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Samsung explains the Galaxy S5's ISOCELL sensor

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Samsung's ISOCELL image sensor promises improved image quality by reducing electrical crosstalk between individual pixels.

Samsung revealed its innovative ISOCELL image sensor technology in September last year, but it has taken until now for the concept to be applied in a device. The Galaxy S5, which was announced at the Mobile World Congress, is the first smartphone from the Korean manufacturer that comes with an ISOCELL camera. Samsung has taken this occasion to publish a video that explains the technology in more detail.

According to Samsung, the ISOCELL sensor design achieves better image quality than is normally possible from the very small CMOS sensors used in smartphones and tablets. ISOCELL uses a backside-illuminated (BSI) photodiode that is unique compared to past designs thanks to its integrated barriers between the individual pixels. Compared to conventional BSI sensors, this reduces electrical crosstalk by about 30 percent. Crosstalk - the bleeding of photons and photoelectrons between neighboring pixels - has been a disadvantage of traditional BSI sensor design, one that can reduce image sharpness and color accuracy because light intended for one particular pixel spreads to its neighbors.

Existing BSI designs, with their photodiodes near the front of the sensor, lack any inherent structures that prevent light bleeding between pixels (a role fortuitously played by the circuitry in front of the photodiodes in older, frontside-illuminated chips). The barriers in the ISOCELL design prevent this bleeding.

An additional advantage of the ISOCELL's barriers is that overall photodiode size can be increased, which can lead to lower levels of noise and better dynamic range due to the increase in full-well capacities of each pixel. 

Increasing the size of the photodiodes allows the pixels to receive light from more awkward angles (something described as a 20% wider chief ray angle). This means a lens can be mounted closer to the sensor, potentially reducing the height of the camera module and making it more suitable for the slim bodies of mobile devices.

ISOCELL is trying to address a particular problem for very small pixels. So for now it is most applicable to smartphone camera technology, but as pixel density increases on larger sensors, we might well see it on enthusiast compact cameras at some point in the future. We are looking forward to testing the technology in the Galaxy S5. For now, you can watch the video below for a visual explanation of the concept.


  

Comments

Total comments: 49
rondhamalam
By rondhamalam (1 month ago)

is that Patented ?

0 upvotes
rondhamalam
By rondhamalam (1 month ago)

Oh don't bother with Patent.
Apple cannot copy it anyway.

0 upvotes
ikroneous
By ikroneous (4 months ago)

Just a few years ago Samsung was not producing camera sensors of it's own design. They like Apple and many others were using Sony's BSI sensor designs and Sony was the #1 CMOS fabricator in the world. But that has changed and Sony has taken a back seat on the bus to Samsung now being the #1 CMOS sensor volume producer.

Both fabricators are also involved in producing sensors for some of the main fabless Design houses. Sony it's known produces even the large sensors for Nikon among others. Samsung too has been in joint ventures with the likes of Pentax and many other fabless sensor designers. But they've recently been spending more more money on R&D and CAPeX than nearly all the other semiconductor fabs combined.

ISOCELL, it's own Smart WDR Stacked sensors and OIS that is twice as effective as their rivals in Nokia & Sony, are coming to market this year after several years of intensive R&D. ISOCELL is the result of their more than 20yrs of CMOS sensor semiconductor experience!

0 upvotes
Smokymtnhiker
By Smokymtnhiker (4 months ago)

If I want a camera I will buy a camera and not a gadget which has a camera on it.

1 upvote
ShoomKloom
By ShoomKloom (4 months ago)

I am a camera buf and own a mid range DSLR but that doesn't mean that I don't use my smartphone's camera: when I need to take a quick picture (which would be missed if I had to get up and get out my DSLR), or when I don't have my DSLR on me (most times: when I don't plan to take it, it's not on me)
So having the best camera on my smartphone means I get more good pictures.
It doesn't replace my good DSLR, only compliments it.

0 upvotes
rondhamalam
By rondhamalam (1 month ago)

Inevitably it will come to their DSLR.

