New patents from Fuji, Canon and Hoya

FujiFilm filed a patent in Japan for a three layer image sensor with improved color reproduction and high sensitivity. In a recent Q&A session FujiFilm acknowledged that the sensor in the X100 is their own creation. The latest DxOMark test showed that the Fuji X100 sensor outperforms most of the DSLR cameras on the market today: Pentax K7, K-x and K-r, Nikon D300S, D3100, D5000, Sony Alpha 290, 390, 450, 550, SLT Alpha 33, Canon EOS 1100D, 600D, 60D, 7D, 1D Mark III (thanks Dan).

Takeshi Higuchi, board member of Fujifilm Holdings recently said:

"Digital camera resolution has reached saturation and the next innovation will be on sensors with CMOS technology, which brings advanced imaging features to digital cameras."

FujiFilm is expected to launch 40 new camera models this year, 27 of them will be launched by May, 2011.

Toshiba also filed their own patent for a three-layered image sensor:

The previously covered Canon lens adapter patent is now available on USPTO with a better description in English:

"In response to the desire to decrease the size and weight of digital single reflex lens cameras, in recent years a new type of single lens reflex camera that differs from the conventional single lens reflex camera has been proposed. The new type of single lens reflex camera is not provided with a quick return mirror for guiding the imaging light flux to a viewfinder, and the flange back is shorter than that of a conventional camera. The new type of interchangeable lenses having a short flange back that is compatible with this new type of camera has been proposed. However, these new type of interchangeable lenses cannot easily handle a variety of photographic conditions because there are few models. Therefore, there are cases in which it is desirable to use in the new type of camera the conventional type of interchangeable lenses that have already been introduced to the market and for which there are ample models and quantities. Thus, a conversion adapter for connecting the conventional type of interchangeable lenses with the new type of camera body is necessary. The functions required of this conversion adapter generally include matching the differing mounting profiles of the lenses and the camera body, matching the differing flange backs of the lenses and the camera body, and not hindering the communication system between the lenses and the camera body."

The sentence "The new type of single lens reflex camera is not provided with a quick return mirror" indicates that Canon may be bringing out a pellicle mirror camera with a new mount. There were several hints in the past that Canon is working on a new small interchangeable camera solution.

Canon also filed a patent for a two-row parallel output pixel layout.

US patent publication 2009/0245774 (now patent US7903960) from Hoya is for corrections for slight inclinations from vertical/horizontal when taking a picture by using the sensor-shift stabilization hardware to rotate the sensor to correct orientation.

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  • Sounds like Sigma will have competition in the 3-layered sensor biz.

  • Global

    I have to admit, I eat my words regarding FujiFilm. Although I still think their name is not very good, sounding antiquated and location specific (imagine “RushmoreCompactFlash” as a company name.. :-P)…… they definitely are on the right track.

    Make this thing into an interchangeable lens unit, with some good glass and solid autofocusing pancake primes and its tempting.

  • RazE

    “Digital camera resolution has reached saturation “.. Very nice to hear an imaging company realize this, and focus on things like iso performance, dynamic range etc. instead of resolution.

    Now Fujifilm just need to make a 10 MP full frame camera, with exceptional ISO performance, DR etc. etc.

  • What if … the Canon patent instead means:

    In recent years mirrorless cameras have been introduced too reduce the size of DSLRs by eliminating the mirror to reduce the flange back. They don’t work with our vast array of existing EF and EF-S lenses because they can’t communicate with the lens to offer AF, aperture control and lens-shift IS. Therefore we have invented a lens adapter that increases the FFL and interprets all the body’s communications and translates it into the lens’ native protocol… At least that’s what the full version of the linked US patent application seems to say. Read it and see if it’s so.

    If this interpretation is true, it doesn’t mean that Canon will bring in a pellicle mirror camera. There would be no reason to increase the FFL and translate the protocol. What it does mean is all electronic EF and EF-S lenses (Canon, Tamron, Sigma, Tokina etc.) could be used on all kinds of mirrorless cameras (M4/3, NEX, NX, etc.)


  • Peter, thanks for the acknowledgement of my further DxOMark database mining. I almost think they made a typo. If you consider that this compact camera is ranked #21 in the entire database, and that all the cameras above them are medium format, flagship pro cameras, or full frame prosumers, then it’s almost too good to be true. Almost. It really does do well in low light. However, the dynamic range RAW-JPEG curve converter is the best feature for me, so I’m quite surprised that Fujifilm would design and manufacture the sensor in house and not use a EXR sensor pattern.

