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New Sensor Has Real Per-Pixel RGB Sensitivity 354

jonr writes: "Well, the holy grail of digital photography is finally found. A company named Foveon have developed a sensor that captures RGB colours on each pixel. So what you say? Well, for the past 30 years (or since the CCD was invented) we have been using CCD with with red, green & blue sensors (or cyan/magneta/yellow) and then used software to figure out the real colour. But Foveon is the first company to deliver RGB-in-each-pixel sensor. For those of you who are not into digital imaging, this makes a lot of difference, it's would be just as revelutionary if somebody would make a flatscreen with a real colour pixels, instead of the RGB dots. dpreview.com has the scoop. (No, it won't mean the death of film, but I suspect we'll see dramatic improvement in quality)."
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New Sensor Has Real Per-Pixel RGB Sensitivity

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  • Sweet (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NeMon'ess ( 160583 )
    So this could mean a three-fold increase in megapixels just because each pixel no longer requires 3 sensors to measure the color.

    • Re:Sweet (Score:3, Informative)

      by maniac11 ( 88495 )
      Sorta... but now there are 3 full arrays to capture each color. Meaning it doesn't have to just downsample the color separation... It gives accurate color representation "in software".

      A 400% increase in the amount of red and blue light accounted for and a 200% increase in the amount of green. (See figure 1.) [dpreview.com] A mean increase of 300%, but the overall image quality will be exponentially better because the true color balance will be maintained.

      This is freakin' awesome, btw.
  • by kiddailey ( 165202 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:51PM (#2988691) Homepage
    You spend $3,000 on that Sony MiniDV camera with 3CCDs and it's quickly outdated.

    No matter how many time I tell myself I'm over the fact that this will alway happen (stuff being outdated right after you buy it), the first thing that pops into my mind is "damn, if only I could have waited a little longer..."

    Actually, this is very cool. Combine it with the depth capturing story we heard about earlier and hopefully dept projection and the future looks really really awesome!
  • by killthiskid ( 197397 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:51PM (#2988697) Homepage Journal
    So when a digital camera is said to have 3 mega-pixels, does that mean that it only has 1 million pixels for each color??? Thus, the actual resolution isn't 3 mega but 1 mega???

    • More Typically, a 3MP camera would have 1.5M green pixels, 0.75M red and 0.75M blue pixels. This is called an GRGB Bayer pattern. It is not as bad as it sounds. Every Pixel contributes to resolution (luminance) but they must be processed in groups to produce color (chrominance) information. You eye is much more sensitive to luminance resolution anyway. Digital cameras require a pretty hefty DSP to do this processing.

      Check out:
      http://www.dpreview.com/learn/key=colour+filter+ ar ray

      The pixel count is going to hurt them, Sigma will try to sell a 3.43MP Digital SLR for $3000 with an undersized (1.7X) sensor using this technology. I do not think this will compete well against a 6MP Canon D30 at a similar price.
  • I can't wait until I can get this in something other than a $3,000 camera. The imagery I saw, even in jpeg format, was outstanding. Anyone wanna form a pool on when you can get a camera using this tech for $400? I say October, this year.
    • I can't wait until I can get this in something other than a $3,000 camera. The imagery I saw, even in jpeg format, was outstanding. Anyone wanna form a pool on when you can get a camera using this tech for $400? I say October, this year.

      While cameras are the 'killer app' for this tech, I think we'll probably see it show up in flatbed document scanners first.

      Still, that's not an unwelcome tradeoff. I can't wait to scan an image and *not* have to correct for saturation or gamma levels.

      In the opinion of many people, an expertly shot film image is still superior to an expert digital camera image. This will be the test of that supposition.
      • While cameras are the 'killer app' for this tech, I think we'll probably see it show up in flatbed document scanners first.

        Why? A flatbed can "just" make multiple passes with different color filters (that is how most film scanners work, an R pass, G pass, B pass, and an IP pass to find the dust and scratches). This is much more useful for something capturing the moving world...

        In the opinion of many people, an expertly shot film image is still superior to an expert digital camera image. This will be the test of that supposition.

        Yes, but that frequently has more to do with depth of field and quality of the digital camera. If you look in Sports Illustrated or Time magazine for example you will be very hard pressed to identify the Nikon D1/D1H/D1X shots, or the Canon D30/1D shots because they are of very high quality and offer the same creatave control over depth of field. Except for the D30 they also cost 2 to 3 times as much as a high end film body (and a high end film body at $2000 costs far more then an intro level SLR which can make the same images, just slower).

        There are still plenty of areas film wins though, very slow and very fast films get results you normally can't get with digitals, and even at more normal speeds if you enlarge past 8x10 or at least past 16x10 (the D1X has done "double truck" images in SI for example) film will win again. Of corse at those sizes you almost always need a tripod, and seldom use 35mm film...

