Which camera technology is right for me?


Researchers who want to understand the benefits of CMOS technology.


A more detailed explanation of CMOS versus CCD/EM-CCD than the visual guide.

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To see the differences between the chips, read Visual guide to CCD vs EM-CCD vs CMOS.

The low noise and high quantum efficiency (QE) of second generation sCMOS technology gives biologists the freedom to do more types of experiments using a single camera. The technology—the chip architecture—is fundamentally different from older CCD and EM-CCD technology and requires the use of different metrics to really understand how to compare the technologies and choose the right camera for your experiments.


For example, in most camera comparison discussions, parameters such as effective quantum efficiency, sample background levels, multiplicative noise, and spatial averaging are ignored and all the focus is on “sensitivity”—a highly general term that is typically based solely on native quantum efficiency and/or read noise.


Additionally, the comparison of these specs from one camera to another is often done without considering the relationships between parameters, or the context of the experimental question being asked.

Comparision of camera

Such an approach may offer a simple argument for choosing one camera over another but doesn’t reveal the complete picture of the capabilities of sCMOS because the chip architecture is so different. Comparison of the most relevant metrics, leads to the following conclusions:

  • The ORCA-Flash4.0, because of a combination of high QE and low read noise, without multiplicative noise, is capable of replacing traditional interline CCDs and EM-CCDs for most fluorescent imaging. In addition to having equal or greater sensitivity as EM-CCDs in demanding low light applications (> 100 photons/pixel),1 the ORCA-Flash4.0 also offers larger field of view and faster frame rates than EM-CCDs.
  • EM-CCDs are still the best choice for extremely low light applications (< 100 photons/pixel) that have no background.
  • Traditional interline CCD cameras, because of low dark current, will only be used for long (minutes) exposures.
  • Background from the sample must be considered and may become the defining factor in application dependent camera selection.

To learn how we came to these conclusions and read more about comparing different camera technologies, read Changing the Game white paper.


  1. Huang, F. et al. Video-rate nanoscopy using sCMOS camera-specific, single-molecule localization algorithms. Nat. Methods 10, 653–658 (2013).

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