Sony senses money

sony exmor sensors 1

Already the world’s leading image sensor maker, Sony is, for the first time in decade, issuing public stock to fund further development in the technology.

Sony calls it’s a “profit generation and investment for growth” phase, and says it “plans to apply the funds raised by this issuance of new shares to expenditures for increasing the production capacity of, and research and development for, stacked CMOS image sensors in the Devices segment in order to further enhance profitability.”

Here is the full announcement.


Aptina mobile sensor captures 25 megapixels

AR2520_ChipsImage quality improvements in mobile devices shows no sign of abating: The latest sensor from Aptina will capture 25-megapixle stills and 4k video from within a mobile phone — a first in the industry, the company says.

The BSI chip “leaps ahead of existing sensors with high-performance video capabilities that capture full resolution and 4K video at 30 frames-per-second,” Aptina says, “as well as delivers super slow motion capture of 120 frames-per-second for 1080p HD video all without sacrificing full field-of-view.” It will also capture stills with “stunning photo clarity” and high dynamic range.

The company quotes an analysts from IHS as noting that the market for image sensors in the mobile device segment was $4.9 billion in 2012, and is forecast to grow to $8.7 billion in 2017.

The Aptina AR2520HS will be available for sampling in the second quarter of 2014.


Samsung: new mobile image sensor technology


samsung isocell

It’s called Isocell — and the new advanced pixel technology for CMOS image sensors from Samsung Electronics “substantially increases light sensitivity and effectively controls the absorption of electrons, resulting in higher color fidelity even in poor lighting conditions,” the company says.

Isocell forms a physical barrier between neighboring pixels, and this pixel isolation “enables more photons to be collected from the micro-lens and absorbed into the correct pixel’s photodiode minimizing undesired electrical crosstalk between pixels and allowing expanded full well capacity,” Samsung claims.

The quality of an image sensor is determined by the amount of light that is accurately captured by the individual pixels within the sensor array, Samsung notes. “With the market pressure to increase camera resolution and image quality, without growing the camera size, the pixels have had to shrink, while improving their performance at the same time – a challenging task. To meet this challenge, previous sensor technology developments focused on improving the light absorption of each pixel, and have progressed pixel technology from FSI (Front Side Illumination) to BSI (Back Side Illumination) which places photodiode at the top to maximize photoelectric efficiency. While being very effective at the time, this BSI technology also faced limitations in improving image quality as pixel sizes continued to decrease.”

Compared to conventional BSI pixels, the Isocell pixels decrease crosstalk by approximately 30 percent, the company reports, yielding higher color fidelity, and increases the full well capacity (FWC) by 30 percent which leads to greater dynamic range. It can also result in thinner camera module thanks to a 20 percent wider chief ray angle.

Samsung is currently sampling an 8-megapixel imager with the new technology. It notes market research firm Techno System’s claim that by next year approximately 66 percent of smartphones will feature image sensors with 8Mp or higher resolution.

More information is here.


Fujifilm and Panasonic Organic CMOS to capture more light



The imaging industry has seen quite a few new photographic technology developments recently, and here comes another: Fujifilm and Panasonic report they’ve jointly developed an organic CMOS image sensor technology that will yield higher dynamic range and sensitivity “for vivid and texture-rich images.”

Using an “organic photoelectric conversion layer” developed by Fujifilm, the sensor will have a higher absorption coefficient when it comes to receiving light than a comparable silicon-based photodiode. Panasonic combined the organic layer with its semiconductor technology for  a sensor 1.2 times more sensitive than conventional ones, and with a promised 88dB dynamic range.

A conventional image sensor combines a silicon photodiode, metal interconnect, color filter, and on-chip micro-lens, the companies say. The photoelectric conversion layer made of organic materials, at 0.5 microns, is one-seventh the thickness of silicon, and can “harvest all the light received on the sensor” to boost sensitivity.


Aptina sensor captures 4K video


aptina sensor read out

That division between what a top-of-the-line SLR can capture and a lower-priced model can’t continues to narrow: Aptina developed a 14-megapixel sensor that captures SLR-quality stills, it says, and 4K-resolution video.

It will capture full resolution stills at up to 80 frames per second, and 4K video at 60fps. Standard 1080p video can come in at 120 fps, “enabling slow-motion video capture without loss of resolution,” Aptina says.