  • Screw resolution (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101.gmail@com> on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:52PM (#2988702) Homepage Journal

    More resolution, while nice, is not what digital photography primarily lacks. Light and shadow sensitivity is what really sucks with digital cameras. Film has a logarithmic sensitivity to light, while a digital sensor has a linear sensitivity.

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone know of any technologies in development to give better light/shadow sensitivity.

    • IANAP[hotographer], but this sounds like something that could be solved in software. If you know beforehand that your sensor has a linear sensitivity to light, but you're shooting for a logarithmic scale, then just apply a transformation to your data after you receive it from the sensor hardware. Is that a solution, or is the problem more complicated than that?
      • Sure you could transform the scale, but the problem is that you typically only have 8 bits of intensity information (or maybe 10 in some cases, I believe). That not a very wide range. I don't remember exactly what the dynamic range of film is, but it's way higher than this (maybe someone knowledgeable could give their 2c about this).

      • Re:Screw resolution (Score:3, Informative)

        by friscolr ( 124774 )
        If you know beforehand that your sensor has a linear sensitivity to light, but you're shooting for a logarithmic scale, then just apply a transformation to

        i don't think that's the problem Reality Master 101 was referring to. i forget my terms and exact figures, but the general idea is like this:

        let's say pure black is light level 0 and pure white is level 10. now if traditional film can capture the range from 2-8 then digital film captures 3-7, so digital provides less shadow detail and less highlight detail than traditional film.

        • let's say pure black is light level 0 and pure white is level 10

          What do you classify as "pure white"? Typical indoor lighting? Typical outdoor lighting on a sunny day? Typical lighting when there's a thermonuclear explosion happening a kilometer away?

          Pure black is well defined -- zero photons -- but pure white is, well, completely bogus.
          • pure white is, well, completely bogus

            No, pure white is defined as maximum response for your sensor. This is, of course dependent on what you're looking with, but there isn't really any other way. If you want to compare two cameras, you should probably choose a candlepower near the limit of what a human can handle.

      • Well the problem is mostly that there aren't enough bits coming out of the camera, so adjacent intensities get combined into one and you lose the shadow detail.

        Plus a lot of cameras have a lot of noise in the sensor, which further screws up shadow detail.

    • from the article:

      Image sensors with Foveon X3 technology gather more light. In a mosaic sensor, each pixel collects only one color out of three, or roughly one-third of the light. The remaining two-thirds of incident light is absorbed by color filters and not used - which is a significant reduction in the efficiency of the pixels. Foveon X3 pixels maximize the use of light since all three colors are collected at each pixel.

      Doesn't mention if this also means the range it captures is any greater (whats the technical term for that again?), but i'd like to have a camera that acts like ISO 3200.

      Also, this technology has less artifacts because it does not need to do any interpolation. I think that the higher response rate will be a great benefit too; i use a nikon 990 and the wait after taking a shot is crazy. and if this technology helps prolong battery life (less computing, but the main drain is lcd anyways) i'm happier. or i will be once it's in a camera that costs less than $3000.

      Personally, i'd love to have a lot more resolution so's i can crop like crazy when necessary. That and i like my Good photos printed out 20x30.

      • I have a Nikon Coolpix 995, and the key is to dump the cheap SanDisk film, and get some Lexar 8x or faster CompactFlash. My shot times went down from about 8 seconds to less than 2.

        --Mike--

      • Doesn't mention if this also means the range it captures is any greater (whats the technical term for that again?), but i'd like to have a camera that acts like ISO 3200

        It doesn't look like it since Sigma's X3 using camera (is it the SA-9 or SD-9?) only offers ISO 100, 200, 400 and can "push" to 800 and 1600. That more or less matches what the two year old EOS-D30 can do, so I imagine that has more to do with sensor well size (the D30's sensors are just a little bigger I think).

        Also, this technology has less artifacts because it does not need to do any interpolation. I think that the higher response rate will be a great benefit too; i use a nikon 990 and the wait after taking a shot is crazy.

        That probbably has more to do with JPEGing it, or writing it to the CF card (esp those huge TIFF images).

        Personally, i'd love to have a lot more resolution so's i can crop like crazy when necessary. That and i like my Good photos printed out 20x30

        Maybe you should give film a try then :-) Try Kodak techpan, or Ilford Pan F, or if you want color Fuji Velvia. Bring a tripod though.

      • My Canon EOS D30 Digital SLR has a CMOS sensor said to have lower battery use, but I think the main secret is that you use the optical viewfinder to compose shots instead of the power-sapping LCD. As a result, my camera never, ever runs out of juice.

        The D30 buffers images, so I never have to wait for them to be saved to the CF card. When I had the Nikon 990, I had the same problem you do now, and it was horribly aggrivating.

