Sony makes a lot of money from selling image sensors. A LOT of money. Even more money than it makes from selling PlayStations. A LOT more. Sony is on track to make $1.92 billion in profit from its image sensors – a whopping $192 million more than it makes from its videogames division.
Obviously Sony makes the sensors for its own cameras, such as the new Sony A7S III. It has also been the exclusive provider of sensors for Apple since 2010, so you'll find Sony sensors inside the upcoming iPhone 12.
However, it also sells sensors to other camera manufacturers – some of the best Nikon cameras and best Olympus cameras have Sony sensors inside them, like the Nikon D850 along with some of the best medium format cameras like the Fujifilm GFX 100.
That's because very few camera manufacturers actually produce their own sensors, with even Canon only accounting for some 7% of the image sensor market. Sony, by contrast, dominates with over 50% of global sensor sales. And within the smartphone sector it holds an astonishing 70% stranglehold, meaning that the majority of the best camera phones are powered by Sony image sensors.
"For years, image sensors were such a small slice of Sony’s business they were a rounding error," wrote Forbes (thanks, Sony Alpha Rumors). "In fact, they got lumped in with the 'other devices,' which included batteries and tape recorders.
"But the growth in sensor sales over the past three years has been nothing short of remarkable. This year Sony will generate more profits from imaging than any of its other business lines. Sensors are on track to generate $1.92 billion in profits… 10% more than Sony’s long-established gaming arm. And when it comes to quality, Sony is in a league of its own. Its image sensors are so far ahead, it charges 2x as much as its closest competitor [Samsung]."
So, even if you're a Sony hater, be grateful that the company is doing so well – you're probably using at least one Sony image sensor even if you don't know about it, whether it's in your camera, your phone or even your dash cam!
The best Sony camera: from full-frame Alphas to compact Cyber-shots
Nikon D850 review
iPhone 11 Pro review