A series of tweets from Tim Cook in Japan include the usual fare – praising developers who work with Apple, celebrating the use of Apple tech in education, and so on – but one less usual one. Cook also tweeted a photo of a visit to Sony’s secretive camera sensor facility in Kumamoto.
It’s not exactly a secret that Apple’s camera sensors are made by the Japanese company: Sony model numbers have been found in iPhone teardowns for years now. But it is the first time I can recall Apple’s CEO openly mentioning this …
Cook’s tweet says:
We’ve been partnering with Sony for over a decade to create the world’s leading camera sensors for iPhone. Thanks to Ken and everyone on the team for showing me around the cutting-edge facility in Kumamoto today.
Amusingly, the accompanying photo shows Cook carefully studying two iPhone 14 models, as if it’s the first time he’s ever seen them.
Sony makes the most advanced smartphone camera sensors, and its Kumamoto plant is so secretive that visiting journalists are not allowed to take photos even in innocuous areas like meeting rooms and corridors, just in case something sensitive happens to be in shot. Rare publicity photos like this are always extremely carefully choreographed.
Cameras have of course been a key selling feature of iPhones for many years, Apple using its Shot on iPhone tag to show off the quality of photos taken with its smartphones. It’s the constant improvements to photo and video capabilities which motivate many of us to update annually.
Cook’s visit clearly signals that the partnership with Sony is expected to continue for some time yet. The latest rumored development is a new sensor tech designed to significantly boost dynamic range. We’re expecting to see this tech used in the iPhone 15.
The report claims Sony’s latest sensor technology “roughly doubles the saturation signal level in each pixel” to deliver higher dynamic range than existing iPhone camera systems.
The report goes on to explain that Sony’s latest sensor tech uses a “new semiconductor architecture which places photodiodes and transistors in separate substrate layers, allowing the sensor to add more photodiodes to the dedicated layer.”
Dynamic range is a way of measuring the number of f-stops of light a sensor can capture without the dark areas turning to solid black, and the bright areas turning to solid white. Film cameras typically offer round 10 stops, while today’s high-end digital sensors are typically in the 14-15 stop range – with some high end cameras claiming more than 20 stops, which is better than the human eye.
A classic example of when extra dynamic range is useful is when you’re shooting into the light, like someone’s face with a sunset behind them. With limited dynamic range, either the face will be too dark or the sunset colors washed out. High dynamic range allows saturated colors in both dark and bright areas of the photo.
In addition to a new sensor, the iPhone 15 is also expected to feature a periscope lens for much longer optical zoom – likely around 10x zoom. However, this feature may be limited to the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
It’s not known how long Tim Cook will be in Japan, but we’ll be keeping an eye out for more tweets.
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