Sony to no longer sell certain sensors to other manufacturers?

Imaging Resource published their interview with Kenji Tanaka (Senior General Manager Digital Imaging Group, Sony Corp.) and it is their understanding that Sony will no longer provide other manufacturers with some of their sensors/technologies:

As you know well, our key driver is the image sensor, and we already invested a lot of money for the image sensor development. And the sensor is a custom [design, meaning that] only Sony can use these sensors, and our strength is our in-house technology. So I invested in that and we will keep investing in the in-house technology like image sensors.

Ed. note from Dave Etchells: This was new information for me; as far as I'd been aware, Sony's camera division would get access to the latest sensor designs as soon as they came through the design and production cycle, while other companies could buy the same sensor a year later. While this might once have been the case, it appears that Sony currently reserves some level of their sensor technology exclusively for us in their own cameras.

This could be one of the reasons why Nikon has not released a new camera in the past 15 months (I do not count the D3400 and D5600).

Update: shortly after my post the interview was removed but you can still find it on Google cache.

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  • DLynch

    Remember Sony was in the PC business for awhile also.

  • Thom Hogan

    More importantly, the next big sensor thing is stacked, and what you put in the stack besides memory is going to be digital imaging processing.

    • Hans

      Hi Thom, yes and no. It really depends on the number of layers and how thin the layers are. The thinner it gets, it is advisable to have the processing circuitry place away from the sensor to avoid interference, heat and noise. And don’t forget about the BSI circuitry too. ☺️

      • Thom Hogan

        I first made the suggestion of stacked semiconductors at a big Silicon Valley conference back in 1980. The Intel folk thought I was nuts.

        My job through much of my career was to anticipate where technology had to go and what that would enable. Often times I’d be thinking decades ahead of the pragmatic curve, but time has proven me right more often than not.

        The issue with semiconductors was that as long as you stay basically two-dimensional, you eventually run into physical limits. That’s true of image sensors, too, and trying to pull 8K video off and deal with it puts us far down that road. The clear path with semiconductors was that you’d eventually go 3D. Yes, this has heat and interference issues. But at some point it’s easier to deal with those than the issues you run into by miniaturizing or putting multiple chips side by side.

        • Allan

          “My job through much of my career was to anticipate where technology had
          to go and what that would enable. Often times I’d be thinking decades
          ahead of the pragmatic curve, but time has proven me right more often
          than not.”

          If your company ever goes public, I’d like to buy stock. 🙂

          • Thom Hogan

            Don’t get me started…

        • Hans

          Actually all semiconductors are a 3D process of doping and etching, so stacking is not something new. The problem is what technology capabilities at the instant of time and what need to be put into the circuitry. As for imaging sensors, we have the light collecting photocells on top and all the other circuitry running either between photocells or below it. The main problem here is, as the number of pixels are getting larger and the size getting smaller. There is so much one can do even if we are going into 3D processing, because we still need to connect each layers together and this requires additional space that we do not have.
          For those who are in the semiconductor and PCB industries will understand it better. More layers does not necessarily mean more space because some of this space is going to be used for the layer interconnecting circuitry. So there is so much one can do before diminishing return occurs.
          I think I would like to stop here because this is going to be a long and never ending discussion.
          By the way, nice talking to you Thom.

          • Thom Hogan

            Well, sure, but I’m sure you know what I mean by true 3D. In essence, the current technologies tend to make large flat basically 2D pieces of gear that communicate to the 2D edges. It’s a bit like laying circuit boards (and yes, I’m aware of multilayer circuit boards, but the problem is still the same as with the chips: you have limited 2D real estate, and you’re basically moving signals in a narrow, mostly 2D plane.

            And yes, there are constraints on using the third dimension, too. However, just as Cray made his mainframe essentially circular to reduce connection distances, at the bandwidths we’re projecting imaging sensors to need downstream, we’re going to hit real signal issues using the current techniques.

            And yes, this discussion belongs somewhere else and more technical.

  • luca

    that’s why we haven’t seen yet the 42MP FF sensor inside any other brand … Nikon included…

    • sandy

      Nikon does not want it. Why go from 36 to 42?

      • luca

        Is there something better out???

        • Harold Bartlett

          I really don’t think Nikon or their customers want an upgrade of 6 mp over the excellent D810.

  • citrate

    The title is wrong. Certain sensors were never sold to other manufacturers.

  • TwoMetreBill

    Fact: less than 1/10th of 1% of Sony sensor production ends up in digital cameras. Their sensor business is smartphones, cars and IOT in general.

    Fact: Sony loses money on every camera sensor produced whether it ends up in a Sony or other brand camera.

    Fact: the company with the most advanced sensor technology is Panasonic and not Sony. But they are not interested in losing money or investing in a declining industry (cameras).

  • Michiel953

    I don’t think the statement (disguised as a question) in the header is a correct representation of what is quoted of the interview.

  • Chewbacca

    I never understood why something so vital to a modern camera would not be nurtured like a baby by a company as big as Nikon. It’s probably the first word entered out of someones mouth when a new camera comes out….Sensor.

    • sandy

      A company Nikons size cannot afford a foundry.

  • MonkeySpanner

    I would love to see the sensor from the a6500 in a nikon mirrorless – just because I think Nikon does ergonomics better and I like Nikon ooc colors better than Sony. But I don’t think this will happen anytime soon.

  • animalsbybarry

    What is in Nikon’s future ?
    Sony may be having an impact here
    And life seems to have gotten a lot tougher for Nikon

    Sony is making some sensors unavalable to Nikon
    Nikon has been silent on new products

    Sony has talked about Intelligent sensors that will (according to Sony ) make mirrorless outperform DSLR
    Nikon has virtually no presence in the mirrorless world

    Sony states thier intent to greatly expand thier lensmaking capability and keep it all in house
    Nikon has great lensmaking capability but is undergoing restructuring

    Sony intends to aggressively pursue the pro market
    Nikon has a strong base in the pro market

    I realize no one here wants to consider the possibility…. but they really do seem like a good fit to me ?

