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New innovations.

Recently, a Japanese website reported, then withdrew, the announcement that Pentax, represented in the United States by Pentax Corp., Englewood, Colo. (, would introduce the new Pentax D-SLR, another full-frame, interchangeable lens digital SLR. Two years ago, Pentax revealed it was working on an interchangeable lens digital SLR; and, now, reliable industry reports indicate a full-frame Pentax digital SLR model will definitely be introduced in 2003.

Of course, several years ago, the first company to announce and demo a full-frame digital SLR was Kyocera Optics Inc., Sumerset, N.J. Seen frequently at trade shows, the Contax N Digital SLR camera has a 6-megapixel CCD chip that is 36-by-24mm ( The digital SLR camera is the companion to the Contax N1, a 35mm film SLR that employs the same lens mount. Unfortunately, the digital camera is not being marketed and prototypes haven't found their way into the hands of equipment reviewers.

One of the most revolutionary approaches to sensor design is the Santa Clara, Calif.-based Foveon X3 prototype that produces red, green, and blue colors at every pixel in the array--not just one color per pixel as with other sensors. The X3 system employs a CMOS silicon imaging chip that records colors based on how deeply the light penetrates the three-dimensional "depth" of the silicon wafer (similar to the way three-layer color film emulsions respond to light) and, therefore, is capable of producing three different color values per picture element. For additional information and illustrations on how this unique chip design works, visit the company's website at

Last February at PMA 2002, Foveon announced the technology breakthrough and reported Sigma Corp., Ronkonkoma, N.Y. (, incorporates the chip technology into the Sigma SD9 digital SLR 10.2-megapixel sensor. (That calculation is based on the array's 3.4-megapixel surface and the sensor's three levels of RGB depth, or 2,268-by-1,512-by-3 pixels.) The camera employs Sigma's proprietary lens mount and has a 1.7 focal length factor for the lenses.

One problem or advantage (depending on how you look at it) is each 35mm SLR camera maker is using its own proprietary lens mount on its digital SLR models. Of course, this offers photographers with a stable of existing lenses an opportunity to adopt a digital camera body with the same mount.

Kodak and Olympus Optical Co. Ltd., Tokyo, Japan (, have other ideas. They agreed to implement a new "common standard" for interchangeable lens SLR digital cameras, which would eliminate the need for the dozen or so different SLR lens mounts now in the marketplace. Called the Four Thirds System (4/3 System), the standard would ensure interchangeable lens compatibility among next-generation digital SLRs--i.e., if it were accepted by the camera industry. Kodak and Olympus have agreed to "aggressively implement" the standard in their respective product lines. Fuji Photo Film Co. Ltd., Tokyo, Japan (, has also agreed to participate in the new standard. Coming next is the establishment of the Universal Digital Interchangeable Lens System Forum to promote the Four Thirds System.

If there is to be a "standard" digital SLR lens mount with lenses that reflect the same angle of view on different camera manufacturers' models, it also means a standardization of the size of the camera's sensor chip. Although either CMOS or CCD chips could be used, the 4/3 System image sensors must be uniform in size for all cameras using the standard. In addition to a standard lens mount, other optical design factors also have to be standardized, such as the image circle (the diameter of the area in which the subject is resolved) and the back focus distance (the distance from the lens mount to the image sensor). Since digital SLRs can rely on miniature electronic LCD viewfinders, perhaps the difficult problems of designing retro-focus wide-angle lenses that clear the mirror swing of SLR film cameras won't have to be overcome, and the nearly nonexistent selection of digital extreme wide-angle lenses will multiple.

The 4/3 System image sensors are indirectly described in press releases as half-frame 35mm-format size. The major benefit is, according to a joint Olympus-Kodak announcement, "the design of dedicated high-performance digital camera lens systems that are more compact than 35mm film SLR cameras lens systems. The impact of the more compact lens size will be especially marked on telephoto lenses, making it possible to produce a Four Thirds System 300mm telephoto lens, for example, that offers performance equivalent to an approximately 600mm lens on a 35mm film SLR camera."

Kodak was particularly active in announcing its new-generation image arrays this year. With Sinar AG, Feuerthalen, Switzerland (, it engineered the 22-megapixel Kodak KAF-22000CE CCD image sensor, which covers a full-frame, 6.0-by-4.5cm medium-format negative, or approximately twice the area of a 35mm-format frame. The company also introduced the Kodak KAI-11000CM image sensor, an 11-megapixel interline CCD color image sensor that covers a full 35mm-format image.
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Title Annotation:Product Snapshot
Publication:Digital Imaging Digest
Date:Dec 1, 2002
Previous Article:New sensors create digital SLRs with true wide-angle lens views.
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