ISOCELL HP3: a second 200MP image sensor from Samsung by Jose Antunes
Touted as offering “Epic Resolution Beyond Pro”, the new ISOCELL HP3 has 12% smaller pixels – than the HP1 version – which can reduce camera module area by 20%, and promises more precise autofocus and faster.
On September 20, 2021, Samsung announced its ISOCELL HP1, the company’s first 200MP image sensor, with two words: Resolution redefined. The ISOCELL HP1 has also been touted as offering a big leap forward for mobile photography, thanks to its ultra-high resolution. Based on Samsung’s 0.64μm pixels and new pixel clustering technology, ChameleonCell, the ISOCELL HP1 is not yet available in any smartphone, although it is suggested that the next high-end models that will arrive on the market will use it.
The Motorola Frontier smartphone, which will be launched in July, will probably use this sensor (the company mentions a 200 MP sensor), as will the Xiaomi 12 Ultra, a smartphone developed with Leica. Some also expect the Samsung Galaxy S 23 Ultra, launching next year (…maybe!), to use the ISOCELL HP1, but now, with a new version, ISOCELL HP3, announced, only engineers from Samsung will know for sure what is best for a flagship smartphone.
Before we look at what the ISOCELL HP3 offers, it’s probably worth reminding PVC readers that the ISOCELL HP1 won one of 43 CES 2022 Innovation Awards for Distinctive Design & Engineering received by Samsung. The ISOCELL HP1 scores a win in the embedded technology category, as the industry’s first 200MP 0.64μm moving image sensor. The HP1 provides 16,384 x 12,288 effective pixels which correspond to a 1/1.22″ optical format. With 4×4 pixel clustering technology, the sensor can merge 16 pixels into a single large 2.56 pixel. μm to produce bright 12.5MP images with less noise in low-light environments.The sensor can also capture crystal-clear, ultra-high definition video at up to 8K 30fps.
Tetra2pixel technology or… pixel binning
The ISOCELL HP3, touted as offering “Epic Resolution Beyond Pro” can also offer 200MP, but it’s a different sensor, with a 12% smaller pixel size than the predecessor’s 0.64μm, allowing it to ‘packing 200 million pixels into a 1/1.4 “optical format, which is the diameter of the area captured by the camera lens. According to Samsung, “this means that the ISOCELL HP3 can achieve a reduction of approximately 20 % of the camera module area, allowing smartphone makers to keep their high-end devices slim.”
Pixel-binning is present, and the company calls it “Tetra2pixel” technology, giving users the ultimate low-light experience, combining four pixels into one to turn the 0.56μm 200MP sensor into a 1.12 μm 50MP, or a 12.5 MP sensor with 2.24 μm-pixels by combining 16 pixels into one. The technology allows the sensor to simulate a large pixel sensor to take brighter, more vibrant photos even in dark environments, such as indoors or at night.
Smaller pixels, or even more, are not a recipe for better photos, and smaller pixels on a smaller sensor make it even harder to believe that the ISOCELL HP3 can compete with the ISOCELL HP1. But nobody can say that Samsung haven’t tried…and the only real test will only come when the two sensors get to the devices that can use them.
Super QPD promises faster autofocus
One thing is confirmed: the new sensor reflects an evolution in technology, offering, among other things, a new Super QPD (Quad Phase Detection) autofocus solution different from the Double Super PD phase detection technology used previously, which already doubled what the original Super PD offered.
This means that all sensor pixels of the new Samsung ISOCELL HP3 are equipped with autofocus capabilities. Additionally, Super QPD uses a single lens on four adjacent pixels to detect phase differences in the horizontal and vertical directions. This paves the way for more accurate and faster autofocus for smartphone camera users.
“Samsung has continuously led the image sensor market trend with its technology leadership in high-resolution sensors with the smallest pixels,” said JoonSeo Yim, Executive Vice President of Sensor Business Team at Samsung Electronics. . “With our latest upgraded ISOCELL HP3 0.56μm 200MP, Samsung will strive to deliver epic resolutions beyond professional levels for smartphone camera users.”
Since its first 108MP image sensor rollout in 2019, Samsung has been leading the trend of developing next-generation ultra-high resolution cameras. Thanks to the regular launch of new image sensors and improvements in performance, the company is once again moving forward with the 0.56μm 200MP ISOCELL HP3, which in addition to all the other technologies already mentioned above , also adopts an improved Smart-ISO Pro function to maximize the dynamic range of the moving image sensor.
Good news for filmmakers
Smart-ISO Pro merges image information from both low and high ISO mode conversion gains to create HDR images. The upgraded version of the technology comes with a triple ISO mode – Low, Medium and High – which further expands the dynamic range of the sensor. Additionally, the improved Smart-ISO Pro allows the sensor to express images in over 4 trillion colors (14-bit color depth), which is 64 times more colors than the predecessor’s 68 billion (12-bit). Additionally, by supporting Stepped HDR with Smart-ISO Pro, the ISOCELL HP3 can switch between the two solutions depending on the shooting environment to produce high quality HDR images.
This is good news for filmmakers. After all, Samsung claims that “the sensor also allows users to shoot 8K video at 30 frames per second (fps) or 4K video at 120fps, with minimal loss in field of view when shooting 8K video. Handset With the Super QPD solution, users can take film-like cinematic footage with their mobile devices.
As smartphone makers strive to offer better optical solutions for their systems while keeping “pocket-sized” dimensions, the ISOCELL HP3, with its 200MP high resolution and 12% smaller pixels that can reduce the 20% camera module area, according to Samsung, is a welcome step forward, as it can help find room for better lenses. But with smaller pixels in smaller sensors, the “epic resolutions beyond pro levels” that Samsung promises, and the suggestion that the ISOCELL HP3 goes “beyond Pro” – whatever… – might just be wishful thinking. For some reason, camera makers stick to smaller pixel counts on sensors that are BIGGER than the smartphone’s TINY image capture devices.