        The D30 cost me $3,385, including lens and CF card, so if $3,000 is really your top, it's not that far away. If you got a cheap prime lens instead of the fancy zoom I got, you could probably just squeeze under the $3,000 limit.

        You might enjoy reading my review of the D30:
        http://www.epinions.com/content_55600909956

        D
    • Re:Screw resolution (Score:5, Informative)

      by esonik ( 222874 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:18PM (#2988904)
      Yes. At the University of Heidelberg, Germany, Physicists have developed a log-response CCD chip [uni-heidelberg.de] (covering 6 decades of intensity). They want to use it as the frontend sensor for their "tactile vision substitution system" (a machine enabling blind people to "see" with their fingers). The Log response is achieved by operating the sensor transistors in their non-linear range (very crude description, it's been a long time ago since I attended a talk about that project). Links to publications can be found following the above link.
    • by Romeozulu ( 248240 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:22PM (#2988917)
      A bigger problem then number of pixels is quality of glass. Lens of lowend digital cameras stink. Even on higher end digital SLR, the quality of your lens has a huge effect on the quality of the image. But this is nothing new to photography. My point is, more pixels won't help if you're still using cheap PS lens.

      RZ
      • Olympus puts f1.4 lenses on many of its digital cameras these days. Admittedly, these are "prosumer" cameras and not low-end consumer cameras, but you can buy an Olympus C2040 for about $450 these days. Sony and a few other manufacturers use Carl Zeiss lenses, which while not as fast optically as the Olympus lenses, seem to frequently have more accurate imaging.

    • More resolution, while nice, is not what digital photography primarily lacks. Light and shadow sensitivity is what really sucks with digital cameras. Film has a logarithmic sensitivity to light, while a digital sensor has a linear sensitivity

      That depends a lot on the camera and the output mode you use. For example look at the Nikon D1H in NEF mode, or the Canon D30 or D1 in RAW (or is that CRW?) mode.

    • Reality Master 101:
      More resolution, while nice, is not what digital photography primarily lacks. Light and shadow sensitivity is what really sucks with digital cameras. Film has a logarithmic sensitivity to light, while a digital sensor has a linear sensitivity.

      You might be interested in Fill Factory's goodies:

      The FUGA is kinda cool in that it doesn't integrate like a CCD. It has no 'shutter time' and pixel values can be read on the fly.

      The site has an excellent FAQ [fillfactory.com].

    • logs (Score:5, Informative)

      by purduephotog ( 218304 ) <hirschNO@SPAMinorbit.com> on Monday February 11, 2002 @04:39PM (#2989572) Homepage Journal
      There are a couple of problems with logarithmic sensitivities in electronics- the little potential wells fill up too quickly. Make them too deep and they lose the low level light, make them too shallow and the electrons spill out.

      Conventional AgX can capture around 14 stops of light (thats 2^14) - conventional paper can handle 8 stops or so... a typical scene has 2^11, give or take. Depends on the scene and the subject- obviously a shot of a barn with the door open in broad daylight is going to have a bit more range than a shot inside in a white room with light bouncing everywhere.

      So, what you really want, is to have the SOFTWARE be cognizant of higher bitdepth images. When you have 8 bits to capture a 10 bit scene, information is lost. So you throw some out... and you end up with muddled highlights and muddled shadows, and something in the middle that looks decent.

      Believe it or not, but alot of companies have spent alot of money trying to figure out the correct 'mental' representation of a greyscale- not even including colour. I'm partial to Kodak (I work there, but these views are mine).

      I've worked with extended bit depth images quite a bit and know that there is none (read, big fat ZERO) ms support for anything over 8 bits.... in fact, ImageViewer simply locks up and crashes. So any sort of solution that gives you extended tonal rendering are going to have to be custom solutions... and that probably won't sit well with the average person- "what do you mean i have to process my pictures before I can view them?!?!? I'll just go buy another camera" etc etc. Even if the benefits are enormous, there is the simplicity factor that drives it.

      I personally am interested in this sensor, but there seems to be the wrong website linked... which worries me...
    • Re:Screw resolution (Score:5, Informative)

      by llamalicious ( 448215 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @04:43PM (#2989642) Journal
      Had you read the info on the site, you would know they aren't taking specifically about increasing the resolution.
      They are increasing the amount of light captured per element.
      Succinct overview: (Let's say we have a camera with 16 pixel (4x4 matrix)

      In a typical mosaic CCD pixels would be the following:

      gbgr
      rgbg
      grgb
      bgrg

      That's 8 green pixels, 4 red and 4 blue.
      Thus 50% green, 25% red and 25% blue.

