Cameras: Low light level cameras appear at Photonics West

April 3, 2014
If there was one trend that was apparent at this year's Photonics West show, held in San Francisco in February, it was that of low-light-level imaging.

If there was one trend that was apparent at this year's Photonics West show, held in San Francisco in February, it was that of low-light-level imaging. While numerous methods exist to increase the dynamic range of CCD and CMOS based cameras, the emergence of a new technology, dubbed scientific CMOS (sCMOS) over three years ago first appeared in a range of cameras primarily for the scientific market (see "sCMOS cameras target scientific applications,"Vision Systems Design, March 2014).

At the show, Fairchild Imaging (Milpitas, CA, USA; announced the next generation of sCMOS technology dubbed sCMOS 2 that, according to the company allows devices to be built with higher quantum efficiency and lower noise. As importantly, a number of companies announced that they would be using these sCMOS imagers in cameras targeted at scientific as well as low-light level applications such as machine vision and security applications.

At present, Fairchild Imaging has a number of image sensors developed using the sCMOS technology. These include the CIS 2521, a 2560 x 2160, 4/3in device, the CIS 1910, a 1920 x 1080, 1in part and the 1920 x 1080 HWK 1910, a 2/3in imager built using the company's sCMOS 1.0 technology. At the show, the company announced the first in a series of sCMOS 2.0 devices the first of which is the CIS 2020, a 2048 x 2048, 4/3in device.

While the CIS 2521 is used in Fairchild's own SciMOS 2051 F2 scientific CMOS camera, other companies exhibiting at Photonics West showed cameras based on the company's currently available imagers. Imagize (Berkeley, CA, USA; for example, demonstrated three cameras based on the CIS 1910, the CIS 251 and the HWK 1910. Incorporating the 1920 x 180 CIS 1910, the company's FP-7520 camera can be operated in both rolling shutter mode (at speeds of up to 60fps) or in rolling shutter mode (at speeds of up to 30 fps in global shutter mode). Developed in a modular four PCB stack that contain image sensor, processor, system controller and I/O boards, the camera is offered with both Camera Link and SDI interfaces.

Like the FP-7520, the company's FP-6150 is built around the same modular design but incorporates the 2560 x 2160 CIS 2521 imager and features both rolling shutter (100fps) and global shutter (50 fps) interfaces and a Medium Camera Link interface. Imagize also demonstrated its latest camera addition, the FP-7820, a camera that uses Fairchild's 1920 x 1080 HWK 1910 in rolling shutter mode.

Like Imagize, Critical Link (Syracuse, NY, USA; also demonstrated a series of low-light level cameras based on a modular board design.. Dubbed the MityCAM-B1910F and the MitCAM-B2521F, the cameras feature Fairchild's 1920 x 1080 CIS 1910 and CIS-2521 imagers, respectively. Offered with Camera Link, GigE and USB 2.0 interfaces, both cameras can be used in both rolling and global shutter modes and are offered as both a sensor evaluation kit and a smart camera.

Although Imagize and Critical Link were just two of the latest companies to incorporate sCMOS imagers into their camera products, other camera companies that were not exhibiting at the show announced their intention to use the devices. According to one such company, many such camera offerings that specifically target the machine vision market will be announced at November's Vision show in Stuttgart.

While much of the low-light level limelight certainly fell on Fairchild Imaging and camera companies that incorporate the company's products was evident at Photonics West, other companies also exhibited low-light cameras. These included Photonfocus (Lachen, Switzerland; that demonstrated its MV1-R1280, a 30 fps camera that incorporates a progressive scan 2/3in rolling shutter CMOS imager. Exhibiting a 70% QE at 600nm, the MV1-R1280 is offered with both a Camera Link and GigE Vision interface. According to Photonfocus the company does not employ a Fairchild image sensor, but one supplied from a European vendor.

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Andy Wilson | Founding Editor

Founding editor of Vision Systems Design. Industry authority and author of thousands of technical articles on image processing, machine vision, and computer science.

B.Sc., Warwick University

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