0 upvotes
Misterio
By Misterio (4 months ago)

Comparison tests showed what camera on S5 = Note 3 or slightly better in some situations.

0 upvotes
ikroneous
By ikroneous (4 months ago)

If you know of any actual camera comparison links, then surely post them. Because they don't exist & in fact Galaxy S 5 models shown at MWC weren't even final production models. Besides not having been fully tweaked in firmware.

So let's take a look at what we do know for sure & that's all we can compare;
#1 - ISOCELL produces 30% less crosstalk than Sony's leading BSI process fabrication methods and 20% greater angular light penetration than smaller 8mp sensor comparisons.
#2 - Their latest 1st ever on mobile sensor phase detect AF is fast, very fast at 0.3sec. That's as fast as some DSLR's.
#3 - They now have greater focal point array matrix, because of ISOCELL than any other smartphone camera. That means their Focus Select isn't just a software gimmick, like it's competitors. It's in hardware too.
#4 - Their new greater Black firmware update proposal hasn't even been applied to GS 5 either. When final production models come out, then and only then can comparisons be made!

0 upvotes
Charlie Jin
By Charlie Jin (4 months ago)

I'll also hold off on praise or criticism until we see the actual photographs from Galaxy S5. If the photos are like the ones in the video, I'm buying it (Maybe Galaxy Note 4 - since I need a bigger screen). Currently, I am using Note 2 and I don't have any complaint regarding its sensor comparing with my previous phone, which was iPhone 4. I was thinking of going back to iPhone because there was a rumor that it's going to have a bigger size (5.5 inches), but it's quite unlikely :-(

2 upvotes
AngryCorgi
By AngryCorgi (4 months ago)

I'll hold off on praise or criticism until we see actual results from this technology. In the past, Samsung's forte has NOT been their image sensors of ANY size. Here's to hoping that trend gets reversed, and they are able to apply some competitive stress on the industry with a successful product!

4 upvotes
tagomilonga
By tagomilonga (4 months ago)

@ AngryCorgi You will? Promise? That's a relieve... tell you what , why don't you hold off with "your praise or criticism" indefinitely now go and pollute FB and twitter

0 upvotes
ikroneous
By ikroneous (4 months ago)

Oh boy... it looks like you've got jabbed by an angrier anti-Samsung Hater. I personally am looking forward to what the #1 CMOS semi fabrication house can do. When they've been spending more than twice what Sony's been spending alone & obliterating every other competitor on R&D and CAPeX.

Their competition is just scrounging around for littlest bad news they can dig up or thwarting good news altogether. Like a possible delay of GS 5 being moved later from April 11th do to lens. Yet, it's normal for production ramp ups to be off by 20-30% less yields prior to market release.

They've even stated it'll ramp up fast & we're talking about the largest memory & CMOS semiconductor operation on the planet now in volume. They've routinely beat competitors out the door over the years & succeeded on LCD screen parts for Apple when others have FAILED!

So yes, it's smarter to wait before we pass judgement & find out like w/ LG for Apple, that Samsung is more likely to be successful than NOT!

Comment edited 8 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (4 months ago)

As usual - they do not think laterally. Someone at Galaxy has initiated research for a better sensor. Nice! And then it is a mobile sensor - sux! This technology should improve all BSI cameras. So - go do it already!

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (4 months ago)

it's specifically useful to very small sensors, such as in mobile devices, though

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (4 months ago)

The normal BSI sensors are also quite small and need al the help they can get.

1 upvote
ybizzle
By ybizzle (4 months ago)

Not bad but still ways to go. Funny the Nokia 808 was released in 2012. Two years later and no one has still managed to catch up...

2 upvotes
IZO100
By IZO100 (4 months ago)

because there was nothing to catch up...

1 upvote
ybizzle
By ybizzle (4 months ago)

Yea...It only has the best camera ever put in a smartphone.

2 upvotes
RKGoth
By RKGoth (4 months ago)

But the worst smartphone to ever carry a camera!

