Customized COMS alone, Sony has become the biggest winner in the multi-camera era

2019 was a special year for Sony.

This year, Sony’s PS4 console shipments exceeded 100 million units, successfully surpassing the sales of the first-generation PS consoles and becoming Sony’s most popular game console product. This achievement is basically within Sony’s expectations. What makes Sony even more happy is that the sales of the semiconductor division in the second quarter of 2019 increased by 22.13% year-on-year, and the increase in net profit was as high as 59.5%, becoming the second largest revenue source after the game console business. , of which image sensor revenue accounted for 86%.

Customized COMS alone, Sony has become the biggest winner in the multi-camera era

2019 was a special year for Sony.

This year, Sony’s PS4 console shipments exceeded 100 million units, successfully surpassing the sales of the first-generation PS consoles and becoming Sony’s most popular game console product. This achievement is basically within Sony’s expectations. What makes Sony even more happy is that the sales of the semiconductor division in the second quarter of 2019 increased by 22.13% year-on-year, and the increase in net profit was as high as 59.5%, becoming the second largest revenue source after the game console business. , of which image sensor revenue accounted for 86%.

Customized COMS alone, Sony has become the biggest winner in the multi-camera era

▲ Huawei Mate 30 Pro with IMX 600 series

The flagship mobile phone wants to compete with the camera parameters, so they have purchased Sony’s IMX 586 series, and fought fiercely on the outsole + high-resolution position, because Samsung’s GM1 series cannot match the performance of the IMX 586. , the market once appeared the spectacle of IMX 586 from 4000 yuan to 1000 yuan mobile phone.

In addition to the main camera and front lens, almost all mobile phones in 2019 use more than one lens, and a considerable part of them are provided by Sony CMOS.

In order to meet the massive CMOS demand in the market, Sony’s semiconductor factory has entered a 24-hour continuous rotation throughout the year. Even so, it is still unable to meet the market demand for Sony CMOS.

Why do mobile phone manufacturers have to buy Sony’s CMOS even if they line up? How good is Sony’s CMOS? To understand why Sony can occupy such an important position in the mobile terminal CMOS market, let’s go back to 2012.

Behind the black technology is Sony’s continuous research and development for more than ten years

In 2012, Sony introduced the first stacked CMOS, which replaced the support substrate of the original back-illuminated CMOS image sensor with a chip for a signal processing circuit. While thinner than the previous generation of back-illuminated CMOS, the picture quality has been greatly improved. At that time, Sony was already the manufacturer with the highest market share of mobile phone CMOS, with a market share of about 30%. After the first release of stacked CMOS, Sony’s position as the leader of mobile phone CMOS has been further consolidated.

Customized COMS alone, Sony has become the biggest winner in the multi-camera era

After ruling the mobile phone CMOS market with the leading stack CMOS, Sony did not slack off. In 2017, it launched the first 3-layer stack CMOS, which was carried on its own Xperia XZ Premium as a unique black technology. The 3-layer stack CMOS adds a DRAM cache on the basis of the double-layer stack CMOS, which can directly cache the image information in the CMOS chip.

Customized COMS alone, Sony has become the biggest winner in the multi-camera era

▲ Sony 3-layer stack CMOS technology

With this layer of “buffering”, the previous problem of the slow CMOS continuous shooting speed of mobile phones has been solved. The IMX 400, which has improved the continuous shooting speed, can even shoot 960fps slow motion at 720P resolution. People at that time had never seen such “black technology”, after all, most cameras at that time could not shoot 960fps video. Under the innovation of video shooting, adding DRAM to CMOS has more important significance.

That is to pave the way for multi-frame synthesis technology. With the addition of DRAM cache, CMOS can take multiple photos in a short period of time, and use algorithms to synthesize a photo with less noise and higher latitude. The night scene mode and HDR that we commonly use now are also the application of this technology.

Customized COMS alone, Sony has become the biggest winner in the multi-camera era

▲ iPhone HDR technology picture from: apple

It was not until half a year later that Samsung, the “second child” in the CMOS market, launched a three-layer stack of CMOS. “I have nothing for everyone”, people clearly see Sony’s huge advantage in leading the industry in CMOS technology. With the “IMX 600” series that Sony later customized for Huawei, Sony has entered the “altar” of CMOS and has become a representative parameter of “mobile phone photography”.

In addition to almost “monopolizing” the main camera of mobile phones, most of the other lenses in the multi-camera era also use Sony’s CMOS. Selfie lens, Sony’s lens parts basically cover every mobile phone on the market. As for other vacancies in the market, such as the “depth of field” lens and “macro” lens of some mobile phones, Samsung and OV (OmniVision) provide.

It’s not enough to eat, Sony wants “eternal life”

This part of the mobile phone is often the one with the most shipments in the market. It seems that Sony has not covered all the lens supply. In fact, Sony’s production speed has not kept up with the market demand. In this case, Sony can only “drain the net” to catch the big and let the small, and it is actually Sony’s helpless to miss this part of the market.

In the face of smartphone CMOS demand that exceeds its expected growth rate, Sony has begun to actively expand production capacity. Until March 2021, Sony has allocated half of its capital expenditure to the image sensor field, and these research funds will amount to 600 billion yen (about 5.4 billion US dollars). For Sony, these R&D funds will continue to keep Sony in the lead in CMOS technology, so as not to erode Sony’s territory in the CMOS market, which is closely followed by Samsung Semiconductor and domestically produced OV (OmniVision).

Customized COMS alone, Sony has become the biggest winner in the multi-camera era

▲ 2019 CMOS market share picture from: Nikkei Chinese website

In terms of production capacity, Sony also responded quickly. As early as 2016, Sony acquired a Toshiba factory specializing in the manufacture of mobile phone CMOS. Sony at the time saw an explosion in smartphone production, thinking that a new factory would be enough to meet all the supply. But it turns out that a phone may need more than just the front and rear lenses, and Sony’s estimate at the time was obviously a bit conservative.

At present, Sony has begun to build new factories and improve the production efficiency of existing semiconductor factories. It wants to increase the production capacity of existing wafer factories by 6.15% by the end of March next year, reaching 128,000 wafers per month. The factory is put into operation.

After Sony’s CMOS production capacity has fully climbed, there may be a thousand-yuan phone under the banner of “full Sony CMOS”, and Sony will gain more share from the thousand-yuan multi-camera mobile phone and completely drive out other competitors. out of the market. The mobile phone CMOS market may completely become a “two-person turn” between Sony and Samsung, just like today’s “Intel & AMD”.

Once Samsung can’t keep up with Sony’s pace, Sony will completely change from a technology leader to a market reaper, and the evolution of smartphone photography may gradually stagnate. A CMOS takes all three or five years, and the loss of experience caused by technological stagnation will be fully borne by consumers.

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