Chipworks reports on the sensors used in Nikon DSLR cameras

Based on their numerous tear-downs of Nikon cameras in the past, Chipworks published an article on the sensors used in Nikon's DSLRs:

Nikon both designs its own CMOS image sensors (CIS) to be fabricated by a foundry partner, and sometimes uses CIS components from its camera competitor Sony. That Nikon sources CIS components from Sony and Aptina is not news. What is somewhat interesting is that after a run of Nikon-designed CIS devices in Nikon FF and APS-C cameras, Sony has muscled its way back in for the FF format D800.

Chipworks has monitored the pixel structures of CIS devices used in 10 Nikon DSLRs (APS-C and FF) since 2004. Six cameras using Nikon-designed, Renesas fabricated CIS are summarized in Table 1, while four cameras using Sony CIS are listed in Table 2. While these data points do not represent a comprehensive analysis of Nikon’s product portfolio, enough cameras have been analyzed to show Nikon’s preference of its own CIS components for prosumer and professional DSLRs (the D7000 and D800 being exceptions).

Via Image Sensors World

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  • JB

    I guess I had always assumed the 3200 sensor was s Sony sensor not a Nikon and that it would be that sensor that was adapted for the D400 (yes I still believe…) Hmmmm….

    • Bernard

      Yes I recall the picture of the actual sensor was very different to one used the Sony NEX 7 at similar Meg.

      When DP Review posted their test shots there were cry’s of out of focus from peeps that frequent that site and comment 😉

      I put the difference down to a likely different AA filter strength as the NEX does show aliasing and is pixel sharper more than the average sensor.

      So these differences are very real and Nikon appear to have taken a different approach to sharpness balance.

      I also noticed some hot pixel arrays on the original Nikon test shots. I have not seen these again so have no idea what caused them It was like a zig zag pattern at pixel level

  • YED

    How’s D600? It is Sony or Nikon?

    • Sahaja

      Probably similar to the 24mp Sony sensor in the A99 – but we’ll probably have to wait for someone like Chipworks to write a report before we know for sure.

    • El Aura

      D600 is Sony as well, as a whole lot of other bodies: D3x, D5100, D3000, D300, D200, D100, D70, D60, D50, D40(x).

      Nikon sensors were in the D2h.

    • Jabs

      @YED – It’s a Sony sensor – see the list of Manufacturer’s here.

    • Allen

      yeah it’s from Sony. and personally I’m glad that it’s from Sony. I think it has better performance than ones from Aptina.

  • From where and who the sensor came from, is for me totally irrelevant. In the days of film we used AGFA, Ilford, Kodak and Fuji, but the cameras were Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Minolta. And the camera is just a tool, and it’s not the sensor, film or lens that makes a good image, but the eye of the photographer.
    The reason we buy into either Nikon, Canon, Pentax or Sony is that we want to buy into the whole deal with camera, flashes, lenses and assessories that the specific manufacture offeres.
    I’m not sure about you guys, but I buy my Nikons because I love to use the camera. It feels right in my hand, and I know I can depend upon the buildquality that Nikon offers.

    • anon

      agreed.. Joe McNally was making interesting photos with a 1-something mpx D1… don’t get me wrong, new camera technology is great. The d800 is amazing as are the other new nikons and the new canons. But they are tools… they are machines. A new camera come out and i hear more complaints about how UGLY it is than i do praise about how they work. i mean come on.. A canera is something that CREATES something beautiful, not something that IS beautiful. I think many lose this distinction. It’s something to use, not admire.

      • Patrick

        Not to put too fine a point on it, but,…cameras don’t “create” anything. They simply record/capture, etc. It’s the “wetware” between two ears that does all the creating.

        • anon

          maybe a poor choice of wording on my part, but i think you get my point. No one buys a new mass produced camera then puts it in a frame to display. you do that with what is produced by the camera. Yes a person has to create the idea, but without a camera you can’t create the photo

    • I suspect that Nikon has the same general view, which is why they use both in-house and outside designs. I know that for critical components, some companies will always have more than one design under consideration. They’ll often have one conservative design and one more radical design. If the radical design has problems, the conservative design provides a fall-back option. I wouldn’t be surprised if Nikon tries more radical designs in-house and relies on Sony as their conservative, fall-back position.

