Oct 10, 2005

CCD failures: the bigger picture

Source: imaging resource
Written By Michael R. Tomkins, The Imaging Resource

Visitors to this site ( will doubtless have noticed a common thread across several of our recent news items: We’ve reported on digital camera service advisories from no less than four manufacturers, with all four offering to fix certain problems experienced by their customers regardless of warranty status.

In each case, the story has been similar – CCD sensor failures (particularly in conditions of high heat and humidity) leading to cameras that capture images with either no picture at all, or with extreme distortion and purple color casts. An example of the latter symptom, courtesy of the Konica Minolta Europe website, can be seen further down this page. We first started hearing about this problem in the last several weeks, with a significant uptick in emails over the last week or two. There has understandably been considerable concern among our readers, with many wondering whether this was an ongoing problem that could affect current cameras.

The description of the issue at hand, coupled with the timing of the advisories, hints at a larger story behind the scenes. Fabrication of CCD image sensors is a major undertaking, one that is quite different from fabrication of normal computer chips, requiring dedicated production lines. The expense of creating and operating these lines makes it relatively prohibitive for smaller manufacturers to gain a foothold. The net result is that the CCD imagers used in the majority of cameras are created by one of a handful of manufacturers, with Sony representing a very significant portion of the total CCD sensor market. It appears that the sensors in question were manufactured on Sony’s fab lines, and given that company’s leading market position, the affected sensors have made their way into quite a range of cameras, camcorders and other products from a number of companies.

Thus far, Sony itself has announced a repair program, as have three other digital camera manufacturers – Canon, Fujifilm and Konica Minolta. We fully expect to see additional repair programs announced by other digital camera manufacturers in the near future. The full extent of the problem isn’t known, but information provided by Sony regarding their own repair program says that the affected cameras were manufactured between October 2002 and March 2004. It should be noted that these are manufacturing dates, though – cameras manufactured in March 2004 could easily have still been on retail shelves through the end of that year, and possibly even into early 2005. It should also be noted that with all of the manufacturers, the problem affects only certain specific models – many cameras manufactured during the period in question will be completely unaffected.

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