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New honeycomb "Super CCD" from FujiFilm

By dpreview staff on Oct 20, 1999 at 04:00 GMT

Here's some very interesting news from FujiFilm: "Fujifilm Announces Digital Imaging Breakthrough: New, Honeycomb-Shaped Super CCD Image Sensor Technology Significantly Improves the Color, Clarity and Sharpness of Digital Pictures"

Fuji Photo Film Co., Ltd., in collaboration with its subsidiary Fujifilm Microdevices Co., Ltd., today announced the development of a next generation charge-coupled device (CCD) technology that dramatically improves the quality of digital images.

Radically different from conventional CCDs with square photodiodes and pixel arrangements, Fujifilm's new Super CCD has octagonal-shaped photodiodes and pixels situated on 45-degree angles. This ``honeycomb'' pattern of the Super CCD increases sensitivity, improves signal-to-noise ratio and offers a much wider dynamic range, attributes that produce digital images with richer, true-to-life colors and sparkling clarity.

Digital cameras featuring this new technology are currently in development and product availability is expected in the coming year. Down the road, Fujifilm's Super CCD technology can lead to many exciting new products, such as ultra-compact digital cameras and a single product that can capture both full-motion video with digital camcorder quality and megapixel still images.

``This paradigm shift in CCD design can only broaden the consumer appeal of digital imaging, as pictures taken with a Super CCD camera are noticeably better than current digital images'' said Manny Almeida, Vice President and General Manager, Digital Imaging Division, Fuji Photo Film U.S.A., Inc. ``As it is, cameras in our current line of digital products have received awards and accolades for their image quality, so the incorporation of the new Super CCD into our current technologies will elevate our products to the next level and enhance the digital imaging experience for consumers.''

The new pixel shape and arrangement of the Super CCD offers a number of advantages over the current, conventional CCD. Space efficiency for the photodiode located in each pixel has been dramatically improved by its octagonal shape, and the honeycomb arrangement allows the pixels in the Super CCD to be packed at maximum density. This efficient use of space allows for larger pixels and higher resolutions. As a result, a Super CCD sporting 1.3 million pixels would reproduce the picture quality of a conventional CCD with 2 million pixels.

Plus, the difference in the area of the photodiode is more pronounced with a larger number of pixels, a factor that results in better image quality. So, for example, the area of the photodiode in a 1/2-inch Super CCD with two million pixels is about 1.6 times as large as the area offered in the conventional CCD with the same number of pixels. A larger photodiode area proportionately improves sensitivity, the signal-to-noise ratio and the dynamic range, key elements in digital image capture.

In addition, the Super CCD mirrors the optics of the human eye to interpret collected information. Similar to the function of the retina, which is used to interpret color and light, the Super CCD transforms optical signals into electrical impulses. These impulses are then passed through a signal processing system to form the image. By arranging the pixels at 45-degree angles in a honeycomb pattern, the new Super CCD sharply increases the image sensor's ability to capture more resolution in both the horizontal and vertical directions. As a result of this feature, Fujifilm's Super CCD makes it possible to match the optical characteristics of human sight.

The Super CCD also streamlines the process by which electrical charges are transmitted through the photodiodes, making high-speed continuous photography possible, thus offering high-quality, full-motion video output.

The UK press release

Fujifilm has confirmed its imaging pedigree by developing a new breed of CCD for digital cameras.

'Super CCD', with a new shape of pixel and a new pixel arrangement that dramatically improve image quality, is announced jointly by Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. and its wholly-owned subsidiary, Fujifilm Microdevices Co. Ltd. Also announced is analogue/digital LSI technology that is expected to maximise the performance of the Super CCD.

Super CCD uses a ground-breaking advance in the development of digital camera technology giving higher resolution, improved colour reproduction, a wider dynamic range and increased sensitivity. The new CCD's high sensitivity widens shooting conditions and will make digital cameras easier to use, offering sharp, clear pictures from smaller and lighter models.

"As we manufacture our own CCDs and have a very strong belief in R&D, Fujifilm is extremely well positioned to lead the world in this vital aspect of digital image capture," said Adrian Clarke, Manager of Fujifilm Digital Imaging. "The new Super CCD will be incorporated into our market leading consumer range to set the benchmark for image quality yet again."

Around 100 patents have been registered by Fujifilm Microdevices and Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd. following massive R&D investment.

The Benefits of Super CCD

The number of pixels in modern CCDs has increased dramatically in recent years to this year's super megapixel models, but it is generally believed the zenith has been reached at around three million pixels. Any further increase in the number of pixels on a conventional CCD is known to adversely affect sensitivity and the dynamic range, as well as the S/N ratio, since the size of each pixel must of necessity be smaller. The Super CCD, with a new shape of photodiode and a new pixel arrangement, offers a number of advantages that overcome the limits imposed by conventional CCDs:

  • The space efficiency for the photodiode located in each pixel has been dramatically improved by the octagonal shape of the photodiode and the honeycomb pixel arrangement. This brings about a host of additional benefits, such as improved sensitivity, improved S/N ratio, and a wider dynamic range, compared with a conventional CCD with the same amount of pixels. The area of the photodiode in a 1/2-inch Super CCD with two million pixels is about 1.6 times as large as the area offered in a conventional CCD with two million pixels (2.3 times as large in the case of a three million pixel CCD). In other words, the difference in the area of the photodiode is more pronounced with a larger number of pixels. The larger area of the photodiode proportionately improves sensitivity, the S/N ratio and the dynamic range. Thus a two million pixel Super CCD can produce an image quality equal or superior to a conventional CCD with three million pixels.
  • The honeycomb pixel arrangement better suits the distribution of spatial frequencies of image data in nature as well as idiosyncrasies inherent in human vision.
  • Because the honeycomb pixel arrangement, combined with new signal processing technologies, achieves higher resolution, the use of digital zoom takes on more importance as a digital camera feature as Super CCD gives acceptable resolution even at 2x digital zoom.
  • It also allows skipped readout of image data without sacrificing image quality, and can therefore offer high quality, full motion video output.
  • Unlike the conventional CCD with progressive scanning capabilities that require a complex structure, the structurally simpler Super CCD can easily be adapted to function as a digital camera equipped only with an electronic shutter.
  • The Super CCD's ability to generate high resolution images with fewer pixels means that it also saves power.

Fujifilm's pedigree in the world of photography is seen in the advantages the Super CCD will bring to digital image capture. Improved resolution and S/N ratio means that smooth gradation reproduction is possible for the first time, with picture quality approaching that of 35mm film.

By improving sensitivity, a higher shutter speed and a longer flash range are now possible, with the likelihood of an ISO 800 high-sensitivity digital camera in the near future. The high shutter speeds until now only possible with SLR digital cameras will offer better action and sports shots with super megapixel picture quality.

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