In January 2023, Samsung released the brand new 200 million-pixel image sensor ISOCELL HP2, which employs enhanced pixel technology, and can help mobile devices capture stunning photos. At the Galaxy Unpacked event in February, Samsung launched their newest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S23 Ultra, equipped with ISOCELL HP2. With the aid of 200 million pixels, photos taken by users have unprecedented high resolution and vivid details. ISOCELL HP2 elevates the camera capabilities of smartphones to new heights, opening up a whole new realm of possibilities for both professional and amateur photography.
Kyungho Lee, Vice President of Pixel R&D at Samsung, highlights the main advantage of the new technology: “We have significantly increased the pixel count of ISOCELL HP2. Compared to the 108 million-pixel image sensor utilized in the previous Galaxy S series, ISOCELL HP2’s pixel size has been reduced by about 56%, while still achieving the same image quality, with all pixels being able to participate in autofocus.”
To achieve this goal, Samsung developed an innovative “Dual Vertical Transfer Gate” technology, which effectively transfers the large amount of charge accumulated in photodiodes to the circuit through two vertical gates, thereby generating images without ghosting, and with a wide dynamic range. From a design perspective, the circuit design of ISOCELL HP2 must support high-speed operation to achieve the required frame rate, in light of its high pixel count and high frame rate. In order to generate images, the sensor must have high-speed capture or replication capabilities. Seungjin Lee from the sensor design department added: “The significant improvement in the efficiency of analog-to-digital conversion (ADC) is critical. Our development team designed a new method to overcome the obstacles, and applied it for the first time to ISOCELL HP2, enabling us to anticipate and correct potential mismatches between ADCs. Ultimately, we successfully achieved all goals set for the image sensor’s performance and reliability.”
The main advantage of ISOCELL HP2 is that it enhances the choice of users when taking photos and recording videos. This intelligent smartphone with a 200 million-pixel camera provides a default configuration of 12 million pixels, and users can switch to 50 million or even 200 million pixel mode based on their preferences or lighting conditions.
ISOCELL HP2 employs Tetra2pixel sixteen-in-one pixel technology, which merges 4 or 16 adjacent pixels into one large pixel, depending on lighting conditions. Even in low light environments, it can generate bright, clear images, while maintaining rich details unique to large pixel products.
Soyoon Choi from the sensor marketing team stated, “We have now transitioned from the 4K (approximately 8 million pixels) era to the 8K (approximately 33 million pixels) era. High-resolution image sensors allow you to shoot high-quality 8K videos with more vibrant colors and wider viewing angles on your phone.”
The ISOCELL HP2 uses Tetra2pixel technology, which combines 4 or 16 adjacent pixels into one large pixel based on lighting conditions, generating bright and clear images even in low-light environments while preserving rich details specific to large pixel products. Soyoon Choi from the sensor marketing team said, “We have now moved from the 4K (approximately 8 million pixels) era to the 8K (approximately 33 million pixels) era, where ultra-high-resolution image sensors allow you to take high-quality 8K videos with more vivid colors and wider perspectives” by breaking through technological barriers with innovation. As pixels become finer, the technical difficulty also increases, but Samsung never ceases to innovate in ultra-high-resolution image sensors. Kyungho stated, “Our goal is to achieve an effective number of pixels that exceeds the human retina’s ability to perceive (576 million).”
Recently, some have believed that the size of pixels cannot shrink further. However, Samsung has been continuously promoting ISOCELL technology, believing that technology development has no end and is creating new cutting-edge technologies. Kyungho said, “Samsung’s work is aimed at providing users with a good photography experience, allowing all smartphone users to clearly capture splendid moments and precious moments in life and to reproduce beautiful memories with vivid photos. To fully evaluate image quality, we work with relevant experts in the initial stages of algorithm development, improving the objectivity of digital output results in image quality assessment standards from a visual recognition perspective.
As one of the team members involved in the evaluation process, I am proud to say that this ultra-high-resolution image sensor embodies all our cutting-edge technologies.” The team has increased the number of electrons entering each pixel significantly, optimizing the image quality of ISOCELL at the 200 million pixel level. The new architecture supports noise reduction technology in both 50 million pixel and 12 million pixel modes, generating excellent image quality in both bright and low-light environments.
Moreover, the autofocus function fully utilizes all 200 million pixels for phase detection, providing accurate results while enabling each pixel to capture more electrons, bringing excellent HDR performance. Seungjin stated that the team faced challenges in maintaining a strict development schedule and meeting customer expectations. He went on to say, “By focusing on high-priority targets and appropriately allocating resources, we were able to complete the entire project before the deadline and achieve all performance targets as expected.
Due to the tight timeline and high requirements, our team did encounter some difficulties. But thanks to excellent teamwork, the entire team eventually completed the task.” Recalling this journey, Kyungho said, “We hope to achieve optimized performance in every field, bringing customers an excellent user experience. This is not an easy task, but with the help of other internal teams, we have overcome various challenges through teamwork and communication, ultimately finding optimized solutions.”
The global market for image sensors with more than 100 million pixels is expected to continue to expand, with Samsung planning to further solidify its market-leading position in the ultra-high-resolution image sensor category with a product lineup ranging from 108 million pixels to 200 million pixels. Image quality is crucial for image sensors. With the adoption of new materials, architectures, noise reduction transistors, and algorithms, it is expected that the quantum efficiency of image sensors will increase significantly in the near future.
With these technological advancements, Samsung will be able to further enhance the expressive performance of high dynamic range, achieve faster processing speeds, and generate clearer and more detailed high-resolution images that surpass the perceptual range of the human eye. Samsung will continue to develop large and small pixels in parallel and offer products that exceed market expectations through continuous innovation. In addition, Samsung expects that image quality in low-light conditions and HDR performance will continue to be key factors for providing unique user experiences in the future.
Soyoon Choi predicts, “If this trend and evolution continues, we will soon see image sensors with stunning performance that are comparable to the human eye, not only in detail representation, but also in dynamic range and color reproduction.” Seungjin Lee emphasizes that from a user experience perspective, high dynamic range (HDR) is a hot topic, and many companies are researching various HDR-related technologies. Looking ahead to the future, he said: “HDR as a feature in image sensors will be as important as pixel count, and its performance will continue to improve.”
Compared to the previous generation of products using the Single Vertical Transfer Gate (SVTG) technology.