Sony develops consumer-level 6 million pixel CCD

Sony Corp. will soon put on sale a new image sensor for digital still cameras that promises to bring professional quality images into the reach of consumers.

The company has developed a 6.15 million pixel CCD (charge coupled device) image sensor for use in digital still cameras and will begin commercial production of the device in the next few days, the company said Wednesday. The sensor is a generation above the 5 million pixel products used in high-end consumer digital cameras, Sony said in a statement.

In addition to its high pixel count, the new sensor is also physically larger than previous models. At 1.8 inches across the diagonal, the active sensor panel is approximately the same size as APS (Advanced Photo System) film and so camera makers will be able to use their existing optics systems, said Yumi Matsui, a spokeswoman for Sony. That is expected to lead to shorter development times and lower costs for camera makers.

And camera makers will be looking to lower costs if they decide to use the new sensor. Samples of the device carry a cool ¥600,000 (US$4,500) price tag, which is expected to drop to around ¥100,000 when the device enters commercial production shortly, but that is still before the camera is built around it, Sony said.

Still, cameras incorporating the sensor will offer some of the highest resolution digital photography yet available to consumers. Sony said the maximum resolution possible from the sensor is 3,040 by 2,024 pixels which means it is capable of producing images roughly four times the size of those available from today's 2 million-pixel cameras.

Other companies already offer 6 million pixel digital cameras although Sony's new sensor is one of the first targeted at consumer applications. Eastman Kodak Co. already has several professional cameras with 6 million-pixel CCD sensors and FujiFilm Co. Ltd. also sells a camera although it uses 3.3 million pixel sensor with an optical filter and software to produce an output equivalent to 6 million pixels.

Sony is one of the world's largest manufacturers of CCD image sensors, which are also used in digital video cameras and other similar devices. According to company estimates, it has an approximate 50 percent share of the entire market and 60 percent share of the market for digital still camera devices.

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Martyn Williams

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