A 200MP cat to promote Samsung’s ISOCELL image sensor by Jose Antunes

Leading the way with its new imaging sensor, Samsung Electronics printed the image of a cat onto a massive 616 square meter canvas, about one and a half times the size of a basketball court.

Introduced in September 2021, the ISOCELL HP1 is the industry’s first mobile image sensor to support 200MP. Based on Samsung’s most advanced 0.64μm size pixels, the ISOCELL HP1 offers ultra-high resolution in a small package that fits comfortably in today’s portable devices. With the ISOCELL HP1, images contain an amazing amount of detail that helps the image stay sharp even when cropped or resized. The Motorola Frontier smartphone, which will be launched in July, will have this sensor, as will the Xiaomi 12 Ultra, a smartphone developed with Leica.

The ISOCELL HP1 can shoot 8K video at 30 frames per second (fps) with minimal loss in field of view. The HP1 merges four neighboring pixels to bring the resolution down to 50MP or 8,192 x 6,144 to shoot 8K (7,680 x 4,320) video without the need to crop or reduce the full image resolution.

For ultimate low-light photography, the ISOCELL HP1 features all-new ChameleonCell technology, a pixel clustering technology that uses a two-by-two, four-by-four, or full pixel arrangement depending on the environment. In a low light environment, the HP1 transforms into a 12.5 megapixel image sensor with large 2.56μm pixels by merging 16 neighboring pixels. The newly formed 2.56μm pixel is able to absorb more light and sensitivity, producing brighter and clearer photos indoors or in the evening. In bright outdoor environments, the 200 million pixel sensor can capture ultra-high definition photographs on mobile devices.

A 200MP cat to promote Samsung's ISOCELL image sensorA big challenge

Samsung’s own Galaxy S22 Ultra uses the 108MP version of its ISOCELL image sensor, but the next version, the Galaxy S23 Ultra, is expected to hit 200MP as well. While some will want to discuss the benefits of all those pixels in such small packages, I’d rather just follow the story now shared by Samsung, as it’s an enjoyable read for the coming weekend, and something you’ll want probably chatting with friends. Here’s how Samsung Electronics’ image sensor engineers took on an ambitious challenge: print a photo taken with Samsung’s 200 megapixel (MP) moving image sensor onto a massive 616 square meter canvas.

“Our desire to really test the limits of the 200MP high-performance image sensor and its image quality is behind this challenge,” said Changwan Kim, Project Manager, Global Marcom Team, Device Division. Solutions at Samsung Electronics.

“I’ve always wondered how far you can go when it comes to printing a 200MP image,” said Minhyuk Lee, Sensor Solutions Team Engineer at Samsung System LSI Business. “As exciting as it was, the challenge was demanding, as it was the first time we demonstrated the quality of an image sensor that has yet to be adopted in smartphones.”

Now, taking a shot with an image sensor that’s still in development and doesn’t fit in a smartphone was a tricky decision. In addition, the camera module is not yet fully optimized, which makes things even more complex. Nevertheless, the team decided to outdo themselves by working with a living, moving subject rather than an inanimate object. It’s an interesting choice, given that shutter lag has been a “characteristic” of Samsung’s camera modules, something the company is trying to fix with updates… like a recent release for the Snapdragon version of the Galaxy S22 Ultra. But let’s leave that story aside, for now…

A 200MP cat to promote Samsung's ISOCELL 3 image sensorShot with a smartphone camera module

“Choosing a cat as a subject was a difficult decision. It gave us a lot of hurdles to overcome, like capturing such an active subject with a test board,” said Minhyuk Lee. “However, the team concluded that the subject had to be something that would show a high level of detail and was a popular photography subject at the same time.”

The team calculated several variables while preparing to shoot in an unstable environment. They even built a custom adapter to allow them to attach various DSLR camera lenses to a breadboard. “Ultimately, we thought it was more important to capture the scene under the same conditions as smartphone users,” said Kaeul Lee from the Sensor Solutions team. “For this reason, we opted for a smartphone camera module without any other help. The results were very satisfactory.

As the photo was taken using a test board, the photographer first checked the screen and adjusted the composition. Next, engineers tweaked the settings to optimize exposure and focus. After observing the cat’s movements, the film crew then used different methods to take a series of photos. Photographer Hyunjoong Kim was curious to see the result as 200MP resolution is not easy to find even in DSLR cameras. “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the 100% enlarged raw image,” said Hyunjoong Kim. “I was truly amazed at the level of detail. In that moment, I knew that all the preconceptions I had previously had about smartphone photography had been proven wrong.

A 200MP cat to promote Samsung's ISOCELL image sensorIt’s a big cat!

The printing process was far from easy, as obviously an image of 616 square meters cannot be printed in one go. The image was to be printed on twelve separate 2.3 meter long pieces of fabric and then sewn together. The print was then transported on a truck and installed on the wall of a building using a crane. It is a photograph 28 meters wide and 22 meters high, about one and a half times the size of a basketball court.

“When the image was rolled out for the big reveal, its sheer scale really struck me, and not just because of its actual size,” Changwan Kim said. “As soon as I saw the 200 million pixels representing the stunning detail of the cat’s eyes and fur, I was overwhelmed by all the effort that went into developing this final product.”

For the team, the challenge of truly visualizing the next-level capabilities of 200MP technology was exciting. Go forward, Samsung will continue to expand its leadership in the high resolution market.

So, now that the story part of that cat image is told, it’s time for Samsung to sell its product. “The ultimate benefit of the 200MP image sensor is to allow users to capture an image that can be enlarged and cropped without compromising image quality,” Kaeul Lee and Minhyuk Lee said in a final comment. “The 200MP image sensor will soon become the optimal solution for 8K video recording.”

Michael C. Garrison