Sony’s Brand New DRAM-enhanced image Detector is a game changer for smartphone Photos

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Smartphone camera in use

As when the makers of standalone cameras do not have enough problems holding off smartphones, Sony has just declared a sensor that has the capability to be yet another match changer for what’s possible in cellular apparatus photography. Its new design adds a layer of DRAM between the pixel  layer and also the circuit layer. This enables it to catch and readout images several times quicker than existing designs.

Sony announced the new chip design at ISSCC this week, even since the latest in its long line of innovations in sensor design. The addition of on-board DRAM can help resolve at least three big issues with present smartphone cameras: rolling camera artifacts, slow-motion movies, and multi-image noise reduction artifacts. We’ll look at each in turn.

A Fantastic band-aid for rolling portrait headaches

One problem with low-cost imagers, such as those used in smart phones, is that they don’t possess a mechanical shutter. Their pictures are read out one piece at one time while the sensor is still actively recording information (called a rolling camera). Meaning that things moving in high speed seem distorted, such as the locomotive in this illustrative example from Sony:

Though the new sensor nonetheless has a rolling camera, its high speed readout greatly reduces artifacts

On the left, the typical 1/30s readout period smears the profile of this moving locomotive. At the right, although still technically a rolling camera, the new chip’s 1/120s readout time substantially reduces the possibility of distortion.

The new architecture adds a DRAM layer between the pixels and the circutry

The new design adds a DRAM layer between the pixels and the circuitry

While the extra DRAM layer looks pretty easy in this block diagram, it changes the physics of this processor, and introduces additional opportunity for electrical noise. So far, the processor is not in production, therefore it is not possible to benchmark its own real operation. However, Sony claims it was able to address the new noise problems.

Support for super-slow-motion movie and specific effects

The DRAM additionally allows the sensor to catch 1000fps video in 1080p HD resolution. This makes for some rather impressive super-slow-motion potential. By blending high-frame-rate movie with standard frame speed the processor also makes it Feasible to perform some cool special effects right at a smartphone, as you can see in this Sony example movie:

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Anticipate record-setting image quality results from this sensor

Less obvious, but perhaps most importantly, the 30fps readout of all full-resolution 19.3MP graphics is perfect for the sophisticated multi-image noise reduction that is increasingly-common in high-end smartphones. For instance, Google’s HDR+ quietly combines between 3 and 9 frames to make one higher-dynamic-range, lower-noise, final output image. This process can present artifacts if objects in the scene, or even the camera, are shifting. By getting the frames captured and read out more rapidly, those artifacts can be further reduced.

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