New Kodak Sensors Improve Low-Light Photos

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Eastman Kodak has announced a new development in digital image sensor technology which improves sensitivity and may reduce or even eliminate the need for flashes.

Kodak’s new sensor technology adds “clear” panchromatic pixels to the traditional red, green, and blue color capture elements in a traditional image sensor array. Since the clear pixels are sensitive to light at all wavelengths, they collect more of the light which makes it through to the sensor, enabling a camera to take clear images in low-light conditions without increasing exposure time. Overall, the technology offers a 2× to 4× increase in sensitivity.

“This represents a new generation of image sensor technology and addresses one of the great challenges facing our industry—how to capture crisp, clear digital images in a poorly lit environment,” said Chris McNiffe, Kodak Image Sensor Solutions group’s General Manager, in a release. “This is a truly innovative approach to improving digital photography in all forms, and it highlights Kodak’s unique ability to differentiate its products by delivering advanced digital technologies that really make a difference to the consumer.”

Most digital camera sensors are built on what’s called the Bayer design, a two-by-two pattern developed by Kodak researcher Bryce Bayer in 1976. It contains four sensors—one red, one blue, and two green—and uses the green pixels to capture most of the luminance information for an image. Kodak’s new technology uses a four-by-four grid in which the arrangement of the photoreceptors can be changed, if desired, and which is interspersed with the “clear” panchromatic pixels to create a more sensitive luminance channels that is sensitive to all visible wavelengths. The technology can be applied to both CCD and CMOS image sensors.

Kodak expects to being sampling the new sensor technology in the first quarter of 2008, and says it is working with other leading companies to implement the technology across a wide range of industrial, special-purpose, professional, and consumer products.

The new sensor technology represents a public step in Kodak’s current strategy to embrace digital technology and largely leave behind its traditional film-based imaging business. The company says it will be able to fuel the transition by leveraging its existing patent portfolio, which it has traditionally guarded very closely. Its new image sensor—combined with a recent venture into the ink-jet printer market—may represent the first visible moves in a new long-term strategy for the company.

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