Sensors keep getting better, but size will always be an advantage
Leaks come in all shapes and sizes, but many of the best come straight out of the supply chain. In a post to Weibo (via GSM Arena), leaker Digital Chat Station revealed that Sony recently released a new camera sensor to manufacturers for testing. Coming in at a 1/1.1-inch size with a 50MP resolution, this will be one of the largest camera sensors designed for mainstream smartphones. Speculation points to the new sensor launching as the long-rumored Exmor IMX800, and likely debuting with the Xiaomi 12 Ultra.
Generally speaking, larger sensors are capable of absorbing more light, resulting in better performance in low-light environments or with the use of a very fast shutter speed. Sony’s rumored 1/1.1-inch sensor is just under 2% larger than Samsung’s current flagship, the GN2 at 1/1.12-inch. While the difference is relatively minor and might not have a noticeable impact on real world image quality, it’s possible Sony’s sensor outperforms Samsung’s in other ways; plus it gives Sony (and its partners) a marketing advantage to claim they have the larger sensor.
Timing and specs for Sony’s new sensor leave relatively little doubt it will ship under the Exmor IMX800 name when it is announced and goes into full production. However, associations with the Xiaomi 12 Ultra are more speculative. The phone was originally expected to launch with the Samsung Isocell GN5; but after Xiaomi chose to use Sony’s IMX707 in the 12 Pro, several recent reports have reported that the company will stick with Sony for the 12 Ultra as well.
Even at 1/1.1-inch, the alleged Exmor IMX800 won’t be the largest camera sensor to grace a smartphone. Panasonic set the record back in 2014 with a 1-inch sensor in the horribly named DMC-CM1. Much more recently, 2021 saw the release of two more phones with 1-inch sensors, starting with the Sharp Aquos R6, followed a few months later by the Sony Xperia Pro-I. However, the Xperia Pro-I, which uses the same sensor found in the RX100 VII camera, may deserve to be disqualified since it only uses 12MP from the center of the 20MP sensor due to the lens design. But to gain a little more perspective, just remember that a ”1-inch” sensor isn’t actually 1 inch.
In the constant race to achieve higher specs than the competition, even the smallest incremental advantages add up. Sony’s new sensor could add a bit of extra muscle to Xiaomi’s 12 Ultra, and the collaboration with Leica to improve lens design and software processing may lead to a tight race for the top photo and video capabilities for the year.
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