look what the digital world is saying

greenspun.com : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Film & Processing : One Thread

::::::::: LOOK WHAT THEY ARE SAYING :::::::::


Digital Sensor Is Said to Match Quality of Film by John Markoff for the New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 10 If Carver Mead is right, photographic film is an endangered species.

Dr. Mead, who is 67, was a pioneer of the modern computer chip industry in the 1970's. But he has never stopped inventing. And on Monday his Silicon Valley start-up, Foveon, plans to begin shipping a new type of digital image sensor that outside experts agree is the first to match or surpass the photographic capabilities of 35-millimeter film.

The Associated Press Carver Mead, founder of Foveon. The company's sensor chip is being used in a single-lens reflex camera that Sigma, a Japanese camera and lens maker, plans to begin selling for about $3,000 later this month. A second generation of Foveon's sensors is scheduled for shipping this fall and, if other camera makers embrace it, could become available early next year in more popular brands of digital cameras selling for less than $1,000.

The first new sensor the company is now shipping is made by National Semiconductor (news/quote) and will have approximately 3.53 million pixels. Such a resolution would put the device in the middle of the market for digital image sensor chips used in digital still and video cameras. Because of the new technology's color-capturing technique, however, its designers say it is actually comparable to existing sensors with 7 million pixels that are currently available only in cameras costing $6,000 or more.

"It will completely transform the industry," George Gilder, an economist and an information industry analyst, said of Foveon's sensor.

Executives at Eastman Kodak (news/quote), one of the largest makers of both consumer and professional digital cameras, say they have talked with Foveon about possibly using the company's sensors in at least one part of the Kodak product line.

"We've been very aware of what they're doing and monitoring their progress," said Madhav Mehra, manager of Kodak's professional digital-capture group. "Our contention is that if this technology gets proven out, it's very significant."

If Foveon is to realize its goal of becoming a dominant player in the market for digital image sensors, the company will need to attract manufacturers like Kodak. The sensor market is currently dominated by consumer electronics giants like Sony (news/quote) and the big European chip maker ST Microelectronics, which have invested billions of dollars in their own technologies.

"I have no doubts this is a great technology," said Chris Chute, a senior analyst at the International Data Corporation, a research house. "The rub is that the market has heavily entrenched competitors. The No. 1 digital camera manufacturer in the world is Sony. They're the 5,000- pound gorilla compared with little Foveon."

Still, photography experts say Foveon's approach to sensors could be the most significant breakthrough in digital photography since the original black-and-white sensor was invented at Bell Laboratories in 1969. Foveon's sensor significantly simplifies the process of capturing a digital image and avoids most of the color aberrations that have plagued digital photography.

The current crop of digital sensors capture light using a mosaic of red, green and blue filters that limit color information to one color per picture element, or pixel, on the sensor surface. The technique requires the chip to perform as many as 100 calculations per pixel to approximate the color, which can cause inaccuracies. The limitations also sacrifice picture resolution and limit the sensor's ability to operate in low light.

"Most digital cameras don't do a good job of giving you the colors you actually see," Dr. Mead said.

Foveon's sensor, rather than break images into separate colors and distribute them among separate pixels, captures color by measuring how deeply photons of light penetrate the surface of the imaging material. Not only is there higher resolution from a given number of pixels, but there is less loss of light and less need for the correcting calculations that can distort the image.

"There is no longer any need to use film," Dr. Mead said.

With more than a billion film cameras in the world, conventional photography is unlikely to disappear soon, in the view of Don Franz, publisher of the trade publication Photo Imaging News. But Mr. Franz notes that the digital camera market is growing fast, with about 8 million digital cameras sold in the United States last year and an additional 10 million internationally, for a global market valued at about $8.6 billion

Alexis Gerard, publisher of The Future Image Report, a newsletter that tracks the digital photography market, said the industry was at "a crossover point" in terms of digital technology and Foveon's technology could help speed the transition. "Having a sensor that measures all three colors at every element at full exposure has been the engineering holy grail," Ms. Gerard said.

Industry experts say that one of the most intriguing aspects of the Foveon sensors is that they might allow for a hybrid digital camera that performs equally well for both video and still photography. Currently, the markets for still and video digital cameras are separate because most sensors cannot easily adjust from high resolution for still pictures to lower resolution for moving images.

Foveon's new sensor technology, which the company calls X3, is a departure from the two types of image sensors that have proliferated in a wide range of consumer products: CMOS, which is pronounced SEE- moss and stands for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, and a more complex variety called C.C.D., for charged coupled device.

Two years ago, Foveon was concentrating on expensive, professional cameras based on CMOS sensors but abandoned them after coming up with the X3 approach.

