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Samsung’s new ISOCELL GN1 sensor features Tetracell tech, phase detection on all active pixels: Digital Photography Review

Samsung Electronics has launched a new image sensor that is designed for use in the primary camera of high-end smartphones. Like other sensors from the the ISOCELL family, the ISOCELL GN1 comes with the company’s pixel isolation technology that creates a barrier around each pixel in order to reduce color cross-talk.

At 50MP the sensor´s native resolution is fairly moderate when compared to the 108MP juggernaut used in Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S20 Ultra, but has other tricks up its sleeve: it’s Samsung’s first image sensor to combine Dual-Pixel autofocus with the company’s Tetracell technology, allowing for increased light sensitivity in low light as well as precise and fast autofocus performance in all light conditions.

The GN1 comes with 100 million phase detection autofocus (PDAF) sites, meaning all of the sensor’s active pixels double as focus pixels, allowing for fast focusing in all light conditions and at all angles. Dual Pixel technology places two photodiodes side-by-side within a single pixel. When an image is captured the outputs from the two photodiodes are merged into a single pixel. Samsung also offers a software feature that can analyze light information from both photodiodes to compute image output that is comparable to a 100MP file.

Tetracell uses pixel-merging methods to increase light sensitivity in low light conditions. Four adjacent pixels are merged into one doubling the effective pixel size from 1.2μm to 2.4μm and quadrupling the light sensitivity at a 12.5MP output size. In bright light the sensor can operate as a standard Bayer sensor and capture full-sized 50MP images.

In addition the GN1 sensor offers a Smart-ISO function that ‘intelligently sets the optimal ISO value, and a real-time HDR mode. Electronic image stabilization uses data from the device’s built-in gyro to avoid shaky video and blurry images and video shooters can make use of an 8K video mode that can record at 30 frames per second.

Overall the GN1 looks like a very versatile image sensor that can adapt to a multitude of shooting situations. In bright light the 50MP resolution should allow for excellent detail. In dimmer conditions the Tetracell tech can deliver images with low noise and a wide dynamic range. At the same time the all-sensor Dual-Pixel autofocus system is making sure subjects are in focus, even in difficult scenes.

Samsung says mass production of the ISOCELL GN1 sensor has started this month. We’ll find out how it performs in real-life conditions once the first GN1-equipped devices make an appearance in the marketplace.


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