Full-frame Canon sensor captures video in VERY low light


A new sensor captures video even when you can’t see anything — at “a level of brightness in which it is difficult for the naked eye to perceive objects.”

The constant developments and improvements in image capture are always encouraging and bode well for the photography business — especially when they may address long-time banes of everyone’s imaging such as getting the shot in almost-dark settings – or in this case, the getting the footage: Canon developed a high-sensitivity 35mm full-frame sensor, but it’s exclusively for video recording, at least in this first iteration.

Why video? Well, even HD video is about a 2 megapixel frame. By making a large sensor have so few pixels, Canon is able to concentrate on the light gathering capabilities of larger pixels/photosites.

“Delivering high-sensitivity, low-noise imaging performance, the new 35mm CMOS sensor enables the capture of Full HD video even in exceptionally low-light environments,” the company says. The sensor features pixels measuring 19 microns square in size, which is more than 7.5-times the surface area of the pixels on the CMOS sensor incorporated in its top-of-the-line EOS-1D X SLR, Canon adds.

The sensor’s pixels and readout circuitry employ new technologies that reduce noise, which tends to increase as pixel size increases, Canon says. “Thanks to these technologies, the sensor facilitates the shooting of clearly visible video images even in dimly lit environments with as little as 0.03 lux of illumination, or approximately the brightness of a crescent moon.”

Using a prototype camera employing the sensor, Canon captured a wide range of test video available here, such as footage recorded in a room illuminated only by the light from burning incense sticks (approximately 0.05–0.01 lux) and video of the Geminid meteor shower.

Canon says it is looking to such future applications for the new sensor as astronomical and natural observation, support for medical research, and use in surveillance and security equipment.




Panasonic sensor design could boost sensitivity


All of us shooters are constantly clamoring for better low-light sensitivity — and Panasonic says its latest development may provide just that. The company developed a new type of imaging sensor that gathers more photons by foregoing conventional Bayer pattern filters that can block more than 50 percent of the light — and so “has doubled the sensitivity of color image sensors.”

The new technique analyzes and separates light wave frequencies faster than previous methods, Panasonic says. “This development makes color filters unnecessary by using the micro color splitters that control the diffraction of light at a microscopic level. Panasonic has achieved approximately double the color sensitivity in comparison with conventional sensors that use color filters.”

The micro color splitters can be fabricated using inorganic materials and existing semiconductor fabrication processes, the company adds.

Panasonic says it already has more than three dozen patents on the system.

Some details from the company:

A unique method of analysis and design based on wave optics that permits fast and precise computation of wave-optics phenomena.

Device optimization technologies for creating micro color splitters that control the phase of the light passing through a transparent and highly-refractive plate-like structure to separate colors at a microscopic scale using diffraction.

Layout technologies and unique algorithms that allow highly sensitive and precise color reproduction by combining the light that falls on detectors separated by the micro color splitters and processing the detected signals.

The development is described in the February issue of Nature Photonics.


What could the new sensor yield? As the Imaging Resource news site notes: “With the exception of Fujifilm cameras based around EXR and X-Trans image sensors and the Foveon-based camera lineup from Sigma, almost every digital camera on the market today shares one important feature in common: a Bayer color filter array, named after inventor and Kodak scientist Bryce Bayer. In fact, the overwhelming majority of color cameras made since the very advent of digital photography have been based around Bayer filters.”





Aptina develops 18MP sensor for compact DSCs

Sensor maker Aptina targets its latest sensor at high-end compact cameras, with 18-megapixel resolution from a high-performance 1.25-micron backside illuminated chip that fits in the 1/2.3-inch mainstream DSC optical format.

The AR1820HS “provide OEMs with the combination of exceptional image quality and the high speed capture features needed to create a compelling new generation of consumer camera products,” the company says. It combines Aptina’s BSI technology with a high-speed sensor architecture “to enable a new class of high performance cameras.”  The 18MP resolution can be read out at up to 24fps. For video, the sensor can captures 14MP at 30fps, and a binned 8MP at 60fps. The oversampled image readout enables superior resolution, noise performance, and cleaner overall video, the company says.

Aptina also debuted the AR1011HS, a 1-inch optical format sensor it says is “ideal for enabling high quality bridge and mirrorless cameras.” With 10-megapixel resolution and 3.4-micron pixels, it delivers “uncompromised low light and bright light scene image quality.”