3 upvotes
Virvatulet
By Virvatulet (4 months ago)

@RKGoth
Good joke, but badly worn-out as such. That simply is not true to any extent, Nokia's design and HW have always been a strong point and Symbian Belle is very good in everything including user experience. Its worst shortcoming was to be two years late on market; the window of opportunity was already closing.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
2 upvotes
ikroneous
By ikroneous (4 months ago)

Nokia doesn't produce their own screens, their own CMOS sensors or their own OS anymore. Their only claim to fame has been spending on camera designs and lame commercial that calls into doubt their integrity now that they rely on Microsoft's "Embrace Extend Extinguish" business ethic to compete! ;-p

So in all reality, it's Nokia that needs to better compete overall, instead of relying on Microsoft's Invented FUD and anticompetitive misinformation on it's competitors. While also only relying on a few crumbs of praise by their just as deluded Orwellian Prole fans as Apple's!

0 upvotes
wansai
By wansai (4 months ago)

@ikroneous,

after reading through the comments, i'm pretty sure you're being paid to post these comments. i know marketing and pr when i see it (i'm in the field after all).

it's a shame, there's already too much misinformation being spread about cameras and tech as it is.

in other replies you swoon over samsung's manufacturing, and now you smack talk its competitor.

the reality is, the nokia 808 still produces the best photos from a phone even today. this is not debatable. other phones can take good photos, as can Samsung phones, but not at 808 quality.

regardless of where components come from, the final product produces the goods.

I'm in the profession and also a photographer. I'll just see right through it.

isocell may very well be much better, but that claim remains to be seen.

0 upvotes
tecnoworld
By tecnoworld (4 months ago)

Would this same tech be useful also fo bigger sensors, like APS-C? If so, the incoming NX1 could take advantage on it and finally improve on high iso, that's the biggest achilles' heel of current samsung nx lineup, when compared to fuji, nikon and sony.

2 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (4 months ago)

Question. If you build a box around the photodiodes, how can the microlens on top of the photodiodes be bigger and receive light from more acute angles? The box would take up space for photodiodes and the side of the box would block light from acute angles. I saw the video two days ago and couldn't figure this one out.

1 upvote
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (4 months ago)

See my answer below.

0 upvotes
ikroneous
By ikroneous (4 months ago)

Samsung is doing this by utilizing their superior semiconductor process technology. Involves random or not random refractive gating activated on all four sides of each pixel cell in the matrix. So in effect Roland below is correct. You need less space between sensor cells used in Sony's BSI crosstalk reduction method.

So it's an improvement on BSI of 30% less crosstalk noise reduction and also amplifies light absorption, through refraction by 20%. While also decreasing dead space between pixel cells. Greater light absorption is therefore possible on a smaller sensor. They may even use this process technology on larger sensors, like on their mirrorless line of cameras.

Although, this can also produce problems with blacks, they've already proposed a firmware solution to increase contrast of black levels on darker areas. Simple equation that will produce fantastic results!

0 upvotes
Peiasdf
By Peiasdf (4 months ago)

Thanks Roland Karlsson. Saw your answer. Kinda surprised SONY did not insulate their photodiodes on their BSI sensor. Guess we have to wait till those company that slices ICs to get a better view.

0 upvotes
Jan Toude
By Jan Toude (4 months ago)

Galaxy S5 sample photos: http://hi-tech.mail.ru/review/misc/Samsung_GALAXY_S5-rev.html#a05
Google translation (search for "Examples photo"): http://translate.googleusercontent.com/translate_c?depth=1&hl=en&ie=UTF8&prev=_t&rurl=translate.google.com&sl=ru&tl=en&u=http://hi-tech.mail.ru/review/misc/Samsung_GALAXY_S5-rev.html

0 upvotes
Roland Karlsson
By Roland Karlsson (4 months ago)

If you build a box around the sensor, then you can put the sensors nearer to each other. Or rather, then you can make the area between the sensors thinner. If you do not have that box, the area must be of some size to avoid leakage.

OOPs - this is an answer to Peiasdf.

