Photokina 2008: Fujifilm says its new Super CCD EXR technology will allow its next generation of premium compacts to produce high-ISO images "superior to the F31fd," while also offering improved dynamic range in other shooting conditions. The technology is already fully developed and will be integrated into the first camera in time for a spring 2009 launch. spoke to three senior product research and development managers at Photokina, to find out the company's ambitions for its new technology.

Super CCD EXR will initially appear in a 12 megapixel 1/1.6" sensor premium compact camera, due for launch in Spring 2009, they said. "The development of the technology is finished," said Toru Nishimura, divisional manager, electronic imaging products development center: "The integration of the technology into a camera is still being completed."

Super CCD EXR is a combination of a re-arranged color filter array and data readout design that allows the sensor to offer high dynamic range or improved high-ISO performance for relevant shooting conditions. Its design allows it to operate in three modes - high resolution, high dynamic range or high ISO, low noise - depending on the shooting conditions.

The new color filter array is designed so that there are always adjacent pixels recording the same color. This allows pixel binning (the combination of information from adjacent pixels to make larger effective pixels and help reduce noise), of pixels recording the same color. The result should be 6 megapixel images with none of the false color that can appear in existing pixel-binning modes which combine information from different colored pixels. "We think the signal-to-noise ratio of the sensor means pixel quality in dark regions is superior to the F31fd," Nishimura.

A dual readout system on the chip allows alternate pixels to be read-out part-way through the exposure. This means that half of the photodiodes are only exposed for a short period of time. These reduced-exposure pixels are less likely to become saturated and hence will retain highlight detail. This allows the sensor to record in up to an 800% dynamic range expansion mode even at its base sensitivity setting.

The premium-grade compact that will first use the technology will let users choose which mode the sensor operates in, though there will also be an automated mode that predicts which mode is needed, when the shutter is half-pressed. Future cameras may offer only the automated mode: "It will depend on the target user. Some users like their camera to be automatic," said Hiroshi Kawahara, operations manager, product planning and technical service division.

Fujifilm will not be applying the technology to larger chips, though. "From a business point of view, compacts are most important to us," said Nishimura: "and the technology is designed to address the challenges faced by small sensors. It could, technically be scaled up to APS-C size but the large pixels of those chips already have good performance." It's also unlikely that the technology will appear in other manufacturers' products, he said: "For someone else to use this technology they'd have to use our sensor, our digital signal processor and our software, because it's so different to conventional Bayer sensors. We can't imagine others wanting to do that."