The crucial part of the patent description is the following paragraph, which explains exactly what we outlined above:
The imaging appartus employs a configuration including: a first photoelectric converting element that converts an optical image formed on an imaging plane into an electrical signal for forming an image signal; and a second photoelectric converting element that receives light having passed through the first photoelectric converting element and converts the light into an electric signal for distance measurement.
The patent description then goes into much technical detail that eludes the understanding of us mere mortals–but the general scheme seems clear from the drawings and the paragraph above. So, how exactly is this new Panasonic sensor different from the one used in Canon’s 70D? The 70D’s sensor is equipped with two individual photosites at each pixel location. During autofocus, the individual photosites act as phase detection sensors, while during capture, they’re combined into a single imaging sensor. Panasonic’s patent describes to layers of photosites: one for image capture and one for phase detection.
Now before everyone gets too excited, we have to keep in mind that this is only a patent so far. Patents are often filed for innovations that are never realized later–just to make sure no one else does. So while Panasonic may be working on such a sensor right now, there’s always a chance we’ll never get to see it in reality, in case it doesn’t work as intended or isn’t economically viable.
P.S.: You can find the patent here.
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