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Understanding Sony's Sensors Roadmap

The machine vision industry has been historically dominated by CCD sensor technology, offering higher resolutions, superior image quality and global shutter readout.

CMOS sensors, despite lower prices and higher framerates, were considered poorer performing sensors, and only offered rolling shutter readout.

The industry was changed back in 2013 when the first Sony Pregius sensor, the IMX174 was released, offering global shutter technology at higher framerate, with better image quality, lower noise, higher quantum efficiency and dynamic range. All these naming conventions and standards are explained on our EMVA1288 article.

The advantages of the new generation of Sony Pregius sensors were so great that Sony decided to discontinue the production of CCD sensors.

Coming back to the present, Sony has now released 4 generations of Pregius CMOS sensors, giving users a wide selection to choose from and offering high speed (at higher cost) and standard speed (at lower cost) sensors for each set of resolutions.

Sony Pregius Generation 1

The first generation only included one resolution (2.3MP) with two frame rate variations: high speed for the IMX174 and standard speed for the IMX249. Both maintaining the same image quality performance. The pixel size of this generation was 5.86µm, which was a challenge when choosing optics for cameras. Machine vision applications such as Astronomy and ANPR can benefit from these sensors.

Sony Pregius Generation 2

The second generation of Sony sensors further improved upon the disadvantages of the first generation: a wide range of choices in resolution and framerates and a smaller pixel size (3.45µm) to make it easier to choose optics for industrial cameras. The sensors would also allow multi-exposure triggers within one image and short exposure modes, with exposure times as fast as 2µsec. The range of resolutions available with the second generation of Sony Pregius sensors has become wider, with resolutions varying from 0.4MP up to 31.4MP. Broadcasting and sport analysis applications can benefit of the image quality and wide range of sensors available.

Sony Pregius Generation 3

The third generation of Sony Pregius sensors boasts a wide range of new features, including a Dual ADC for high gain and low gain image taken on the same frame. The output can be combined on the ISP of the industrial camera of choice.

The sensors also feature a dual trigger, allowing the user to choose two different levels of exposure and gain. Each one can be triggered independently. It also counts on a self-trigger, which allows the user to choose two ROIs. One of them used for image capture which is triggered when the 2nd ROI detects changes in its region.

On-sensor conversion gain is also included, giving options for high conversion gain, for maximum sensitivity and minimum read noise in low light situations. A low conversion gain mode provides increased saturation capacity and dynamic range in bright light scenarios. The resolutions available for the third generation go from 1.7MP all the way up to 7.1MP. The third generation is advantageous for applications such as biomedical and microscopy due to its sensitivity in low light.

Sony Pregius Generation 4

The 4th iteration marks the latest generation of Sony Pregius sensors available to date. This 4th series is specially called Pregius S, which combines a back illuminated sensor with global shutter read-out. The back illuminated designed increases light collection, improving quantum efficiency.

It also brings a new host of features and resolutions, a 2.74µm pixel size. Resolutions available for this generation go from 5.1MP all the way up to 24.5MP.

The 4th generation supports High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging by using the low gain and high gain images taken within the same frame and combining on the sensor. It also provides a higher accuracy thermometer for better thermal management and is able to output a signal that mirrors the actual input trigger for an exposure.

The sensitivity, despite the lower pixel size, is maintained thanks to an improved wider incident angle, asthe distance between the microlens and the photodiode surface is much closer for 4th generation sensors

The smaller pixel size also opens a wider choice for very compact lenses. Industrial machine vision applications such as metrology and handheld devices can benefit from the 4th generation of Sony sensors due to its higher pixel density, allowing more compact designs.

All the above information has been carefully detailed in the data sheets of our cameras, available on our website to facilitate the decision when choosing the optimal machine vision camera model for your industrial application.

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