A $2500 camera using the Foveon X3 image sensor has been launched. But one of the technology's main backers believes it could soon be used in disposable models.
The first Foveon camera, Sigma's SD9 digital SLR, offers resolutions up to 2263x1512pi, but Brian Halla, chairman and CEO of National Semiconductor, says "that's just the start".
"The chip is so cheap it could be used in a disposable camera," he claimed.
Halla says the camera cost could be lowered because the CMOS-based device can already be produced at costs between $20 and $100 depending on the output resolution.
The CMOS-based device also does away with the need for colour filters and contains up to 32 million analogue transistors.
Foveon is a joint venture between National and Synaptics, and Halla says the company will be announcing further customers soon. Production of the sensors is currently ramping up at National's South Portland fab.
"We've been working on the sensor for five years," said Halla, "and we have all the patents on the technology.
"The sensor is three times as powerful as a charge-coupled device (CCD) sensor, as each pixel captures red, green and blue wavelengths. As a result, a 3.1Mpixel sensor delivers 10Mpixel of colour, which triples the resolution."
Halla says the Foveon sensor saves images in a proprietary lossless format and produces pictures free from digital artefacts. But he admits that higher resolution images are slow to open on older computers.
"High-definition images using the Foveon image format take around 12s to open using a Pentium 4," said Halla. "It's the killer application for upgrading your PC."
The SD9 has three resolution modes: 'hi' delivers 2263x1512pixel, 'med' 1134x756pixel and 'low' 756x504pixel. The camera can also capture video in both the Pal and NTSC formats.