    • Mike

      You’re talking blasphemy here about it’s the photographer not the gear. Too many peepers will be in shock and horror if they knew they can’t buy good pictures and actually have to have some talent.

  • Bob Fairchol

    Why is this important??? What am I missing?

    • Nikon Shooter

      Why is any information that’s not related to our survival important?

      Just some food for the curious mind.

      • Men Cockwell

        Why is anything related to our survival important even? More food for thoughts.

    • Worminator

      It isn’t, because there are no consistent distinction from an end user perspective based on whether the sensor is Sony or a Renesas fabbed.

      We cannot reliably say “Sony sensors do this, and Nikon sensors do that”. Yet.

      The info tells us how many recent models have Nikon-designed sensors, it gives some idea of how Nikon is making progress moving away from being dependent on Sony, now much more of a competitor that it once was, to supply the sensors.

      • Steve

        It is so overwhelmingly unimportant that I shouldn’t even comment on it. But here I am. But then again, I’m bored so why not ?

        What would be slightly more interesting is speculating what the next body release will be. I go for a D5200/D6000.

  • gio

    its important because if its a Sony sensor ( D7000 and D800) it has focus problems.

    • desmo

      focus prob has nothing to do with image sensor its misalign of af sensors in finder

    • DT


      please stop posting before you hurt yourself…

    • cam guy

      thats funny…. because my d800 has no more of different focus issues than any other camera i’ve owned ever had… so i guess by your logic, mine’s special and it has a different sensor than others, huh? wrong… as stated, any af problem has nothing to do with sensor, unless perhaps if you are in liveview.

      Who cares who makes the sensor? I have the d800… i love it.. The pictures are spectacular. Does it hunt when focusing in low light sometimes… yes, rarely, and it’s certainly no worse than any other dslr i’ve ever used. No camera will ever have perfect anything let alone perfect focus, if any Nikon camera is perfect, then i guess we can all stop looking on here because nikon will be go out of business since they’ll have no reason to make a new camera ever again. quit complaining and use your gear to it’s fullest and don’t expect perfection. People keep complaining about occasional dead pixel, dust on sensor, occasionally missing focus, etc about cameras. Refocus and take another shot… use the software that various software companies make to counter these exact problems. you know why companies make the software to do these things, because they’re common occurences, not problems! nothing in this world is perfect nor ever will be. so why bitch about it?

      maybe you weren’t referring to the d800 focus problem everyone seems to keep bringing up, and if you weren’t i apologize, but it seems like no matter what subject is brought up nowadays someone comes back with “D800 AF sucks, Nikon sucks bla bla bla!!!

      • Camaleont

        Despite misbelievers thoughts the D800 focus problem has really been corrected in production. We shouldn’t expect Nikon to make an official announcement for that on their site.

  • Demystifying th myth

    Demystifying the myth @ Fujifilm X100 user’s:

    Fuji X100 sensor is made by Sony.



    • MaGo



      Since it´s a souped-up D90 sensor.

  • vFunct

    Wow that’s some old technology.

    The best tech Nikon uses (for the D800 sensor) is .18um, a process node that came out around 2000.

    There’s going to be a LOT more room for improvement in sensors. The current state-of-the-art in process technology is 22nm, with 18nm in development, almost 10x smaller. (or 100x smaller area).

    This means you CAN fit in a gigapixel in a full-frame sensor! (assuming reduced ISO)

    Also, they don’t even use backside illumination, which should improve on blooming/light gathering for the sensors.

    The funny part is that Canon is even worse, with sensor tech stuck at .5um (early 90’s tech).

    No wonder Canon cameras are crap!

    • BornOptimist

      The size of the process does not matter much for sensors like this. The area available are so large, that process size is not much of a restriction. And because of this, back illumination will not give any improvements on large sensors. Small sensors otoh ARE size constrained, and therefore back-illumination will give improvements.

