Archive for September 7th, 2002

Foveon, Carver Mead, Digital Photography and the perfect picture

September 7, 2002

While the best technology does not always win, I would not bet against Carver Mead, inventor of the HEMT chip for microwave communications and one of the pioneers of VLSI technology, who has invented/designed a new way of capturing images by using three level photodetectors which are embedded in Silicon. What this does is to get all three color Red, Green and Blue at each pixel in contrast with ordinary CCD devices as shown in this figure  from Foveon’s

website. Foveon is the company founded by Mead to commercialize this technology. Basically in a conventional CCD device, each pixel in the array captures one color and then cameras use algorithms and software to mix them and create each pixel in the image. Mead’s system, also allows for variable pixels so tha the ISO (Sensitivity) of the picture can be increased to very high levels. In Foveon’ website you can see the difference between the two technologies, not only in color reproduction and sharpness but also in the absence of things like Moire patterns and the like. What is exciting is that soon a Camera will be available (if you can afford it) from Sigma, the Sigma SD-9 will cost around US$ 2,500. While cracking this market with this new technology will not be a piece of cake, I think that you should not bet against Mead. Interestingly, Foveon is a private company but National Semiconductor owns 49% of Foveon according to Forbes (Foveon does not say how much on its web page). National Semiconductor manufactures the chips, thus there is even a way to bet on the technology. Hopefully other camera companies will adopt the technology and prices may come down below $1,000. As an orchid enthusiast (orchididiot?) I would love to own one. Imagine a perfect picture!!!!!