Camera gets digital facelift

Camera gets digital faceliftFancy owning a digital camera? Yes, but isn’t the quality fairly poor on anything costing less than a grand? Not necessarily, writes Richard Ball.
US firm Irvine Sensors has designed a device that fits into a standard SLR camera body, transforming it into a digital stills camera.
Bruce Totty is vice-president of marketing for the Imagek division at Irvine. “We’ll have products this summer for under $1,000,” he promised.
Using an existing camera preserves investment, and makes use of existing lenses which are often of better quality and offer greater variety than those of digital cameras.
The Imagek electronic film system (EFS) uses a CMOS sensor, unlike most other digital cameras which use a charge coupled device (CCD). The CMOS image sensor has advanced greatly in recent years and is set to topple CCD from its dominant position.
So why choose a CMOS sensor? “It’s all down to the cost. It’s much more affordable than CCD,” said Totty.
The sensor, from as yet an un-named source, has a resolution of 1.3 million pixels and has 24-bits of colour per pixel. This is much higher resolution than is available from consumer digital stills cameras available today.
“There’s not many people really happy with 640 by 480 resolution,” said Totty. For cameras of a similar price image quality is around double.
Imagek is already planning for higher resolution sensors. At 1.3 million pixels, the quality is good for prints up to 8 by 10in. For poster sized prints, the company is looking at 2.1 million and eventually five or six million pixels.
Irvine has much experience in image processing and miniaturising memory by vertically stacking chips. This technology has gone into the EFS.
All of the batteries, image processing electronics and flash memory for a maximum of 30 shots are contained in the cartridge end of the device, fitting in the camera’s standard 35mm film slot.
Imagek says the device can be erased and reused 100,000 times. This is based on the write/erase cycles of the flash memory.
When the memory is full, the EFS connects to a PC for downloading like any other digital camera. Once in the PC, images can be stored, transmitted or manipulated.
In the EFS, images are compressed using a lossless compression system. Once on the PC any standard compression scheme can be used, such as JPEG, TIFF or GIF.

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