What’s behind Xiaomi and Realme’s new 64MP, 108MP cameras

  • Samsung’s ISOCELL Bright GW1 image sensor comes with Tetracell plus technology that allows the camera to change the size of pixels depending on the lighting conditions using algorithms
  • A higher megapixel count doesn’t necessarily mean better photos

The 48-MP cameras we saw in the Redmi K20 Pro and OnePlus 7 Pro were just the beginning of another camera megapixel (MP) battle between phone companies. Oppo’s subsidiary Realme announced it’s going to launch a smartphone with a 64 MP camera, while Xiaomi after announcing a Redmi phone with 64MP camera, is reportedly working on a 108 MP camera for its phones.

Little is known about the 108 MP camera, except that it is powered by the same ISOCELL sensor technology that has been used for the 64 MP camera on the Realme X and the as yet unnamed Redmi smartphone will also use.

According to Samsung, the ISOCELL Bright GW1 camera sensor is designed to take bright and sharp photographs in any lighting. At the heart of the ISOCELL Bright are Tetracell Plus and 3D HDR technology.

Space constraints in smartphones mean the image sensor also has to be compact. As a result, mobile image sensors have to compromise on image resolution for better low-light photos or vice versa. On paper, Tetracell plus technology allows the camera to change the size of pixels depending on the lighting conditions using algorithms.

Further, Samsung claims Tetracell places pixels with the same color filter side by side in groups of four on an image sensor. When the camera is shooting in low-light conditions, the algorithm combines information from each group, transforming four smaller pixels into a larger pixel. The method is called Pixel Binning, and while it improves image quality often, it reduces image resolution by a factor of four. So, a 64MP camera shoots a 16MP photo.

This not only improves image quality in both bright and dark lighting conditions, but also improves HDR (High Dynamic Range) performance.

Then there is 3D HDR technology, which allows the camera to capture more detailed images and video in rooms with mixed lighting. Samsung claims this sensor supports real-time HDR of up to 100 decibels, which is considerably higher than the 60 decibels that conventional sensors are capable of. Assuming that the company’s claim is correct, this would make the sensor better for dynamic range than other options.

All images are made up of units called pixels. Images from Cameras with higher MP count will have higher number of pixels as a result will look sharper. On paper, a 64 MP camera (9,248×6,936p) packs in 38% more pixels compared to a 48MP camera (8000x6000p). And the 108 MP cameras will pack in resolution of 12,032×9,024p.

However, as has often been proved in smartphone cameras, a higher megapixel count doesn’t necessarily mean better photos. Pixel binning on the other hand is a technology that has been tried and tested in current 48MP cameras, meaning if all of Samsung’s claims are correct, this could indeed improve imaging in smartphones.