EM-1 uses Panasonic sensor per Chipworks

Started Feb 8, 2014 | Discussions thread
bobn2 Forum Pro • Posts: 55,356
Re: Toshiba

Lab D wrote:

Jim in Hudson wrote:

bobn2 wrote:

MichaelKJ wrote:

Do you really thing Sony's camera division bought the sensor in the A7R from Sony's sensor division?

Yes, of course they did. Sony Semiconductor is an independent profit centre, it will get no credit within the group for giving profit away - so indeed there will be an internal funds transfer equivalent to the sale of sensors, and it would have to return Sony Semiconductor the same amount as would an external sale, otherwise they'll just make their revenue targets selling outside. Moreover, for Sony Semiconductor, Nikon is a rather bigger and more important revenue source than Sony Imaging. It's unlikely to prejudice its revenue flows for internal brownie points, which very rarely account for anything anyway. In the end, corporations like Sony judge their various businesses by the bottom line.

If so, do you think they negotiated the price and/or solicited bids from other vendors before opting for Sony's sensor?

It's quite possible. For instance, Nikon seems to let its internal sensor operation bid competitively. They had the design wins for the D3100 and D3200, then lost out to Sony for the D3300. I think it's a smart strategy, keeping your own internal capability keeps supplier honest and ensures there is always competition.

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From my own experience working in a large multi-business corporation, internal selling is usually done at something that resembles market pricing instead of cost of manufacture. Yes, the internal transfer might have a discount to market price but probably not by much. It's healthier this way, too, otherwise you end up going down a road of economic distortions which is what ruined state-planned economies like in the Soviet Union.

As to independent strategies, etc., it's true but wake me up when you see a non-Sony sensor in an important Sony camera or a non-Panny sensor in an important Panasonic camera.

For a while Toshiba made the CPUs in the PS3.

A bit more complex than that. There was a joint venture between Sony, Toshiba and IBM to develop and build a new family of processors for the PS series, based on various bits of intellectual property from all three companies. Part of the arrangement was that they formed a 'fab club', that is that their semiconductor fabrication lines would be compatible with the new processor design. In the end, Toshiba ended up fabbing the parts. After thge arrangemnet it sold the lines concerned to Sony, who now use them to produce image sensors. Toshiba, that is also one of the world's largest image sensor manufacturers (having for some time designed and manufactured the silicon for Fujifilm sensors) uses other lines for image sensors, not the ones it sold to Sony.

Toshiba makes some of the sensors in Nikon cameras at their plants too.

They designed those sensors also, they are not Nikon designs, and they are very different from the Sony sensors that Nikon also uses. So, for instance, the D5200 has a Toshiba sensor and the D5300 has a Son sensor, they are not the same sensor just made on different fab lines.

A companiy like Rambus may not have a single plant anywere, but instead makes money licensing patents to chip makers.

It sells what would more broadly be called 'IP' or 'intellectual property', based on its DRAM interface designs. Some bits are patent protected and some aren't, but what RAMBUS sells is the complete design for the bus interface, a bit like ARM sells its IP, which is complete processor designs that other companies include in their own chip designs. This is possible because of teh nature of semiconductor CAD, which allows a complete chip design to be assembled from blocks of intellectual property form other manufacturers. However, this is different from what you seem to be alluding to, which is a 'fabless' model for a semiconductor company, where a company designs chips then has an external fab line produce them (this is called a 'foundry' service, companies that don't include their own IP on a chip, they just build them). Sony uses foundry services for some of its arts, they have 5 fab lines of their own, but using foundries allows them to track demand more effectively. Panasonic is in the process of becoming almost fabless, it is transferring its three fab lines to an external company, in this case a joint venture with TowerJazz, a long standing image sensor foundry company, so in future Panasonic will be fabless (although it will have a stake in the foundry it uses). Aptina and Omnivisionare also fabless. Nikon runs a fabless model for its own sensors (found in the D4, Df and D3200, the D3300 has a Sony sensor)

I doubt that Sony or Panasonic own 100% of the patents involved in their sensors.

IP is not all about patents. For instance, in Sony's Exmor column ADC design, only a very small part of it is protected by a patent - the precise way those chips to correlated double sampling. Companies like Sony and Panasonic have large design teams which will do the design of most of their sensors, maybe using licenced IP in some cases - Sony for instance has a patent share arrangement with Aptina.

Instead they contract out to the best or cheapest manufacturing plant to make the sensor they want,

Both have fab capability (Sony big time with 5 lines) and will likely use that in preference to foundries where they can. Semiconductor manufacturers tend not to move their fab around that much - it takes time to optimise for each particular process (the point of Sony/IBM/Toshiba's fab club)

which in reality is never a complete Sony, Panasonic, Nikon, Aptina sensor.

I don't know what that means, their designers will have designed it. Maybe they bought in some IP. For instance, when Nikon designed the D4 sensor with its on-chip ADC, it's quite likely that the ADC design was bought-in IP. You can see the clearly different approaches of the different design teams in the Chipworks analysis.

It is a sensor made at a plant that uses mutlple patents owned by many companies.

I think you put too much weight on the influence of the plant, the important thing is the design. Also, you put too much weight on the importance of patents.

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