Sony announced today (1/30/08) that they have made a 24.8MP full frame (24mm x 36mm) CMOS digital sensor that can read out data at 6.3 frames/sec. It has 12-channel parallel output and a 12-bit A/D converter built onto the chip.
There are no hints about the price of this device, but Sony say that it should go into mass production this year. What this means is that Canon won't be the only player on the block with a 20MP+ full frame DSLR for very long. Sony supplies the sensors for many Nikon DSLRs and of course they also have their own line of cameras. In fact today they also announced the 14.2MP Sony DSLR-A350 camera body which will be available in March for about $800!
UPDATE - in a press conference today (1/31/08) Sony announced that they expect to have a Sony Alpha DSLR with the 24.8MP sensor in it available "by the end of this year". It will have sensor-shift image stabilization built into the body too! A mock-up/prototype was (is being) displayed at PMA. No suggestion of what the price might be, but I'll bet it's less than the Canon 1Ds MkIII.
My guess is that the new 24MP full frame sensor will not be cheap since fabrication is difficult and requires multiple passes, effectively seamlessly stitching together smaller sensor units. I don't think this opens the way to full frame consumer DSLRs just yet. However, if Canon can sell a 12MP full frame DLSR for around $2000 (the EOS 5D), I would not be at all surprised if someone else (Nikon/Sony) could do the same thing, given the ability to fabricate full frame sensors. Lower pixel count sensors are easier to make (higher yield), have lower noise and don't demand as much speed from the electronics, so they can be made at significantly lower cost.
We live in interesting (digital) times!
Here's the Sony Press release:
SONY DEVELOPS 35mm FULL SIZE CMOS IMAGE SENSOR WITH 24.81 EFFECTIVE MEGA PIXEL RESOLUTION AND EXTREMELY HIGH SIGNAL CONVERSION SPEED FOR USE IN DIGITAL SLR CAMERAS
All-pixel scan mode of 6.3 frame/s
Tokyo, Japan - Sony Corporation today announced the development of a 35mm full size (diagonal:43.3mm/Type 2.7) 24.81 effective megapixel, ultra-high speed high image quality CMOS image sensor designed to meet the increasing requirement for rapid image capture and advanced picture quality within digital SLR cameras.
In recent years, the demand for digital SLR cameras featuring high resolution and wide graduation ranges capable of capturing every detail of the subject matter has continued to increase, particularly among high-end amateur users. Additionally, the increasing user requirement to shoot from the same focal length and angle as 35mm film cameras using interchangeable lenses has led to significant interest in the development of 35mm, full size CMOS image sensors.
However, there are a number of technical challenges to developing full (large) size image sensors, such as the propagation delay caused by using extended power circuitry and signal lines, and the difficulty of maintaining uniform sensitivity and signal saturation across the surface of the screen. It is therefore extremely important to accurately control exposure variance and match circuit patterns.
The newly developed CMOS image sensor combines unique circuit design technology with Sony's advanced fabrication expertise, such as advanced planarization for minimizing fluctuation, to realize 35mm, full size, 24.81 effective megapixel resolution. Sony's "Column-Parallel A/D Conversion Technique" also provides each column within the sensor with its own A/D converter, minimizing image degradation caused by the noise that arises during analog processing while at the same time delivering an extremely high signal conversion speed.
The enhanced image quality generated by the sensor's 24.81 effective megapixel resolution, wide range of graduation expression achieved by its full size broad dynamic range, and the low noise, high resolution, ultra-responsive performance provided by Sony's Column-Parallel A/D Conversion technique enable it to meet the ever-increasing requirements within high performance digital SLR cameras.
Sony will target for mass production of this CMOS image sensor within this year.
1 - High picture quality in 35mm full size image sensor with 24.81M effective pixels
2 - "Column-Parallel A/D Conversion method" achieves high S/N and high-speed imaging
3 - High-speed digital output(12 channel parallel LVDS output)