Sony adds autofocus tracking to smartphone image sensor

The Exmor RS IMX320 borrows autofocus tech from SLR cameras

Sony has developed an imaging sensor for smartphones that's designed to capture rapidly moving subjects such as kids and animals.

The Exmor RS IMX320 is a stacked CMOS sensor that's the first of its kind with accurate, high-speed AF (autofocus) tracking for subjects that are constantly on the move, according to Sony.

The latest Exmor's HDR (high dynamic range) function, a common exposure-boosting feature for smartphone cameras, also supports 4K (4096 x 2160) videos.

The sensor has 21 effective megapixels, a frame rate ranging from 24 to 120 and a newly developed signal processing function.

Image plane phase detection AF, as the AF-tracking feature is known, uses dedicated pixels incorporated in the screen of the image sensor and provides information to the camera about the distance to the subject. The sensor has 192 AF points.

"Image plane phase detection AF is used in mirrorless SLR [single-lens reflex] cameras, but this is the first time for it to be used in smartphones," a Sony spokeswoman wrote in an email. "Until now, smartphone CMOS image sensors focused based on the contrast of the subject."

The new CMOS sensor will ship in April, and Sony plans to release a 16-megapixel version of the sensor by April 2016. The company would not say whether the new Exmor will only be used in its Xperia smartphones or whether it will be sold to other manufacturers.

Sony's Exmor sensors have been used in various cameras including the recently announced Cyber-shot DSC-KW11, which is shaped like a perfume bottle.

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