Who remembers ISOCELL from the Galaxy S5 days? It's come quite a ways from its 16 MP nascence.
Samsung recently revealed their latest 64 MP ISOCELL Bright GW1 sensor alongside the 48 MP ICOCELL Bright GM2. Both feature pixel sizes of a sheer 0.8μm, the smallest yet to grace their camera lineup. In this case, smaller is considered better because it allows for more compact camera modules, which in turn allows for more cameras or standalone sensors that are larger but more feature-rich. This development is expected to afford Samsung the potential to launch camera modules between 20 and 64 MP once they begin shipping devices with the GW1. Photography buffs will also benefit from "Super PD", which is an enhanced form of phase detection auto-focus (PDAF) and should lead to quicker, more accurate focal adjustments on the fly.
This is expected to raise the bar on high-quality smartphone photography for all handsets across the spectrum, at least those that employ Samsung's sensor in particular. The science behind it is simple: Smaller pixels lead to more pixels, which leads to higher resolutions and sharper imagery overall. Historically, this has been a topic of varied conjecture because shrinking the pixels leads to progressively more lossy shots. The improved resolution would often yield poorer low-light shots, color reproduction and general stability if you zoomed into the photos in question. In a DSLR, these issues wouldn't be noticed since a professional camera is as large as it needs to be for flawless shots. When we talk about packing that kind of quality into a tiny chassis with a small battery, the story is very different.
These drawbacks have been ameliorated in recent years with multi-camera setups where each sensor has a dedicated task of collecting a specific type of data that's essential to the final product, allowing for one sensor to produce extremely high-resolution shots while letting other modules handle light intake, saturation, AI functions and more. The exact combination of these features varies by device, but the trick itself is sometimes referred to as "pixel-binning" wherein multiple photos are taken — one per camera — and then superimposed together to form a complete image.
Of course, before pixel-binning was a commercial hit, Samsung was still working away to develop ISOCELL sensors by shrinking the pixels further. It began in 2013, shrinking to 1.0μm in 2015, then dropping to 0.9μm in 2017. This is much like the continued shrinkage behind microprocessors and system-on-a-chip (SoC) technologies, which, to be simple, aims to pack more into less by making room and minimizing the thermal footprint of the underlying technology. This allows for more hardware features that feature more power, more pixels, faster processing and overall better technology as time progresses.
ISOCELL has an additional trick up its sleeve that's been around for years: combining pixels. The 0.8μm sensors will be able to combine four pixels' data into a single logical "pixel", taking the resolution down a peg from 64 to 16 MP but drastically improving low-light snapping as a result. In other words, even without pixel-binning, a single ISOCELL sensor is able to adjust itself in accordance with shooting conditions. The GW1 will also bring 100-decibel (dB) HDR support in tow, which is a lofty bump from the standard 60 dB that you'll find everywhere else right now. It's becoming less a question of "does it have HDR" and more like "does it have good HDR".
Finally, the GW1 will open the door to 480 FPS slow-mo recording at a wholesome 1080p. Remember when phones struggled to push 720p at more than 30 FPS? Double that resolution to 1080p and crank up the frame rate by 16 times, and that's where Samsung devices are about to be, the Galaxy Note 10 specifically.
As it pertains to the newest Note handset over the horizon, there's no certainty that the Korean manufacturer will actually install the GW1 in the Note 10 this fall. Popular tipster Ice Universe mentions that Samsung won't put it in the Note 10, but plans change, and it's no secret that Samsung is extremely competitive with their fall releases to stay ahead of their Cupertino rival: Apple.