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Panasonic develops super-sensitive, organic image sensor

The firm, together with co-creator Fujifilm, says the new chip is four times more sensitive than standard image sensors

Panasonic and Fujifilm say they have developed a new image sensor using organic materials that is far more sensitive than anything currently on the market.

The companies said their organic CMOS sensor has a dynamic range four times that of common sensors on the market today. The greater range, or light sensitivity, will mean less noise on dark portions of images and fewer washed-out portions in bright areas.

The sensor uses an organic film that converts light to electric signals developed by Fujifilm, together with semiconductor technology from Panasonic. The organic layer replaces the silicon used in CMOS sensors today and is just 0.5 microns thick, a fraction of the thickness of existing sensors, allowing it also to capture light from a broader angle.

The organic sensors can also devote more surface area to capturing light than current sensors, which must devote some space to shielding between pixels. The companies said this gives organic pixels a 20 percent higher sensitivity to light.

Digital cameras and camera modules used in mobile phones are often sold today based on their total number of pixels. But with resolutions now commonly in the millions of pixels even for tiny image chips, companies are looking to distinguish themselves based on the quality of the individual pixels themselves.

Panasonic and Fujifilm did not reveal when the new chip technology will reach the market, or how much more it will cost than traditional image sensors. Organic technologies such as those used in OLED screens have long offered better brightness and efficiency in thinner packages than traditional LEDs, but are notoriously difficult and expensive to manufacture in bulk.

The new sensors have passed reliability tests, and the companies say they will look to use them in digital cameras and mobile handsets, as well as applications with a wide range of light conditions, such as security cameras and dashcams.

The companies said they developed a manufacturing process that uses a protective membrane to protect the organic element from moisture and oxygen.


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