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Capturing An Image

October 2000
The latest advances in digital photography and color scanning make image capture not only a snap, but exceptionally high quality. And the prices may be coming down, too.


BY ALLISON ECKEL


Take no specifications for granted. "The old models for discussing image quality are starting to dissolve with respect to evaluating the potential quality of an image," states Eric Zarakov, vice president of marketing for Foveon, a Santa Clara, CA-based manufacturer of image sensors and capture systems. While commenting on Foveon's recent digital chip breakthrough, Zarakov has voiced a trend in the digital image capture industry. Everything you thought you knew about the numbers used to explain digital cameras and scanners is now up for re-evaluation.

Take, for example, the complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS). Relatively cheap to manufacture, the CMOS chip was introduced a few years ago as an inexpensive alternative to the superior, yet expensive, charged couple device (CCD) sensor used in digital cameras and flatbed scanners. For the most basic of models, it succeeded; but inherent shortcomings in image quality kept CMOS technology from truly stealing CCD's thunder. "The challenge with CMOS sensors has always been image quality," contends Len Mizutowicz, national technical sales manager for Fuji Photo Film USA.

However, with the price of production so right, developers continued to work with CMOS technology. And although the quality improved somewhat, the stigma remained.

One week before Photokina—the world's fair of image capture, held in Cologne, Germany, last month—Foveon made an announcement that challenges the CMOS stigma. The company has produced a 16.8 mega-pixel CMOS sensor and, Zarakov reports, has shown that it can yield an image eight-feet high, with quality to rival film.

Foveon's 16.8 CMOS sensor is manufactured with 0.18 micron technology, which Zarakov explains is a landmark in miniaturization. "We can put more smarts into a pixel," he says. "The space is used more efficiently."

Foveon is not alone at the 16.8 million pixel milestone. Kodak Professional, a division of Eastman Kodak, is standing with the privately held chip maker, but on the other side of the fence. Kodak has manufactured a 16 mega-pixel CCD sensor, which it has placed in the new, medium-format DCS Pro Back. Featuring untethered operation, an LCD with histogram and new DCS Capture Studio software v.1.5, the DCS Pro Back, scheduled to ship in early 2001, is designed for commercial location and tabletop photography, as well as portraiture applications, and will generate a hefty 48MB file.
 

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