Pixel Binning Technology

2019 has been a year of many innovative features in smartphones.One of the very prevalent features this year has been a high-resolution primary cameras on devices (achieved via pixel binning).Starting all the way from budget handsets, the trend has trickled up to most modern flagship smartphones, like the One plus 7 Pro, Redmi Note 8 and the Redmi K20 /Mi9T,Realme X among others.

The One Plus 7 Pro,Redmi K20,Realme X,Realme 5 Pro,Samsung Galaxy A80, Lenovo Z6 all feature the same 48MP Sony IMX586 sensor as their primary camera. The special thing about the sensor is not the megapixel count, but the technology behind it. Sony IMX586 sensor uses pixel binning to create sharp 12MP images and the technology is the reason why the sensor is present on many devices. But what is pixel binning and how exactly does it work ?

In order to understand what pixel binning means, first we have to understand what pixels are. In the most simplest way, a pixel is generally defined as the smallest element in a picture represented on screen. However, in this context, pixels are the smallest physical elements on a digital camera sensor that capture light during photography. Which are measured using microns, which is a unit of length a million times smaller than a meter. The bigger the pixel size in a camera, the more light it can capture. This will result in much sharper and brighter images, which is the goal of every camera manufacturer. 

However, a bigger pixel sensor size means a bigger camera size which is difficult to feat inside a smartphone’s slender frame. This leads to the intrusive camera bumps that make the device wobble when placed on a flat surface. So basically, a smaller pixel size means you get bad low light performance, but a larger pixel means you get huge camera sensor. To fix this issue,this is where the pixel binning technology comes into play.

Pixel Binning is the process of combining four adjacent pixels into one. So a camera sensor which has a pixel size of 0.8 microns will combine these pixels into a 2×2 grid to form a larger 1.6 micron pixel image. The effective resolution is usually one-fourth of what the sensor is capable of. This means that a 48MP sensor effectively produces 12MP images, and a 64MP sensor will produce 16MP images. Combining the pixels will result in a brighter and sharper image, without the hassles of a huge camera sensor. 

The most common sensor that supports pixel binning in smartphones is the 48MP Sony IMX586. Samsung also have the Samsung ISOCELL GM1 with the same resolution, but it’s not very common and it’s present on a handful of devices like the Redmi Note 7S and the Lenovo Z6 Pro. Samsung also announced the ISOCELL HMX, a sensor with 108MP resolution that uses the pixel binning technology to produce high-resolution 27MP images. This sensor is expected to debut in the upcoming Xiaomi MiMix 4.

Even though the idea behind the pixel binning technology sounds exciting and a good way to tackle particular problems, it is not the only way. While the goal was to reduce the camera sensor size and fit it inside a smartphone, most of the devices with the sensors still have a huge camera bump. Arguably,none of the handsets with the famous pixel binned sensors are the best in their class (although we’ve seen some improvements like in the One Plus 7 Pro). It is possible to produce better low light images by software, as Google has continually demonstrated with the Pixel’s Night Sight feature and not forgetting the Astrophotography mode in the Pixel 4’s series.

Also you can read : {What is HDR mode in your camera ?}

The 48MP or 64MP cameras on smartphones are cool,the details they produce are at times extraordinary, but for most social media sharing, where the images are anyway compressed for any of the details to be visible, it frankly doesn’t matter. But, if combined with better software, these pixel binned sensors may be a good thing for future smartphones and definitely one of the better features to have come out recently.

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