The Google Pixel 3 uses a new Sony camera sensor for its front-facing camera

By | 15th October 2018
Google Pixel 3 and Google Pixel 3 XL

Although Sony’s Mobile division doesn’t sell that many smartphones, Sony’s Imaging division has been wildly successful. Sony’s Exmor series of camera sensors are widely used in the smartphone industry. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an Android smartphone without one – at least, among the smartphones with great camera performances. While the imaging sensor alone doesn’t determine how good a smartphone camera is, knowing the sensor does tell us quite a bit of information about the capabilities of a smartphone’s camera.

For example, only a few smartphones are capable of recording slow motion videos at 960fps. Devices like the Sony Xperia XZ2, Samsung Galaxy S9/Galaxy Note 9, and Huawei P20 Pro are able to record short videos at this frame rate. The Samsung Galaxy S9 is capable of recording 960fps video thanks to the presence of a DRAM die in the Sony IMX345 camera module, which is why the Super Slow Motion feature on the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy Note 8 only supports 480fps. On the Galaxy S9/Note 9, the camera sensor writes frames to the DRAM which then passes the frames to the image buffer and finally the storage, which is necessary when capturing at 960fps. The camera sensor found in the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 isn’t capable of this feat, which is why slow motion is limited to just 240fps on both devices. Speaking of the Pixel series camera sensors, here’s what we know about the cameras on the Pixel 2 and Pixel 3.

Pixel 2 Cameras

The Google Pixel 2’s single, rear-facing camera sensor is the Sony IMX362, a sensor which is also found on the HTC U11, Moto G5 Plus, ASUS Zenfone 4 series, and more. In comparison, the first-generation Pixel 2 had the Sony IMX 378. The Pixel 2’s single, front-facing camera sensor is the Sony IMX179—the same as the one found on the Nexus 6P and first-generation Google Pixel. Despite the camera hardware used, the Google Pixel 2 is widely credited as the best smartphone camera on the market (until the Google Pixel 3, of course.) That’s thanks to the incredible work done by Google’s imaging engineers working to optimize the Google Camera app. What can we expect from this year’s model, though?

Pixel 3 Cameras

The Google Pixel 3 has a slightly upgraded rear-facing camera in the Sony IMX363, also found in the Xiaomi POCO F1, ASUS ZenFone 5Z, and others. The Pixel 3’s front camera sees a major improvement over last year’s model with the addition of a secondary wide-angle lens in the Sony IMX355. (This is actually the same front-facing camera sensor used in the Google Pixel Slate, which now seems obvious in hindsight but I hadn’t seen anyone actually point this out.) Unfortunately, Sony has not published data sheets for either camera sensor, so we don’t know their full capabilities apart what’s shown in the specification sheets for devices with the sensors. Here’s what Google officially has to say about the Pixel 3’s cameras:

  • Rear Camera (Sony IMX363)
    • 12.2MP dual-pixel
    • 1.4μm
    • Autofocus with dual pixel phase detection
    • Optical + electronic image stabilization
    • Spectral + flicker sensor
    • f/1.8 aperture
    • Field of view: 76°
    • Video recording
      • 1080p @ 30fps, 60fps, 120fps, Auto
      • 720p @ 30fps, 60fps, 240fps, Auto
      • 4K @ 30fps
  • Front Cameras (Sony IMX355)

What happened to [email protected]?

Since it was first revealed that the Google Pixel 3 would not support 4k video recording at 60fps, some users speculated that the lack of this feature was due to the rear-facing camera sensor. After all, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845’s ISP is capable of processing 4k video at 60fps. Last year’s Google Pixel 2 had the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, and so, it was unable to support 4k video recording at 60fps. There are several devices with the Sony IMX363 that do not support 4k video at 60fps, but there are a few that do: The Asus ZenFone 5Z and Razer Phone 2 support [email protected] while the Xiaomi Poco F1 will support it in a future update. Thus, it’s still unclear why Google left out this option. Perhaps it’s to save space because of the free unlimited Google Photos storage that Google offers, or maybe Google’s Fused Video Stabilization isn’t able to handle [email protected] (a theory put forth by notable camera modder defcomg), or maybe one of the other new camera features won’t work with [email protected]