    As for the Fuji and Toshiba three layer sensor patterns, I am (80%) all for it. My only two caveats are that a three layer strategy has two drawbacks: (1) it’s hard to make sure all light is absorbed only by the sensors and not lost somewhere in between the layers. More effective pixel density per area also means lower SNR. I expect that’s why Foveon has struggled to achieve high ISO with low noise; and (2) Increased data to store and process means slower performance and I’m not sure many cameras are up to processing 30MP (10MPx3) RAW + JPEG, so it may be 2-3 years before such things are both fast and affordable. Again, this is a problem Foveon are facing.

    I do feel bad for poor old Sigma. They struggled with the 3 layer technology for all these years and now that sensor are sensitive enough to give decent low light performance and now that cameras are finally getting fast enough to handle the data, they are facing competition from bigger players with better funding.

    • You know, it is funny that I covered the X100 tests on DxOMark but never compared it to DLSR scores. I was surprised by your findings. My point in this post is that Fuji is doing some serious R&D on their sensors and the X100 is using a Fuji sensor (contrary to the reports from some websites that the sensor is made by Sony). The Fuji S5 DSLR is another example that Fuji can achieve some great results with their sensors.

      • I was surprised too, but check out the DxOmark website, it’s easy to verify.

        • spam

          It’s not surprising tha X100 is doing well. The D90/D300 sensor were extremely good, still are. The X100 use a Sony sensor which probably is the D90-sensor upgraded with the latest production technology. Fuji also claim (in their X100 press releases) that it’s produced to Fuji specifiactions, whatever that mean.

          • I mentioned in the post that the X100 has a Fuji (not Sony) sensor.

          • spam

            It would be nice if you’re right (Sony need some competition), but I didn’t see any source for that info. And the Fuji x100 site don’t say it’s a Fuji sensor.

            On the X100 site it says:
            “FUJIFILM has customised an APS-C size 12.3 megapixel CMOS sensor for the FinePix X100”

            Note that they don’t say made or produced.

  • Fujifilm’s Takeshi Higuchi had a lot to say besides ‘CMOS is important’ in the linked interview with Gulf News.

    He said they were working on high speed burst and slow-motion video and 3D imaging.

    This news, combined with the 3 layer patent described above, not to mention their X100 sensor and hybrid EOVF means that Fujifilm are on a major R&D drive to develop fundamental new improvements to camera technology. I have high expectations from them.

    • I am just not a fan of 3D… yet.

  • The Hoya sensor-shift image stabilisation patent references gravity. Supposedly it also references inertial acceleration and integrates these into a predictive shift control algorithm. I think that’s silly as first derivative control algorithms have a tendency to overshoot the end-point. I did a fair bit of development in a related discipline that referenced optimal tracking prediction using Kalman filters and I think they are on a hiding to nothing unless their control loop is super, super fast. blah blah blah I’m boring myself now…

    The only thing notable about the announcement is Tokina’s parent group is working on sensor-shift VC, whereas Tokina’s main business is making third party lenses for Nikon/ Canon bodies. This means Kenko and/or possibly Tokinaare spending time and money on developing camera bodies or compacts. We already know of the Kenko C-mount mirrorless system, so it makes sense that they would be working on a second/ third generation with sensor-shift stabilisation. This means that all those cheapo simple c-mount lenses will be stabilised, including unstabilised Tokina DX lenses, digiscopes and telescopes.

    I also wonder what this means for the optical stabilisation that was meant to go on the 80-400?

    • Sahaja

      Doesn’t necessarily mean Tokina are developing camera bodies because Hoya also own Pentax.

  • The link says that Canon’s parallel sensor reading invention may not be completely new, but it’s an interesting development that suggests that they want to push the read times. processing, buffering and even storage writing can all be done in parallel, so it seems the bottleneck is sensor reading. I think this technology will first show up in future generations of the 1Ds. This would allow fast burst rates at high resolution. It may even result in a convergence of the 1D and 1Ds into a single fast, high-res full frame camera.

    Coincidentally(?) it is also exactly the technology that an engineer would need to make a high-res non-bayer sensor do its thing at a reasonable rate.

    • spam

      Fast read times can be useful in a number of ways, but most important is that read frequency from sensor is directly related to how fast you can make contrast detect AF.

