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A CCD image sensor on a flexible circuit board
Image sensor on the motherboard of a Nikon Coolpix L2 6MP

An image sensor is a device that converts an optical image to an electric signal. It is used mostly in digital cameras and other imaging devices. Early sensors were video camera tubes but a modern one is typically a charge-coupled device (CCD) or a complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) active-pixel sensor.



Today, most digital still cameras use either a CCD image sensor or a CMOS sensor. Both types of sensor accomplish the same task of capturing light and converting it into electrical signals.

A CCD is an analog device. When light strikes the chip it is held as a small electrical charge in each photo sensor. The charges are converted to voltage one pixel at a time as they are read from the chip. Additional circuitry in the camera converts the voltage into digital information.

A CMOS chip is a type of active pixel sensor made using the CMOS semiconductor process. Extra circuitry next to each photo sensor converts the light energy to a voltage. Additional circuitry on the chip may be included to convert the voltage to digital data.

Neither technology has a clear advantage in image quality. CMOS can potentially be implemented with fewer components, use less power and/or provide faster readout than CCDs. CCD is a more mature technology and is in most respects the equal of CMOS.[1][2]


An infrared-blocking filter removed from a Canon EOS 350D dSLR

There are many parameters that can be used to evaluate the performance of an image sensor, including its dynamic range, its signal-to-noise ratio, its low-light sensitivity, etc. For sensors of comparable types, the signal-to-noise ratio and dynamic range improve as the size increases.

Color sensors

There are several main types of color image sensors, differing by the means of the color separation mechanism:

  • Bayer sensor, low-cost and most common, using a color filter array that passes red, green, or blue light to selected pixel sensors, forming interlaced grids sensitive to red, green, and blue – the missing color samples are interpolated using poda venaa demosaicing algorithm. In order to avoid interpolated color information techniques like Color co-site sampling use a piezo mechanism to shift the color sensor in pixel steps. The Bayer sensors also include backside illuminated sensors, where the light enters the sensitive silicon from the opposite side of where the transistors and metal wires are, such that the metal connections on the devices side are not an obstacle for the light, and the efficiency is higher.[3][4]
  • Foveon X3 sensor, using an array of layered pixel sensors, separating light via the inherent wavelength-dependent absorption property of silicon, such that every location senses all three color channels.
  • 3CCD, using three discrete image sensors, with the color separation done by a dichroic prism. Considered the best quality, and generally more expensive than single-CCD sensors.

Specialty sensors

Special sensors are used for various applications such as thermal imaging, creation of multi-spectral images, gamma cameras, sensor arrays for x-rays, and other highly sensitive arrays for astronomy.

See also


External links



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