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Chip Enables Fast, High-Resolution Imaging

Photonics Spectra
Nov 1998
Daniel C. McCarthy

Early generations of digital still camera technology generally relied on an arrangement of generic microprocessors to perform the various functions of capturing and processing information from the charge-coupled device (CCD). In developing the Dimâge EX Zoom 1500 camera, released earlier this year, Minolta Corp. consulted with chipmaker LSI Logic Corp. to combine several of these previously separate image-processing functions into a single processor.

LSI Logic's system-on-a-chip processor, shown on the tabletop, enables Minolta's EX Zoom 1500 digital still camera to capture seven 1.5-megapixel images in 2 s. It also incorporates a digital bus, facilitating quick and simple switching of Minolta lens accessories such as this one attached to a cable. Courtesy of Minolta Corp.

With input from Minolta, LSI Logic designed the DCAM-101 32-bit processing chip specifically to perform multiple image processing functions including filtering, capture, compression, storage, transfer and display of images.

"All these items have to happen somewhere. Previous cameras had a generic processor at their heart with additional chips to perform these functions separately. [An advantage] to an integrated chip like this is that it drives down the camera's cost curve," said Vernon Klein, product marketing manager at LSI Logic. "We've also tailored it so it can go faster than other cams on the market."

More advantages

According to Jon Sienkiewicz, vice president of marketing for Minolta Consumer Products Group, the most notable contribution LSI Logic's chip affords the camera is the speed with which high-resolution pictures can be processed. Coupled with software from FlashPoint Technology Inc., the DCAM-101 chip enables capture of 3.5 frames per second. Competitive devices in the EX Zoom 1500 camera's price bracket capture one frame in 1 to 8 s, said Sienkiewicz.

Importantly, the chip's speed does not compromise its resolution. Images from the camera provide 1.5-megapixel sharpness, which Sienkiewicz said represents the best resolution available from commercial CCD chips currently on the market.

"We incorporated the CCD chip into the camera's detachable lens," he said. "The camera lens comes with a digital bus so that when higher-resolution CCDs come on the market, consumers can simply attach a new lens for sharper resolution. That's the direction of the technology."

According to Klein, the LSI Logic chip can process images with resolution up to 4 megapixels.
Both Klein and Sienkiewicz said that despite the focus on integrating multiple functions of the digital camera, the chip offers potential for application elsewhere. "The chip is also good for photoprinters, such as high-volume ink-jet printers," said Klein.

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