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Sony to invest $1bn in stacked-CMOS production for smartphones

By dpreview staff on Jun 22, 2012 at 00:14 GMT

Sony has said it will invest ¥80bn (around $1bn) to allow for the production of its next-generation, 'stacked CMOS' image sensors at its Nagasaki Technology Center. The investment will see the plant's production capacity rise to 60,000 wafers per month (from 50,000 at the end of March 2012). The announcement includes ¥45bn already committed in the company's capital expenditure plans in May 2012.

The stacked CMOS design places the sensor circuitry for each pixel behind the photo-sensitive region, rather than on the same level - increasing the area of each pixel that is light-sensitive. The approach will initially be used for cameraphone sensors.

Press Release:

Sony increases production capacity for stacked CMOS image sensors

June 22, 2012, Tokyo, Japan – Sony Corporation ("Sony") today announced that it plans to invest in Sony Semiconductor Corporation's Nagasaki Technology Center ("Nagasaki TEC") from the first half of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013 through the first half of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014, to increase the production capacity for stacked CMOS image sensors.*1

This investment is intended to provide for new wafer processing equipment for stacked CMOS image sensors, and to increase and transform wafer lines capable of manufacturing CMOS image sensors.
With this development, Sony plans to increase total production capacity for CCD and CMOS image sensors to approximately 60,000 wafers per month by the end of September 2013.*2

In light of the rapidly expanding demand for smartphones and tablets, Sony plans to continue to solidify its leading global position in CMOS image sensors by strengthening its production capabilities for stacked CMOS image sensors, which provide greater performance in a more compact form. Furthermore, Sony intends to accelerate its growth strategy by incorporating superior core technologies, including stacked CMOS image sensors, into a wide range of products for its digital imaging and mobile businesses, which are priorities within its electronics business.

The investment amount is approximately 80 billion yen, of which, the amount to be invested in the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2013 (approximately 45 billion yen) was included in the forecast of the capital expenditures for semiconductors in the current fiscal year announced at the annual earnings release on May 10, 2012. In addition, Sony will utilize a governmental subsidy in its investment plan which will be provided by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in Japan, through the "Subsidy for Domestic Location Promotion Projects" program.

*1: CMOS image sensors in a stacked structure layer the pixel section containing back-illuminated structure pixels onto chips containing the circuit for signal processing, in contrast to the supporting substrates used in conventional back-illuminated CMOS image sensors. These products enable Sony to mount large-scale circuits while decreasing the chip size of image sensors, thereby enhancing image quality and functionality and allowing for a more compact size for digital cameras and mobile devices.

*2: This total production capacity (300mm wafer basis) includes the output of foundry operations to which Sony outsources a part of the manufacturing process. For the purposes of calculating total production capacity, the capacity of 200mm wafer production lines in Kagoshima Technology Center and Nagasaki TEC is converted to the new 300mm wafer production capacity basis.

Purpose of Investment: Increase production capacity for stacked CMOS image sensors 
Investment site: Sony Semiconductor Corporation, Nagasaki Technology Center (Isahaya-shi, Nagasaki Prefecture)
Investment details:  • Nagasaki TEC Fab 2 facility: installing equipment to manufacture CMOS image sensors and part of wafers lines.
• Nagasaki TEC Fab 3 facility: transforming certain existing equipment to manufacture CMOS image sensors.
• Nagasaki TEC Fab 4 facility: installing and increasing part of wafers lines.
Investment time frame:  From the first half of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013 through the first half of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014 
Investment amount:  Approximately 80 billion yen
Of which, the amount to be invested in the current fiscal year ending March 31, 2013 (approximately 45 billion yen) was included in the forecast of the capital expenditures for the current fiscal year announced at the annual earnings release on May 10, 2012. 

Outline of Sony Semiconductor Corporation

(1) Head office: 2-3-2 Momochihama, Sawara-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Japan
(2) Establishment:  April 1, 2001 
(3) Representative Director (President):  Masanori Okayama
(4) Capital:  24.25 billion yen, fully owned by Sony Corporation
(5) Production Bases:  Kagoshima, Oita, Nagasaki, Kumamoto, Shiroishi-Zao(Miyagi) and Higashiura(Aichi)
(6) Number of employees:  Approximately 7,300 (including contract and temporary employees) as of April 2012 
(7) Business Activities: Development, design and production of semiconductors

Outline of Nagasaki Technology Center

(1) Location:  1883-43, Tsukuba-machi, Isahaya-shi, Nagasaki, Japan 
(2) Establishment: December 1, 1987 
(3) Representative Officer (Nagasaki TEC President):  Yoshihiro Yamaguchi 
(4) Site area: 194,000-square-meter 
(5) Floor area:  221,000-square-meter 
(6) Main products:  CMOS image sensors and MOS LSIs 


Total comments: 50
Deleted pending purge
By Deleted pending purge (Jun 25, 2012)

I guess it's trending toward what SF used to call "tricorders" (and some have already made: ).
So expect Sony Star Trek series with models like Sulu, Data, T'Pol, Janeway, Scotty, Spock... ;)

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
By FunkyELF (Jun 25, 2012)

This is similar to their SXRD reflective LCD technology where the circuitry is placed behind the LCD.

