In Part-1, I talked briefly about the various differences between CMOS and CCD sensors. In this part, we’ll go a little deeper into the CMOS sensor world.
With CMOS sensors being the dominant image capture technology, it will be useful to glance through the components that make the camera. The camera essentially consists of 2 key parts – the lens and the sensor. These two components are put together by assembly manufacturers on one discrete easy to install package. There is also a growing trend wherein sensor manufacturers are now getting into the optical assembly business and delivering the complete camera module. The images below are those of some CMOS sensors.
With each generation, CMOS sensors are getting obviously better supporting features such as anti-shake, low-light sensing, face-detection, macro-modes and the like. Form factors and resolution also improve with each generation.
Here are some of the CMOS Image sensor manufacturers – Micron, OmniVision, ST Micro, Mitsubishi, Kodak, Samsung, Toshiba, Dalsa Corp, Datasensor, Avago Technologies, Photonfocus A.G, Pixelplus Co Ltd, etc . Traditional camera manufacturers – Sony, Canon, Sharp, Kodak, Fuji etc who mostly were in the CCD business have also entered the fray to take advantage of the growth opportunities.
Lens manufacturing is a specialized business and there are fewer players here. Key players in this market include Largan, Asian Optical, Fuji Film (Fujinon), Konica Minolta (KMON) etc. Optical lens manufacturing obviously is a very precise business and requires a lot of capex to set up shop. This is a mature industry that has traditionally supplied lenses to the commercial and consumer camera market. It turns out that this is also a high margin business.
While many of these players are fairly entrenched, they still face competitive threats and one such technology in the offing is the ‘Liquid lens’ technology that was introduced by a company called Varioptic in 2007. This new technology has promise as it uses the lens to correct handshake blur or even adjust for low-light conditions, leaving the CMOS sensor to just sense light from the object that’s being ‘mobitographed’. Per the company, 2011 is the year they expect to ramp in cell phones with the hope that these lenses will help provide consumer camera grade photos in cell phones. So, keep a look out for these lenses.
Finally, here’s a quick list of camera module manufacturers to complete the picture – Chicony, Liteon, KMON, Truly, ALPS, Semco, Lite-On, LG Innotek, Hon Hai, Sharp, Toshiba, VistaPoint etc.
According to IDC, the BOM for CCD/CMOS sensors on average for mobile phones is around $2.80 per phone that is decreasing at 1.5% CAGR (up until 2015). On the other hand, average BOM for CCD/CMOS sensors is around $3.50 for smartphones. While BOM’s typically decreases over time, so does the cost-curve ensuring gross margin stability (even growth in some cases). No matter how you cut it, the mobile camera is a hunk of a market and it is quite telling that more than 90% of the value chain that supplies this market is based in Asia.
Now that you have an understanding of the mobile phone camera market, let’s get back to Mobitography. While I can’t quote a reliable source, I am positive that everyone who owns a cell phone that has a camera has indulged in Mobitography of some sort – that’s a 100% utilization factor! BTW, check out www.mobitog.com – a website dedicated to ‘Mobitophiles’ (I’ll take credit for this term, thank you!).
Mobitography has proven to be quite powerful. Apart from allowing us to take nice photos and videos, among other things, mobitography has allowed for citizen journalism to flourish and make powerful statements. A quick search on YouTube will take you to so many cell phone videos posted that have deep seated impact – be it up-close-and-personal videos of the recent Tsunami in Japan, videos of the excesses of the failed regime in Egypt, videos of the grassroots uprising in Tunisia, and the like. Mobitography videos have essentially allowed the world to see video footages recorded by citizens of the world that TV cameras can’t record for various reasons. That’s awesome! – right?
At the same token, cell phone photography has been grossly misused by many a peeping Tom’s. Engaging in voyeurism and invading privacy using cell phone cameras has unfortunately become common stance. Many countries are taking action. South Korea for example, has a mandate in place that ensures that cell phones emanate a ‘clicking’ sound each time a cell phone photograph is taken. In the US, just recently in Washington state, three teenagers were arrested for ‘sexting’ – a term that was non-existent just a few years ago (like ‘Mobitography’).
As always, there are pros and cons for any technology. The hope is that we have orders of magnitude more followers of genuine ‘Mobitography’ as opposed to those who use cell phone camera’s for nefarious purposes. In the next part (and hopefully the last part), I’ll cover some cool apps that use the cell phone camera is unique ways.