The Sensor Business
There was a time, when Fujifilm was making its own sensors.
However, at some point in time, Fujifilm sold its sensor business to Toshiba, which later on sold it to Sony.
As of today (and as far as I know) Fujifilm only makes the color filter array for sensors. Fujifilm also cooperates with Samsung on the ISOcell+ sensor development, which we reported about here.
In short: Sony dominates the sensor market, and most camera manufacturers buy all the sensors they need from Sony.
This gives Sony a huge advantage, as Fujifilm managers Toru Takahashi and Toshihisa Iida said back in 2016 here:
Sony has a big advantage, they make their own sensors. That is a very big advantage for them.
FujiRumors got information years ago, that Fujifilm had a contract with Sony, that allowed them to use the latest Sony sensor only 6 months after Sony used them on their own cameras, giving them a strategic time advantage (timing is crucial in business).
I don’t know if this contract has been changed in the meantime, but what I know is that Sony officially said once, that they will keep the best sensors for themselves, and not sell them to other camera manufacturers.
The Sony Problem
One of the competitors in the sensor business is Towerjazz. And in a recent video interview (see video above, which starts at the right point when they talk about Sony), spotted by Mirrorlessrumors, they said:
The problem with Sony sensor is, that Sony is also a camera maker, so they also compete with their customers. So it’s not an easy situation, especially if the market grows and there is not enough capacity, so there is a competition on supply and if Sony is also a customer of their own facilities, of their own production, they may give themselves the benefit of advantage.
FujiRumors is a huge fan of competition, as we think customers benefit tremendously from it.
So I’d like Towerjazz to become stronger, but it seems they didn’t figure out one crucial thing: how to deal with phase detection pixels.
The Towejazz Problem
In fact, regarding phase detection pixels, which are available on Sony sensors but not on Towerjazz sensors, they say:
Phase detection is not our expertise, especially not the software needed to do that. Phase detection doesn’t affect image quality.
Who would have the expertise, though, is Samsung, which launched the first digital camera with full sensor phase detection pixels coverage back in 2014 (!!!) the stellar Samsung NX1. So I hope that the Fujifilm and Samsung cooperation will one day allow it to Fujifilm to get Sony-independent.
Future Sensor Challenges
Regarding the future sensor development challenges, Towerjazz says:
8K is possible, but you pay by pixel area. So going from 4K to 8K by definition it would reduce your pixel size or your pixel area by a factor of 4. That means less photons that you can collect, less sensitivity, etc. But it’s coming for sure in future. Along with higher frame rates.
Artificial intelligence or computational photography, which is for example massively used on smartphones (fake bokeh etc):
In order to get very good pictures no data process or no image processor, as good as it will be, would cover up for lousy sensor. When you start with a good image, then obviously when you do some corrections [photoshop] it’s better. But you must start with a good image.
The most important part is the high dynamic range, which is still a problem. Even high-end cameras suffer from low dynamic range or lower dynamic range that you would expect. You need better dynamic range to capture realistic HDR.
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