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Foveon X3

Published on Jul 03, 2020


In the two centuries of photography, there has been a wealth of invention and innovation aimed at capturing a realistic and pleasing full-color two-dimensional representation of a scene. In this paper, we look back at the historical milestones of color photography and bring into focus a fascinating parallelism between the evolution of chemical based color imaging starting over a century ago, and the evolution of electronic photography which continues today.

The second part of our paper is dedicated to a technical discussion of the new Foveon X3 multi-layer color image sensor; what could be descried as a new more advanced species of camera sensor technology. The X3 technology is compared to other competing sensor technologies; we compare spectral sensitivities using one of many possible figures of merit. Finally we show and describe how, like the human visual system, the Foveon X3 sensor has an inherent luminance-chrominance behavior which results in higher image quality using fewer image pixels.

Three-shot cameras with glass plates were used around the turn of the century, for example by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii, photographer to the Czar of Russia. Reproduction was done by additive projection, as Maxwell did, as well as by subtractive sandwiches, as demonstrated in 1869 by Louis Ducos du Hauron and Charles Cros. In the late twentieth century, we saw the development of three-shot digital cameras with solid-state sensors, which are still used for professional still-life work; both additive reproduction (on screen) and subtractive (on print) became common for digital work.

Dr. Hermann Vogel's accidental discovery of dye sensitization of emulsions in 1873 led to a great increase in the practical applicability of photography-originally impractical with only blue-sensitive films. Corresponding improvements in digital sensors were needed a hundred years later to extend mostly-red-sensitive CCD sensors into the blue end of the spectrum before they would be suitable for color photography, around 1973.

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