The stacked sensor in the Sony a1 is a work of art.
The Sony a1 is a beast of a camera that features a stacked sensor with an incredibly fast read-out. I’ve been fortunate enough to have my hands on the Sony a1 for a little while. It’s mighty impressive. Being able to rattle off 50 Megapixel images at 30 frames per second is nuts. Being able to pan and not have any rolling shutter effect is also incredible. Normally when a new technology is announced, we come across the patents for it. However, Sony managed to keep the patent for this stacked sensor quiet. Now, the patent has emerged, and it shows just how beastly the Sony stacked sensor truly is. We’ve got all the deets after the break.
If you head on over to Image Sensors World, you’ll come across an article called ISSCC 2021. This piece talks about the new Sony stacked sensor in the pro-grade Sony a1 (review coming soon). Now, fair warning, the short article is filled with technical jargon that will go over many heads. For instance, the article specifies that:
‘Sony presents a 50.1Mpixel, 4.16μm-pitch, back-illuminated stacked CIS with a pipelined column-parallel kT/C noise-canceling sample-and-hold circuit and a 14b delta-sigma ADC achieving 1.18e-RMS random noise at 250fps.’
Did you get all of that? No, me either. Still, I do know this means the sensor is an absolute technological marvel. The performance of the a1 is fantastic. Still, the Sony stacked sensor isn’t being pushed to its limits.
There Could Be More to Come from the Sony Stacked Sensor
There is one piece of info there that everyone should understand. 250fps. The Sony stacked sensor in the a1 has a readout speed of 250fps at 14 bits. Sony has taken this performance and has tuned the a1 to shoot 30 frames per second with the electronic shutter. That’s impressive enough. However, if you look at the chart above, you’ll see that the max frame rate is 44 frames per second. That’s just madness. Now, in a stress test to see how long it would take to fill a 160GB Cfexpress A card, I did trip the overheat warning in the Sony a1. Anything more than 30fps would have made performance worse due to overheating. The amount of heat modern chips produce is incredible. Amazingly, Sony has been able to make small enough heatsinks to dissipate the heat for 30fps. That’s a feat in itself.
There’s no doubt in my mind that future iterations of the a1 and possibly other cameras will be able to crank out more than 30 hi-res frames per second. Sony and their engineers just need to come up with improved cooling solutions to make this happen. That sounds easy. However, it’s anything but. A huge kudos has to go out to the engineers at Sony for innovating like this. This is exactly what the camera industry needs to keep things moving forward. Keep an eye out for our full review of the Sony a1.