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Sony, a supplier of camera modules used by Apple, has unveiled a new image sensor for smartphones that has its own onboard DRAM, allowing it to capture HD video at far higher frame rates than current generation smartphones are capable of filming.
Announced today, the new CMOS sensor uses a three layer stack structure instead of the typical two-layer stack used in other modules. Joining the layers of back-illuminated pixel structure and signal processing circuits is a third layer, one that holds dynamic random access memory (DRAM) dedicated for use only by the camera module.
By sandwiching the DRAM layer in the middle of the stack, the module is able to capture images at a higher speed than before. Sony claims the memory is able to read one 19.3-megapixel still image in 1/120 of a second, approximately four times faster than conventional imaging modules.
This high-speed dedicated memory gives the camera two major advantages, for both still images and for video. The faster reading of each pixel line minimizes the focal plane distortion caused by photographing objects in motion, which usually makes subjects appear slanted to one side in stills, and causes a wobbling effect in video.
The other advantage is the ability to capture high frame rate video at a high resolution. Sony claims the module is capable of recording 1080p video at up to 1,000 frames per second, eight times the 120fps rate of the iPhone 7's camera, which can be used to create slow motion footage with items moving at a far slower speed.
Sony claims the module is also able to be set to automatically capture sudden movement of subjects in a super slow motion movie, allowing users to record in slow motion an opportunity they may have otherwise missed.
The initial production module that will use the technology will have an effective resolution of 21.2 megapixels, and will be able to capture still images at 19.3 megapixels at 30fps, 4K video at 60fps, and Full HD at 240fps. The DRAM capacity of 1 gigabit, effectively 125 megabytes, suggests the extreme frame rate mode will only capture a few seconds of footage at a time, before passing it off to the smartphone's memory.
Sony has yet to confirm if the module has gone into production, or if it will be using it in one of its Xperia smartphones in the future. Considering Sony supplies camera modules to other smartphone producers, including Apple, there is a possibility the announced module could make an appearance in a future iPhone iteration.