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Selecting and Designing with an Image Sensor: The Tradeoffs You'll Need to Master

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By Brian Dipert
Embedded Vision Alliance
Senior Analyst

A diversity of image sensor options are available for your consideration, differentiated both in terms of their fundamental semiconductor process foundations and of their circuit (and filter, microlens and other supplement) implementations. Understanding their respective strengths and shortcomings is critical to making an appropriate product selection for your next embedded vision system design.

The image sensor is a critical part of an embedded vision system, since it's at this initial stage of the hardware design that light photons transform into digital 1s and 0s for subsequent processing and analysis. It's not the first stage, mind you; ambient light (in some cases augmented by an integrated LED flash module or other auxiliary illumination source) must first pass through the optics subsystem. However, BDTI engineer Shehrzad Qureshi already tackled the optics topic with aplomb in his article Lens Distortion Correction.

The fundamental purpose of the image sensor, an increasingly prevalent semiconductor device found in digital still and video cameras, mobile phones and tablets, the bezels of laptop and all-in-one computers along with standalone displays, game console peripherals, and other systems, is to approximate the photon-collecting capabilities of the human eye's retina:

If your system needs to only work with black-and-white images, an elementary image sensor (often augmented by an infrared light-blocking filter) may suffice, mimicking the function of the retina's rod photoreceptors. However, many embedded vision systems benefit from (if not require) the capture of full-color frames. The retina contains three kinds of cones with different photopsin chemical compositions, which have different response curves reflective of their differing responses to a full-spectrum color source.

With the exception of some color-blind individuals,...