    • Robert

      It’s relative. I admire the image of 5dmark 2 and 3. But the image of the D800 excites me and just resolution. The d4 yes, I see the glamor image

    • Jabs

      @vFunct – That is a common misconception made by many Internet readers and computer savvy people. Processors have nothing to do with camera sensors and so the process node that it is made on is NOT comparable in that way.

      Computer processors or micro-processors are units that compute or calculate and get smaller with smaller process nodes.
      Camera sensors are light gatherers of FIXED dimensions like FX, DX, CX, Micro 4/3rd’s and such – hence their size will be fixed and will not change and get smaller per process node.

  • Camaleont

    Off of this topic:
    B&H says they received lot of D800E for several people in the preorder list, but not for all 🙁 more are coming, so they claimed. Hurray!
    So far I saw only Best Buy and Amazon to have it in stock.

    • Nikon Shooter

      Omg, you are still waiting for your camera?

      But, why???

      It’s been widely available for weeks now…

      • Camaleomt

        Yeap! I didn’t see the D800E in stock, recently, maybe I missed it?
        I try to save taxes and like to give some money to B&H. I can wait.

  • jason

    So, D800 has a run-of-the mill sony sensor… hence the yellowish tinge

    while D3s, D4 … are all nikon designed sensors?

    • burgerman

      Thought it was supposed to be green?

      Anyway, those that actually HAVE a D800 (and a D800E) have no “tinge”… Just the best sensor on the planet.

      While we are on the subject, who made the batteries, other electronic components like resistors/capacitors etc? Or the motors, flash tubes, steel shafts, plastics etc? And who the hell cares?

  • Bryan

    Everytime when I see the debate at other websites about “who make the sensor”, I laugh. It’s really ridiculous and pointless.

    I don’t care who make a sensor in my camera. What matters is the overall performance.

    • BartyL


    • Joel

      And Fujitsu make Nikon’s Expeed 1/2/3 processors – the Milbeaut architecture which Pentax also happen to use, but so what? For those who take photos rather than follow technology, it’s the final image that matters.

      Nikon are an engineering company that create their own technologies along with utilizing those from partners where it might better suit their needs. To date they’ve successfully developed and integrated various systems to produce a stunning class leading product lineup, and they do this consistently year after year. Thats why I buy into the Nikon brand, not because of some fanboy need to know that every component was engineered and produced by a single company.

  • Mark

    When I found out that my D7000 had DRAM chips manufactured by Nanya, a flash memory chip by Spansion, and a Toshiba Control chip, I was so upset that I ended up sending it back.

    Update: I’ve ended up having to sell all of my electronic possessions since I’ve come to discover that, much to my dismay, almost everything I own has third-party components in them. I’m still in shock over the fact that Apple doesn’t make their own CPUs–if anyone knows where I can buy an Intel desktop computer, please let me know… I can’t find any on Amazon. I guess vertical integration was just a bunch of lies they told me in high school.

    • BartyL


    • PhilK

      Re: “I’m still in shock over the fact that Apple doesn’t make their own CPUs…”

      While I agree with your rant generally, you picked an unfortunate example, because in fact Apple DOES make their own CPUs nowadays, specifically in their iPhones and iPads.

      • Worminator

        Well, Samsung MAKES them, but yes, Apple does design them, from technology the license from ARM.

      • Jabs

        @PhilK – While I get your point, Apple has started to make their own versions of the ARM cpu and I think they did for the iPhone 5, the new iPad (4) and maybe the iPad Mini. They bought a cpu Manufactuirng Company a while back and now are producing some of their cpu’s for their mobile platforms.

        • Jabs

          Sorry Phil, but that was aimed @ Mark

  • I guess if we follow the logic that the entry-level DSLR will all sport a 24MP sensor, then Nikon will end up making their ‘standard’ sensors and then buy in their top range sensors. Makes sense financially, but I am not sure it will enhance the brand. Sony could take advantage of that for their own cameras….Samsung/ Apple etc

    • burgerman

      Sony try…

      But sensors are just one part in a camera. Its the rest they cant do.

