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Best viewed at 1024 x 768 or greater screen resolution, 16 bit color or better. All content & photographs copyrighted, all rights reserved.  

January 18, 2002

Here's a theory about how Nikon came up with those mysterious D1X rectangular pixels. Is there a 10+ megapixel successor to the D1X at some point in the future? The Nikon D1, D1H, & D1X imaging sensors have always been a bit of a mystery (especially the rectangular-pixeled D1X). Nikon has remained steadfastly tight-lipped about their source & technology.

Here's what we do know:

  • The D1 & D1H sensor pixels are large, nearly 12 x 12 microns square.
  • The D1X pixels are vertically rectangular, measuring close to 6 microns wide
    by nearly 12 microns tall.
  • Interestingly, two D1X pixels side-by-side are the same size as one D1/D1H pixel.
  • Most experts think that the D1/H/X sensor is actually manufactured by Sony.

What if the D1 & D1H was actually built using an enlarged Sony sensor with small point & shoot camera-sized pixels covered with grouped R-G-B lenses to form bigger pixels? Sony certainly has a great deal of experience in manufacturing sensors. And Sony's existing technologies and designs would have made the source relatively cheap and quick.

What if the development of the D1, D1H, and D1X happened like this?

Take a blank point & shoot CCD sensor layout


At left: Hypothetical blank imaging sensor pixels with no color filters on the individual photosites. Square pixels measure 5.93 microns tall and wide. Note: Sensor photosites are initially manufactured with blank (as shown) pixels, the colored R-G-B "lenses" (filters) are added afterwards.

D1 & D1H ?


Theory: Groups of four blank pixels outfitted with Red, Green, and Blue color filter sets create new large pixels that measure 11.89 microns tall and wide. (The extra .03 microns would be due to the tiny gaps between the individual photosites.) A D1 sized sensor (23.7mm x 15.6mm) produces a finished image size of 2000 x 1312 pixels (2.624 million pixels).

D1X ?


If the same sensor was reconfigured with this array of Red, Green, and Blue color filters, the pixels would now measure 5.93 microns wide and 11.89 microns tall. The D1 sized sensor would now produce a 4028 pixel wide by 1324 pixel high image. Aspect ratio interpolation correction within the camera reconfigures the image to a 3008 x 1960 pixel finished size. (5.896 million pixels.)



And if the same sensor was outfitted with individual Red, Green, and Blue color filters on every photosite, the pixels would be 5.93 microns tall and wide. It would create a finished image size of 4000 x 2624 pixels. (10+ million pixels.)

If my theory is correct, the transition from the D1 & D1H to the D1X would have been relatively simple. Rather than build an all new sensor with vertically rectangular pixels, the D1X would use the same sensor with reshuffled (plus additional) colored lenses.

It could also mean that another camera evolution is possible with the same body & basic sensor, creating a 10+ megapixel camera. It would certainly require a lot more processing power, as the D1X is already a bit on the slow side, obviously pushing the ability of current generation processing power. Natural technology advances could cure the processing power limits, but what of those small ~ 6 micron pixels? Can current lenses do justice to such tiny pixels with the kind of image quality we demand?

Remember, this is all just a theory. But it certainly seems possible.

January 22, 2002

Fujifilm announced its Third Generation Super CCD System. Check out the technology in the Fujifilm Third Generation Super CCD System information page with its accompanying diagrams. Fujifilm combined the information from each group of four adjacent pixels into a single pixel. (Similar structure ... Interesting coincidence?)


February 17, 2003

Just over one year after I posted the original article on this page, Bjorn Rorslett dissected a D1 CCD and took a picture of it .... and confirmed my theory. Here's a link to the DPReview forum thread on his discovery:

February 2006

Kiyoshige Shibazaki, General Manager, 1st Development Department, Development Management Department, Imaging Company (Nikon Japan) confirmed how the Nikon D1 sensor came about in an interview posted in a (online) article.

Mr. Shibazaki said, "I guess that it's now safe to reveal that the D1 image sensor, with specifications noting a pixel count of 2.7-million pixels, actually had a pixel count of 10.8-million pixels. The technical reason for an actual pixel count four times greater than that indicated publicly lies in the need to achieve high sensitivity and a good signal-to-noise ratio. Unlike current cameras, for which final pixel counts account for individual pixels, we had to include multiple pixels in each pixel unit with the D1. In short, our development of an image sensor with so many pixels at such an early stage in the history of digital cameras indicates the importance placed on SLR camera development at Nikon. Keeping all of this in mind, our ability to offer high-speed drive technology that made five frame-per-second shooting of 10.8-million pixel images possible is something I am truly proud of."

Link to article

Mystery Solved.