What’s Coming in Sensors

(news & commentary)

Everyone seems to want to know what’s happening in the sensor world. Okay, I’ve got a few bits of information for you. 

But first, why? Are today’s sensors really underperforming for you, or is your use of your camera sub-optimal? Myself, I’m perfectly happy with what we have today. I’ll take any gain we get, sure, but I’m not salivating over what’s next.

So, first up in the news, we have Yole Developpement’s table of CMOS image sensor market share, as published in EETimes:

bythom yoledev sensors

The left-hand chart is 2012, the right-hand chart is 2014. You can study charts if you’d like (try double-clicking on them), but the net is very simple: Sony gained significant market share, with Omnivision, Canon, Aptina, Toshiba, STMicroelectronics, Nikon, and GalaxyCore all losing market share. 

Note that Yole is reporting all CMOS sensors in total here. So smartphones are included, as are automobile sensors. This chart is apparently by “value,” which is why Canon and Nikon manage to show up at the size they do.

You may remember Sony Semiconductor’s forecast of dominating camera sensor sales by 2017. Well, yes, it appears they will. 

So what sensors does Sony have in the queue? Based upon both what they’ve published and a few tidbits from people working with those sensors, we have in the serious camera world the following current choices:

  • 50mp MF (5.3 micron pixels, 3.3 fps)
  • 36mp FX (4.88, 4.7)
  • 24mp FX (5.97, 6.9)
  • 24mp DX/APS (3.91, 19)
  • 24mp DX/APS (3.91, 8.7)
  • 20mp m4/3 (3.3, 27)
  • 16mp m4/3 (3.7, 23)
  • 20mp 1” (2.4, 22)
  • 20mp BSI 1” (2.4, 22)

There’s also the rumor of a ~4 micron FX sensor, which would put it in the 50mp range. Both the 24mp and 36mp full frame sensors are said to be in a new generation this spring, whatever that means. Plus a couple of the sensors in this list just popped up on Sony’s list in the last month or so.

The thing that stands out to me about Sony’s offerings is that 19 fps-capble 24mp DX sensor, and the addition of a 20mp m4/3 sensor. Sounds like a D400/A7III and an EM-2 to me. 

Is any of this enough to appease the measurebators? Probably not. Sensors are incremental plays. As I’ve noted before we get modest observable (to most users) differences in sensor ability about every three years. And most of that seems to be coming from Sony these days, especially since Aptina sold to On Semi, who’s more interested in automobile sensors. 

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