A charge-coupled device (CCD) is a device for the movement of electrical charge, usually from within the device to an area where the charge can be manipulated, for example conversion into a digital value. This is achieved by “shifting” the signals between stages within the device one at a time. CCDs move charge between capacitive bins in the device, with the shift allowing for the transfer of charge between bins.


In recent years CCD has become a major technology for digital imaging. In a CCD image sensor, pixels are represented by p-dopedmetal-oxide-semiconductors (MOS) capacitors. These capacitors are biased above the threshold for inversion when image acquisition begins, allowing the conversion of incoming photons into electron charges at the semiconductor-oxide interface; the CCD is then used to read out these charges. Although CCDs are not the only technology to allow for light detection, CCD image sensors are widely used in professional, medical, and scientific applications where high-quality image data are required. In applications with less exacting quality demands, such as consumer and professional digital cameras, active pixel sensors, also known as complementary metal-oxide-semiconductors (CMOS) are generally used; the large quality advantage CCDs enjoyed early on has narrowed over time.

Basics of operation

In a CCD for capturing images, there is a photoactive region (an epitaxial layer of silicon), and a transmission region made out of a shift register (the CCD, properly speaking).

An image is projected through a lens onto the capacitor array (the photoactive region), causing each capacitor to accumulate an electric charge proportional to the light intensity at that location. A one-dimensional array, used in line-scan cameras, captures a single slice of the image, whereas a two-dimensional array, used in video and still cameras, captures a two-dimensional picture corresponding to the scene projected onto the focal plane of the sensor. Once the array has been exposed to the image, a control circuit causes each capacitor to transfer its contents to its neighbor (operating as a shift register). The last capacitor in the array dumps its charge into a charge amplifier, which converts the charge into a voltage. By repeating this process, the controlling circuit converts the entire contents of the array in the semiconductor to a sequence of voltages. In a digital device, these voltages are then sampled, digitized, and usually stored in memory; in an analog device (such as an analog video camera), they are processed into a continuous analog signal (e.g. by feeding the output of the charge amplifier into a low-pass filter), which is then processed and fed out to other circuits for transmission, recording, or other processing.

The charge packets (electrons, blue) are collected in potential wells (yellow) created by applying positive voltage at the gate electrodes (G). Applying positive voltage to the gate electrode in the correct sequence transfers the charge packets.
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