It made a huge difference in producing images it will probably be a big deal in capturing them as well.

By ProfHankD (Jun 25, 2012)

This is actually a huge deal. Circuitry under a micro/nano-fab device is not a standard technology and this is "to increase the production capacity" -- I wasn't aware anybody was doing this in large-scale commercial application. Very cool, Sony!

Placing circuitry under sensors allows for significantly smarter circuitry per sensing element, and I've been working on smarter control to go under sensors for about a decade. Basically, the idea is to build a parallel supercomputer under a chip covered in sensing elements. Here's a 1-page summary:

The reason this is more important for phone sensors is that the circuitry is a larger fraction of the sensing element size with tiny pixels. You also need higher amplification which makes noise more of an issue and having good processing under pixels means less routing of touchy analog signals. Oh yeah... with smaller die sizes, they also can better tolerate yield problems during development.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
By Ultan (Jul 4, 2012)

Here's Sony's own technical backgrounder on the subject:
"Sony's Stacked CMOS Image Sensor Solves All Existing Problems in One Stroke"
Key points - with fragile thinned back-illuminated sensors already needing a bonded silicon support substrate for mechanical reasons, it's a good idea to use that silicon area for something useful.
*65nm logic coming out this month, 45nm in the future
*Benefits: higher frame-rates, higher sensitivity, lower noise, more pixels, higher dynamic range, built-in DSP functions, lower costs, easier semiconductor processing customized for both sensor and logic without the usual compromises, quicker design-to-production cycles
*first bonded-logic chip coming out this month will be a 1/3" 13Mpixel sensor with RGBW pixels and "HDR movie" mode which improves color in brightly-lit scenes.

By abi170845 (Jun 25, 2012)

and no investment on E mount lenses?

1 upvote
By K_Photo_Teach (Jun 24, 2012)

What I see here is new technology that will improve low light performance regardless of whether it is put into a camera or a DSLR.


But it shows that the camera phone market is driving the innovation. Between this and the Nokia 808 who knows what the future will bring? Imagine the Nokia 808 with great low light performance?? It already rivals Full Frame DSLRs in resolution. Take a look here:

By limlh (Jun 24, 2012)

The Nokia 808 uses an almost 1 inch sensor, and the low light performance is already pretty good.

By raincoat (Jun 25, 2012)

By definition you can't "rivals Full Frame DSLRs in resolution" in a phone sensor.
You'd just use the exact same tech in a Full Frame size and it'd be 9x better (or whatever crop factor is)

And yeah, I'm looking at you 4/3rds users who keep trying to say your 2x sensors are as good as Full Frame.

By limlh (Jun 25, 2012)

Stacked CMOS will benefit small sensor much more than FF sensor. It is unlikely to be used in FF sensor.

1 upvote
By FlashInThePan (Jun 26, 2012)

No one is saying 2x sensors are better than FF (24x36). Many people find, however, than smaller sensors (1.5x, 2x or smaller) make a good compromise in terms of size (this would include lenses), performance and price.

By Ultan (Jul 1, 2012)

limlh - This could benefit large sensors eventually. This gives the possibility of having many more amplifiers and even ADCs and low-level digital processors per pixel. With current technology the number of amplifiers scales with the length of the longer edge of the sensor. With a bonded chip, it can scale with the area of the sensor and also use much shorter and more uniform length connections. This could lead to lower readout noise with faster framerates.

By ChipTz (Jun 23, 2012)

GlobalGuyUSA, 10.000 waffers per month, not 10.000 sensors, considering they produced 50.000 waffers/month, the increase is of 20%, not bad at all!

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 45 seconds after posting
By rec818 (Jun 23, 2012)

It's funny...most people have 2 year contracts with their phones. So, I guess since we're all focusing (no pun intended) on cameras! I can see it now...spend extra money for a nice image and forget all about phone calls and music and texting and everything else that smartphones are capable of. It's all designed to make you spend and collect gadgets! In ten years...everyone will have 5 great hi-tech devices in their junk drawer and each and every one of them will STILL be able to make a phone call or snap a picture! At the moment, I still use a CAMERA and a PHONE. It's good to be able to take a pic with your communication devise, but, for weddings,NASCAR,architecture, and hi-end pro Canon still goes BOOM!

