Sony predicts that smartphones will kill off the DSLR within three years

Sony predicts that smartphones will kill off the DSLR within three years

As reported by Nikkei Japan(opens in new tab), Terushi Shimizu, President and CEO of Sony Semiconductor Solutions (SSS), stated that "over the next few years, we expect the quality of still images to surpass single-lens reflex cameras."

Sony presented some fascinating slides(opened in a new tab) during the briefing. One slide showed that, according to the company, "still images are expected to exceed interchangeable lens camera image quality" sometime during 2024.

The two claims are slightly different, with 'ILCs' also including digital mirrorless cameras alongside traditional DSLRs which are now mostly abandoned. Overall, smartphones will continue their imaging evolution far beyond a technological ceiling, rendering standalone cameras obsolete for most people. 

So what technology will drive this growth in best phone cameras? The company cites several factors, including "quantum saturation" and improvements to "AI processing". The sensor size in "high-end model" phones is also expected to double by 2024, according to Sony.

Phone makers will be able to handle such large pixels with multi-frame processing, "reaching a whole new level of imaging experience", including better Super HDR modes and zooms that rely on folded optics (like the Sony Xperia 1 IV).

The company also showed off its 'two-layer transistor pixel technology', which we heard about last year, which is meant to help phone cameras acquire a higher dynamic range and reduce low-light noise.

Sony's presentation revealed that, with the faster read-out speeds of next-gen sensors, 8K video will be supported, as well as multi-frame processing, HDR video, and AI-assisted video. Computerized video techniques, such as Apple's Cinematic Mode.

The continued evolution of phone cameras at the expense of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is a prediction Sony makes frequently about a sector it's heavily invested in. 

According to Statista(opens in new tab), Sony controls 42% of the global image sensor market for smartphones, while teardowns of the iPhone 13 Pro Max revealed three Sony IMX 7-series sensors

DSLR cameras may be headed for extinction, but neither Canon nor Nikon has admitted this explicitly. Both have discontinued some models, such as the Nikon D3500, without a replacement. Sony, however, emphasized that phone cameras still have a long way to go before reaching their technical ceiling.

Computational photography, or multi-frame processing, has made the most advances in recent years. Sony was nonetheless keen to emphasize how its new hardware would raise the bar for phone cameras.

In any case, the prediction that sensor sizes in high-end smartphones will double by 2024 is a little surprising, since they are limited by factors like lenses. 

A Sony Xperia Pro-I phone, for example, had Sony's first 1-inch sensor last year, but its lens was unable to project a large enough image circle to cover the entire sensor. As a result, the phone could only take photos with 12MP rather than 20MP resolution.

In addition, Sony's new stacked CMOS sensor with two-layer transistor pixels effectively exposes each pixel to twice as much light as a standard sensor.

To boost noise performance and dynamic range, computational algorithms could harness this hardware advancement.With the latest phones being so good at photography, video is likely to be the area that makes the most noticeable advances over the next few years.

Sony's presentation refers to multi-frame processing and its Edge AI platform, both of which will enhance video performance and support augmented reality applications.

Even though DSLRs and mirrorless cameras will always have an audience among hobbyists and professionals thanks to their handling, creative control, viewfinders, and single-shot image quality, the types of advancements detailed by Sony show that mobile camera technology in the next few years is going to be particularly interesting and exciting.

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