The AR1011HS captures 10MP at 60fps, broadcast-quality quad-high definition, oversampled 1080p, and 1080p video at 120 frames per second.

Aptina’s AR1011HS image sensor is currently sampling in limited volumes and will be in mass production in Q1CY13.

Both sensors are currently sampling, and will be in mass production in Q3CY13.



Sony stacks sensors: Exmor RS

Sony announced the commercialization of its Exmor RS, the world’s first CMOS image sensor incorporating a unique, newly-developed ‘stacked structure’ that helps achieve a more compact size, the company says.

Sony is introducing three models for use in smartphones and tablets, which it says will “combine superior image quality and advanced functionality with compact size.”  Two of the sensors have 13 megapixel resolution; the other, 8MP. Sony will also bring to market three compact auto-focus imaging modules equipped with lens units and featuring auto-focus mechanisms that incorporate these image sensors.

Sony says its ‘RGBW coding’ function can capture sharp, clear images in low light conditions, thanks to using white pixels in addition to conventional red-green-blue. Also, the high dynamic range movie’ function enables two different exposure conditions to be configured within a single screen when shooting, “and seamlessly performs appropriate image processing to generate optimal images with a wide dynamic range and brilliant color.”

More information is here.


OmniVision captures 12MP at 24fps

The latest sensor from OmniVision Technologies is designed specifically for high-end smartphones and tablets, capturing 1080p HD video at 60 frames per second, and 12-megapixel photos at 24 frames per second

“Next-generation smartphone and tablet cameras are moving beyond the 8-megapixel threshold,” the company says. The OV12830 is a 1/3.2-inch sensor with a 1.1-micron pixel architecture and on-chip raw scaler. It fits into the industry-standard module size of 8.5 x 8.5 mm — the same space constraints required by current 8-megapixel camera modules. Volume production is set for the fourth quarter of 2012.

The company also debuted the OVM7675 CameraCubeChip, designed for front-facing cameras in smartphones, tablets and notebooks. The 2.9 x 2.9 x 2.3mm module captures VGA video with low-light sensitivity of 1800 mV/(Lux-sec). “More and more mobile consumer electronics are designed to include front-facing cameras for video calls,” the company says. “These cameras are typically required to have exceptional image quality and low-light performance, and to fit into extremely compact spaces.”

And three is a crowd: another chip is designed specifically for ultra-portable applications — and with a module height of less than 3mm, it’s “an ideal choice for the burgeoning smartphone, tablet and Ultrabook markets.” The OV2722is the company’s second-generation CMOS image sensor to natively capture 1080p HD video. “We believe that current market trends are quickly moving beyond 720p,” OmniVision says, “and we are seeing strong demand for premium quality 1080p HD video sensors that can meet the criteria and specifications of online video sharing platforms.” The 1/6-inch sensor offers full field of view video with optimized image quality, sensitivity, color reproduction and clarity without scaling or cropping, the company says, with a 1.4-micron pixel for a 60 percent increase in full-well capacity, a 10 percent increase in quantum efficiency and a 10 percent improvement in low-light performance, as compared to the previous iteration. The OV2722 is currently in volume production.



Aptina A-PixHS captures 30 fps at 8MP

Aptina says its A-PixHS technology combines backside illumination and high-speed architecture to “enable a new class of ultra-responsive cameras with excellent low light performance and uncompromised bright light performance to capture images with zero shutter lag and suppressed rolling shutter artifacts.”

The latest imager captures full resolution at 30 frames per second. The AR0833 is an 8MP sensor in the 1/3.2-inch optical format, with 1.4-micron pixels. The sensor’s high operating speed captures HD video and 8MP stills simultaneously.

Video performance is also improved, Aptina says, by eliminating the need for cropping the scene or using common binning techniques that create image artifacts.

The AR0833 is currently sampling and will be available in mass production Q2 2012.



Sony improves back-illuminated CMOS sensor

Saying they’re aimed at future camera phones, Sony developed next-generation “stacked” back-illuminated CMOS image sensors with RGBW coding and HDR movie functions to “realizes higher image quality and superior functionality in a more compact size.”

Sony says its RGBW coding function “allows images to be captured with low noise and high picture quality even in low-light conditions,” thanks to a white pixel added to the conventional RGB array; its HDR function “allows brilliant color to be captured even in bright settings.”

The three new sensor models, with resolutions from 8 to 13 megapixel, will begin sampling in March 2012.

More information is here.