Comment edited 40 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
photofan1986
By photofan1986 (4 months ago)

Well, I hope Apple won't sue them for that :D

1 upvote
badi
By badi (4 months ago)

or microsoft :p

1 upvote
gsum
By gsum (4 months ago)

The chip appears to be roughly square in shape so they probably will sue.

6 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (4 months ago)

photofan:

Does Apple make photo sensors?

1 upvote
tagomilonga
By tagomilonga (4 months ago)

Apple does not make anything

5 upvotes
Sirandar
By Sirandar (4 months ago)

I am also very curious how this performs .... my S3 camera is useful .... but like most smartphone cameras .... the usefulness is limited to good light.

It is hilarious that every S5 related camera
news item I found mentions nothing of this .... only things like selective focus.....

Thankyou Lars for actually posting something newsworthy about the S5 camera.

A better camera and 128GB of microSD are worth something in terms of usability.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 9 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (4 months ago)

to be honest Samsung did not speak much about the ISOCELL sensor in the official presentation. I don't think there was anything about it in the press release either.

0 upvotes
tournaflyer
By tournaflyer (1 week ago)

I too find it interesting that Samsung initially reported that they hoped to have an 8 megapixel sensor with isocell in production by the end of 2013 ... 2 months later they have a 16 mp isocell?
They NEVER mentioned it in the official "Unpacked" event and shows up nowhere, that I can find, on the official S5 web page. You'd think they wouldn't let this feature go un touted.
Did the media just assume and things got otta' hand?

0 upvotes
Michael Ma
By Michael Ma (4 months ago)

Things that Samsung could do to move smartphone imaging forward.

RAW - This would improve, white balance correction at post, Highlight/Shadow recovery, better denoising options

Manual camera controls
Sometimes we want motion blur. Sometimes we can keep the phone still while snapping a photo with 1 second shutter speed. Let the users decide what we can and can't do.

Lens profiles for Adobe Camera Raw, iPhones have it to correct distortion, vignetting,, etc.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
manakiin
By manakiin (4 months ago)

Most phones have fixed aperture so exposure control is very limited.

0 upvotes
ThePhilips
By ThePhilips (4 months ago)

@Michael, You should address your plea to Google.

The camera API comes from Google and imposes quite a lot of limitations. (It is in its heart a P&S.)

Samsung can improve that by adding a new API. But what's the point if it is incompatible with 100% of imaging apps out there?

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (4 months ago)

Michael:

Android 4.4 seems to be raw capable, so that's promising. I guess it doesn't mean that Samsung will take advantage of that feature.

Then there's the time to record a shot problem.

0 upvotes
Michael Ma
By Michael Ma (4 months ago)

Wow, new tech in sensor technology that isn't just on paper. Kudos to Samsung. It's good to see image technology move forward rather than camera manufacturers like Canon building inferior cameras with 6 year old components because it would somehow compete against their 2 year old flagship.

What I really want to see their HDR video sample in a good test environment.

3 upvotes
Mrrowe8
By Mrrowe8 (4 months ago)

Just glad to see the ideas of what is a sensor being pushed. And thus finding new and exciting areas to grow the medium of photo

1 upvote
vlad0
By vlad0 (4 months ago)

From the samples I've see so far I am not all that impressed... I've only seen two photos, so I proper review is needed.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (4 months ago)

don't worry, you'll get one. We'll get started as soon as we have an S5 on our desk.

2 upvotes
Markol
By Markol (4 months ago)

Sounds exciting, but so did the HTC One sensor concept.
Let's wait and see, I for one was e.g. positively surprised by the Nexus 5 IQ which generally isn't being talked highly of.

1 upvote
Lars Rehm
By Lars Rehm (4 months ago)

Well, this is a whole new technology whereas HTC just put fewer pixels on a sensor but somehow tried to sell it as a really innovative concept.

8 upvotes
LensBeginner
By LensBeginner (4 months ago)

I've seen some photos snapped with a Nexus 5 and I've been quite impressed, I must say...

Nice seeing dpreview covering something other than Apple, keep it up!

1 upvote
ageha
By ageha (4 months ago)

HTC's current generation low pixel One sensor is pretty bad.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 49
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