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Kodak sells its first CMOS camera sensor--to itself

Kodak will use its own 5-megapixel CMOS sensor in the new $99 Easyshare C513 camera, due to ship this month.

Eastman Kodak just sold its first CMOS image sensor for digital cameras. The customer? Eastman Kodak.

OK, that's being a little flippant. Kodak's camera division is separate from its sensor division, and the latter must compete with other suppliers for the camera business, so the deal is a significant achievement in the company's attempt to transform its sensor business.

Kodak will use its new KAC-05011 sensor in the new Easyshare C513, a $99 model with a 3X optical zoom lens and 2.4-inch LCD screen. It's due to ship this month, Kodak plans to announce Tuesday.

CMOS, which stands for complementary metal oxide semiconductor, is the ordinary process by which computer processors and memory are made. Most digital camera sensors today are built with the more specialized CCD, or charge-coupled device, technology.

Kodak's sensor group builds its own CCD products, but it's begun a parallel effort to design CMOS sensors built by IBM and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. (TSMC). Selling the CMOS sensor--a 5-megapixel model the company promised earlier this year--is a milestone indicating Kodak has attained a certain level of expertise.

All things being equal, a CMOS sensor costs somewhere between 5 and 15 percent less to build than a CCD sensor, but Kodak is interested in the CMOS market more because it also can incorporate some processing tasks, said Michael DeLuca, Kodak's marketing manager for image sensors. For example, it can incorporate circuitry for basic sensor functions such as analog-to-digital conversion or chip timing, he said. And in the longer run, it could house circuitry for reconstructing full-color images from sensors using Kodak's new color filter patterns.

Ultimately, CMOS will likely replace CCD in some product categories, DeLuca predicted.

"For mass-market consumer products, it's probably a question of time," he said.

CMOS sensors are widely used in mobile phone cameras but are less common elsewhere in the digital camera market. The most notable example is Canon, which uses CMOS sensors in its SLR cameras--including some "full-frame" 36-by-24mm ones that are very large by digital camera standards.

The company also has said the sensor will be used in mobile phones.