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Technical Note

60802

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Effects of Anti-Blooming in Scientific CCD Cameras


Dr. Hanswilly Mueller, Paul Hing, Sensovation AG
Introduction
A CCD camera records images by converting photons of light into electrons. The electrons are
temporarily stored in individual pixels on a photosensitive chip. At the end of an exposure, the
accumulated charges are read off the chip and sent to the computer for conversion to an image.
During the exposures very bright objects can exceed the full well capacity (the electron-holding
capacity) of the pixels. As a pixel exceeds its capacity to hold captured charge, the excess electrons
spill over into the adjacent pixels. This spillover, called blooming, produces a spike of light on every
over-exposed object in the image.
Advantages of Anti-Blooming
A technical solution to avoid over-exposure in CCDs is called anti-blooming gate: A charge drain is
implemented in a portion of each Pixel, designed to drain off overflow from a saturated pixel (figure 1).
In this case the excess charge of each pixel flows into the anti-blooming gate where it is eliminated.

Figure 1: Schematics of 2 CCD Pixels with anti-blooming gate


The advantage of the anti-blooming gate is obvious blooming effects are eliminated such that they
are not visible. This is mostly important for photos captured for simple documentation and consumer
images which do not require analytical and scientific accuracy.
Drawbacks of Anti-blooming Structures
The anti-blooming gate also has some drawbacks. This becomes obvious when comparing figure 1
with figure 2:

Figure 2: Schematics of 2 adjacent


CCD Pixels without anti-blooming gate
Effect on Sensitivity
The anti-blooming gate on the CCD sensor uses up sensitive area, which will no longer be available
for light collection. Electric charge (electrons) is produced only in the remaining area, not in the antiblooming gate. This reduces the fill factor of the CCD sensor. This is visualized in figures 1 and 2
anti-blooming gate (blue) represents a certain portion of the CCD sensor surface. While full frame
sensors without anti-blooming gate have a fill factor of 100%, sensors with anti-blooming gate only
have approximately 70%. This means, in the latter case about 30% of the photons hitting the sensor
_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sensovation AG - Ludwigshafener Str. 29 - D-78333 Stockach, Germany - Tel: +49 7771 87390 - Fax: +49 7771 873939
www.sensovation.com==

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Technical Note

60802

_________________________________________________________________________________________

surface are lost. This finally results in a less sensitive sensor when equipped with anti-blooming.
Micro-lenses on the pixels are one typical method of compensating for the loss in sensitivity, but still
cannot restore the quantum efficiency, and contribute other negative effects such as shading
increasing sensitivity loss toward the edge of the CCD due to increasing incident angle.
Effect on Dynamic Range
In order to implement anti-blooming, a fraction of the pixel capacity is sacrificed so that a threshold
level anti-blooming level can be set which is lower than the full-well capacity. In normal full-frame
sensors, more charge (electrons, symbolized with red - in figures 1 and 2) can accumulate than in
sensors with anti-blooming feature. This results in a higher full well capacity of each pixel. The
dynamic range of such a non-anti-blooming sensor will thus be better than the dynamic range of an
anti-blooming sensor.
Cameras with high Full-Well capacity, like the Sensovation coolSamBa HR-320, are optimized for high
sensitivity and high dynamic range. Because of its large full well capacity, each pixel has a capacity of
55,000 Electrons. This high range maximizes the ability to capture weak as well as strong signals
within one exposure. Since quite a lot of photons are needed to see blooming, this usually is noticed
only, when the CCD is drastically overexposed.
Effect on Linearity
The anti-blooming gate drains surplus electrons to avoid the spilling over into neighbouring pixels. The
threshold, however, where this draining of charge starts, is not linear. This is a positive effect, when
applied in normal digital consumer photographs, because the impression of over-exposure (saturation)
is virtually eliminated. The photos look more natural. Although it is perfectly acceptable for visualizing
purposes, this non-linearity (figure 3) is usually unacceptable for accurate scientific measurements,
such as spectroscopy and photometry. For analytical purposes it is absolutely crucial, to have a highly
linear range, and to recognize saturation. Only there a reliable correlation can be made between
incident light and Pixel Bit value.

Figure 3: Schematic comparison of linearity. CCD Sensor without (left) and with (right) anti-blooming
features.
Conclusion
CCDs with anti-blooming gate protection are not preferred for low light level work because of the
reduced sensitivity of these devices.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sensovation AG - Ludwigshafener Str. 29 - D-78333 Stockach, Germany - Tel: +49 7771 87390 - Fax: +49 7771 873939
www.sensovation.com==

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info@sensovation.com