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CMOS chips target digital cameras

29 Sep 2004

A new 5 megapixel image sensor looks set to bring down the cost of high quality digital photography.

OmniVision Technologies, the US developer of CMOS image sensors, has launched a 5 megapixel sensor chip that it says will slash the cost of high performance digital cameras and camcorders to just a few hundred dollars. Production volumes are expected to be available in November with the first cameras containing the chip entering the shops in December.

Unveiled on the first day of the Photokina exhibition in Cologne, Germany, OmniVision's OV5610 CMOS chip represents a new milestone for CMOS imaging. It packs a 2592x1944 array of pixels with a 10-bit analogue-to-digital converter in a 1/1.8 inch sized package which is small enough for portable electronics.

"OmniVision's new proprietary pixel structure diminishes dark current to unnoticeable levels, a key factor in bringing CMOS image quality to CCD levels," said Jason Liu from OmniVision. "In addition, our OmniPixel technology significantly improves the light sensitivity of the sensor resulting in a higher signal-to-noise ratio -- meaning the camera will perform better in low light situations. All this adds up to better performance at lower cost."

According to OmniVision, the OV5610 can perform continuous digital zoom and in VGA resolution is capable of operating at 30 frames per second. The firm says that this makes it the ideal candidate for low-cost digital camcorders and hybrid cameras which take both digital video and still images.

"OmniVision is currently working with several key customers in the US and Taiwan to incorporate the OV5610 in new products," said Liu. "The OV5610 comes at the right time because by 2005 the largest segment of consumer DSCs [digital still cameras] is expected to be in the 5-megapixel category, accounting for approximately 35% of the market."

According to a market report from Techno Systems Research from Japan, worldwide sales of digital still cameras will reach 64 million units this year and surpass 76 million units in 2005.

Currently, most top-end digital imaging equipment with a resolution of 5 or 6 megapixels relies on rival CCD image chip technology. With their origins in scientific imaging, CCD chips provide good picture quality but are expensive to manufacture as they rely on specialised fabrication processes.

In contrast, CMOS image chips are potentially much easier and cheaper to make but until now their limited specifications has confined them to low-end applications such as camera phones and cheap digital still cameras (DSCs).

Author
Oliver Graydon is editor of Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

Bristol Instruments, Inc.Changchun Jiu Tian  Optoelectric Co.,Ltd.AlluxaEKSMA OpticsHÜBNER PhotonicsLASEROPTIK GmbHCHROMA TECHNOLOGY CORP.
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