Samsung has been trying to wrest the smartphone camera crown from Huawei for years with mixed success. While its flagships do produce decent images and videos, they have always come short of being the best. One particular problem that has cropped up recently is its disappointing autofocus performance. Samsung promises to fix that once and for all with its own 3D time-of-flight or ToF sensor that it advertises to bring fast and accurate depth-sensing capabilities with minimal power consumption.
3D ToF sensors all work based on the same principles. An IR illuminator blasts an object with invisible light while the sensor itself measures how long it takes for the IR light to bounce back which, in turn, tells how near or far an object is. The differences between ToF sensors, including Apple’s own, lies in how accurate and how fast they can be.
Samsung’s new ISOCELL Vizion 33D ToF boasts of a 4-tap demodulation system that it says solves the problem of fast-moving objects. The sensor receives four phase signals at the same time, covering 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees. This practically means that even with just a single frame, it can generate a depth image that can be used for things like 3D scanning, bokeh effects, and AR or VR applications.
The Vizion 33D ToF has advertised uses both on the front and on the back of a smartphone. Beyond portrait or bokeh selfies, the sensor can also accurately map a user’s face for face recognition, even in dim environments. Along with a main camera sensor, the ToF sensor can replace the laser AF that Samsung used in the Galaxy Note 20. Ironically, it used a 3D ToF for autofocus, yielding unimpressive results.
The timing of Samsung’s almost silent announcement of this ISOCELL Vizion 33D ToF sensor leaves open the possibility of its inclusion in the Galaxy S21 early next year. Whether it will outdo the laser AF of the Galaxy Note 20 is also an open question, of course.