    • sandy

      Sony sensors are not made by Sony camera. And Nikon buys more than Sony does.

  • sickheadache

    This is for Thom Hogan…You know what the MP count of the new Nikon D820…is it in the 50’s? 60’s or 70’s??? What gives? lol thanks.

    • Lol a 70 mp D820 would make a lot of lenses useless for maximum resolution work anything other than stopped down. Wonder what diffraction challenges are caused by 70 mp and f16, teeny tiny pixels….

      • Michiel953

        Where did you get that idea?

        • sickheadache

          The Old Wife’s Club. They out there spinning BS as we write. The old Fan Base of whatever are here to send false info…and spins that u think are true, well in fact are just bs. I love that old spin those old spinners of Sigma love to do..Focus! Since the true reviewers of lenses and cameras have never ever complained about the consistent level of Sigma’s Art Line…but the Spinners and Haters love to spin that old bs line…sigma lenses will not focus on my i had to sold it. SINCE you knew that Sigma Lenses don’t focus on your wal mart camera…WHY did you buy the lens in the first place? Failure.

  • Thom Hogan

    I’m aware of that. Fossum is an investor and co-founder, yes. But I think if you talk with him you’ll find that he’s not seeing photon counting as headed for the type of cameras you and I use any time soon. The specialized needs to count photons and their position exist in some other not so photographic markets. Note the DARPA investment ;~).

  • Leonardo Baraldi


    Exactly 10 days ago I said that Nikon could be facing difficulties in its commercial partnership with Sony:

    “I’m afraid that Nikon is facing problems in its commercial partnership with Sony in the agreement to supply new sensors.

    This may have been why nikon canceled the DL series cameras, which supposedly would use Sony’s sensors.

    This may also be the big reason Nikon has not made any camera launches at the CP show.

    If this is really happening, Nikon will face major problems updating FF series like D8XX, D75X, D6XX and several DX series as well.

    I hope I’m wrong!”

    Unfortunately I was right! Maybe? I hope not!

  • Tony Beach

    Yeah “right.” Sony couldn’t sell the 42 MP sensor to Nikon, so they spin it as if they wouldn’t have sold it to them if they wanted it. There’s no indication whatsoever that Nikon wanted that sensor.

  • Sator Photo

    “Sony is just shooting themselves with this mid-level executive’s announcement”.

    Yes, but who are “they”? Sony semiconductors and Sony cameras are now two different companies. The person interviewed was from the camera company. So of course they speak out of self-interest and emphasise the “uniqueness” of the sensors in their cameras. They were not speaking on behalf of the semiconductor company of which they are a client, and nor could they, because it is a separate legal entity.

    But how “unique” are the camera company’s sensors? That is the question. Sony semiconductors do customisations of base sensor designs all the time. They can add PDAF for example, and BSI may well be another customisation. The Fuji GFX 50s has it own proprietary microlens and silicon process making it a unique design iteration of the “same” sensor used by Hasselblad and Pentax. In that sense nearly ALL of Sony semiconductor’s sensors have customisations that make them unique and differentiate them from versions made for other clients who utilise the same base model.

  • Sator Photo

    Sadly much of the hoopla surrounding this interview has been artificially generated by Sony Alpha Rumors who announced that “Best Sony sensors will remain in house and not be outsourced (to Nikon)”. If you read the interview, the interviewee said absolutely nothing of the like. It’s another case, like the fake news about Sony taking over Nikon, of abject nonsense being manufactured for the sake of peddling yet more SAR clickbait. It is sad that, unlike other rumours sites, rather than reporting about Sony cameras, SAR wastes time writing bitchy take downs of rival manufacturers.

    Much of the wildly speculative elaboration has been driven by the interviewer’s aside:

    “[Ed. note from Dave Etchells: This was new information for me; as far as I’d been aware, Sony’s camera division would get access to the latest sensor designs as soon as they came through the design and production cycle, while other companies could buy the same sensor a year later. While this might once have been the case, it appears that Sony currently reserves some level of their sensor technology exclusively for us in their own cameras.]”

    As pointed out, this is actually nothing new e.g. the a7S sensor.

    The big trouble is Sony cameras and Sony semiconductors have now been divided into two separate corporations with distinct legal corporate identities. To what extent someone from the camera company can even be assumed to be a spokesperson from the semiconductor company remains vastly unclear.

    Given that both Sony and Nikon are now both clients who purchase from the semiconductor firm, it seems awfully unlikely that the sensor making firm will feel it is in their corporate self-interest to only be “allowed” to sell to just one client rather than to many.

  • WaxedSatsuma

    Complete rubbish. I can live a point or 2 of Dynamic range here and there. Have you got anything else?

    The new 54 mpx Canon sensor beat out that 36mpx sensor. Try finding one side by side review that says otherwise.

  • Bob Newman

    You need to take care that you correctly interpret who is giving this information. If is not ‘Sony’ in general, it is ‘Sony Digital Imaging Group’. They are not the company that makes sensors, that is ‘Sony Semiconductor Solutions’. Like all marketing releases it needs to be unpicked carefully. What he is saying is that his company (Sony Digital Imaging) has secured exclusive use of some sensors made by Sony SS, presumably because they paid for the R&D. That does not mean that Sony SS does not and will not make similar exclusive arrangements with other companies (if they pay the R&D) or that Sony SS will not supply sensors to other companies. Sony DI is a very small part of their market, they wuld not prejudice their general market position for one company, even if it is part of the same group.

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