      Now, after the image is captured, the camera has to do some serious image manipulation to translate the average color per pixel into an RGB value. Depending on the "correctness" of the algorithm used, you'll get all sorts of fun... low light noise, color shifts, purple fringing, moire patterns.. etc. and all that processing chews cpu time and battery life, and slows down the speed from picture to picture.
      (Yes, some cameras have higher speed processors... just means yet more battery drain)

      In their new method of capturing the layout is as follows:

      aaaa
      aaaa
      aaaa
      aaaa

      In this case, all 16 pixels capture red green and blue. This means NO processing to be done to calculate color per pixel.
      It also means a 2x increase in the amount of green light captured. And a 4x increase in the amount of both red and blue light captured.

      More light being captured = more light and shadow detail.
      Not having to process (interpolate) pixel colors = no more fringing, moire or other funkiness.

      Now, that doesn't change the fact that digital sensors rely on converting a given set of photons into an electrical charge, and that's tough work... but having more light detected at each photo element is going to give you a LOT more light and shadow definition.

      But, I digrees. I don't know of anyone pioneering new ways of doing ADC for photo elements.
    • "Film has a logarithmic sensitivity to light, while a digital sensor has a linear sensitivity."

      So then, isn't the question of what type of sensitivity *human eyes* have? Do we have logarithmic or linear sensitivity?
    • Logarithmic Response (Score:3, Informative)

      by dmatos ( 232892 )
      Using CMOS sensors, it is possible to get both linear and logarithmic responses from pixels, depending on your biasing conditions.

      For a linear sensor, the photosite is generally a floating N+ diffusion, that makes up one side of an NMOS transistor. At reset, the voltage here is set to VDD. As incident light generates electron-hole pairs, the electrons are collected in the diffusion, lowering the voltage in a linear fashion, dependent upon the parasitic capacitance of the photosite. When the integration time is up, this charge/voltage is sampled, and you have a linear sensor.

      For logarithmic response, the reset level of the photosite is actually even with the biasing of the gate to that transistor (minus the Vt, of course). Incident light generates electrons, and the transistor operates in the sub-threshold region, making the voltage at the photosite vary as the logarithm of the current being generated and flowing through the gate region. Sample that voltage, and tah-dah, you've got a logarithmic response to light.

      I admit, this is much easier to understand with diagrams of the diffusions, so if you want, here is a pdf of a paper discussing a sensor that has combined linear-logarithmic response:

      CMOS Active Pixel Sensor With Combined Linear and Logarithmic Mode Operation [uwaterloo.ca]
  • by ryusen ( 245792 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:53PM (#2988708) Homepage
    Personally, this is major droll material for me. I hope this technology comes to the consumer level by the time i'm ready to dish out money for another digital...
    According to this article [com.com] it says the first camera with this new sensor will be Sigma's SD9 SLR digital camera. No details on when, how much, what features. Anyone have more info on when this will be available? domo
    • Quoting from the linked article in the topic:



      The first camera to use the new sensor will be the $3,000 Sigma SD9 D-SLR (Sigma lens mount), Kodak have also shown an interest in using the X3 technology.


      You _did_ ask for "how much" :)

    • Here [publicmind.com] , on Foveon's site you will find some details:

      Question
      When will the Sigma SD-9 be available?

      Answer
      Sigma will begin taking orders for the SD-9 digital SLR camera at the PMA show on Feb. 24, 2002. The company plans to begin shipping in May 2002. Please refer to the Sigma website for more information (http://www.sigma-photo.com).


      Question
      How much will the Sigma SD-9 cost?

      Answer
      Please refer to the Sigma website for specific information regarding the Sigma SD-9 digital SLR camera (http://www.sigma-photo.com).

      I couldnt find any info on the camera on the sigma site though..
    • No details on when, how much, what features. Anyone have more info on when this will be available?

      Sure, the front page of dpreview has 3 pointers to X3 stuff, including the Sigma camera [dpreview.com]. More info in the forums, but you have to dig for that.

  • great news (Score:2, Troll)

    by DrSkwid ( 118965 )
    i think !?

    When I went vegan over 10 years ago I chose to give up my darkroom (paper & film contain gelatine). I've been waiting in earnest for the photographic digital revolution!

    Hopefully this will bring down the price of decent digital SLR cameras. All the ones I like the look of are about $1k and I've got too many other things on the list without burning a grand on a camera (+ a decent sized IBM microdrive + lenses etc.etc.)

    I wonder if this will bring other benefits like clarity & shutter speeds available.
    • Not all film contains gelatin (no e), a quick google search turned up which types have it and which don't. Apparently it's only in the best looking film.

      On a side note, does this mean you don't support most photographers or (non-digital) movies?
    • Re:great news (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Alioth ( 221270 )
      $1K for a digital SLR camera? More like $5K.

      I don't have any idea why digital cameras that'll take my Nikon lenses are so ridiculously expensive. The reason I haven't bought a digital camera yet is that I can't stand the idea of spending more money on a camera which has the optics of a cheap compact camera than I did on my SLR camera. That and the very noticable artifacts present in most digital photographs (and the lack of being able to do things like leave the shutter open for long exposure shots).
    • They club a baby seal to death for every camera sold. Just because...

