Pre-PMA 2002: 00:01 EST: Almost three months ago we had an exclusive opportunity to test Foveon's new X3 sensor technology for ourselves. Foveon provided dpreview with an early prototype sensor in a standard Foveon studio body (the same used for their Foveon II Portrait Camera). The prototype setup was a tethered only solution and despite the prototype nature of the this sensor the results were very impressive.

Three Foveon X3 articles: Press release, Technical Overview, Exclusive Hands-On

Foveon X3 prototype sensor 'test-bed'

As mentioned above the test-bed setup used the standard Foveon studio casing (Canon EF mount) which operated tethered to a notebook via Firewire. The sensor itself was an early square aspect ratio 4.19 megapixel (2048 x 2048 x 3) prototype X3. The prototype try-out was almost three months ago and represented one of the first level of prototype production.

I used the camera connected to my Elinchrom Style 300S studio flash units, software started on the notebook and we were ready to shoot.

Foveon X3 prototype sample crops

Foveon have (understandably) asked that I do not post full size samples from this very early sensor but instead I can provide a few crops from some of my test shots to give you an impression of how much more resolution and colour detail the X3 sensor is capable of producing.

Below you'll find a thumbnail (240 x 240) of the test image along with one 100% crop. Please remember that these images are from an early pre-production sensor.

Thumbnail 100% crop

UPDATED 17th Feb - Crops above are from 2048 x 2048 TIFF images, re-saved as HIGH quality JPEG to maintain as much colour information as possible. Colour space used: sRGB.

Resolution chart notes: Shot at the 1:1 aspect ratio using a Canon 50mm F1.4 lens (VERY SHARP). This resolution chart is marked vertical lines per picture height. Remember, this is not the chip which will be used in the upcoming Sigma D-SLR, the chip I tested has more vertical resolution and will therefore perform better on this resolution chart.

As you can see the sensor's ability to capture detailed resolution, both in the grayscale and colour resolution goes way beyond what we could expect from even the best Bayer pattern sensors. Images from the new Foveon X3 sensor are more reminicent of super high quality slide scans, but go even beyond that with no trace of grain. Very impressive. This could be the first sensor to truly surpass film.

Better than that the new Sigma D-SLR (Sigma lens mount) which will be the first camera to use the X3 sensor is set to retail for around US$3,000. So not only do we have revolutionary new technology but it arrives at an affordable price. It can only be a matter of time before we see other manufacturers using Foveon's technology to produce consumer level cameras. My only concern would be (a) can Foveon keep up and (b) could Sharp, Sony or Matsushita come along and simply do it themselves?