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September 18, 2006 – Last Friday, Eastman Kodak Company announced the new Kodak KAF-10500 image sensor found in the first digital Leica rangefinder camera, the M8. As the second collaboration between the two companies, the Kodak CCD sensor promises low noise, high sensitivity, and wide dynamic range for the Leica M8, according to Kodak’s press release.
Kodak, who has provided sensors for Hasselblad in Phase One digital backs, partnered with Leica for a second time for the digital M8. Kodak and Leica first joined ranks in making the repeatedly delayed Leica Digital-Module-R, the world’s first digital and analog camera that takes film and SD memory cards.
Leica, who also released its first DSLR last week - which uses a live view-enabled Olympus NMOS sensor, also found in the Olympus E-330 and Panasonic L1 - elected to fit the M8 with the new 10 megapixel 27 x 18 mm Kodak KAF-10500 CCD sensor based on the low noise characteristics of the chip and its ability to confirm to the M8's physical design parameters.
The design of the Leica M8 and Kodak sensor took a couple years, said Mike DeLuca, Kodak market segment management for image sensor group, in an interview with DigitalCameraInfo.com.
"Kodak designed and optimized the new image sensor to meet the demanding needs of Leica photographers," stated the release. Kodak specifically modeled the new KAF-10500 image sensor with the Leica M8 in mind.
Kodak used Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) on the CCD sensor to create low noise, high sensitivity, and a wide dynamic range. The sensor also has anti-blooming protection to preserve image information in high light situations, stated the release.
The M8's KAF-10500 imager is designed with a microlens to prevent vignetting. Unlike DSLRs, the Leica M8 lacks a mirror reflex box to preserve the body’s compact design. To conserve space, the sensor sits close to the lens. When used with a wide angle lens, a compact body without a mirror box allows light in through sharp angles, creating the problematic vignettes. The Kodak sensor, however, as DeLuca explains, compensates for proper light allowance and thwarts lens vignettes.
In addition to the micro lens, the Kodak sensor helps keep the Leica body small applying with its infrared light filter coating directly on its glass. Unlike other cameras that contain an extra element to filter IR light, the Leica M8 contains the IR filter right on the sensor to conserve space. "There is not an additional element in place," said DeLuca, "but [the camera sensor] still has the IR-absorbing characteristics."
When asked why Kodak and Leica opted for a CCD sensor over a CMOS sensor, DeLuca said, "It was very clear the full frame CCD was the path to go down because of the performance it was able to provide."
Although Kodak sensors have been used in a respectable list of high-performance cameras, DeLuca notes, "the achievement is working closely with a customer that is so well known for the quality of devices that they deliver. To work with Leica…we are as proud of that as we are the technology we deliver."