      You just can't win...

    • You won't use geleting, but you will buy a camera put together by women and children making 10cents an hour, in sweat shops?
      to sum up:
      Jello bad, Slavery good.
      nice belief you got there.
      • by DrSkwid ( 118965 )
        hmm well yes, can't argue with that

        I have been involved in direct action to try and highlight the horrors of 3rd world debt resulting in some tokenism from our government.

        I am appalled that Western consumerism drives such business models. Almost everything in this room is an imported good manufactured outside my native country.

        I try and buy as much of my food as possible from local producers.

        So you've got your own electronics manufacturing plant there then I guess. The computer is one you built by hand from locally sourced components I suppose. I'm impressed at your resourcefulness.
  • by eaddict ( 148006 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:55PM (#2988725)
    Wonder how this will set up the market for the now obsolete cameras? Would it be worth the cost in waiting for a camera to come out with this technology that Joe user can afford or buy one with proven but obsolete technology now?

    Will these require more umph from batteries too? It says " Today's digital cameras must use complex mathematical algorithms to estimate the red, green, and blue values of each pixel, since only one color per pixel is being truly measured. To accomplish this interpolation, dedicated processing hardware and software are required inside the camera." but what about the power to drive an array of three sensors?

    Oh well, guess it just means that I need to put off my next camera purchase.
  • by dzero ( 303151 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @02:57PM (#2988733)
    This is interesting, but not revolutionary.

    High-end digital imaging devices (mostly digital and analog video cameras, but perhaps some still cameras) have been using 3 CCD chips for a long time to achieve RGB values for each pixel. It's usually done with a prism system that splits the incoming light into different colors which then are registered on different CCD chips.

    In 1-chip devices, color is acheived through a matrix of filters which covers the CCD chip, allowing only certain wavelengths of light to reach each pixel on the CCD.

    It seems to me that what this will really do is give us smaller, higher quality imaging devices. Let's hope X10 doesn't launch a while new popunder campaign...

    • by ka9dgx ( 72702 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:34PM (#2988992) Homepage Journal
      This is revolutionary. There is no alignment issue to worry about with this chip, the automatic gain and channel amplifiers will all be right next to each other, so the color accuracy is going to be phenominal. I would like to see the response curves for the different layers. The business about absorbing colors at different depths in the silicon sounds like typical marketing oversimplification, but gives enough of a clue to be useful. I can see this being extended down into a multispectral (including near infared) sensor in a generation or two, which would be even cooler yet.

      This thing could also make one heck of a nice nightvision system, if used properly... so we could all have nice color pictures at night, just like the military folks have had for a long time. (Green screens are just for the media to consume).

      --Mike--

  • is better than just higher resolution. If you just keep uping the resolution of the cameras, you also need to up the memory or use some lossy compression. With this tech (if it proves to be cost effective), you can keep your images to a reasonable size and make them clearer and better suited to using in print.
    • Required resolution is all a matter of what you want to do with the image. It has very little to do with what kind of sensor you are capturing it with.

      If you want on-screen display, anything larger than your monitor resolution is kinda wasted, unless you want to spend time cropping images. So that's, what, 1600x1200 as a working maximum necessary?

      If you want to print an image, you want 300pixels per linear inch, as a working minimum for something you won't mind looking at from 14inches away. Do the math there, and you get your required image resolution...
      For "normal" print sizes:
      3"x5" = 900x1500 pixels (1.3MPixel)
      4"x6" (standard 35mm print, now) = 1200x1800 pixels (2.1MP)
      5"x7" = 1500x2100 pixels (3.1MP)
      8"x10" = 2400x3000 pixels (7.2MP)
      24"x36" (poster) = 7200x10800 pixels (77.7MP)

      Okay, the poster resolution is mildly ridiculous, but that's less than what you get with a good 8x10 viewcamera.

      Resolution still matters, depending on your use. It's still nice to have the benefits of this sensor for the other reasons mentioned, though.
  • Hmm, Foveon. Doesn't that name ring a bell with me? Isn't this the same company that for years has been claiming that their breakthrough CMOS sensors will kill CCD, but never delivered -- at least didn't deliver anything that fit into a standard camera body, as they wanted to.

    I'll believe it when I see it. Maybe in 2005. Or 2020.

    -Martin

    • Hmm, Foveon. Doesn't that name ring a bell with me? Isn't this the same company that for years has been claiming that their breakthrough CMOS sensors will kill CCD, but never delivered -- at least didn't deliver anything that fit into a standard camera body, as they wanted to.

      About two years, yes. As far as I know the Sigma will be the first camera using their stuff that costs less then $50,000 or so. (Assuming the Sigma doesn't meet the fate of the Pentax 6Mpixel full frame digital...)