Foveon is being deliberately vague about its manufacturing methods but says its design greatly reduces the cost of making sensors and could create an opening for American chip makers in the digital-sensing field. National Semiconductor, one of Silicon Valley's old. ----------------------------------------------------------------------

I couldn't understand on what are they going to print this image as good as what you get on a fiber based BW paper.

Can somebody tell me?

you can look at this article at


-- middle (middlegray@yahoo.com), February 26, 2002


One place to print it would be on B&W fiber based paper.

-- Ed Farmer (photography2k@hotmail.com), February 26, 2002.

"There is no longer any need to use film," Dr. Mead said.

Can't wait to see the 8x10 contact prints on Azo & the platinums from this chip.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), February 26, 2002.

And remember, wasn't beta supposed to be better than VHS?

-- Joe Lipka (joelipka@earthlink.net), February 27, 2002.

Why does the the digital vs. traditional silver process battle always have to be portrayed as an either/or affair?

Did photography kill off painting? Were late 19th Century members of the Acadamy told to sell off their canvas and brushes and get with the program?

I have no problem with the advocates of digitial media until they tell me it's time for me to get out of my darkroom and join the 21st Century. I'll just refer them to my neighbor the sculptor who's been decorating his backyard with metal pieces based on 15th and 16th Century Italian works.

-- David Parmet (david@parmet.net), February 27, 2002.

Ed, can you put a little ligh on that?

-- middle (middlegray@yahoo.com), February 27, 2002.

>>I have no problem with the advocates of digitial media until they tell me it's time for me to get out of my darkroom and join the 21st Century<<

I'm afraid they've been saying that for years David. You really should get out of that darkroom and join the 21st century, then you might know these things! ;-)

My only problem with digital imaging is when people call it photography.

-- Wayne (wsteffen@skypoint.com), February 28, 2002.

Here is a quote from an article in The Economist Global Agenda: "As digital cameras start to offer even better performance, especially with developments like the Foveon chip, they will start to replace film cameras at a faster rate. Accessories and services that make them easier to use and to print pictures from, will also boost their popularity." Fred De Van has suggested that the next big battle will be over who controls the "accessories and services" market, and warns that Microsoft will certainly try to dominate it. That seems reason enough to stick with the old analogue aesthetic. My partner and I are about to build a new house, and I plan to double the size of my current darkroom and build an 8x10 enlarger while I'm at it. I'm obviously tied to the digital world, or I wouldn't have such a large website but, as everyone knows, the website is all about analogue photography. We may be the last generation to have full access to the materials necessary to do traditional photography, so I plan to make the most of them while I still can.

-- Ed Buffaloe (edb@unblinkingeye.com), February 28, 2002.


I agree with you as far as the consumer market goes. I don't think it's going to happen quite as fast as some industry types think it will but I can see the day when there is little or no film-based photography in this market.

As far as the fine art market goes, I think it will exist for quite some time albeit on a much smaller scale. Classes at arts centers are full up as soon as registration starts - there will always be new b/w fine arts photographers just like there are always new painters and sculptors.

So maybe in 15 years Kodak will only be offering Tri-X, Plus-X and Tmax 100 from their new 'state of the art facility.' Ilford may only be offering Delta 100,400 and 3200. But companies like Bergger and others that will spring up to service this market will be providing materials. It's a lot cheaper and easier for a small company to service a market of, say 200,000 world-wide than it would be for a company the size of Eastman Kodak.

Or maybe I'm just being optimistic.


-- David Parmet (david@parmet.net), February 28, 2002.

I too am hoping that smaller companies will be able to fill the niches vacated by Kodak, Ilford, Agfa, and Fuji, and that we will still be able to work in an analogue darkroom in 50 years. But already a great many unique materials have passed out of existence (Pan-X, Kodak's duplicating film, APX-25, Brovira, Portriga, etc.; Verichrome Pan will go this year) and I can only imagine that the number will increase over the next decade.

I am also encouraged by the number of students who take an interest in traditional black and white photography and in historical processes. Two weeks ago I taught a weekend workshop on making enlarged negatives by reversal for a group of students from Austin Community College. All of them were very enthusiastic about their photography class and the techniques they were learning.

On the other hand, once the new Foveon sensor is available and the prices come down a bit, I will probably buy my first digital camera. I love the ease with which I can make images and have them on the web in minutes. I also like the remarkable depth of field available from some digital cameras. Eventually I'll go up to Arlington and take Dan Burkholder's class on making digital negatives (he is a motorcycle enthusiast also, so maybe I'll see if he wants to cruise some Texas backroads with me while I'm at it).

A couple of the students from my workshop have already taken Dan's class and are already gaining expertise at making digital negatives, while at the same time exploring historical processes for making their final prints. Digital and analogue are converging, and the potential for creativity is greatly enhanced. I'm excited by the synergy.

-- Ed Buffaloe (edb@unblinkingeye.com), February 28, 2002.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