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Image sensors

Samsung Electronics to raise image sensor output to overtake Sony

By Dec 09, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

Samsung smartphone
Samsung smartphone

Samsung Electronics Co. is switching one of its DRAM chip fabrication lines to boost production of image sensors used in smartphones and other gadgets as the South Korean tech giant aims to overtake industry leader Sony Corp.

Samsung, the world’s second-largest image sensor maker, plans to raise its output of complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors by about 20% in 2021 to keep up with brisk demand.

According to the semiconductor industry on Dec. 9, Park Yong-in, executive vice president of Samsung’s sensor business, unveiled the plan during its investors’ forum on Nov. 30, saying that the company “isn’t producing enough wafers to meet the rising demand.”

Sources said Samsung will likely turn its 13th DRAM production line, which makes 12-inch wafers at its Hwaseong plant, into an image sensor facility.

Under the expansion plan, Samsung’s monthly image sensor production capacity will increase to as many as 120,000-130,000 wafers from the current 100,000 units, amounting to annual sales of 4.6 trillion won ($4.26 billion). That compares with Sony’s estimated monthly production of 137,000 wafers in 2021, according to market research firm Omdia.

Samsung’s move comes as the global image sensor market is growing rapidly amid intensifying competition for 5G smartphones equipped with high-end cameras.

Graphics by Jerry Lee
Graphics by Jerry Lee


Rising demand for improved imaging solutions and increasing penetration of image sensors are driving the overall image sensor market, with its key applications spreading to other areas, including smartphones, self-driving cars and smart factories.

Market tracker TSR forecasts the average smartphone will require a 112-million-pixel sensor in 2024, up from 59 million pixels this year as the latest phones are equipped with an increasing number of cameras.

According to accountancy firm KPMG, the global image sensor market is forecast to grow at an average annual rate of 12% to $143 billion in 2030 from $47 billion this year.

The CMOS sensor market alone is expected to expand to $27 billion in 2024 from $19.7 billion in 2020.

Graphics by Jerry Lee
Graphics by Jerry Lee


The battle for global leadership in the image sensor market has intensified since the US sanctions on Huawei Technologies Co. – a move that has dwindled the Chinese tech giant’s smartphone market share. Huawei is the second-biggest user of Sony-made sensors after Apple Inc.

In a bid to maintain its market leadership, Sony is building a 100 billion yen (1.04 trillion won) image sensor production line in Nagasaki Prefecture, with a view to completion in 2021. The Japanese company aims to raise its global market share to 60% by 2025.

Sony captures 44.2% share of the global CMOS image sensor market as of the third quarter, trailed by Samsung at 21.4%.

Samsung plans to focus on high-end products to raise its market share.

Graphics by Jerry Lee
Graphics by Jerry Lee

In November of last year, the Korean electronics giant released its 108-megapixel ISOCELL bright HMX, the industry’s first mobile image sensor to exceed 100 million pixels. It also plans to develop the industry’s smallest 0.6 micrometer-pixel image sensor.

Samsung’s clients include China’s Xiaomi, Guangdong OPPO Mobile Telecommunications Corp., Vivo Communication Technology Co. and Motorola, a subsidiary of China’s Lenovo Ltd.

Write to Jeong-Soo Hwang at

In-Soo Nam edited this article.
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