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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 09:34 GMT
Digital camera chip challenges film
Photograph taken with a camera with the X3 chip
X3 chip promises enhanced colours
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By BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida
line
Photographic film could become an endangered species following a new development in digital image technology.

A new chip developed by the Silicon Valley start-up Foveon is said to take digital images with colours as good as conventional 35mm film.

"I don't believe film is going to survive," said photography journalist, Ingrid Krampe, who attended the official launch of the chip in Orlando, Florida, US, earlier this week.

The chip also holds out the promise of cheaper digital cameras, as the technology behind it is less complex than other chips.

Experts say the challenge for Foveon will be to persuade the giants of digital photography like Sony and Kodak to adopt the new technology.

Three colours per pixel

Foveon's X3 microchip works by capturing three times the colour resolution of comparable image sensors found in today's digital cameras.

Photography journalist Ingrid Krampe tested the camera
Krampe: Impressed by images
The X3 has three photosensitive layers embedded in silicon that individually absorb photons in the red, green and blue colour ranges.

According to Foveon, this results in sharper photographs, with enhanced colours.

"It's a totally different technology," explained Ms Krampe, who road-tested the chip when it was revealed to the media at the weekend. She was blown away by the quality of the images.

"They were absolutely amazing," she told the BBC programme Go Digital. "The colours were dead on."

Cheaper technology

So far only Japanese camera firm Sigma Corporation has signed up to use the chip. Its SD9 SLR digital camera costs $3,000, but experts say cheaper models will eventually appear.

One of the largest makers of both consumer and professional digital cameras, Kodak, has already approached Foveon about the possibility of using the X3 chip in some of its products.

Chip promises better colours
Images are said to be sharper
"The price is going to come down because the technology they are using is CMOS, which is much less expensive than CCD," explained Ms Krampe.

CCDs (Charged Coupled Device) dominate the digital-imaging industry. They are more expensive than CMOS (Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor) devices.

CCDs are made up of several chips that combine the sensing and computing tasks. By contrast, a single CMOS chip can handle all these functions.

There are more than a billion film cameras in the world - so conventional photography is unlikely to disappear soon. But digital photography is growing in popularity.

Around eight million digital cameras were sold in the US last year, with a further 10 million across the world.

See also:

17 Jan 02 | Business
Digital camera craze hurts Boots
05 Nov 01 | Business
Camera firms see bleak Christmas
02 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Digital photos 'endanger the past'
30 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Digital cameras capture imagination
02 Mar 00 | Sci/Tech
Digital cameras take on film
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