      On the other hand Sigma seems pretty sure of when they will release, and Phil did shoot a prototype camera using the chip... so not totally vapor.

  • by Reality Master 101 ( 179095 ) <RealityMaster101.gmail@com> on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:01PM (#2988768) Homepage Journal

    If anyone is interested how photography resolution compares to digital, I found a great link once about this: http://www.users.qwest.net/~rnclark/scandetail.htm [qwest.net]

    It's pretty eye-opening if you think digital photography is getting close to film.

    • by Matey-O ( 518004 ) <michaeljohnmiller@mSPAMsSPAMnSPAM.com> on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:22PM (#2988921) Homepage Journal
      You're neatly thrashing the resolution limitatations and missing it's benefits.

      I'll direct you to Philip 'Ex-Ars Digita' Greenspun's more balanced review here: http://www.photo.net/photo/digital/choosing.html

      (Barring the fact he's talking about older digicams, there's newer stuff on photo.net, and the theory on colorspace is valid.

      Further, having dont both film scanning and digital, there's NO DUST ISSUES in a picture that starts it's life out as a digital picture!
    • It would be even better if Clark had compared digital shots of the same scene, rather than taking a picture of a print with a low-end digital camera, and setting up such things as "4.7MPixel equivalent" images.

      In general, it's an interesting link, but should be taken with some skepticism.
    • It isn't really the resolution that matters right now, it is the color. Current digital cameras suck. Nothing compares to film's color, but film is incredibly difficult to work with. Film's resolution will go untouched for quite a while. I could buy a camera and take a picture with 120mm film, but so what? It serves a completely different purpose than this does. If I wanted to go make a movie, it would cost a rediculous amount of money with film. If I had a camera that would do 1080i or 1080p and had color like the pictures in their demonstration page, I would be set, and it would be suitable for digital projection and even acceptable for film transfer. Resolution and quality are a balance, and sheer resolution doesn't always matter, and in this case, they have it good enough for the time being. Someone has to make high-def video cameras for consumers a reality, it would be a gold mine.
      • One of the nice side-benefits of a digital camera is a) the instant feedback, leading to b) color adjustment on the fly. There's no need to burn a roll of film pushed a stop, and you can do nifty things like take a picture outside on a sunny day, then walk inside and take pictures of cars under Tungsten-halogen lamps with nothing more than a reset of the white balance.
      • It isn't really the resolution that matters right now, it is the color. Current digital cameras suck

        Interesting. The first thing I noticed switching from APS to a mid-range digital was the much better color from digital. When I switched to a film SLR I noticed much worse color until I discovered that you could buy more the Kodak Gold. When I went back to digital (this time a DSLR) the color was still pretty good, better then most films, but not better then say Fuji Relia.

        I think this is going to depend a lot on the camera, your monitor, and whatever you print it on.

    • It's pretty eye-opening if you think digital photography is getting close to film.

      Depends on what you're calling 'film photography.' If you mean professionally prepared, then scanned 35mm slides, then no, digital cameras aren't quite there yet. But, if you're talking the average person who uses an automatic 35mm camera with average 35mm film and then takes it to the nearest 1-hour developer at the cost of $0.75 per picture, then yes, digital cameras have already far surpassed film in both quality and economics. Not to mention the fact that digital cameras, while not capturing quite as large a colorspace, are quite linear. IMO, color rendition is far superior to film with regards to capturing what our eyes see compared to the exaggerated colors that film often portrays. Yes, I know our eyes are logarithmic in color sensitivity, but that doesn't mean you want to compound this with non-linearities in film!
  • People will no longer be able to say "that's a really crappy picture of me, I actually look a lot like Ricky Martin's second cousin" anymore?
  • by abde ( 136025 ) <apoonawa-blog@NospAM.yahoo.com> on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:02PM (#2988777) Homepage

    There's also a decent article on business2.com

    http://www.business2.com/articles/web/print/0,1650 ,37797,FF.html [business2.com]
  • by kindbud ( 90044 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:07PM (#2988821) Homepage
    Please check out superconducting tunnel junction [estec.esa.nl] technology, which is the basis for detectors that can measure the frequency of impinging photons. No need for separate RGB pixels - stacked or not - because each pixel can determine the exact frequency or wavelength of each photon it detects. You can take a spectrum and create an image in one exposure with one detector, without using any diffraction gratings or RGB filters.
    • This is very cool technology. So cool that the photodetector array must be cooled to "well below 1 degree Kelvin" in order to operate. This requires a liquid helium cryostat. So don't expect this to appear in pocket sized cameras any time soon. But it sounds great for astronomy.