Fujifilm patents hybrid organic/CMOS sensor

Fujifilm has earned a patent for its organic-hybrid sensor technology, reports DP Review.

Rather than silicon photodiodes as in CMOS and CCD sensors, it uses a photoelectric organic coating to convert light into electrons.

The organic layer can coat the entire sensor, making more of the surface light-sensitive, eliminating the need for microlenses and division into individual photosites.

More information is here.


Sharp makes thinnest phone camera with stabilization

“In response to the demand for portable mobile devices with ever more slender designs,” Sharp has developed what it claims is the thinnest phone camera module with image stabilization yet, measuring 5.47 mm high.

“The module also addresses the need for embedded cameras in these devices to deliver superior image quality and camera functionality,” the company adds, “including connectivity to AV equipment and personal computers.”

The optical image stabilizer uses a lens-shift system. “High-quality images can be captured in a wide variety of situations that are typically prone to blurring caused by camera shake, such as shooting under dim light conditions or shooting moving subjects,” Sharp says.

The RJ63YC100 has a 12-megapixel 1/3.2-inch CMOS sensor. It also captures 1080p HD video.

It is sampling now, with volume production set for January 2012.

More information is here.


Aptina offers 8-megapixel phone sensor

CMOS imaging supplier Aptina Imaging says its 8-megapixel sensor with a 1.4-micron backside illuminated  pixel “produces stunning images to enable a class of Smartphone cameras capable of delivering the performance of digital still cameras.”

The AR0832E is a 1/3.2-inch optical format sensor. It captures “sharp video and crisp snapshots in a wide range of lighting environments,” Aptina claims. “Superior low light performance and uncompromised bright light operation provide the consumer with the ability to capture those important moments no matter where they happen.”

The company says it is ready “to go-to-market with leading performance, manufacturing capacity, and competitive yields.”

The AR0832E is sampling now, with high volume customer shipments expected in CYQ2 2012.


Aptina senses 5 megapixels for surveillance

CMOS image sensor maker Aptina is offering surveillance camera manufacturers a new high-definition 5 megapixel image sensor.

The MT9P006 is “designed to meet the growing needs of the dynamic, quality-focused surveillance IP camera market,” the company says.

The 2.2-micron, 1/2.5-inch optical format sensor’s A-Pix pixel technology improves performance and enables the image sensor with video capture capabilities critical to the surveillance market, Aptina says, including enhanced low light sensitivity, reduced pixel noise, enhanced color fidelity, and bright light performance. “The sensor’s low light and dynamic range capabilities enable vibrant, accurate color, and detail-rich HD video capture at 720p/60fps and 1080p/30fps in a variety of lighting conditions.”

The MT9P006 image sensor is in production now.

More information is here.

Toshiba shrinks sensitive sensor

“As smartphones and other portable digital devices move to smaller form factors, image sensors must also shrink in size,” says Toshiba.

The company’s latest CMOS sensor has its smallest pixel size yet, just 1.12 micrometers, with enhanced sensitivity and improved imaging performance thanks to back-side illumination.

The first chip in the new line will feature a .25-inch optical format and 8-megapixel resolution.  The sensor will support video capture at up to 60 frames-per-second in both 1080p and 720p high-definition.

Samples are $15 per unit.


OmniVision slims 5MP sensor

OmniVision Technologies announced its first 5-megapixel image sensor using its OmniBSI-2 architecture with a 1.4-micron backside illumination pixel, and a 1/4-inch optical format — with a 20 percent reduction in camera module height, the company says,  making it “an effective solution for slimmer mobile handsets, smart phones and tablet computers.”

Five-megapixel CMOS image sensors now comprise more than 15 percent of the overall sensor market today, the company adds, “occupying a sweet spot in the market.  Some industry analysts believe that market share may exceed 30 percent by 2014.”

The OV5690 CameraChip captures 1080p HD video, and has an integrated scaler that enables electronic image stabilization, and , and 2 by 2 binning functionality with re-sampling filter that minimizes spatial artifacts and removes image artifacts around edges, the company says, producing crisp color images for 720p/60 HD video.

The OV5690 is currently being sampled and mass production is expected to begin in the second half of 2011.



OmniVision purchases Kodak CMOS patents

Image sensor developer OmniVision Technologies announced it purchased approximately 850 image sensor-related patents and patent applications from Kodak for $65 million. The transaction was completed on March 31, 2011.

Kodak has not released a public statement on the sale. Last week the company had reiterated its strategy of recouping research investments by licensing imaging technologies — and suing companies such as Applethat it claims infringe its imaging patents.

