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WP's image memory of digital high-speed camera systems


Image recording and data transmission

Imaging techniques

Existing digital high-speed camera are not limited by the resolution of their sensors only, but also by the read-out rate of their sensors and the data transmission rate to their storage media and by the capacity of those frame buffers. The maximum read-out and data transmission rates restrict according to the type of design the recording frequency and/or the usable area of the image sensor whereas the storage capacity of the buffer memory is responsible for the comparatively short length of the sequences. The buffer memory can be located inside the camera head or on a plug-in board of the control unit.


Transfer rate nominal max. cable length
Fast Ethernet 100 Mbit/s 12.5 MByte/s 100 m
Gigabit Ethernet 1000 Mbit/s 125 MByte/s 100 m
FireWire 400
(IEEE 1394a)
~400 Mbit/s 40 MByte/s 4.5 m (14 m)
FireWire 800
(IEEE 1394b)
~800 Mbit/s 88 MByte/s ... (72 m)
USB (1.1
Full Speed)
12 Mbit/s 1.5 MByte/s 3 m
USB 2.0
High Speed
480 MBit/s 60 MByte/s 5 m

Comparison of some PC interfaces (1 Bit = 1/8 Byte)

Of course, there are high-speed camera systems whose resolution and recording frequency just permit continuous operation like a video recorder over a longer span of time. They store their data on tape inside the control unit or on the harddisk of a PC directly.

Just expressed in sober numbers: A megapixel sensor, even with a comparatively humble 8 Bit color depth per channel, generates at 1 000 frames/sec 1 Gigabyte after all, so 1 000 Megabyte, data per second in RAW format. Thus about 1 1/4 DC ROM per second. First this amount of data has to be transferred and then has to be stored somewhere.
Even the Gigabit Ethernet (= 1 000 Megabit/sec), the favorite at the moment, offers a nominal transfer rate of 125 Megabyte/sec (1 Bit = 1/8 Byte) only. In real about 100 Megabyte/sec remain due to a certain administrative overhead. Then the next bottle necks are the PCI bus inside the computer with a nominal transfer rate of 132 Megabyte/sec (33 MHz at 32 Bit width), shared by all plug-in cards, and the write rate of the mass storage medium. Continuously 100 Megabyte/sec are more than a challenge for a standard hard disk. Therefore the introduction of the PXI bus with double clock rate and double bus width and present that of the PCI Express bus (PCI Express x1; 500 Megabyte/sec) with almost fourfold data transfer compared with PCI, and RAID systems, of course. Meanwhile PCIe2 and PCIe3 reach 5 and 8 Gigabyte/sec, resp. And affordable flash disks (solid state disks, mass storage drives without moving parts) complement conventional harddisk drives.
Even with »professional« interfaces for instance HD-SDI (High Definition Serial Digital Interface) out of the studio technique, one enjoys just gross data rates of 185 or 371 Megabyte/sec. Here perhaps the permitted cable length (ca. 100 m) and the connection of storage media and their prices are expensive.
With spreading of USB 3.0 (5 Gigabit /625 Megabyte per second) something could change here, at least concerning costs.

Already at VGA resolution with 640 x 480 pixels and a frame rate of humble 100 frames/sec more than 30 Megabyte data are sampled per second. But that's just to handle with standard interfaces and mass storage media.


line and column binning
Line/column binning

Comparison of SpeedCam formats
Comparison of SpeedCam read-out areas

The measurements to increase recording frequency despite of limited read-out rate are depending of the design of the sensor. CCD sensors rather offer a line or column reduction, e.g. in form of binning. CMOS sensors, which are designed similar to DRAMs, rather the reduction of read-out format.
Thus for instance SpeedCam +500/+2000/lite (CCD) use line binning, SpeedCam 512/PRO (CCD) use column binning and SpeedCam Visario (CMOS) uses format adjustment.

Whereas binning keeps the field of view constant, and the saving of pixels to be read out is done by reduction of resolution, one saves pixels by reducing the read-out area. Binning makes images look more blurred, format adjusting makes them smaller, but with constant quality. In the end it comes to the same thing: If one wants the same field of view, one will have to edge or zoom closer - the image turns pixeled. Binning does this without changing the location.

One cannot generally say what is better. During adjustment jobs one will appreciate to avoid changes in lens and camera settings, when increasing the frame rate. On the other hand, however, there will be advantages, when all the images show the same quality. In real format adjustment is preferred: Quality counts. (This process is also supported by the increasing use of CMOS sensors.)


Read out methods (interlaced, non-interlaced, progressive scan)

Existing read out procedures for sensor are somehow similar to displaying on screens. In the easiest case half frames like in the interlaced mode of the CRT TV are used. The human eye is to slow to recognize this trick. Not until the still frame replay one perceives this deceit due to the common artifacts.