  • john

    Whoever will be the first company to put out a 16bit digital medium format rangefinder in at least 6×7 format (full frame) will have my instant loyalty. I know at this point in time a true 6×7 would be ridiculously expensive , but one can dream. But if anyone from fuji or mamiya reads this i want my digital (fuji GS645)or(mamiya 6). please no crop factors, i want a true 6×4.5 16bit color chip in a interchangeable lens rangefinder body, and i would pay very well for it. i would pay up to $25,000 for a kit with 65mm lens. Lenses must be interchangeable. I am a big fan of the Fuji GW670 & Mamiya 7 (i would of asked for a digital 7 but i am a realist), scanning negatives is too time consuming, gets old quick, and the chemistry is not the most environmentally friendly. This market has been completely ignored. why do you think the leica m9 sells so well, and profits for Leica Camera AG are huge and growing by massive percentages each year? People were salivating for a full frame 35mm rangefinder. History repeats itself, the digital camera industry follows a path of evolution that is very similar to the film industry. If you were serious about printing you know that the bigger the negative you had the better image quality you were going to get respectively.

    • John, that’s a lovely thought. I’d love a 6×7 digital too. I don’t think I’ve got $25,000 to spend, though. Indeed $25,000 would probably not cut it. You’re talking a whole slice of a 100mm wafer and QC pass rate will be very low as the probability of bad pixels grows exponentially with sensor size. I think the reason why the market for 6×7 digital sensors has been ignored isn’t purely a technical one, but perhaps because at the price they would have to charge, the market for them is vanishingly small.

      Maybe there’s another, more economical approach to fulfilling your need. What’s your requirement for such a mammoth sensor based on?

      If it’s resolution, then consider a robotic pan-head. If you need instantaneous capture of super high resolution, perhaps an array of multiple lenses and sensors?

      If it’s shallow depth of field, then you might achieve it with a longer focal length and wider aperture. If you need shallow depth of field with additional perspective distortion, then post processing would help. Another approach is to use a MF lens resolving onto a spun or vibrating ground glass plate.

      If you are trying to increase the resolution at higher aperture without diffraction limitation, spending more money R&D on better glass would yield results more cheaply.

      If you want to achieve high resolution, instantaneous imaging, wide angle, narrow depth of field, portability, reliability, less diffraction limitations, etc, all at the same time then maybe what you need is a good old medium format or large format camera with film.

  • Sky

    Looks like Canon by accident confirmed that Sony SLT cameras ARE in fact a reflex cameras – something Canikon fanboys have always tried to erase.

    • spam

      Sony SLT-cameras certainly use mirrors, but I wouldn’t call it a dSLR though. SLR traditionally mean using a mirror to provide an optical viewfinder that looks through the lens, as opposed to TLR and rangefinder.

      SLR is not a “protected” word so you can of course call anything a SLR if you want to redefine the meaning of the word. I don’t see the point though, SLT-cameras with their eclectronic viewfinders are clearly much closer related to mirrorless systems so why call them dSLRs?

  • Sahaja

    “In response to the desire to decrease the size and weight of digital single reflex lens cameras, in recent years a new type of single lens reflex camera that differs from the conventional single lens reflex camera has been proposed.”

    Are you sure the translation is correct? Take the second “reflex” out of that sentence and it could just be that canon is working on a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with an adaptor for their SLR lenses.

    A camera with any kind of mirror is not going to have a really “short flange back”

  • Sahaja

    “FujiFilm is expected to launch 40 new camera models this year, 27 of them will be launched by May, 2011.”

    40 cameras – the mind boggles, and there is less than two weeks till May.

    • Haha. That has to either be a mistake, or that they have been involved in a part of production with that many cameras.

      40 new camera models in one year would be business suicide. There’s no reason to overwhelm the consumer and pro market like that.

  • curtis

    i have to say, it is a nice camera indeed.But i just can’t see it comparing with a dslr, let alone beating the 7d mark III in the field, it doesn’t make any sense at all because the x100 seems like a camera that would appeal to street photographers with the single lens use, and the continues auto focus, and the small compact design, and the retro old fashion look …Sorry fuji but i just can’t see this going out with hardcore scenery photographers it’s not ment for that purpose, it’s made for 1 purpose, and one purpose only which is city town photography.

    • Oh I think it’s easy to be a little bit more creative than “city town photography.” In fact I would argue that it’s suited to any application that requires 12mp and a 35mm f2. Whether that be indeed street photography, or documentary work requiring a small quiet camera, Landscapes are easy to shoot with a slight wide, though the more seasoned pro may opt for more options (I for one have shot landscapes with a GA645 which is similar in design to the X100), family snapshots are an obvious choice, even if it doesn’t exactly get our creative juices flowing. But Last and perhaps most exciting is this cameras place in the bag of a wedding photographer! I know a lot of photographers who love using a Leica + 35mm Summicron/Lux at a wedding, this camera is a MUCH more affordable option. Especially since it’s so good at high ISO.

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