Sony’s new CMOS Sensor uses layered construction to create next ‘evolution’ of phone camera


Sony has unveiled their latest CMOS camera sensor for mobile devices, one that promises to pack more power in a smaller package thanks to a new layered construction technique. The camera, which will be available to cellphone manufacturers in March at a rating of 8MP, separates the back-illuminated pixel sensors and their controlling circuits into two separate components, which are then layered without the need for additional materials. Traditional CMOS sensors use a merged pixel sensor/circuit and mount it upon a supporting substrate. The benefit is twofold: the sensors are easier to produce and can be made smaller than past camera hardware.

In terms of features, Sony is touting their new HDR Movie feature, an effect that allows for richer images in poor lighting. The result is similar to your standard HDR image filter.

After initial rollout in March, a 13MP option will become available in June. Sony is putting their full weight behind the new CMOS technology and will use it extensively throughout its product lineup.

Sony Develops Next-generation Back-Illuminated CMOS Image Sensor which Embodies the Continuous Evolution of the Camera

– Expanding Shooting Enjoyment and Advanced Functionality of Smartphones and Other Devices –

Tokyo, Japan – January 23, 2012 – Sony Corporation (“Sony”) today announced that it has developed a new next-generation back-illuminated CMOS image sensor which embodies the continuous evolution of the camera.

This image sensor layers the pixel section containing formations of back-illuminated structure pixels onto chips containing the circuit section for signal processing, which is in place of supporting substrates for conventional back-illuminated CMOS image sensors. This structure achieves further enhancement in image quality, superior functionalities and a more compact size that will lead to enhanced camera evolution.

Hereafter, Sony will position it as the next generation back-illuminated CMOS image sensors, and unwaveringly strive to further develop this image sensor and expand its product lineup, thereby contributing to the further development of user-friendly cameras and to shooting enjoyment.

Background of development

The popularization of smartphones and other devices in recent years has been accompanied by an increasingly diverse use of camera functionality. This has brought heightened demand for more sophisticated cameras, to ensure adaptability to a wider range of scenes and Sony developed this stacked CMOS image sensor to meet such demand. In addition to the higher pixel numbers, superior image quality and faster speeds which conventional image sensors pursued, the newly-developed image sensors further achieve more highly-advanced functionalities and a more compact size, thus paving the way for enhanced camera evolution.

As the first step towards the commercialization of its new CMOS image sensors, Sony has developed a model with built-in signal processing functionality, an element that usually requires external embedment. Samples will be shipped from March, 2012. Accordingly, models have been developed with Sony’s unique “RGBW Coding” function, which facilitates low noise, high quality image capture even in low light condition, and the proprietary “HDR (High Dynamic Range) Movie” function, which achieves brilliant color even when taking pictures against bright light.

About stacked CMOS image sensors

Conventional CMOS image sensors mount the pixel section and analog logic circuit on top of the same chip, which require numerous constraints when wishing to mount the large-scale circuits such as measures to counter the circuit scale and chip size, measures to suppress noise caused by the layout of the pixel and circuit sections, and optimizing the characteristics of pixels and circuit transistors.

Sony has succeeded in establishing a structure that layers the pixel section containing formations of back-illuminated structure pixels over the chip affixed with mounted circuits for signal processing, which is in place of supporting substrates used for conventional back-illuminated CMOS image sensors. By this stacked structure, large-scale circuits can now be mounted keeping small chip size. Furthermore, as the pixel section and circuit section are formed as independent chips, a manufacturing process can be adopted, enabling the pixel section to be specialized for higher image quality while the circuit section can be specialized for higher functionality, thus simultaneously achieving higher image quality, superior functionality and a more compact size. In addition, faster signal processing and lower power consumption can also be achieved through the use of leading process for the chip containing the circuits.

Kevin Krause
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  1. WOW. 

  2. Apple is now filing a patent suit as we speak!

  3. To be completely honest I’ve been looking towards the GS3 or the next Nexus to be my next phone but Sony has been constantly impressing me this year. The new hardware is gorgeous, the internals are very impressive, and I don’t mind their UI. Who knows, maybe I’ll be buying one soon. 

  4. All I can say is wow

  5. NOW THIS IS SOMETHING ACTUALLY WORTH PATENTING. Unlike the lock screen bull we see coming from apple this is true innovation.

    1. It is worth patenting, so you can expect Apple to patent it.

  6. Who knows… maybe Sony will make the next Nexus?  I don’t know about you but lately I feel they’ve been doing Android proud.

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