CMOS image sensor facts may drop

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Here are some things you might like to know about CMOS image sensors:

• CMOS image sensors can incorporate other circuits on the same chip, eliminating the many separate chips required for a CCD. This also allows additional on-chip features to be added at little extra cost. These features include anti-jitter (image stabilization) and image compression. Not only does this make the camera smaller, lighter, and cheaper; it also requires less power so batteries last longer. It is technically feasible but not economic to use the CCD manufacturing process to integrate other camera functions, such as the clock drivers, timing logic, and signal processing on the same chip as the photosites. These are normally put on separate chips so CCD cameras contain several chips, often as many as 8, and not fewer than 3.

• CMOS image sensors can switch modes on the fly between still photography and video. However, video generates huge files so initially these cameras will have to be tethered to the mothership (the PC) when used in this mode for all but a few seconds of video. However, this mode works well for video conferencing although the cameras can't capture the 20 frames a second needed for full-motion video.

• While CMOS sensors excel in the capture of outdoor pictures on sunny days, they suffer in low light conditions. Their sensitivity to light is decreased because part of each photosite is covered with circuitry that filters out noise and performs other functions. The percentage of a pixel devoted to collecting light is called the pixel's fill factor. CCDs have a 100% fill factor but CMOS cameras have much less. The lower the fill factor, the less sensitive the sensor is and the longer exposure times must be. Too low a fill factor makes indoor photography without a flash virtually impossible. To compensate for lower fill-factors, micro-lenses can be added to each pixel to gather light from the insensitive portions of the pixel and "focus" it down to the photosite. In addition, the circuitry can be reduced so it doesn't cover as large an area.

Fill factor refers to the percentage of a photosite that is sensitive to light. If circuits cover 25% of each photosite, the sensor is said to have a fill factor of 75%. The higher the fill factor, the more sensitive the sensor. Courtesy of Photobit.

CMOS sensors have a higher noise level than CCDs so the processing time between pictures is higher as these sensors use digital signal processing (DSP) to reduce or eliminate the noise. The DSP is one early camera (the Svmini), executes 600,000,000 instructions per picture.

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