    • Fishnose

      There’s no logic in that.
      As a general rule it’s more economical to buy parts from a manf that makes huge quantities of parts on a daily basis and therefore has very low cost per unit.
      Making stuff yourself means maintaining production plants that can equal the world’s best in both quality and efficiency, if you’re to make good enough parts at comparable prices.

      Very little in an iPhone is actually made by Apple – they know very well that others can produce the parts at better cost. And I seldom hear anyone complain about that.

      In reply to others here who ask (rhetorically, since they have already made up their minds) ‘who cares who makes the sensor’ – the answer is it’s not hugely important per se, but certainly interesting to know.
      I like to know where the wood comes from that is used to make the guitars I buy. Both interesting and fairly important in a number of ways.

    • Jabs

      @jbayston – We are now at the point that the manufacturer of the sensor while important, is not the only final factor that determines image quality. The problem with Sony is their camera pipeline usually is often only 12bit output while Nikon is 16bit processing and with 14bit output, hence even with similar or identical sensors, Nikon beats them.

      Aptina is also getting very good and probably made or fabbed the sensor for the V2.

      Expeed 3 and now Expeed 3A – are the keys to Nikon’s current successes, it seems.

      • RRRoger

        I cannot help thinking that the new low light king, the A7s Sensor is so similar to the one in the D3s.

        Why hasn’t Nikon used that Sensor in a new camera optimized for low light video?

  • OMG, my D800 has a Sony sensor in it. I will have to throw it in the ocean now!

    • Will

      Let me know where and when you will throw it.

    • VJ

      This gave me a chuckle, considering your username… 🙂

  • stormwatch

    Yes, apparently many Sensors which Nikon had used in the past (and using now) are from Sony, but we have to distinguish the difference what is exactly made by Sony. Sensor wafers and fully completed sensors are not the same thing, thanks God! Otherwise we would have the fishy and mushy pictures Sony models producing with the “same” sensors.

  • VJ

    I don’t quite buy this statement “enough cameras have been analyzed to show Nikon’s preference of its own CIS components for prosumer and professional DSLRs (the D7000 and D800 being exceptions).”
    Statistically, it seems to me that the set of samples is too small to draw this conclusion: they state 2 exceptions against this statement, but seem to forget about the D2X as pro, which would make it 3 exceptions. That brings the score Nikon designed vs Sony designed to 4-3 for the pro and prosumer cameras and 2-1 for the consumer camera’s.

  • Lame Rokwel

    So much for Mr. Rockwell’s lame assertion that the D4, D800 and D600 are all the same camera. What a nitwit!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Fishnose

      Yeah… except we knew that already. He’s a raving twit who loves massive SATURATION!!! And shows us lots of pictures of his KIDS!!!!!

  • SiliconVoid

    Is this really news..? Does NR have nothing else of real information to provide us..?
    Look people, there are two ‘givens’ in Nikon cameras.. 1 – Nikon does not make sensors, period. The difference between part numbers has very little to do with technology or or pcb design, and everything to do with contractual agreements. Sensors with some form of Nikon part number indicate some type of exclusivity (short term or permanent) and sensors with Sony or any other part number indicate a chip the manufacturer can/will use themselves or sell to other companies, period.
    And, 2 – Nikon would not use a sensor they were not satisfied with, so it does not matter who manufactures them – period.
    Please stop catering this site to the minority because they make more noise and seek information that is actually relevant to your readers that do not suffer from inferiority complexes…

  • Rob

    The Sony sensor in Nikon does not suit my eye. still waiting for the replacement of d700

    • neversink

      Rob– The replacement for the D700 is called the D800, D800E, or the D600. Take your pick. The replacement for the D3s (the fancy D700) is called the D4.
      So there you have it. Four replacements for the D700. I prefer the D800 and D4. Loved my D700, but alas, time moves forward and technologies change. There are those still lamenting the loss of film (although I still use film on occasion.)

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