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Monday, 23 May 2011


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Its a revolutionary device for sure, but I still fail to see how it "allowed engineers for the first time to store a visual image in digital form." He didn't invent the analog/digital converter, or did he? Did he invent the solid state sensor with the discrete pixels? Yes.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Boyle when he retired from Bell Labs as a research executive in 1979. I was new on the staff of our in-house company newspaper, the Bell Labs News, and an executive retirement profile was considered a reasonably meaty yet low-enough risk story to assign to an entry-level writer. A few months earlier, my wife and I had taken a vacation in Nova Scotia, indulging our hiking and my photography passions. So I had the perfect chit-chat to get my interview with this scientific leader and down-to-earth Canadian off to a good start.

Related to a previous post, I was playing with the online SD1 samples and it seems to me the foveon sensor delivers twice as much detail as a same size regular sensor, easy, and probably thrice. But lens deffects like CAs show up badly.

Thanks for the post Mike, it really makes me proud to be a Canadian,
It's good that he died in his homeland of Nova Scotia, a place much photographed by digital cameras.

I understand that he was a modest and self deprecating individual. I recall the articles here in Canada on his winning the Nobel Prize and how surprised he was at being the recipient. Indeed, his creation has changed our world hugely. No doubt someone else would have thought of this down the road but he uniquely did do so and we are all so much better for it. There are so many places where the CCD is present from medical equipment to scanners to cameras and astronomical equipment and on and on. It was a huge idea and the principle after these years is still the very one that we count upon.

In a world obsessed by shallow celebrity, it's still as true as ever that the really significant contributions to human life are made by quiet, modest and salaried men and women in white coats, who have a capacity to reason and perservere in a way most of us cannot.

However much we admire a great photographer, we should not forget that without the invention, there would be no photography.

When photographers want a cut of the profit on their prints, perhaps they should be asked in turn to contribute 20% to the "Fox Talbot Foundation" for the various innovators that brought us modern photography and their legacies.

Of course it will never happen, but it's worth reminding people sometimes that life really isn't fair and that when they feel someone owes them, one can list all the people they owe in return.


Made a huge difference to astronomical photography.
Allows everyone to have a camera with them at all times
My photography has improved a lot since going digital 2 1/2 year ago, much easier to experiment, 'chimp' and immediately redo if necessary.


Some news stories after he won the Nobel Prize noted that Boyle and colleagues originally viewed the CCD's potential as more of a data storage medium than an imaging chip (although its later ability wasn't lost on them, witness the publicity photo of Smith pointing a homemade CCD video camera at Boyle and Boyle's image appearing on a video monitor). At the time, scientists and engineers were searching for memory technologies that could bridge the chasm between two prevalent but opposite technologies: fast but volatile, low-capacity and very expensive semiconductor memory on one side, and high-capacity (relatively speaking), non-volatile but s-l-o-w and bulky magnetic tape and disk storage on the other. CCDs were one possiblity; magnetic bubbles were another. (That was another one of my early Bell Labs writing assignments - a white paper on magnetic bubble technology. The "bubbles" were magnetic spots or domains of reverse polarity in a garnet chip.) These alternate memory technologies got squeezed out as the technologies on the two extremes reaped the benefits of Moore's law and essentially converged. Silicon chip capacity skyrocketed and got cheaper; magnetic storage sped up and shrunk in size and got cheaper. Bubbles and CCDs were simply no longer needed as memory technologies. Bubbles vanished, but CCDs got a life in imaging.

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