In the early days of photography the image sensor was a pane of glass coasted with a light sensitive emulsion. Time moved on, the technology improved and the image sensor became a strip of acetate coated with an emulsion placed on the surface of the file.
Digital cameras, web cams and camcorders all have image sensors. Instead of glass or film there is a light sensitive chip.
When you snap a photo or record video you are exposing the digital image sensor to light. The sensor processes the image data and stores that information into internal memory, a memory card or a hard drive.
There are two types of image sensors, CCD and CMOS. On the consumer photo and camcorder level you are going to see CMOS level sensors on the product specification sheet.
This is the quick and dirty explanation. Well, not so dirty as is shady. Not all image sensors are created equal. Some are lovingly crafted. Others are survivors of the reject bin. There are different size image sensors for various uses and price points.
It depends on the manufacturer. Some producers insist on quality throughout their product line. Other vendors focus on delivering x-amount of quality for a certain market segments.
I cannot leave out the knock-off kings and queens manufactures. These companies live to reverse engineer a product and rush to market in order to cash in on uninformed consumers.
Another Way to Think About Image Sensors
Internet web cams have a physical space restriction, so small sensors are used. Inexpensive web cams have really small sensors that produce a grainy image no matter how much light you throw at it.
The better quality and generally more expensive web cams have a larger area to record an image. There is a built-in limitation. You can only place a certain size image sensor in a web cam.
For pocket and web camcorders you can have a slightly larger sensor but that sensor is not going to record well indoors or in low light conditions.
An inexpensive pocket camcorder with a tiny sensor will do much worse recording indoors than an larger sensor in a pocket camcorder.
Here is the rub; there are very few pocket camcorders that perform well indoors. These products were originally designed as outdoor devices. The image sensor (as well as the lens) determines the quality of the image or the recording.
Full size consumer camcorders have larger sensors and more features to support those sensors like back-lighting, white balance, manual exposure to take full advantage of the capabilities of the image sensor.
How Does Knowing This Help Buy A Camcorder?
Remember your fractions or millimeters. For example, a 1/4 inch image sensor is larger than a 1/6 inch sensor. When checking out the specs look for the size of the sensor.
When you are buying a camcorder be clear with yourself about how you are going to use it. If you need to record indoors then a pocket camcorder might not be the best purchase. That device was designed for outdoor activity use.
If you still need to buy a pocket camcorder then look for models that have the largest image sensor you can afford at your price point.
If you need crystal clarity of image, color and excellent quality then you really want to pay attention to the size of the image sensor.
Part One – What’s In A Name?
Part Two – Make and Model