Think Next-Generation Mobile Camera: Present and Future Technologies

on April 14, 2015
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What do you care most about when buying a smartphone? For many consumers, camera functions top the list of major concerns. Sharing photos on social networks has become part of our daily life and a quick and easy-to-use camera is now on the must-have list. This demand has resulted in a dramatic advancement of smartphone camera technologies over the last few years. So it begs the question, what will cameras look like in the future? And what kind of technological elements will become essential?


From commemorating special events to sharing everyday experiences, emerging mobile camera technologies to meet rising demand


Cellphone cameras have been advancing rapidly, largely driven by the selfie craze, and now boast high-resolution cameras in both the front and the back, as well as wide-angle lenses and a real-time recording function. Mobile cameras are also expected to perform well in low-light situations and other scenarios where previous mobile cameras could not deliver quality images. The Galaxy S6 and S6 edge are equipped with 16MP main cameras and 5MP front cameras. Both front and main cameras on the Galaxy S6 feature high resolution and bright F1.9 apertures, which makes it possible to generate clear images in dark environments.


During the Imagining Future Camera Technologies forum at the Samsung Institute of Technology, Young-Kwon Yoon, Master of Camera R&D Group, stated that, “Until a few years ago, people used a camera only for special occasions, like when they go on a picnic or celebrate someone’s birthday. People now, however, frequently photograph every little detail of their lives using their smartphone cameras, for example food and drinks, daily fashion, and other small details are now being brought to attention more often. Among those images, only a few are actually printed and the rest are modified, shared, and discarded in a flash.”


Smartphone image trends are shaping the way manufacturers develop cameras for their devices. Samsung is the leader in smartphone camera technology and innovation, constantly trying to push boundaries and create unique features that will improve image quality and user’ overall satisfaction.


The Galaxy S6 is a prime example of a smartphone that has advanced features that set it apart from the rest of the competition, including Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), Phase Detection Autofocus (AF), High-Dynamic Range (HDR) and Selective Focus.


Optical Image Stabilization (OIS)


Photo opportunities may present themselves when the photographer is on the move. What happens when the perfect photo opportunity happens while the photographer is, for example, a passenger in a moving car? The OIS in the Galaxy S6 is prepared for such situations and allows the user to capture crisp images even with unsteady hands and fast-moving environments.


The OIS accurately measures the motion of the camera caused by shaking hands to counteract it. For this to happen, the lens-shift correction technique has been applied. The lens-shift method inserts an actuator into the empty space between the lens and the sensor and makes it move horizontally to neutralize any hand shaking.


Phase Detection Autofocus (AF)


Speed and accuracy define the performance of an autofocus system. Based on how the light reaches the image sensors, the Phase Detection Autofocus determines if an object is front or back focused and by how much and then instructs the lens to adjust its focus rapidly. This technique is often used in DSLR cameras thanks to its agile response. It was first introduced in the Galaxy S5 and came back with more advanced features in the Galaxy S6. The AF allows a user not to miss the perfect photo opportunity by automatically tracking and refocusing on moving subjects. So, when a friend is driving around in a remote-controlled car, the user will be able to capture clear images no matter how sporadic the car moves about.


Think Next-Generation Mobile Camera: Present and Future Technologies

Phase AF: the camera can determine how much and in what direction the focus of the lens should be shifted.


High Dynamic Range (HDR)


The human eye can easily discern details inside a darkened room and brighter scenes outside the window at the same time. However, registering different lighting situations simultaneously is much more difficult for a camera to achieve. The High Dynamic Range techniques reproduce a greater dynamic range of luminosity than standard digital imaging, and deliver clearer and more vivid results even inside a shady room or against the sunlight.


Most previous HDR technologies post-processed images by combining different, short-exposure and long-exposure images to strike a balance. This lag in image production has been reduced by incorporating real-time HDR, which is built into the Galaxy S6. Enhanced by this new and powerful feature, both the front-facing and main cameras in the S6 can produce clearer and more dynamic images and selfies.


