop the middle 15mp or so, and achieve the effect of a 75mm or 85mm lens.

  2. Nokia PureView 808 used a 41MP sensor and downsampled that for lower noise like this sensor, back in 2012.

  3. One of the problems with really high density image sensors is noise. I am not sure how dropping from 48MP to 12MP reduces the noise from such small pixels. Sony may be the best manufacturer of these types of sensors so I will just wait to see reviews.

    1. Dropping the resolution has the same noise averaging effect as larger pixels. Noise has also been reducing rapidly with each generation of sensors. Bigger is still better, but small is getting surprisingly good.

      1. I suspect a lot of the noise reduction is actually being handled in software and the software is getting better every year.

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