The resolution of a digital camera is often limited by the image sensor (typically a CCD or CMOS sensor chip) that turns light into discrete signals, replacing the job of film in traditional photography. The sensor is made up of millions of "buckets" that essentially count the number of photons that strike the sensor. This means that the brighter the image at a given point on the sensor, the larger the value that is ready for that pixel. Depending on the physical structure of the sensor, a color filter array may be used which requires a demosaicing/interpolation algorithm. The number of resulting pixels in the image determines its "pixel count". For example, a 640x480 image would have 307,200 pixels, or approximately 307 kilopixels; a 3872x2592 image would have 10,036,224 pixels, or approximately 10 megapixels.

The pixel count alone is commonly presumed to indicate the resolution of a camera, but this simple figure of merit is a misconception. Other factors impact a sensor's resolution, including sensor size, lens quality, and the organization of the pixels (for example, a monochrome camera without a Bayer filter mosaic has a higher resolution than a typical color camera). Many digital compact cameras are criticized for having excessive pixels. Sensors can be so small that their 'buckets' can easily overfill; again, resolution of a sensor can become greater than the camera lens could possibly deliver.

Australian recommended retail price of Kodak digital cameras.

As the technology has improved, costs have decreased dramatically. Counting the "pixels per dollar" as a basic measure of value for a digital camera, there has been a continuous and steady increase in the number of pixels each dollar buys in a new camera, in accord with the principles of Moore's Law. This predictability of camera prices was first presented in 1998 at the Australian PMA DIMA conference by Barry Hendy and since referred to as "Hendy's Law".[6]

Since only a few aspect ratios are commonly used (mainly 4:3 and 3:2), the number of sensor sizes that are useful is limited. Furthermore, sensor manufacturers do not produce every possible sensor size, but take incremental steps in sizes. For example, in 2007 the three largest sensors (in terms of pixel count) used by Canon were the 21.1, 16.6, and 12.8 megapixel CMOS sensors.

[edit] Methods of image capture

At the heart of a digital camera is a CCD image sensor. This digital camera is partly disassembled. The lens assembly (bottom right) is partially removed, but the sensor (top right) still captures a usable image, as seen on the LCD screen (bottom left).

Since the first digital backs were introduced, there have been three main methods of capturing the image, each based on the hardware configuration of the sensor and color filters.

The first method is often called single-shot, in reference to the number of times the camera's sensor is exposed to the light passing through the camera lens. Single-shot capture systems use either one CCD with a Bayer filter mosaic, or three separate image sensors (one each for the primary additive colors red, green, and blue) which are exposed to the same image via a beam splitter.

The second method is referred to as multi-shot because the sensor is exposed to the image in a sequence of three or more openings of the lens aperture. There are several methods of application of the multi-shot technique. The most common originally was to use a single image sensor with three filters (once again red, green and blue) passed in front of the sensor in sequence to obtain the additive color information. Another multiple shot method is called Microscanning. This technique utilizes a single CCD with a Bayer filter but actually moved the physical location of the sensor chip on the focus plane of the lens to "stitch" together a higher resolution image than the CCD would allow otherwise. A third version combined the two methods without a Bayer filter on the chip.

The third method is called scanning because the sensor moves across the focal plane much like the sensor of a desktop scanner. Their linear or tri-linear sensors utilize only a single line of photosensors, or three lines for the three colors. In some cases, scanning is accomplished by moving the sensor e.g. when using Color co-site sampling or rotate the whole camera; a digital rotating line camera offers images of very high total resolution.

The choice of method for a given capture is determined largely by the subject matter. It is usually inappropriate to attempt to capture a subject that moves with anything but a single-shot system. However, the higher color fidelity and larger file sizes and resolutions available with multi-shot and scanning backs make them attractive for commercial photographers working with stationary subjects and large-format photographs.

Dramatic improvements in single-shot cameras and raw image file processing at the beginning of the 21st century made single shot, CCD-based cameras almost completely dominant, even in high-end commercial photography. CMOS-based single shot cameras remained somewhat common.

Copyright © 2006-17 Claud "Sonny" Rouch, all rights reserved. Website by OACYS Technology. Cover photo by Roberts Engineering.