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In the digital age of photography, we can see a range of digital camera sensors sizes in use, from 1/3.2" in small phones, up to Medium format sensors that are 53.4 x 40.0mm in size or more!

Why has no company endevoured to produce a sensor that can be considered to be large format (50mm X 80mm or larger)? Do such camera sensors exist in non-consumer products?

18

It depends on how you define camera. In a sense, digital large format does exist, just not exactly in the way we might expect.

There are commercial products called 'Digital Scanning Backs' that fit medium and large format cameras.

Instead of a full grid that can be exposed from one side to the other very quickly via a focal plane shutter, they have one line per color that moves from one side to the other as the image from the lens is continuously projected on the camera's focal plane.

Before we say, "That's not a camera, that's a scanner," let's keep these things in mind:

  • They are still a LOT faster than the earliest cameras from the first half of the 19th century. They can be, and sometimes are, used to image three dimensional scenes out in the 'real world'. They can capture a scene at very high resolution in times comparable to a 'gigapan' setup.
  • They use conventional view cameras with photographic lenses to project an image onto the camera's back focal plane. Flatbed scanners, in contrast, use microlenses directly in front of the scanning lines.
  • Conventional film and digital cameras with focal plane shutters expose the image from one side of the frame to the other (or top to bottom). A digital scanning back is much like a DSLR taking an image at 1/8000 second where a very narrow slit passes across the surface of the sensor in about 1/300 second. It's just that the scanning back does it in super slo-mo.
  • Scanning backs avoid the disadvantages inherent in using a Bayer-masked sensor.

They're often used for high end art reproduction. But they are also used to image static scenes.

The reason digital cameras with Bayer masked grid arrays don't exist in large format sizes is primarily one of cost. It's not just that a sensor 10X as large costs 10X as much. Such a sensor would cost many more times that! The smaller a sensor is, the more potential chips can be made from a standardized silicon wafer. But there are always errors in the billions of transistors on such a wafer. If I can cut 100 chips from a wafer and there are 15 errors, at most I lose 15 chips and can still use 85 of them. Chances are good that at least a few chips will have more than one error and I may get 87-88 usable chips. If I'm only cutting the wafer into 4 pieces, things get a little more difficult. If there are an average of 15 errors per wafer, I might have to go through a stack of several blank wafers to get a single usable chip from them!

For more about silicon wafer utilization, please see:

Why does increasing sensor size necessarily lead to lower silicon wafer utilization?
Why did camera manufacturers create crop sensor cameras?
What limits the size of digital imaging sensors?
Where does the price premium of full-frame come from?

  • To go further on "not exactly in the way we might expect", a digital scanner is a camera. Scanners even do the same job that used to be done with something we called "a camera." Not to mention that cameras with CCD's work by scanning the pixel array...and by "not to mention" I really meant "I must mention". – user50888 Jul 26 '17 at 20:19
  • I think the answer unequivocally says it is a camera. But it does not use a CMOS or CCD grid array sensor which is what the question seems to expect as the only definition of 'digital camera'. – Michael C Jul 27 '17 at 1:49
5

Large Sense LLC is advertising their LS911 8×10 digital camera, as well as their LS55 5×5 digital camera. Both of them are in the prototype or development stages at the moment, so they're not exactly available.

The LS911 can be had for only $104,000 (anticipated price).

So while they are not quite available to purchase, they do (almost, sort of) exist...

2

Large format equipment makers are still active:
Linhof cameras, e.g. http://linhof.com/en/technikardan-6x9
Rodenstock lens, e.g. http://www.rodenstock-photo.com/en/products/professional-lenses-digital

But the "large format" has gotten a lot smaller. The cost and complexity of making a larger sensor rises faster, than pouring a bit more emulsion on a bigger sheet of film.

Besides cost there is a hard limit imposed by technology - sensors are made on round wafers some 30 cm in diameter, while film is cut from rolls more than a meter wide (Kodak standard is 1,38 m).

I seriously doubt that we will ever see a 8"×10" digital sensor (once a common LF film size).

0

This paper describes building a large format digital back using a flatbed scanner.

It also suggests a perhaps significant reason why large format digital backs are not common or low cost: It is often more cost effective to shoot film and scan the result. [0] This has been the case for a couple of decades -- though the minimum size at which it is more cost effective to shoot film has gradually increased. [1]

Economically, if I want to shoot large format, I can pick up a nice working Graphlex and a new flatbed scanner for under $600. The fact that I don't says something about demand...in both the consumer sense and in the sense of the logistics of shooting large format versus a DSLR or my phone.

[0]: Analogous to the idea vans filled with hard drives can provide a very effective network for transferring data when the quantity is significant (or snail mail delivering DVD's in the early days of Netflix).

[1]: Today it generally sits around the equivalent of 35mm film because the ~$15,000 or so minimum entry price for digital medium format will buy decent used film equipment and a fair amount of photo processing.

  • 2
    Ah, the classic Tannenbaum quote: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway." Yeah, but the latency of the network is an insurmountable problem... ;-) – scottbb Jul 26 '17 at 22:12
  • 1
    Also: the bandwidth of shipping large amounts of bulk storage will almost certainly always exceed the line transmission throughput. Ref: XKCD 'What If?' "FedEx Bandwidth". – scottbb Jul 26 '17 at 22:45
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There is but not with the ratio of medium format sensors quality, this type of sensor only make for Hubble telescope or webb telescope. other large format digital sensors are low technology and quality.

  • Welcome to Photography Stackexchange. Could you expand on this some more? The question asks why these do not exist in consumer products. – damned truths Aug 29 at 3:36
-2

2 reasons:

1: Its not really necessary.

2: Its not possible to make anything bigger than aprox 205x205mm on standard silicon chip making equipment.

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