Mitsubishi develops 4-megapixel camera for cell phones

Mitsubishi Electric will begin sample production next month of a digital camera module for cell phones that has a resolution of 4 megapixels, it said Tuesday.

The module opens the way for cell phones with digital cameras capable of higher resolutions than the 3-megapixel class models that are currently on sale in some markets.

The module contains a CCD (charge-coupled device) sensor and is capable of producing images of a maximum resolution of 2,304 pixels by 1,728 pixels. It can also generate 30 frame-per-second video at VGA resolution (640 pixels by 480 pixels) and includes an auto-focus function, said Mitsubishi Electric in a statement.

Samples of the module will be available to customers from early November and Mitsubishi Electric expects to be able to start mass production of 700,000 modules per month in March 2005, it said. Should that schedule hold, commercial handsets featuring the module are likely to be available from about May or June next year at the earliest.

The launch of cell phones with camera functions has been driving handset sales for some time. However, models with higher resolution cameras, such as the handful of 3-megapixel class models, have started to highlight the relatively poor optics offered by cell phone cameras. The quality difference between a digital camera image and a cell phone camera image is readily apparent when they are compared side-by-side, and so some companies have been working on improving optics rather than pixel count.

In May this year Sharp unveiled a cell phone that features a 2X optical zoom lens in front of a 2-megapixel image sensor. Because an optical zoom requires extra space for the lens to move, such a feature is not common in cell phones. The Sharp handset offers uses a choice between 2X zoom and no zoom at the press of a button. Intermediate zoom levels are not available.

Then in July this year, Samsung Electronics announced a product that is more a digital camera with cell phone function than the other way around. The SPH-S2300 features a 3X optical Pentax zoom lens of the same type found on conventional digital still cameras, with a 3.2-megapixel sensor. The phone also has a regular camera flash rather than an LED-type flash like that usually found on camera cell phones.

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Martyn Williams

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