Over the past few years, we've seen the camera phone megapixel race accelerate beyond what most professional cameras are even capable of. However, it seems that this technology could be about to make another giant leap forward, with rumors that Xiaomi is working on a camera phone that will feature a massive megapixel count.
Gadgets 360 recently reported that Xiaomi was working on a camera phone with a 200MP ISOCELL sensor that's said to be sourced from Samsung. Xiaomi has only just recently released the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, which packs the respectably large 50MP main sensor. However, could a new 200MP sensor blow this piece of tech out of the water? Well, it depends.
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Large megapixel counts are excellent marketing material, but are they actually worth the price tag that comes attached? Packing an enormous amount of megapixels onto a sensor doesn't automatically equate to fantastic image quality – especially when the sensor only measures 1/2.55–1/1.7 inches. The reality of camera phone sensors with large megapixel counts is that they're usually subject to pixel binning.
For example, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra employs 9-in-1 pixel binning, which means that the 108MP sensor actually produces 12MP photos. If Xiaomi produced a 200MP sensor that employed 9-in-1 pixel binning, then this would produce 22MP photos. This still isn't anything to sniff at, but it's not quite the same as a 200MP image!
It would be unfair to say that pixel binning has no purpose other than to justify a sensor with a large megapixel count – it can produce excellent image quality on a camera phone. However, the iPhone 12 Pro Max also produces fantastic photos – and it only uses a 12MP sensor.
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These reports are certainly exciting, but it's always worth remembering that there's far more that goes into a smartphone camera than just the imaging sensor. It's often the behind-the-scenes computational photography that's the unsung hero, sharpening details and boosting colors in mere microseconds.