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Patent And Technology Partner To The World's Most Successful Companies

Patent And Technology Partner To The World's Most Successful Companies


Full Frame DSLR Cameras Part III – New entrants and look forward

By Ray Fontaine

Recent Nikon and Canon FF cameras were discussed in Parts I and II. The FF CIS competitive landscape looks to be heating up a bit outside of Japan with the announcement of CMOSIS providing the MAX 24 Mp CIS for Leica’s “M” CMOS rangefinder [1, 2]. Chipworks has previously analyzed CMOSIS pixels fabricated by TowerJazz in a 0.18 µm process generation, but the Leica FF CIS will be fabricated by CMOSIS’ foundry partner STMicroelectronics [3].

STMicroelectronics’ IMG175 300 mm Cu process, developed for 1.75 µm mobile CIS, will be adapted to 6 µm pixels and use 0.11 µm design rules for the front end of line (FEOL) processing and 90 nm design rules for the BEOL. While Leica has nowhere near the market share of Japanese FF camera companies, the transition to sub 0.18 µm device production is an event that could possibly alter the product roadmaps and strategies of several companies.


“Leica M” Leica MAX 24 Mp FF CIS – Images from CMOSIS (L) and EETimes Europe (R)

Any mention of CMOSIS being involved in FF CIS development stimulates a discussion of how long it will be before a global shutter CIS device finds its way into a FF camera? Surely, global shutter functionality is a long term goal for FF CIS producers. What else might be on the device roadmap? Will consumers demand a >100 Mp FF sensor? How about a small pixel back illuminated CIS FF sensor? Given we are only 10 years in to FF CMOS device production, it is fair to say it is still early days for the sector, and that 10 more years will bring numerous changes in technology.

On a practical level, the cost of FF camera systems remains a significant barrier for most consumers. To address a broader customer base, Sony, Nikon, and Canon each recently announced relatively low cost FF CMOS camera systems (see Table 1).

The Sony Cyber-shot RX1 is somewhat of a disruptive product launch; for the first time a FF CIS device has been stuffed into a fixed-lens compact camera body [4]. The Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D are roughly equivalent systems in that both companies have launched entry-level FF cameras priced at about $2k [5, 6]. These product launches enable more of the mainstream to own a camera with a serious piece of silicon on board.



Date Announced



Sony Cyber-shot RX1

Sep 12, 2012

24.3 Mp


Nikon D600

Sep 13, 2012

24.3 Mp

$2099 (body only)

Canon EOS 6D

Sep 17, 2012

20.2 Mp

$2099 (body only)

*as of Oct 2012

 Table 1: Low Cost CMOS FF Camera Systems


Regarding the competitive landscape, might a rise in FF camera popularity entice new entrants into the sector? Given Taiwan and China’s emergence in the small-pixel mobile space, it is possible that one day FF sensors might also be fabricated outside of Japan and Europe. Aptina and Samsung make APS-C CIS devices, but to date have not launched a product in the FF space. Then again, if it were easy, more companies would be making them!


<– Full Frame DSLR Cameras Part I - Nikon vs Sony 

<– Full Frame DSLR Cameras Part II – Canon Stays the Course


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