Changes Ahead For Image Sensors?

For years we have been working with the “traditional” Bayer sensor and its concomitant pluses and minuses, but we might soon see a change in the capture devices we have in our cameras. In this issue, Christopher Dack covers the recent work by Fujifilm, with a new filter pattern, Sigma’s Foveon sensor, and the elimination of the low-pass filter in Nikon’s coming D800E camera. As you’ll see, these moves challenge conventional thinking about the sensor we have become accustomed to in our cameras.

What’s driving this change? One major factor is the incredible advances in image processing. We now have processors going into the fifth and sixth generation that can stitch panoramas in camera, apply a myriad of special effects, apply retouch and enhancement in camera, and, now with the D800E, supposedly compensate for the lack of a low-pass filter.

As you’ll read, the tradeoff in the Bayer pattern is less sharpness and possible problems with a moiré effect, which in turn affects overall sharpness and can create edge effects. This has been counteracted in the past with sharpening applied in the processing stage, which in some lower-end cameras can result in an “over-sharpening” that makes edges look unnatural and hurts the feeling of continuous tone that we associate with a photographic image. More sophisticated processors minimize this effect, but every image that you shoot goes through a sharpening process. (Indeed, in very early Canon pro D-SLRs there was no sharpening applied, the thinking being that pros would apply sharpening anyway. This was dropped when those same pros complained about soft images.)

In short, sensor chips and processing have become completely aligned. What’s fascinating is that any move out of the conventional thinking by one maker often spurs another to consider what they can do to match it, and that’s why I believe that in the near future we’ll be seeing faster processing speeds, more sophisticated algorithms, and the exploration of new filter patterns over the chip. The coming year will be a watershed moment in digital capture, and I am sure the coming photokina show will reveal even more interesting developments. Stay tuned.

Also in this issue we finish up our new product reports garnered from the winter trade show season with a focus on new digicams and one of my favorite topics, the more unusual products that caught our eye. The inventiveness of accessory makers never ceases to amaze me, and I’m sure you’ll share my sentiments after reading Bob Mayer’s report.

In our next issue we will present our Top Products of the Year in many different photo categories, including pro and amateur D-SLRs, lenses, printers, and even some mobile devices and apps. I am sure that there will be fairly unanimous agreement about some of the picks, but I also know that there will be some debate as well.

I also encourage you to check out our web-exclusive test reports on new cameras, lenses, and inkjet papers. Check out the Image Tech tab for the latest, and watch that space for more throughout the year.