      Doug Moen
  • What about CMOS? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zarathustra.fi ( 513464 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:08PM (#2988826)
    Before we all go crazy with Foveon's buzz talk, I think we should see what CMOS cameras have to offer. Although not yet very mainstream, the CMOS sensors are in many ways superior to CCD stuff:

    • Low noise, higher quality
    • Lower light sensitivity due to bigger amount of sensors per pixel (no big ugly photodiodes)
    • Much lower power consumption (around 1% of a CCD sensor)
    • Easy fabrication process, since it's all about transistors


    There are already some (very high-end) digital cameras using CMOS technology, and judging on the sample images I've seen, they are awesome. Take a look at the review of Canon's EOS-D30 [dcresource.com], for example.
    • Re:What about CMOS? (Score:3, Informative)

      by stripes ( 3681 )
      There are already some (very high-end) digital cameras using CMOS technology, and judging on the sample images I've seen, they are awesome. Take a look at the review of Canon's EOS-D30 [dcresource.com], for example.

      Note that the EOS-D30 is not a "very high end" camera. It is very nice, but it's AF sucks, it has a fairly low frame rate and a small buffer (it's 3ish mega pixels on the other hand tend to crank out better images then all the 5 mega pixel $1000 cameras). The EOS-1D, Nikon D1h/D1x, and Kodak 760 are more like high end cameras (costing from $4000 to $8000), and medium format digital backs are even more expensive...

      That's not to disparage the D30 though, it is a great camera, I own one, and enjoy it quite a bit. It is just far from "very high end"...

    • Re:What about CMOS? (Score:3, Informative)

      by MadCow42 ( 243108 )
      Foveon has been making CMOS type chips for quite some time actually... just a special "flavor" of CMOS. They're actually partnered with NEC's semiconductor division, who actually manufactures their chips. Although YOU've never heard of them, the professional photography industry has.

      They actually made cameras too in the past, but have stopped that in favor of focusing solely on the chip technology and leaving the rest to the "pros".

      Their first camera used an "analog" CMOS chip (their words... better tonal reproduction, wider exposure lattitude)... actually three of them on a prism system, just like a 3-CCD video camera. It was/is stunning... achieving the same effect as their new X3 chip, with a little more complication/cost.

      Although the new chip comes along with it's fair share of "buzz talk", they're definately a player, and have a proven track record of amazing quality cameras/chips on their side.

      MadCow.

  • How It Works (Score:2, Informative)

    by hhutkin ( 542731 )
    Business 2.0 has a easy to understand graphic that explains how this new technology works in their article on Foveon's new chip. http://www.business2.com/articles/web/0,1653,37797 ,FF.html [business2.com]
  • by human bean ( 222811 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:15PM (#2988882)
    Each piece of the spectrum being at a different depth, will the modern apochromatic lens (designed to focus all colors in the same plane) be needing an adjustment to work well with this sensor?


    Due to the sensor thickness, is depth of field going to be restricted to smaller stops in order to have the entire thickness of the sensor in focus?

    • The delta in focal length from the top to the bottom of the chip is going to be in the micron range - you have more focal length variation than that in a film camera just from the tolerances of the transport assembly.
    • Due to the sensor thickness, is depth of field going to be restricted to smaller stops in order to have the entire thickness of the sensor in focus?

      Not likely, the different layers of the sensor are still likely to be closer together then the "plane" of the film in all but the vacuum back cameras, and even there pretty much all color film has 3 or more layers (and some B&W film as well!).

    • Probably not, as modern film emulsions are already broken into three (or more) color layers and work just fine with APO lenses. I wouldn't imagine that this new chip's light sensitive portion is much thicker than film...

      -AP
  • I really don't expect there to be anything but hobby film equipment by 2020 at the very outside. Which irritates me because I love film cameras.

    Question though: Why does someone (Nikon) not produce a truly modular upgradable digital SLR camera?

    The D1 is a step in the right direction, but it's too big and way too expensive.

    CCD's should be replacable like film backs on film cameras, so that you don't have to throw the whole camera away, just replace your 3Mp back with an 8, then a 12 etc.

    And interchangable lenses, preferably standard F mount, for Christ's sakes people. You can't do serious photography with crappy builtin zooms.

    My dream camera would be an updated Nikon F3, but with upgradable digital backs, and an option for an LCD screen, but not built in.

    • Question though: Why does someone (Nikon) not produce a truly modular upgradable digital SLR camera?

      I think you can't really replace the sensor without replacing the CPU and it's memory unless you seriously overspec the CPU and buffer size (enough CPU to JPEG 4Mpixel images at 5 fps won't handle 6Mpixel images at 12 fps! Nor will the buffer keep up!). If you replace the sensor plus the imager you are talking about replacing most of the value of the camera. I'm not sure what body the $5000 D1X is based on, but I would be surprised if it was more then $1000 or so. I know the D30 (originally $3000, now down to $1450) is based on a $300 body. In both cases the resale value of a still working old one will normally be worth more then the body.

      Also since you need to carefully line up the imager with the "film" plane you are going to need to get a repair shop to do it, which eats into your savings.