“We are pleased with the opportunity to double the size of our intellectual property portfolio for CMOS image sensors,” OmniVision says, “and to reinforce our leadership role in the advancement of image sensor technologies and solutions. Market research projections for a number of our target markets suggest that demand for CMOS-based imaging solutions is anticipated to triple or quadruple over the next few years.”

The purchased patent portfolio comprises approximately 850 U.S. and foreign patents and patent applications, OmniVisionreports. The intellectual property includes granted patents of CMOS technologies covering early and fundamental CMOS image sensor work; improvements on foundational architectures, including new features and functions; and next generation performance improvements, miniaturization and cost reduction technologies.

OmniVision was founded in 1995, and says it’s shipped more than one billion CMOS sensors. The company claimed 28 percent of the 2009 CMOS image sensor market.


Intel invests in InVisage

InVisage Technologies, which demonstrated its “QuantumFilm” sensor technology at our 2010 6Sight Future of Imaging conference, will use an investment from Intel Capital to bring its products into mass production.

“Image sensors for smart phones and handheld devices are a huge market opportunity and InVisage is well positioned to capture significant market share,” Intel Capital says.  “InVisage is the first company in a while to think differently about image sensors and we are confident that its products will lead the imaging market on a new vector of innovation.”

InVisage is a fabless semiconductor company developing quantum dot imaging technology designed to replace conventional CMOS silicon image sensors. The company was incorporated in 2005 and is based in Menlo Park, California.

Intel Capital is Intel’s global investment organization, and makes equity investments in innovative technology start-ups and companies worldwide.

Woodside Capital Securities LLC acted as a financial advisor to InVisage. Managing partner Rudy Burger also presented at 6Sight, in our financial analyst panel — a transcript of which is in the Jan-Feb issue of The 6sight Report.

Also covered in that issue is the conference’s Camera panel, which featured InVisage CEO Jess Lee.

Silicon Hive also presented a Showcase at 6Sight last fall — and received an investment from Intel.


Samsung offers 12 Megapixel sensor

Wasn’t it just last week or so that Samsung announced an 8-megapixel sensor aimed at phones? Here comes a 12MP version with many similar characteristics.

Samsung says its S5K3L1 imager is designed for an 8.5mm by 8.5mm auto focus camera module with a height dimension of 6.0mm, aimed at mobile phones and other small form factor applications.

The 1/3.2-inch imager is made with 1.12 micron pixel technology, and backside illuminated architecture. The S5K3L1 captures full resolution images at 30 frames per second; 1080p HD video at 60 frames per second; 720p at 90 fps; and VGA resolution images at 120 fps for slow motion.

The new image sensor also includes an on-chip pixel correction feature, compensating color and luminance response variations to address image distortion, Samsung says.

Samples of the 12MP imager are available now, with mass production scheduled in the third quarter of this year.

Aptina Licenses DxO Lab’s Digital Pixel Processing

DxO Labs licensed its Digital Pixel Processing to Aptina Imaging, and says its solution can “significantly improve the image quality of miniaturized cameras while reducing manufacturing costs.”

Aptina says the technology will reduce system complexity, increase overall product quality, and enable rapid integration.

When a miniaturized camera uses 1.75µ pixels and smaller, DxO says, color shading and green imbalance can result. “The color light rays are much more spread out as they pass through the lens and infrared filter and then onto to sensor.” Current correction methods based on calibrations on the production line are costly, the company adds, and can introduce failures in most indoor real-life situations, even with high-end smart phones using backside illumination sensors.

DxO provides color uniformity regardless of the sensor size, the light source, the scene, and the unit. DxO says its DPP estimates color lens shading and green imbalance maps on the fly from the stream of images before correcting RAW data for color non-uniformity and high-frequency structured noise.

Zooming in on curved camera design

A new camera design may yield improved medical imaging such as endoscopies, as well as surveillance and other imaging applications.

Researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois developed a curvilinear camera with a zoom capability. Inspired by the human eye, the device is about the size of a nickel.

The lens and photo detectors are on flexible elastic membrane substrates, and a hydraulic system changes the shape of the substrates — distorting the lens like a human eye. The new design goes one step further than our eyeballs, however, as the same technique also distorts the sensor array, and so enables a 3.5x variable zoom.

More information is here.