By Actrurus (Jun 24, 2012)

Not sure about 'most people have 2 year contracts'.

In my neck of the woods 'most people' seem to be buying their phones unlocked and sim free with no contract and then shopping around for very good sim only deals for the phone and data connection. Total cost of ownership compared to signing up to a 2 year contract can be quite competitive.

I find it very useful to own my own phone and being able to change my provider whenever I want to. Also means when a new phone comes out you can immediately sell your phone and get a new one if you wish. No hanging around for some arbitrary 2 year contract to come to an end.

Of course, I don't have to 'upgrade', personally I'd be very happy to use my current smart phone for a very long time.

1 upvote
By threeOh (Jun 25, 2012)

I don't know a single person who has a multi year contract. Other than the constant advertising, I think most people have smartened up.

1 upvote
By Gesture (Jun 23, 2012)

Yes. The agile shall inherit the earth. Was at a farmer's market today. Several taking photos with phones, including "neat multi-exposures." And no one asks what are you doing taking photos as I often hear when using conventional digital cameras!

By GlobalGuyUSA (Jun 23, 2012)

I've experienced the same thing -- go into a museum 5 years ago, they would say "Youre in a museum, you aren't supposed to be taking photos!" But I just made a tour of 6 museums, and none of the guards cared. Most even allowed flash. The ubiquity of camera phones is HELPING photographers. I can use a P&S almost anywhere that proprietors don't care if someone uses a cellphone! Meanwhile, the DSLR is still banned in many places. But that might change soon thanks to small DSLRS/micros. I love all this new cam tech. My question for Sony though -- at an increase of only 10,000/month for sensors costing a few bucks -- how many months does it take to recoup $1 BILLION???

By CFynn (Jun 24, 2012)

Ii is an increase of 10,000/month wafers and they are larger (300mm vs 200mm) too. Each wafer yields many of these small sensors

By Jogger (Jun 23, 2012)

cant wait for the 30mp galaxy s5

Comment edited 21 seconds after posting
Abbas Rafey
By Abbas Rafey (Jun 23, 2012)

The end is small full frame compacts. As earlier compact with 35 mm film.
I had my Olympus compact with 35 mm film and it was nice piece. Who knows what the tech. Will come up with.

Franka T.L.
By Franka T.L. (Jun 23, 2012)

well there is no small compact Full Frame yet by any mean. And I really do not think that's going to be the sector. Its those low to mid and even some high end DC with the 1/2.3 , 1/2, even 1/1.7 sensor that will first be get caught. When Quality of a Smartphone can match or rather can attain a threshold that these DC do today. The very existence of such DC will be in jeopardy. The norm of performance threshold will take a hike and we will be seeing the DC market going a new route. Either there will be significant advance in function, performance and resulting image that place it above the Camera phones or there will need to be a rethinking of what these DC do to their users and how the users aim to use their DC.

At this moment, its not the technology that's keeping the change. its the market and consumers

1 upvote
By ARTASHES (Jun 23, 2012)

Sony on the way to dominate sensors market (if it isn't the case today)

1 upvote
By Boerseuntjie (Jun 23, 2012)

They are already dominating 13 out of the 20 best sensors tested by DxO Labs are Sony

By plasnu (Jun 23, 2012)

Are you still thinking D800 sensors are made by Sony??
They are NOT.

By MichaelEchos (Jun 24, 2012)

I could still not see anyone other than Sony that can create sensors with such low read noise..

1 upvote
Scales USA
By Scales USA (Jun 24, 2012)

Sony is far from dominating the cell phone sensor market. I don't have figures for 2011, but in 2010 they were in 7th place, making a relatively small percentage of the worlds cell phone sensors.

By falconeyes (Jun 24, 2012)

please stop spreading FALSE information. Thanks. The origin of the D800 sensor is well established by reverse engineering, incl. DxO's work.

By plasnu (Jun 24, 2012)


I would be really surprised if you can show me the proof that you call my information FALSE. D800 sensor is probably not by SONY, many people especially in Japan think.

Comment edited 4 minutes after posting
By Boerseuntjie (Jun 25, 2012)

@plasnu So do you think the D3X sensor is made by Nikon....LOL

Sad Joe
By Sad Joe (Jun 23, 2012)

Another nail in the coffin of 'real cameras' - smart phone devices will kill off DSLR's just as digital killed off film - only a matter of time.

