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Samsung’s redesigned smartphone camera snaps better in low light

Building a camera sensor is a balance between resolution and low-light performance — too much of one, and the other suffers. But Samsung and Fujifilm recently worked together to develop a smartphone sensor that will allow for higher resolutions without suppressing low-light performance. On Tuesday, June 26, Samsung shared the ISOCELL Plus, a new CMOS sensor that the company says offers better low light performance with better color reproduction.

More megapixels means a higher resolution, but at the cost of low-light performance. Cramming so many pixels on a sensor that didn’t increase in size only makes each pixel smaller. Smaller pixels can’t gather as much light, so these high-resolution sensors tend to have lower quality low-light images.

To create a high resolution without having such a drastic effect on low light images, the ISOCELL Plus instead separates each pixel with a barrier. Containing that light within each pixel helps each one hold more light, increasing light sensitivity overall. Samsung says this results in a 15 percent improvement in capturing low-light shots. Bordering each pixel also helps prevent color bleed, creating better color in the image along with that improved sensitivity.

Earlier ISOCELL sensors, originally developed in 2013, also separated each pixel, but with a metal grid. The update uses a new material developed by Fujifilm. Unlike metal, this unnamed material doesn’t reflect or absorb light, leading to that improved low-light performance, better color, and sharper images.

Fujifilm cameras are known for the colors created from the company’s film simulation, but the technology isn’t a direct copy of the technology company’s existing mirrorless cameras. Fujifilm says the ISOCELL Plus is the first time the new material dividing each pixel has been commercialized. 

The new sensor design, Samsung says, will help improve the image quality coming from smartphones, including both high-resolution options and designs with larger pixels. “Through close collaboration with Fujifilm, an industry leader in imaging and information technology, we have pushed the boundaries of CMOS image sensor technology even further,” Ben Hur, vice president of System LSI marketing at Samsung Electronics, said in a press release. “The ISOCELL Plus will not only enable the development of ultra-high-resolution sensors with incredibly small pixel dimensions, but also bring performance advancements for sensors with larger pixel designs.”

The new sensor was unveiled just ahead of Mobile World Congress Shanghai, which runs from Wednesday, June 27, through Friday, June 29.

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