OmniVision captures 1080p video, 10 megapixel stills

“Allowing users to take pictures even while they are recording video is a key feature that bridges the gap between still and video cameras,” says OmniVision Technologies
The company’s new image sensor provides simultaneous 1080p HD video recording and ten megapixel still image capture.

The OV10810 is a 16:9 CMOS chip with a 1.4-micron pixel architecture in a 1/2.5-inch form factor. It offers “complete convergence between high-resolution still photography and full high-definition video,” the company says, and even captures 10-megapixel bursts at 30 frames per second. The sensor is currently available for sampling.

Aptina captures full HD

With a new 1/3-inch sensor, Aptina says it is “addressing the growing demand for high-end HD-quality digital video cameras at consumer price points.”

With a new 2.2-micron pixel design, the AR0330 sensor captures 3 megapixel still images, and native full HD 1080p video with support for electronic image stabilization.

Also, “3×3 on-sensor binning mode,” supports WVGA with high-speed capture options at 120 and 240 frames per second, “permitting innovative slow-motion video features,” the company says.

Mass production is scheduled for Q2 2011.

Sony to double production capacity for image sensors

Already having a reported 70 percent of the image sensor market, Sony says it will invest $1.2 billion to double its output.

Total production of CCD and CMOS image sensors will rise to 50,000 units a month by March 2012, the company says. As part of the increase, Sony will buy back a semiconductor production line from Toshiba.

Sony says the investments will further strengthen its production capacity for Exmor and Exmor R CMOS image sensors “in order to meet increased demand from markets such as those for smartphones and digital still cameras. Through this increase of capacity, Sony expects to solidify its position as the world’s leading company in CMOS image sensors and CCD image sensors.”

Teledyne Technologies to acquire Dalsa

California’s Teledyne Technologies announced the acquisition of Waterloo, Ontario-based sensor-maker Dalsa.

Dalsa’s imaging products and services include high-resolution, high-performance CCD and CMOS imaging sensors, electronic digital cameras and image processing software for use in industrial machine vision, medical imaging and high resolution aerial and satellite imagery. For the twelve months ended September 30, 2010, Dalsa reports sales of approximately $201 million Canadian.

Teledyne produces extreme resolution infrared sensors and subsystems primarily for government applications, and says it will “be transformed into a pure-play electronics, instrumentation and engineering focused company.”

Microsoft sells 2.5 Million Kinect camera-based game controllers

Microsoft reports retail sales of its Kinect for Xbox 360 total more than 2.5 million units worldwide since it launched a month ago.

“We are on pace to reach our forecast of 5 million units sold this holiday,” the company says.

The hands-free entertainment system lets players control games, movies, music and television with gestures and voice. “With Kinect, you are the controller,” Microsoft says. “All you have to do is step in front of the sensor and it instantly recognizes you and tracks your movements with no experience required.”

The Kinect uses a video camera, infrared projector, and a distance sensor to view the player’s whole body, tracking 48 distinct body parts in three-dimensional space.

The company notes three years ago it had just a $30,000 prototype, and now the Kinect is $149, or $300 with an Xbox. Microsoft has already sold 45 million Xbox 360 game consoles.

Panasonic senses gestures with 3D image sensor

A new 3D image depth sensor combines a proprietary CCD with near-infrared LEDs in a 160-by-120 array for “superior three dimensional accuracy that can be used to detect human movement and hand gestures.”

Panasonic says its D-Imager enables gesture recognition and full body motion tracking, using real time three-dimensional information to provide fully interactive experiences. Its has a 60 degrees horizontal and 44 degrees vertical viewing angle

Panasonic says the technology is suited for such interactive applications as signage, medical, amusement, immersive multimedia and video games. In addition, the D-Imager can be used in various security applications such as anti-tailgating systems and people counting.

The sensor “blends nicely with most display systems,” the company says, and measures  170 by 54 by 49mm. It is available now from Panasonic Electric Works Corp of America.

Fly-inspired 360-degree camera sees in 3D

The compound eye of a fly has thousands of individual photoreceptors. Inspired by the annoying bug, scientists have made a camera with more than one hundred sensors on a hemisphere.

The sensors have an overlapping range of vision. Algorithms calculate the distance between the camera and objects in the scene. With the data and the multiple images, the system reconstructs the scene in 3D.

“The outcome of this work is likely to change the entire field of image acquisition,” one of the researchers claims, “with a huge range of potential applications.”

The technology is primarily developed at EPFL, Ecoles Polytechniques fédérales in Switzerland.

A video with more information is her