Companies like Sony will invest massive amounts of monies as items like the IPad, IPhone as its where the money is...

A Canon branded camera phone anyone ?

By ARTASHES (Jun 23, 2012)

Film -> Digital was technological change, DSLR -> Mobile isn't, dslr has it's proposuals that mobile can't replace so your comparison isn't valid IMHO

Comment edited 15 seconds after posting
By AnHund (Jun 23, 2012)

You may be right, but still a looong way to go. Even the best camera phones cannot make even decent images in high contrast lighting conditions.

1 upvote
By RBudding (Jun 23, 2012)

Yeah, right. We'll all dump our DSLRs and shoot sports with phones. This may make phone photos a bit better, but they'll still be bad. But, hey, many people have low standards, so this will improve images in that niche.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
By shady1991 (Jun 23, 2012)

its theoritically impossible. maybe someday image quality of mobile phones (even in low light) will match to slrs, but you'll never get deep blurred backgrounds and shallow dof with small sensor, and thats major beauty of photography imho.

1 upvote
By nekrosoft13 (Jun 23, 2012)

your nickname fits, because this statement is is just sad

1 upvote
By Lan (Jun 23, 2012)

Smartphones won't kill off the dSLR market, but they will kill the compact camera market - and soon if the Nokia PureView 808 sample images are any indicator.

That's why the rush to large sensor compacts and compact system cameras - the manufacturers know the compact camera market will collapse soon.

I suspect the big winners will be the camera manufacturers that already know how to put a phone together - I expect Sony and Samsung to lead the charge. Sony should be particularly well placed, as they already make sensors, cameras and phones.

Oh, and I'd give odds on the CanPhone (The phone that can™) being on the market in the next six months or so.

By Yiotis (Jun 23, 2012)

I would love to see you shoot a wedding with your smart phone

By Fingel (Jun 25, 2012)

Film's not dead, I use both. When I shoot landscapes I use 4X5 film, when I shoot other things I use a DSLR. It's not a zero sum game. There's even a local guy who shoots wet plate cameras, which hasn't been state of the art tech in a 100 years. Maybe it won't be main stream, to be using DLSR or Compact digital cameras, but I don't think phone cams will kill them. Personally can't stand using my phone to take pictures. It is awkward, and slow, and they are too small and thin for me to handle comfortably.

By AmaturFotografer (Jun 26, 2012)

If the small sensor had a significant improvement, so will his big brother.

By nofumble (Jun 23, 2012)

Document from Sony described the technology below.

IQ of Smartphone camera will continue to improve. They will be fast, nice IQ, and fun to use.

No chance this will go into a FF though. Insanely expensive to stack two large dies. And it is not needed though. They can use micro lenses.

By wy2lam (Jun 23, 2012)

Sounds like just a more efficient production technique than a new sensor type.

By Jogger (Jun 23, 2012)

well, they probably have to invest in new production capital/facilities anyways, to replace what they have and to accommodate new products

Comment edited 12 seconds after posting
By maboule123 (Jun 23, 2012)

Dam...When I was just about to pre order my DSC-RX100. Which I thought was the best yet to come sensor for point & shoot Cybers...
Now, I'll have to wait for this new baby.
Nothing about the price range for a camera with this technology.
Can Sony open a credit department so we could mortgage our house to them in order to keep on wiht the price of new technology?

By Combatmedic870 (Jun 23, 2012)

Supposed to be for smart phones,tablets, ect...
If you want the rx100 then go for it. You won't see this in a camera this year.

1 upvote
By FTW (Jun 23, 2012)

How about investing a quarter of that and bring the FF camera we all wait for?

By Helena777 (Jun 23, 2012)

I am happy for Sony; but in Spain even the released lenses (for NEX) aren't in stock. I recently bought a NEX 7 in a physical shop in a lucky shot!

It is time for have the NEX lenses available, Sony.

Ruy Penalva
By Ruy Penalva (Jun 23, 2012)

NEX-time you'll find it

By K_Photo_Teach (Jun 23, 2012)

FF will not sell like camera phones!! The big markets are driving the innovation!

By ryansholl (Jun 23, 2012)

How many full frame cameras did you see in the hands of people today? How many smartphones?

It's good business sense. Let's hope they make so much money they can't get rid of it fast enough and aim to enslave the full frame market.

Heh. No, their CEO will get an eleventy billion dollar bonus.

1 upvote
By maboule123 (Jun 23, 2012)

Don't worry Helena, by the time you'll get the lens your NEX will already be an obsolete model. Thus is progress.

Total comments: 50