Smartphone cameras and DSLRs have progressed in opposite directions in recent years, and by 2024, Sony says the image quality of phones will finally surpass that of their SLR competitors.
As reported by Nikkei Japan (opens in new tab)Sony Semiconductor Solutions (SSS) President and CEO Terushi Shimizu said at a business meeting, “We expect still images [from smartphones] will surpass the image quality of single-lens reflex cameras in the next few years”.
Some fascinating slides (opens in new tab) presented during the briefing were even more specific, with a slide showing that according to Sony, “Still images are expected to outperform ILC [interchangeable lens camera] Image quality” sometime in 2024.
Those are two slightly different claims, with “ILCs” also encompassing today’s mirrorless cameras alongside older DSLR technology, which most camera makers are now largely abandoning.
But the broader conclusion remains — far from hitting a technical ceiling, smartphones are expected to continue their imaging evolution, making standalone cameras obsolete for most people.
So what technology will drive this continued rise in the best cell phone cameras? Sony points out a few factors, including “quantum saturation” and “AI processing” improvements. Interestingly, Sony also expects sensor size in “high-end model” phones to double by 2024.
The larger pixels on these sensors will allow phone makers to apply multi-frame processing that “realizes a new imaging experience,” including improved Super HDR modes and zooms that combine folded optics (like the Sony Xperia 1 IV). AI Algorithms.
Sony also highlighted the development of its “dual-layer transistor pixel technology,” which we heard about last year, which promises to dramatically improve phone camera dynamic range and reduce low-light noise.
Similar advances are coming to video, according to Sony’s presentation, with the faster readout speeds of next-gen sensors supporting 8K video, multi-frame processing (including video HDR), and a general realization of “AI processing for video.” In other words, computer-aided video techniques like Apple’s Cinematic Mode.
While it’s not uncommon for Sony to make bold predictions about a sector in which it’s heavily invested, its predictions for the continued development of phone cameras at the expense of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras seem to have substance.
And this is significant for all smartphones, because according to Statista (opens in new tab)Sony has 42% of the global phone image sensor market, while teardowns of the iPhone 13 Pro Max show it using three Sony IMX 7-series sensors.
Analysis: Phones continue their meteoric rise
Predicting the end of DSLR cameras is nothing new – without saying anything explicitly, Canon and Nikon have both admitted that DSLRs are a legacy format, discontinuing some models, like the Nikon D3500, without replacing them . However, the latest statements from Sony show that cell phone cameras still have a long way to go before they reach their technical ceiling.
The greatest advances in recent years have come in multi-frame processing, also known as computational photography. But Sony has been understandably keen to emphasize the role new hardware will play in taking phone cameras to new photographic heights.
His prediction that sensor sizes in high-end phones will double by 2024 comes as a bit of a surprise, as that’s limited by factors like lenses. For example, the Sony Xperia Pro-I last year was Sony’s first phone with a 1-inch sensor, but its lens wasn’t capable of projecting an image circle large enough to cover the entire sensor, so it could only take 12MP photos instead of the native 20MP resolution.
Perhaps more significant is Sony’s new stacked CMOS sensor with dual-layer transistor pixels, exposing each pixel twice as much light as a standard sensor. That sounds like a hardware advancement that computational algorithms could definitely latch onto to boost dynamic range and noise performance.
But given how good the latest phones are at photography, the most noticeable advances over the next few years will likely be in video. Sony’s presentation underscored this with references to multi-frame processing and its Edge AI platform, which aims to increase both video performance and support for augmented reality apps.
While DSLRs and mirrorless cameras will always have an audience among hobbyists and professionals alike for their handling, creative control, viewfinder and single-frame image quality, the advances outlined in Sony’s presentation show that the next few years will be a particularly exciting time for mobile cameras.