Selective Focus


The Selective Focus creates the DSLR-like, out-of-focus effect. Because DSLRs have a shallow depth of field, controlling focus point blurs the background and accentuates the main subject, giving the picture a dreamy quality. This effect can be duplicated using the Galaxy S6 with the Selective Focus mode. Selective Focus allows users to adjust focal points to achieve the desired look and feel of their images.


Mobile Camera Technologies that Will Change the Future


As smartphone technology advances, so will the expectations for performance and capabilities of their cameras. Here are three major smartphone camera innovations that we can look for in the near feature:


Depth Cameras


Depth Cameras produce a depth image or a depth map that tells the distance between the device and the subject. The method can be either active or passive, depending on the use of infrared (IR) light. Each has its pros and cons. The passive method has relatively lower accuracy at long distances, but consumes less electricity. On the contrary, the active method is less affected by the distance, but uses more power.


No one knows exactly what kind of services will be born out of this emerging area or which depth camera technology will survive in the competition. However, this is an unavoidable trend in the Internet-of-Things-related or video-based services and will find its place in a smartphone device soon.


Dual Cameras


The dual camera technology literally uses two cameras that face the same direction in order to achieve various outcomes. It can be categorized into four types by sensor and optical system. Dual cameras armed with homogeneous sensors whose angle of view is similar to each other are nearing commercialization. Plenty of research is in progress in this field, in order to reap the benefits that are unobtainable from a single camera, such as enhanced zooming, better performance in low light and the slimmer body.

Think Next-Generation Mobile Camera: Present and Future Technologies

▲ The four kinds of dual camera technologies, depending on sensor type and angle of view


Other Cutting-Edge Image Sensors

  • Global Shutter

Currently, a mobile sensor uses the process commonly referred to as a “rolling shutter.” In this process, each pixel is exposed to light one after another as soon as the shutter is clicked. Because of this time gap, the subject is distorted. A global shutter does not have this issue as it controls incoming light to all photo sites simultaneously. Global shutters support only low-resolution images at the current stage; however, it will be further developed before long, powered by strong market demand.

  • Curved Sensor

What would it be like if camera lenses resembled the human eye? The curved sensor has a curvilinear surface like the human retina. This artificial retina is expected to boost the optical performance or reduce the camera module’s thickness. But how to apply this technology still remains unclear. It is possible that other industries will find some useful ways of using it and come up with a new service model.

  •  Organic Sensor

The organic sensor has an extremely thin, light-sensitive organic layer covering its surface, which dramatically improves its sensitivity. If a sensor is capable of dealing with both strong and weak signals, the image quality can be improved without increasing the sensor size. Or, the hardware can be downsized so that the camera does not ‘pop out’ in the back.

  • Binary Image Sensor

Each image pixel on the binary image sensor is very small and can shrink to the size of dozens of nanometers. The resolution and frame rates can be freely configured depending on binary sampling methods. Much attention has been paid to this but the technology still has a long way to go.


Continuing Innovation


“Mobile cameras already produce images whose quality is as good as high-end digital cameras, at least on a display panel. This means that the increasing number of pixels is not going to guarantee the survival in the market. We need to make new breakthroughs,” said Young-kwon Yoon during the forum. “In the short run, the demand for a mobile camera that produces a quick and easy result everywhere is going to grow continuously. Another noticeable, recent phenomenon is the increasing interest in sharing videos online. Besides these ordinary video clips, new video contents, like the one offered by the Samsung Gear VR, will add more colors to user experience. We are going to work hard to come up with killer contents that will transform the mobile camera landscape in the long term.”


Future mobile technologies will do more than just anticipate the changes in consumer lifestyle. They will be the catalysts for these changes in consumer habits around the world. Rich video content created by state-of-the-art mobile cameras will broaden the range of user experiences and the Galaxy S6 and its successors will be the main players of this game.

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