July 2003: Sony and Nikon announced significant developments in sensor technology during the week ending 18 July.
Sony, which is a major supplier of image sensors to digital camera manufacturers, will release a new sensor chip with four colour filters instead of the normal three. Designed for consumer digicams, the new chip will all an ‘Emerald’ (E) filter to the standard Red (R), Green (G), Blue (B) array. The company claims this will halve colour errors and make the colour reproduction from the sensor closer to the perception of the normal human eye.
The standard Bayer array (left) used on most digital cameras has only three filter colours, with twice as many green filter patches as there are red and blue patches. The new Sony array (right) contains equal numbers of red, green, blue and emerald (E) patches. Sony claims cameras with the new sensor will deliver more realistic image colours.
The new sensor will be released with an image processor that uses the information from the four-colour filter. Claimed to consume 30% less power than current in-camera image processors, it is expected to improve high-speed capture and playback performance, as well as enhancing the overall functioning of digital still cameras. The first cameras equipped with the new sensor are scheduled for release “in the near future”, according to a Sony press release.
Nikon has also announced a new type of sensor, which will be destined for the company’s digital SLR cameras. According to a report on
the Japanese news service, Nikkei Net Interactive (www.nni.nikkei.co.jp) the new LBCAST (lateral buried charge accumulator and sensing transistor array) sensor has a simpler structure than high-end CMOS sensors but offers similar power-saving capabilities. However, it supports data reading speeds that are roughly twice as fast as current SLR sensors, allowing cameras to support higher burst speeds and produce higher-resolution images. The new sensors should also have larger surface areas than current SLR sensors.
The Nikkei report says Nikon will outsource production of LBCAST wafers, but will handle the final production stages of items like microlenses and filters itself. It is expected to offer new cameras equipped with LBCAST sensors that have a resolution of roughly 4 megapixels but no time frame has been given for their release. The company will continue to use sensors produced by other manufacturers (mainly Sony) for its consumer-grade compact digital cameras.