For high-speed cameras progressive scan is the most suitable approach. In the standard image processing sector (»machine vision«), however, the interlaced methods can provide reduced data rates and due to the »double exposure« and maybe a optimized fill-factor they can increase light sensitivity.


Image memory

SpeedCam +500 image memory
SpeedCam PRO image memory
SpeedCam Visario image memory
Image memory, resolution levels, frequency and recording time
of some SpeedCam high-speed cameras

Buffer memory

Either the image data are gathered analogue or digital due to the sensor design. Usually analogue image data are digitized before storing, but there are exceptions. Normally the storage takes place in some kind of buffer. Its location varies with the state of the art and the demands for the camera and for the camera system, resp.
Even the - of course, very limited - buffering of image data on the sensor itself is possible. Especially in very fast cameras.
If the data rate is small enough the image data can be directly streamed to a storage medium (e.g. the harddisk of a notebook). Therefore concerning »real« high-speed cameras this is not an option.

High-speed camera concepts in comparison of size
Digital high-speed camera concepts

Legend to the figure at the left: RAM = image memory; µC = microcontroller or processor; A/D = analogue to digital conversion (often already integrated in the sensor)
The green card shall show a PC card, the red line connection possibilities (image and control data).
The standard connection can be e.g. (Gigabit) Ethernet or FireWire.

In SpeedCam +500/2000 and SpeedCam PRO the analogue image data are transmitted to the control host and only now are converted into digital values and stored. That permits to keep the real camera head small and its power consumption (waste heat!) is modest. The demands for the cables, however, are comparatively high due to the analogue data transmission. On the other hand SpeedCam Visario systems already convert the data inside the camera head and store them there.
Because of the limited capacity the buffer memory is all the time overwritten in some kind of endless loop. The trigger impulse controls this process and the images are done - »cut!«.

This buffer memory, which usually holds rather »raw« image data without color recovery algorithms (therefore the expression RAW format), is mostly built with DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory) integrated circuits similar to those known from the memory banks of PC main memory. With the typical feature of DRAMs to loose their data during a power failure.
Memory ICs, which keep their data even without power supply, so called NVRAMs, SRAMs, Flash (non volatile; Static RAM), are hardly used for buffer memory due to different disadvantages like slower speed, higher costs, higher power consumption, shorter durability, ...
One makes do with a safety (rechargeable) battery, which supplies the buffer memory if necessary, or even with a full service (rechargeable) battery holding the complete camera in working order. Sometimes with an UPS for the complete camera system, especially for systems, which buffer their data at first in the control unit, like SpeedCam +500/+2000 and SpeedCam Pro.

Explanation for the diagrams:
The jumps in recording time derive from the reduction steps of the resolution with increasing frame rate. If one voluntarily accepts the reduction level through lower frame rates, one will be able to drastically increase the recording time in parts. Then one moves along the stroke-dotted lines. Perhaps in this case the recording time may be limited by the minimum frame rate of the system. It is about 50 frames/sec with SpeedCam +500 and SpeedCam PRO and about 10 frames/sec with SpeedCam Visario.
For better comprehension the reduction levels are drawn as well.
(The markers in the curves are given to identify the curves in a black-and-white print only. In real the frequencies are selectable without steps.)


Permanent memory

Equality is between the buffer memory and a role of film of traditional movie cameras. Its limited capacity forces to shift the data to a mass storage medium. Here one often uses the hard disk of the control unit and its CD or DVD drives and the LAN, of course.

Some high-speed cameras own a harddisk or a flash card inside her head. Concerning applications with high mechanic loads (e.g. usage in a crash vehicle), however, at least the harddisk, even if it is automatically parked during the trial, causes a rest of risk. Even if several models are specified for the loads in a crash test when parked.

These mass storage media in the camera head, however, can accelerate the work in a considerable manner. One takes one sequence after another in a short period, shifts the data to the mass storage medium and during a break or over night one downloads the data or just exchanges the storage medium.


Display and storage

Every manufacturer has its own philosophy presenting the image data more or less revised. For instance with automatic contrast or edge enhancement. Like in photography field professionals prefer the access on RAW images. They are not »falsified« and very efficient. For instance uncompressed AVI files are by factor 3.5 to 4 bigger than RAW files.

At first one sees the (potential) images through various preview or view finder channels, which may be processed by DSP (digital signal processor) in real time or be compressed by them. Often simple sharpen, edge enhancement and color saturation filters are used. Not to mention the defective pixel correction, i.e. the interpolation of defect pixels by their neighbors.

For massive image processing in real time software is hardly to use. Usually it operates with the data saved on the mass storage medium and converts them to common file formats. Due to the calculation time may be even over night.

In spot checks of serial production of safety relevant devices the image data are stored on CD or DVD and archived. Concerning air-bags, e.g. for ten years under the scope of product liability law and additional three years to cover the juridical objection period. In all thirteen years. A lot of material will gather then.




©WP (1998 -) 2012
Update: V8.4, 2012-03-02