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Samsung provides a deep dive for the Galaxy S21 Ultra's new 108MP camera sensor

The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a new top-end image sensor. (Source: Samsung)
The Galaxy S21 Ultra has a new top-end image sensor. (Source: Samsung)
The Galaxy S21 Ultra launched with a new 108MP main shooter, even though the OEM did not introduce it by name exactly during the show. However, it is apparent that it is called the ISOCELL HM3, the first of its kind to debut with nine-pixel binning and a 0.8 micron pixel size. Samsung asserts that it can enhance dynamic range, clarity and detail compared to its predecessors.

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The Ultra was the only Galaxy S21 variant to debut with an 108MP sensor, leaving its siblings to make do with a top resolution of 64MP. Oddly, the highest-end model's new camera is not the ISOCELL HM2 that launched in late 2020, but is the HM3 instead.

This CMOS is 1/1.33 inches in diagonal length, as are some of its predecessors. However, it also makes the leap to 9:1 binning, which means each pixel forms a 3x3 single-color grid. This allows the HM3 to simulate 12MP images made of relatively massive 2.4 micron (μm)  pixels.

Furthermore, considering each actual individual pixel is 0.8μm in size, that's a strong concentration of grids. Then again, Samsung insists that actual 108MP images (with the light for them) is still available through advanced resolution-switching IP.

Smartphone cameras might struggle when the light available to them changes gradually. Samsung claims to have solved this in the HM3 through Smart ISO Pro. This is a form of high dynamic range (HDR) imaging based on intra-scene dual conversion gain (iDCG).

It allows the S21 Ultra to capture a given scene in both high and low ISO, then combine the two for (ideally) the optimum exposure - and with a 12-bit color output to boot.

The ISOCELL HM3 also features Super PD Plus, which consists of micro-lenses optimized for auto-focus (AF) tasks laid over the phase-detection (PD) focusing array. This is rated to increase its measurement accuracy by 50%, thus potentially benefitting low-light use and keeping focus on moving subjects.

Samsung has put the HM3 into mass production, so that Galaxy S21 Ultra units (and its possible immediate successors) might be kept in new top-end sensors. It will be interesting to see if it can improve on the underwhelmed reception the Xiaomi Mi 11 and its older 108MP camera has gotten thus far.

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Deirdre O'Donnell
Deirdre O'Donnell - Senior Tech Writer - 4233 articles published on Notebookcheck since 2018
I became a professional writer and editor shortly after graduation. My degrees are in biomedical sciences; however, they led to some experience in the biotech area, which convinced me of its potential to revolutionize our health, environment and lives in general. This developed into an all-consuming interest in more aspects of tech over time: I can never write enough on the latest electronics, gadgets and innovations. My other interests include imaging, astronomy, and streaming all the things. Oh, and coffee.
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2021 01 > Samsung provides a deep dive for the Galaxy S21 Ultra's new 108MP camera sensor
Deirdre O'Donnell, 2021-01-15 (Update: 2021-01-16)