Samsung Electronics has been granted a patent for a Galaxy smartphone with six cameras (5 wide-angle cameras + 1 zoom camera). We can expect this with the Galaxy S30. However, it is not so much the number of cameras that is worth mentioning, Samsung seems to see opportunities to further improve the image quality by using moving camera sensors (tiltable image sensor).
Samsung Smartphone Camera With Tilting Image Sensor
In December 2019, Samsung Electronics applied for a utility patent at WIPO (World Intellectual Property Office) for an ‘Apparatus and method for operating multiple cameras for digital photography’. The 55-page documentation was published on June 11, 2020.
The Samsung patent mentions the use of 5 wide-angle cameras with a focal length of 28mm (35mm equiv) and at least one telephoto lens. The array camera is supplemented with an LED flash. In ‘normal’ mode, each image sensor can point in one direction and then optimize the array configuration using image algorithms.
By using moving sensors, they can tilt so that a greater focal length can be achieved. For example, with the help of four wide-angle lenses with a moving sensor, you can also capture a panoramic image with a ‘pano-bokeh effect’. In other words, a panoramic image with a blurred background – a feature that is not yet found on the current Samsung smartphone models.
A potential advantage of array cameras with a tilting image sensor is that multiple cameras can work together to enhance the photography experience. This can be achieved with separate cameras, which can be tilted independently horizontally and / or vertically. For the time being, array cameras are only used to a limited extent, this is due to the high production costs, the large size and the higher power consumption.
When properly configured, an array camera can achieve better results in poor lighting conditions, it also features excellent focus, higher dynamic range (HDR), and multi-based bokeh effects can be created – according to the patent specification.
One of the cameras can be designated as the master camera with which the other cameras in the array work together. Therefore, lower resolution sensors are sufficient to make detailed recordings. As an example, it is stated that using 4x a 32 megapixel sensor will yield larger files as one 100 megapixel camera. In addition, the cameras have an overlapping field of view, allowing more details to be recorded.
The extensive documentation also goes deeper into minimizing the disadvantages that an array camera entails. For example, a pop-out image sensor module can be used to minimize the size of the camera system – which is necessary to implement the camera in the thin housing of a smartphone. With a pop-out image sensor module, the field of view can be changed without the use of mirrors (as with SLR cameras).
The sensors can be tilted independently of each other, the degree of tilting depends on the mode the user wishes to use. Think for example of the panorama mode, where four sensors will be oriented in such a way that they are each tilted one way. The fifth wide-angle camera provides an overlapping image for extra details and sharpness in the middle of the shot, and the stitching will also be barely visible.
A zoom camera can be used together with one wide-angle camera to take high-quality zoom photos. Only the cameras that are actually used are started up, so that energy consumption can be saved.
Due to the synchronization, the camera modules can also capture time-synchronized image frames, which is useful, for example, when capturing video recordings with a high frame rate.
Future Galaxy Smartphones
In the coming years, smartphone manufacturers are likely to focus less on the number of megapixels. Instead, the sensor size will increase to allow you to shoot detailed, noise-free images even in poor lighting conditions. In addition, the lenses will also increase in quality, which will improve the overall image quality. This evolution took place about 15 years ago in the digital camera market.
Within the (professional) camera industry, tilt / shift lens technology has been used for some time – think of renowned photo manufacturers Canon and Nikon. Such a lens is ideal for architectural, portrait and landscape photography. It is therefore not inconceivable that in the long run tiltable image sensors will also be used in our mobile phones.
Samsung has been experimenting with different types of camera technologies for some time. For example, the Galaxy S9 / S10 models were equipped with a variable aperture. With the Samsung Galaxy S20 series, this function has been omitted, instead a larger sensor and better optics have been chosen. The sensor resolution was also increased, for example, the Galaxy S20 Ultra has a 108-megapixel main camera. It is unknown if and when Samsung wants to release a Galaxy smartphone with tilting image sensors.
It is quite early to speculate if Samsung’s next Galaxy S30 flagship would come with six cameras. However, as this patent hints, Samsung is indeed considering six rear cameras as a viable option.