Samsung has announced a new 200MP image sensor, the ISOCELL HP3. The mobile imaging sensor features the industry's smallest pixels, at 0.56-micrometer (μm), reducing the overall image sensor and camera module size.

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'Samsung has continuously led the image sensor market trend through 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 and upgraded 0.56μm 200MP ISOCELL HP3, Samsung will push on to deliver epic resolutions beyond professional levels for smartphone camera users.'

The ISOCELL HP3 isn't Samsung's first 200MP image sensor. The company announced the ISOCELL HP1 last fall, and we recently saw some real-world images captured with that 200MP sensor. The ISOCELL HP3 features 12 percent smaller pixel size than the HP1 in a 1/1.4"-type format (11.5mm diagonal, giving a 3.78x crop factor).

Samsung states the reduction in pixel size results in an approximately 20 percent reduction in camera module surface area compared to the HP1, allowing smartphone manufacturers to make smaller, thinner smartphones.

The ISOCELL HP3 includes Super Quad Phase Detection (QPD) autofocus technology, meaning all the sensor's pixels contribute towards its autofocus capabilities. Super QPD is comparable with Sony Semiconductor's 'Quad Pixel AF' system, using a single lens over four adjacent pixels, allowing the sensor to detect phase differences in horizontal and vertical directions (cross-type). Samsung promises' more accurate and quicker' autofocus performance for smartphone camera users.

As for video, the HP3 records 8K resolution video at up to 30 frames per second and 4K video at up to 120 frames per second. There's 'minimal loss' in the field of view when recording 8K footage, but it's unclear what precise crop factor will occur.

Like the ISOCELL HP1, the HP3 has an over-sized Bayer pattern, with each color extending across 4x4 squares of photosites. This is an extension of the company's 2x2 'Tetracell' (c.f Quad Bayer) technology, and is now branded Tetra2.

This allows the camera to combine groups of 16 photosites to deliver 12.5MP images with effectively 2.24μm pixels. It's also possible for processing to try to reconstruct the a conventional Bayer arrangement would have produced for its 50MP and 200MP images (a process Samsung calls 're-mosaicing'). This ability to combine pixels delivers improved performance in low light, but means the full res images won't be as detailed a 200MP Bayer sensor would.

The sensor also includes what it calls a 'Smart-ISO Pro' feature. This exploits the oversized Bayer pattern by capturing different rows of pixels with different amounts of gain to capture more dynamic range. In previous instances, Samsung talked about using different levels of 'conversion gain' (ie: the two in-pixel readout modes). Instead with the HP3 Samsung talks about combining 'ISO' levels, rather than gain levels. It says the new chip can combine a 'low ISO mode' with either a mid or a high ISO mode, to capture even more dynamic range. This suggests Samsung is using an amplifier, rather than just the sensor's two conversion gain modes.

This new approach and the wider dynamic range it captures has prompted a move from combining the data in 12-bit files to 14-bit instead, providing room for this additional dynamic range.

Since the Smart-ISO Pro HDR mode is presumably delivered at a lower resolution, the chip also offers a staggered HDR mode, shooting three photos with different exposures, one after the other (with a risk of subject movement between frames). Both the staggered and Smart-ISO Pro HDR modes are also offered in video mode. The HP3 can shoot at up to 8K/30 or deliver its HDR capture in 4K and FullHD.

Samsung already has available samples of the ISOCELL HP3 sensor and expects mass production to begin this year. It's unclear when users should expect the first smartphones equipped with the ISOCELL HP3 to ship.