The OmniVision OV64C is OmniVision’s first 64MP image sensor
As we have explained before, the smartphone camera megapixel wars have resumed in full swing. In 2019, most mainstream lower mid-range, upper mid-range and affordable flagship phones opted to use some form of a 48MP Quad Bayer sensor. In 2020, it seems 64MP will be the new standard resolution for smartphone cameras. Both Samsung and Sony have released their 64MP sensors in the form of the Samsung ISOCELL GW1 and the Sony IMX686 respectively. Samsung has even gone a step higher by releasing two 108MP sensors in the form of the ISOCELL HMX and the ISOCELL HM1, the latter of which is used in the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. While the two companies battle it out for superiority, a third contender is quietly launching its own products in the market. The contender is OmniVision, and so far, it hasn’t achieved success yet. It aims to keep trying, though, and it has now announced its own 64MP image sensor in the form of the OV64C.
In recent years, OmniVision’s image sensors have found use as secondary cameras on dual-camera, triple-camera, and quad-camera phones. However, in terms of the primary image sensor, we have to go all the way back to the Xiaomi Mi A1 and the OnePlus 2 to find smartphones using OmniVision’s image sensors as primary cameras. OmniVision launched the 48MP OV48C image sensor at CES with theoretically better specifications than the current 64MP sensors on the market, as it had a higher pixel size achieved by keeping the resolution constant. With the announcement of the OV64C, OmniVision has come back to competing on a level playing field as the sensor’s specifications are similar to that of its competitors. What this means is that it doesn’t offer any major fundamental advantages over something like the IMX686, unlike the OV48C. This is because a major constraint in cameras is pixel size, and the OV48C’s 1.2-micron pixel size and 2.4-micron “effective pixel size” is unparalleled for a high megapixel smartphone camera, while the 0.8-micron pixel size and 1.6-micron “effective pixel size” of the OV64C is on par with its competitors.
The OV48C is a 1/1.7-inch sensor, making it just as big as the ISOCELL GW1 and the IMX686. It has a corresponding 0.8-micron pixel size. It uses OmniVision’s PureCel Plus stacked die technology to provide “leading edge still image capture” and “exceptional 4K video performance” with electronic image stabilization (EIS) for high-end phones. The sensor also offers features such as 4-cell remosaic for full resolution Bayer output as well as digital crop zoom, and a CPHY interface for greater throughput using fewer pins. This makes it suitable for the main rear-facing camera in multi-camera configurations.
OmniVision notes that according to TSR (a market research company), there will be 127 million image sensors with 64MP or higher resolution shipped to smartphone manufacturers in 2020. This confirms the market reality where having a high megapixel sensor is seen as a must due to Huawei’s successful execution of the 40MP cameras in its flagship phones. This is the case even though flagship phones from the likes of Samsung, Google, and Apple still have 12MP primary cameras with excellent results. It’s promoting the OV64C as a well-positioned sensor to address “this ramp in demand among high-end smartphone designers.”
The OV64C integrates an on-chip 4-cell color filter array and hardware remosaic to provide high quality 64MP Bayer output in real time. (This makes it seem as if it’s a Quad Bayer sensor as all Quad Bayer sensors have a QCFA, but the meaning of the “64MP Bayer output” terminology is unclear.) In low light, the sensor can use “near-pixel binning” to output a 16MP image with 4x sensitivity as it offers a 1.6-micron equivalent performance for previews and still captures. In either case, OmniVision assures us that the sensor can consistently capture the best quality images. It also has 2x digital crop zoom with 16MP resolution and a fast mode switch.
Interestingly, the sensor features type-2, 2×2 microlens phase detection autofocus (microlens-PDAF) to boast autofocus accuracy, especially in low light. (This solution is similar to Sony’s 2×2 autofocus lens solution, which is confirmed to be a feature of the OPPO Find X2’s camera.) Output formats include 64MP at 15fps (indicating the lack of zero shutter lag), 16MP with 4-cell binning at 30fps, 4K video at 60fps, and 4K video with EIS at 30fps. (This makes it clear that 4K video at 60fps won’t support EIS, which is, unfortunately, a common omission across the Android smartphone industry.) In addition, the OV64C supports 3-exposure, staggered HDR timing for up to 16Mp video modes.
OmniVision says that the samples of the OV64C image sensor are available now. It remains to be seen whether major smartphone vendors will choose this sensor over the IMX686 and the ISOCELL GW1 in their 2020 smartphone launches.