About the Backlit Sensor

by mulberry

The technology behind digital cameras and camera phones continues to evolve and some of the specifics may be confusing when you buy. Learn more about the backlit sensor here.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Backlit Sensor

One of the features which emerged in the field of digital cameras and camcorders in 2010 and 2011 were backlit sensors. Since then, they have become even more common. Consumers may also see them referred to as backside illuminated sensors, BSI sensors, or back illuminated sensors as well.

For those who aren't putting a great deal of time into keeping up with digital camera technology, some explanation may be in order. On this page, you can learn more about the backlit sensor, how it works, it's advantages, and see some of the digital cameras that offer these redesigned sensors.

How is a Backlit Sensor Different?

Generally speaking, a backlit sensor is built a little differently. The wiring on the top of a traditional sensor chip limits the light gathering capacity of the photosite wells. This means that the ability of a camera to capture photos in low light conditions are limited as the sensor can't pick up enough light in such instances to create any detail in the image. By moving this wiring to the backside of the sensor, the front has larger photosite wells to gather light. Thus, a backlit sensor is more light sensitive.

If you want to learn more about this and see a basic diagram of a traditional CMOS sensor and a backlit sensor compared, you can review this article on DPNow.com

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What Are the Advantages?

A backlit sensor is said to offer a number of advantages over the traditional CCD or CMOS sensor available on digital cameras. As indicated above, better low light shooting is the most often cited benefit of these sensors. Because more light reaches the sensor with this design, higher ISO settings aren't needed in order to get a decent low light shot. This means that many of the artifacts you see in many low light shots will be eliminated. Grain will be finer and noise will be minimized resulting in better image quality.

A backlit sensor is also said to allow the average digital camera to perform better in getting action shots. Their continuous shooting mode or burst mode gets a boost and can capture/record more frames per second.

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If I Want Good Low Light Photos, Do I Need a Backlit Sensor?

While a backlit sensor can certainly improve image quality in low light conditions, there are a number of other things that can influence image quality when taking photos at night or in low light environments. For instance, a fast lens and optical image stabilization can help as well. Often a slow shutter speed and wide aperture is used in low light, increasing the risk of blurring due to handshake; OIS (optical image stabilization) helps to diminish this.

Other characteristics of the sensor also matter. As an example, the number of megapixels which are crammed onto it and it's size matter as well. If it's a typical small sensor, say 1/2.5", which has 14 million pixels (14 megapixels), then it won't gather light as well as a larger sensor or one with a few million fewer (but larger) pixels. If the size of the sensor is the same, but the megapixel count increases, then those pixels are smaller. Smaller pixels means less light gathering capacity: not good in low light conditions. So a 10 megapixel sensor is sometimes better in low light than a 14 megapixel sensor if the size of the sensor is unchanged.

So, in short, if you're searching for the best low light digital camera, one with a backlit sensor may be a good start but you shouldn't ignore other factors.

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Does a Camera with a Backlit Sensor Cost More?

At this time, a backlit sensor does add a bit to the cost of a camera model. However, the quality of the lens, the degree of zoom, and many other features however tend to play a bigger role in the cost of the device.

How Critical Are These Sensors When Choosing a New Digital Camera or Camcorder?

Whether or not a backlit sensor is necessary for a given user really depends upon the type of photos or video you will tend to take.

For those who do want to be able to shoot faster to capture action or who want to improve the image quality of their low light shots, then these sensors are certainly worthy of consideration. If most of your photos are taken outdoors or in well lit areas, then a backlit sensor is certainly less critical.

In other words, a backlit sensor isn't necessary, especially if you are already pleased with the shots you currently take. However, these sensors are ideal for those who do more indoor and low light photography without the aid of supplemental lighting.

Get Other Tips for Great Night and Low Light Photography

Updated: 05/31/2012, mulberry
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