Today, I’d like to talk about a key component in the OnePlus 9 Pro Hasselblad Camera for Mobile: the IMX789 sensor.
When you see a rundown of the OnePlus 9 Pro’s main camera specs, you’ll see the name of the sensor listed. What you won’t see is all of the customization that went into and around it over the course of two years. And that’s what this is about: How we took one powerful piece of hardware and made it into something even greater.
Making a Big Sensor That Actually Works
Before diving into the details, I’d like to share some of the thinking behind this customization process. A sensor is perhaps the most important part of a camera and directly shapes its performance.
Over the past two or three years, the sensor size in smartphones has been increasing steadily, approaching or even surpassing those found in many compact cameras. The increasingly big sensor size, combined with computational photography, has pushed the limits of smartphone photography to an unprecedented level.
But as you might know, in the smartphone world, a bigger sensor doesn’t automatically equal better camera performance. In fact, due to the limitations of optics design, the lens may not match the performance of a huge sensor, which can then in turn create problems like chromatic aberrations, distortions, or soft edges.
With all this in mind, when we started to customize the IMX789 sensor with Sony, we did not simply intend to get a supersized sensor. Instead, we wanted to find the best balance between sensor size and lens characteristics, harmonizing each part of the camera to bring out the best photo and video quality possible.
Into the IMX789 sensor Specs
Let’s get the specs out of the way.
The IMX789 has a sensor size of 1/1.35″ with 52 MP and a Quad Bayer design. With pixel binning, the pixel size reaches 2.24 μm.
The special part is the aspect ratio. Instead of the traditional 4:3, the IMX789 adopts a unique 16:11 aspect ratio.
When taking photos, the IMX789 uses the standard 4:3 ratio, so the actual sensor size used is 1/1.43″ with 48 MP. When taking 4K 120 FPS videos, however, the IMX789 will switch to 16:9 to maximize the areas on the left and right and achieve a wider FOV.
If you’re the sort who likes to geek out over cameras, you might be familiar with this design. Many Panasonic cameras like the Lumix LX100, GH5S, and phones like the Nokia Pureview 808 also adopted a similar sensor redundancy design to balance different aspect ratios.
In addition to the big sensor, the IMX789 is also equipped with many industry-leading features.
Take 2×2 OCL, for example. Each pixel on the IMX789 sensor can be used to help focus. Combined with the laser focus, the OnePlus 9 Pro can focus incredibly fast in almost all conditions.
The IMX789 can also output 12-bit RAW. 12-bit RAW can capture 68.7 billion colors, 64 times as many as the traditional 10-bit RAW format. With this amount of data, you can perform more post-editing in software like Lightroom without worrying about color banding.
The IMX789 then also offers better performance just in itself. Compared with the last generation’s sensor, the IMX789 has higher FWC (Full Well Capacity) and lower RN (Read Noise), meaning it can produce cleaner images and a higher dynamic range.
4K 120 FPS and DOL-HDR
We noticed that, over the past two years, the percentage of users who use smartphones to capture video has grown dramatically. So, when we customized the IMX789 sensor, we also worked with Sony to improve its video abilities through several advanced features.
First, there’s 4K 120 FPS recording, just like we just mentioned before. The OnePlus 9 Pro is one of the first phones to be able to record 4K 120 fps with PDAF. This is thanks to the insanely fast readout speed of the IMX789.
The other leading video feature of the IMX789 is DOL-HDR.
DOL-HDR stands for Digital Overlap High Dynamic Range, a technology that lets the sensor take shorter and longer exposures almost simultaneously and combine them into one frame with higher dynamic range and almost no artifacting.
On the OnePlus 9 Pro, DOL-HDR is on by default (that’s why you won’t find it in the camera settings). When shooting videos in backlit conditions, the OnePlus 9 Pro can automatically use DOL-HDR to improve its dynamic range, so you don’t ever have to worry about it.
Hardware That Gets Better with Time
In a word, with all the specs and leading technology packed into it, the IMX789 is, without any doubt, our most powerful sensor in any smartphone.
But of course, we also know that a great sensor is just the base for building a great camera system. Because a great camera isn’t just an assembly of top-notch hardware parts, it’s what results when those parts are integrated and optimized through the right software.
For more than half a year, we’ve been working closely with our partner, Hasselblad, to fine-tune this great IMX789 sensor in the OnePlus 9 Pro, especially the color science. With Natural Color Calibration with Hasselblad, we want to provide you the most natural color in any smartphone.
At the same time, we are still pushing ourselves to get the most out of the IMX789 sensor.
After the launch of the OnePlus 9 Pro, we have pushed several OTAs to continue optimizing for noise reduction, improving auto balance and HDR performance, and more. And we will continue to optimize our camera performance and add exciting new features in the future. We began by taking the best hardware and making even more out of it. But there is still plenty of potential to explore.
Never Settle. “
– Jimmy Z.
Camera Product Manager