      As if that wasn't enough the newer imagers may allow more features, but you want controls for them, so you might want to change the body anyway. You may also want to throw in a better autofocus system or faster shutter to help lure new customers in...

  • All i can say is.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Brat Food ( 9397 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @03:34PM (#2988990) Homepage
    WOW. I worked on a project trying to do some pretty accurate work with digital cameras, and I can tell you this... Until you spend around $20,000US, you will not even get close to your original. Heres an example.

    The subject is a GretagMacbeth color checker (a bunch of square swatches of color with a black boarder)

    With a pro-sumer camera, say around 3k, the image overall looks OK, but zoom in to any "grayscale" swatch, and you'll see that the image is still very much little RGB dots blurred together, and your grey never has all the same RGB vales as a true grey should.

    As you go up to the 20k price range, a variety of tech is used to get more accurate color. The best I have seen was a back for a large format camera (can't remember the name for the life of me) that, when used in a studio setting only, could capture exact grey values for each pixel. What this means, is that if you took the captured image in to Photoshop, with no image correction, and you used the eyedropper over a grey swatch, your RGB values would read (x , x , x) over the whole swatch without a hiccup (1 pixel sample).

    The camera achieved this by physically moving the CCD array so that it took something like 3 or 4 shots of the image (hence needing to be in a studio set up).

    Now, a single CCD camera setup that can be used in the field, probably generating the same results as above, is going to be HUGE.

    I don't know the target price range to start, but cameras using this tech, if it lives up to its promises will be HUGE in the pro photo field. Capturing a more true color vs. totally interpolated has enormous impact on color correction and manipulation images. In my experience, images for lower end cameras don't always manipulate in ways you expect because of the interpolated nature.
  • This is nice, and should lower the cost of digital cameras while improving the quality. But what ever happened to JPEG2000? I thought we were going to get a lot more pictures on our FlashCards but as far as I know, no one is yet shipping a JPG2K-enabled camera.
    • Better compression? Holy cow, how many pictures do you need to store on that 256 MB card?

      I'd rather see more effort going into putting decent video compression codecs into these cameras, as some of them already capture MPEG movies, although the frame-rate is low. With a higher frame-rate and better compression ratios in a semi-economical camera, "regular" digital cameras could give DV cameras a real run for their money - and would probably merge into one, as the price of DV comes down dramatically.

      steve
  • This is a very important breakthrough, which will not only impact digital-imaging - but also other sciences such as astronomy, biology, etc.

    Parallax and other artifacts cause headaches in all forms of digital processing... causing countless software algorithms to be written that bring things back *inline*. This should do away with much of error correction in imaging.

    Even in areas where we do noise removal and color balancing by additive techniques (e.g., image white through rgb sensors... negate it and use that as a additive mask to remove dirt, flys, etc... from your lens as well as color correct by printing the output and again subtracting that from the original to find unbalance in guns) - this will greatly improve the errors that abound surrounding such subtractive and additive region processing.

    This will also reduce geometric distortion that often affects sensors where the RG and B components are split out and each sent to a different sensor (assuming that their RGB masks in this sensor are layered properly).

    Very good work.

  • Actually there is a company producing a flat screen with lets call them nearly real color pixels. Rather than using filters in the panel they use extremely bright Red, Blue, and Green color LED's in the backlight. The image is then represented in a field seqntial fashion. The beauty is that each individual pixel is representing the full color, so you dont need silly and stupid gimmicks like cleartype.

    Here's the link if anyone is interested:
    LumiLeds [lumileds.com]
  • Carver Mead (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nesneros ( 214571 )
    Carver Mead (the driving force behind foveon) is one of the few true modern visionaries out there. He was not only the pioneer of AVLSI, and therefore responsible for the microchip boom in the 1970's, but also one of the first people to start seriously looking at making electronics more like biology.
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Monday February 11, 2002 @04:46PM (#2989692)
    Back in the late 1970s Carver Mead of CalTech and Lynn Conway of Xerox PARC computerized the design of integrated circuit chips. Before them chips were designed by mechanical drawing and hand-taped photo-masks. This often resulted in spaghetti-looking chip circuits. Mead & Conway reduced chip design to a hierachical set of physics and geometry issues, and wrote a compiler to issue these from higher level descriptions. Chip design was then transformed more-or-less into a computer language. People then added optimization and simulation-testing tools to further automate the process. It got so simple that chip design labs were offered in engineering colleges with same-semester turn-around. Some guy in my class twenty years ago designed a "homogeneous coordinate multiplier" which become the geometry engine of a startup called Silicon Graphics.
  • Theoretically some cameras split light onto 3 CCDs so the RGB component on each CCD is spacially equivalent. Some projectors merge 3 CRT's so the image projection for each component is spacially equivalent. The problem is these mechanisms aren't very heavily marketed for consumers. Foveon is the first to sell to consumers.

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