Micron image sensor hits 8 megapixels

Micron Technology, trying to take on widely used CCD image sensors, pushes its CMOS technology to 8 megapixels.

LAS VEGAS--Micron Technology, a leading proponent of camera image sensors built using the same CMOS manufacturing technology used to make most computer processors, has begun selling a new 8-megapixel model.

The Boise, Idaho-based company announced the chip as part of the Photo Marketing Association trade show here. In addition, it announced two other CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) high-definition video sensors, one a 5-megapixel sensor for hybrid video and still cameras and the other a smaller chip geared for small video cameras; those two chips are scheduled to enter mass production in the third quarter.

Most consumer cameras today use sensors built with CCD (charge-coupled device) technology, but CMOS sensors are used in mobile phone cameras and video cameras. Micron is trying to expand further into the still-camera market as well.

Suresh Venkatraman, director of digital camera work at Micron, argued that CMOS can be integrated with some camera electronics more easily, supports high-definition video without inordinate power consumption, and can respond quickly for good burst-mode camera performance.

"I think you'll see the industry move to CMOS to build these new features in," Venkatraman said.

InfoTrends analyst Ed Lee said that initial worries about CMOS sensors have been squelched.

"At one point, there was a lot of concern that CMOS wouldn't be able to match (CCD) image quality. But Canon with its digital SLRs (single-lens reflex cameras) has proven CMOS can match the output," he said. "I think a lot of it now comes down to the costs of the sensors. The (profit) margins for digital cameras are getting squeezed so much, camera manufacturers are trying to get every little penny."

Micron's 8-megapixel image sensor costs $15 in quantities of 100,000, Venkatraman said.

"When cameras were selling for $400 or $500, then $15 was not a big thing," Lee said, but now many cameras sell at retail for only $150.

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