Sony has unveiled a new type of stacked CMOS sensor that uses “two-layer transistor pixels” to double its light-receiving capacity. Typical image sensors have the light-sensitive photodiodes and pixel transistors that control and amplify the signal on the same layer. However, the new design places the photodiodes on top and the pixel transistors below, “about doubling the saturation signal levels,” Sony said.
Sony pioneered stacked sensors that quickly place memory and other electronics directly below the sensor, enabling faster readout speeds and thus fast burst shooting and less roller shutter (jello effect) on cameras and smartphones. This latest sensor uses a similar idea, but packages the pixel transistors on a separate substrate below the photodiode layer.
That means each layer can be optimized, allowing Sony to double the sensor’s light saturation (source depth) or the amount of charge each pixel can hold. That in turn provides about double the light absorption power.
Sony notes that because the transistor pixels are on a separate layer, it was able to increase the size of the amplifier transistors. This provides greater signal amplification, reducing noise in night scenes or other images in dark locations. The increased dynamic range will ensure “high-quality, low-noise images even in low light,” according to Sony.
Sony specifically stated that the technology will enable higher quality smartphone photography. With double the light-gathering capacity, it will allow much improved light sensitivity even in relatively small high-megapixel sensors. Sony has yet to say when this technology will make it to smartphones or cameras, but it plans to further improve the design for both large and small sensors.
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