“By merging spectacular image quality with extremely fast frame rates, Aptina is enabling top consumer camera makers to develop the next generation of mirrorless, bridge, high-end compact, and broadcast digital video cameras,” the company claims, adding that the sensor has already “attracted great interest from market-leading mirrorless camera makers. This 1-inch sensor effectively bridges the performance and price gap between the smaller 1/2.3-inch sensors commonly used in compact digital still cameras and the larger APS-C and full-frame sensors that are used in DSLR cameras. The AR1411HS image sensor delivers superior image quality and the ability to capture still shots and video very fast, in virtually any environment.”

The new sensor is now in mass production.

More information is here.


Full-frame Canon sensor captures video in VERY low light

canon lowlight sensor 1

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.”

canon lowlight sensor 2

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.

Depth imaging: Toshiba develops light-field sensor for phones; Panasonic 3D chip


panasonic 3d

I’ve made no secret that I’m not too thrilled with Lytro’s light-field capturing cameras that lets you change the point of focus in  photo after it’s captured — after all, how many times will you enjoy doing that? But now Toshiba seems to think that not only is the technique worthy of a niche specialty pocket camera — it’s fit for phones as well.

Toshiba demonstrated image modules that shoot light-field photography, IDG reports, and says it will start production with the year.

Photos captured with the chip will contain depth information lacking in standard 2D shots — and Toshiba says this means the modules will not just delver refocusable images, but allow you to control the phone with gestures such as taps in midair.

The modules has a CMOS sensor and main lens, with a sheet of tens of thousands of micro-lenses between the two, IDG reports — with which it can capture the scene at slightly different angles, yielding data to produce distance information or refocus.
More information is here.

Also offering depth imaging: Panasonic, with a CMOS sensor that captures 3D video.

Most 3D requires two lenses or a beam splitter, to emulate how light enters our left and right eyes at slightly different angles to yield stereoscopic vision.

But Nikkei Electronics reports the new chip works with a single lens. The 2-megapixel sensor has digital micro-lenses.

Panasonic will first offer the technology to industrial and mobile devices in 2014.
The full story is here.


Aptina promises improved mobile imaging


aptina logo

Phone photography has improved a lot in recent years, but still suffers from the inherently small sensors crammed into the slim devices. Now sensor-maker Aptina says its “disruptive imaging technology” advances color filter and sensor design along with imaging and control algorithms to provide increased sensitivity and dynamic range.

The “new level of performance” will drive 1.1-micron pixel adoption into the Smartphone market, and the smaller sensors will surpass today’s top 1.4-micron BSI pixel sensors, Aptina claims.

The Clarity+™ technology increase camera performance while enabling thinner, slimmer mobile devices with higher resolution, Aptina adds, and increased performance for high quality still and videos image capture.

The AR1231CP  is a 1.1-micron, 1/3.2-inch BSI sensor, capable of 12MP resolution at 60fps, and 4K UHD video at 30fps. It is now sampling.


And: for forward-facing smartphone cameras, the AR0261 captures 1080p HD video or 720p at 60fps, which “enables new gesture applications that open up a new way for users to interact with their devices.” It is also sampling now.


Panasonic sensor design could boost sensitivity


Panasonic micro color splitters

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.”


Toshiba announces speedy sensor, develops Lytro-like module


Perhaps you like the idea of post-capture focus as provided by Lytro’s light field camera, but don’t want another single-function device? You might be in luck if rumors of a small sensor from Toshiba that emulates that ability prove true early next year.

But first the company officially announced a new 20-megapixel CMOS sensor it says “offers the industry’s highest resolution in the 1/2.3 inch optical format, using backside illumination technology to improve sensitivity and imaging performance.” Also, the TCM5115CL achieves a 15 percent improvement in full well capacity — the amount of charge an individual pixel can hold before saturating — over Toshiba’s previous generation. And it’s “designed to meet the demands of high quality, fast frame rate image capture and HD video recording supporting smooth, slow motion playback,” with fast capture at 60 frames per second at 1080p, or 100fps at 720p. The sensor is set for mass production in August 2013.

The new post-capture module will reportedly house an array of 500,000 tiny lenses. It’s aimed at phones, and so it’s smaller than Lytro’s system — just one centimeter thick. Also, it even captures video with selectable focal planes. However, it’s not likely to come out until the end of next year.

The Asahi Shimbun has a full report here.