“Samsung Electronics is planning to increase its production capacity of image sensors and it also set a goal to become the top business in image sensor market by beating out SONY.”

That’s the opening line in a news report from South Korean ETnews, and even if it was in size 8 font, it would be bold. When we think of Samsung and competing we think typically of their eternal rumble with Apple, but it looks as if they’re adamant about taking on various Goliaths. Because that’s what Sony is in the imaging sensor space.

Goal-setting to be the #1 image sensor producer is a major undertaking, and given the current state of affairs it’s hard to think Samsung could dethrone Sony – but stranger things have happened. The image sensor market value is expected to grow by over 70% from $14 billion to almost $25 billion USD by 2023, with a CAGR of 9.75% during that period, according to a Research & Markets report on semiconductors from January this year.

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Sony's Exmor Full-Frame Sensor

There are a lot of factors driving that including a growing industrial need within the automotive industry, demand from medical imaging solutions, and of course the multiplication and miniaturization of cameras in mobile devices – areas Sony dominates by a hefty margin.

However, Samsung’s goal is being spurred by their projection that they will quickly ramp up to 120,000 units a month compared to Sony’s 100,000. The report claims that even if Sony were to ramp up their own production Samsung would still have the upper hand in unit numbers – but that’s all speculative really based on Samsung’s own internal evaluation. However, they may have some reason to do so given their expansion into the market of Chinese phone manufacturers, which is a blossoming market.

At the Sony Kumamoto factory

Of course, there’s more to this than best-laid plans, and we are seeing a maturity in the photographic market which may actually call not just for volume but refinement in development, and that’s something Samsung currently doesn’t have compared to Sony. There’s a reason Samsung also inputs Sony sensors into their products sometimes and why camera manufacturers of high quality don’t go with Samsung. Time will tell if their idea to go for volume provides them with the cash flow to put into development.

All that said, a bit of healthy competition in this market is certainly welcomed, and may push production costs low enough to be able to help keep refresh cycles of cameras high.

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