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Sony demos 16.41 megapixel cameraphone sensor

Sony has announced the world's highest resolution sensor for cameraphones, weighing in at a whopping 16.41 megapixels - but is it all smoke and mirrors?

Clearly hoping to take the lead in the cameraphone race ahead of the flood of Windows Phone 7 devices, Sony has announced that it will start shipping a 16.41 megapixel CMOS image sensor in January next year - the highest-resolution sensor yet developed for use in cameraphones and tablets.

The company claims it has developed a back-illuminated CMOS sensor that uses the Exmor R technology originally developed for its Alpha line of prosumer cameras. The enhanced-resolution and back-illumination technology allows, according to Sony's announcement, significantly higher sensitivity in low-light conditions and a vastly reduced level of image noise.

Sony has achieved its rather ridiculous sensor resolution by developing its technology to the point where it can create CMOS sensors with the smallest pixel size in the world - a tiny 1.12μm.

Th outfit has released a demonstration of just what it means to have 16.41 megapixels at your disposal, pictured above. Comparing a 'conventional' cameraphone sensor, rated at 5.15 effective megapixels, it's clear to see that Sony's new toy does record significantly more picture information and makes the text in the image considerably clearer.

The sensor, however, is only half the battle. Increasing the number of pixels that a sensor can capture will make the image bigger, but won't necessarily improve the quality. To make it worth having a resolution bigger than most digital SLRs in your pocket, manufacturers are going to have to ensure that it's paired with high-quality camera software and a good light-gathering lens - and packing a decent lens into a slim mobile that's suitable for sticking in your pocket isn't going to be easy.

The other issue is the price: at 2,500¥ per sample unit, or around £19, it's going to be an expensive addition that is only likely to appear in the top-end flagship cameraphones.