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Toshiba’s New 20 MP 1/2.3″ Sensor Pushes the Limits (of Pixel Miniaturization and Diffraction)

by Felix L. Esser on 01/01/2013

Toshiba 2013 TCM5115CL 20 mp sensor

Even though we’re constantly hoping that one day the megapixel race will come to an end, this does not seem to be happening any time soon. Only shortly after Nikon’s launch of the megapixel monster D800/D800E, which packs a whopping 36 million individual photon collectors onto a 36x24mm full-frame sensor (figures previously achieved only in medium format cameras), Toshiba now announces a new 1/2.3″ compact camera sensor that sports 20 megapixels and is capable of 60fps 1080p HD video.

 

Toshiba’s previous king of pixel miniaturization was a 16 mp 1/2.3″ sensor with 1.34 µm pixel size. The pixels on their new ‘TCM5115CL’ sensor are now only 1.2 µm in size — necessary to accomodate the higher count on the same surface. This of course translates into worse signal-to-noise ratio, and an even lower diffraction limit than before. What this means is that the new sensor will probably be even noisier than the old one, and that chances of it to be able to resolve pixel-level detail are close to zero, considering that your typical 20 mp compact rarely sports a fast prime lens.*

On the upside, the new 20 mp sensor is made with BSI technology, which means that it is able to gather more light than conventional CMOS sensors as the circuitry is behind instead of in front of the individual pixels. Also, 60 fps at 1080p HD is not bad at all, and this sensor might in fact turn out to be interesting for videography.

Toshiba TCM5115CL Tech Specs

Optical Format: 1/2.3 inch
Resolution: 20 megapixels
Pixel Size: 1.2 micrometers
Frame Rate: 30fps @ 20M pixel, RAW10
60fps @ 1080P
100fps @ 720P

 

The TCM5115CL is scheduled for mass production in August 2013, so we can probably expect first cameras equipped with it in 2014.

Coincidentally, Toshiba aims for a 30% market share until 2015. Previous plans envisioned that figure for 2013, but it seems this goal can no longer be obtained.

Via 1001 Noisy Cameras.

* Diffraction is an opical effect depending on the lens’ focal length and aperture size. A sensor may not be able to reproduce pixel level detail, as the incoming light hits it not in a single point, but as a so-called ‘airy disk’, which can be smaller or larger. Light from a single point source will thus hit more than one pixel, resulting in a less than optimally sharp image. Diffraction is rarely a problem with large sensor cameras, but commonly one with compacts, which is why the whole megapixel madness makes no sense at all. Instead of ‘better’ pictures, higher mp compact sensors do in fact deliver worse results than sensors with a lower pixel count.

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