Samsung 50MP ISOCELL GN1 scales back the pixel count for larger pixels

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When Samsung launched its 108 megapixel ISOCEL Bright HMX and HMX1 sensors, it was presumed to be tough to beat. But as many digital photographers and professionals will repeatedly tell, it isn't always about pixel counts. The pixel size also factors into the equation as it determines just how much light the sensor can actually take in. That's the principle that underlies Samsung's new ISOCELL GN1 imaging sensor that surprisingly more than halves the number of pixels but also nearly doubles the pixel size.

The basic principle is that larger pixels have better light sensitivity, which makes the 108MP ISOCELL HM1's 0,8μm pixel size almost paltry in comparison. This new ISOCELL GN1, in contrast, boasts of 1.2μm-sized pixels that, at least in theory, could address one of the weakest points of Samsung's camera. That is, it should be able to take better low-light and nighttime shots using this sensor.

That's not its only trick, of course. Samsung announces that this is its first sensor to combine both Dual Pixel PDAF as well as Tetracell technologies. The latter is simply Samsung's marketing term for the now popular pixel-binning strategy. In this case, it combines 2x2 pixel data into one to produce a brighter 12.5MP photo.

The Dual Pixel autofocus technology, on the other hand, employs two photodiodes in a single pixel for phase detection. That effectively gives the sensors 100 PDAF agents for faster and more accurate autofocus even on moving subjects. And in the opposite direction of pixel-binning, Samsung says it has a software algorithm that separates the two photodiodes' light information to produce an image resolution comparable to 100MP photos.

Samsung is announcing that the 50MP ISOCELL GN1 sensors will start mass production this month. Of course, it isn't saying which of its phones will be the first to bear the new sensor and some might expect that the Galaxy Note 20 could be one of those. It will be interesting if that will be the case, suggesting that Samsung may be backing down from its 108MP sensor for something less spectacular but also more practical.