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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 10:01 AM CDT

Component Integration: CCD vs. CMOS

CCD has been around longer, but CMOS is closing the gap
image of a star
© NASA, ESA and Keith Noll Space Telescope Science Institute.
This image of a star, similar to our sun, 3,600 light years way ending its life was taken by Feb. 6, 2007, by the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) on the Hubble telescope. It is actually a composite of many separate exposures made by the CCD instrument.
CMOS sensor
© Sarnoff Corp.
There are fundamental differences in architecture and operations between this CMOS sensor and a CCD sensor.
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By Barry Hochfelder

The debate rages on. CCD vs. CMOS. Which is better? Who's using what? If it's good enough for NASA, why change?

It all really depends on your application. Companies that are looking for imagery in standard technologies, such as digital cameras generally are going to rely on CCD, while agencies or companies like NASA or Lockheed, need the fundamental robustness of CMOS.

Jim Janesick, Technical Manager of Imaging at Sarnoff Corp., Princeton, N.J., has an informed take. Janesick has been in the industry for more than 22 years. He was an early proponent of CCD when he worked at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Janesick is the author of "Scientific Charge Coupled Devices," a 920-page history, description and tutorial about CCD. For the last seven years he's been working on CMOS.

"After writing my CCD book, I decided to divorce myself from it and jump into a CMOS environment," he says. "It's an interesting revolution. For images, it's like moving from film to vidicon. It's not as fundamental as plates to vacuum tubes, but it's still revolutionary."

CCD and CMOS sensors do the same job of capturing light and converting it to electrical signals. CCD is the more mature technology.

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