A CMOS Sensor Size Comparison and Format Type Look-Up Table with Free Format Type Calculators 

The Image Sensor Size and Pixel Size of a Camera is Critical to Image Quality

Feb 16, 2021
Max Henkart

The sensor format size and pixel size of digital camera impacts nearly every performance attribute of a camera.

The format size is a key element that contributes to system constraints across the low-light performance, dynamic range, size, cost, power consumption, lens requirement, number of pixels resolution, etc. Each of these will change the form and function of camera.

There are general rules of thumb for how the these will impact the image quality of a camera.  The tradeoffs tend to be continuous and very inter-related across many degrees of freedom.

Every camera use-case has application-specific requirements, so the selection of a CMOS image sensor needs to be made on a case-by-case basis. We've done our best to categorize the usage of  sensor-type by industry.

A CMOS Image Sensor Size Comparison to Explain Digital Camera Sensor Size Tradeoffs

Digital Camera Sensor Format Types are confusing because of Cathode Ray based Vidicon Tubes

The format type of a digital camera sensor is one of the most confusing in the vision industry. The format type is a remanent from how video camera tubes were constructed prior to the advent of CCDs or CMOS sensors.

These 'video tubes' had opaque regions outside the active area of the cathode tube, which reduced the light sensitive region. These resulted from the mechanics holding either the larger tube or cathodes. 

For example:

  • A 1″ image sensor with 4:3 aspect ratio is 12.8mm Horizonal * 9.6mm Vertical * 16mm Diagonal
  • A 1/3″ image sensor with 4:3 aspect ratio is 4.8mm Horizontal * 3.6mm Vertical * 6mm Diagonal

Well that doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it? 1" is 25.4mm and 1/3 of 1" is 8.5mm! Even 1/3 of the 1" Format Diagonal should be 5mm!

Let's take the 1" format type as an example. Part of the cathode ray tube's diameter was the tube wall and was not used for imaging purposes.

So, the area was reduced from 25.4mm to 16mm. So, a lens suitable for a 1" type cathode ray tube did not need an image circle that extended to the entire 25.4mm tube diameter. 

Some historical references state that the sensor size is 3/2 * Format Type then rounded, however, there are still exist many discontinuities.

With modern day imaging, there exist a nearly infinite number of image sensor diagonal dimensions for which there was no original video tube size corresponding to.

So, we've done our best to derive a "modern-day" equation that defines image sensor format type more precisely. We used commonly agreed upon datapoints of 1" = 16.0mm, 1/2" = 8.0mm, 1/3" = 6.0mm, 1/4" = 4.5mm and backed out a fitting equation, then cross-referenced as many other articles as possible.

Unfortunately, the formula for the digital image sensor type has a discontinuity occurring between the 1/2" image sensor and 1/2.3" image sensor format size.

Digital Camera Sensor Size Comparison Formula


What this means when someone references a CMOS Image Sensor Format Type

This subjective classification means that manufacturers can apply 'best judgement' when publishing a Format Type for their sensor.

The means that engineers should use the exact output pixel count and pixel pitch (size) when considering a lens, such as a CS Mount Lens or M12 Lens.

The majority of sensors on the market approximately adhere to the Format Type dimensions below, which can calculated from the formula above:

Calculate the "35mm Equivalent" EFL of any lens on any sensor

We've created a simple calculator to help translate between engineers and hobbyists who use the "35mm Equivalent EFL" when discussing Field of View.

If you are looking for more advanced functionality and calculations, please see our more advanced Field of View calculator which includes distortion. PLEASE NOTE THAT THE BELOW CALCULATOR IS INCORRECT FOR LENSES WITH DISTORTION.

The Take-Away: There is no substitute for exact values when selecting a lens

Most manufacturers are consistent and accurate with their Format Type classifications. However, we've run across numerous specification sheets which are mis-classified.

To repeat, always use the exact output pixel count and pixel pitch (size) when finding a lens!

If you've figured out which sensor you're using and want to calculate the 35mm Format Type Equivalent EFL, check out our Camera Field of View Calculator.

M12 Lenses C Mount Lenses.webp__PID:d39df4c6-9351-4eae-9938-992a7c9a721e

Engineering & Quality Assured

Optical Engineering for M12 Lenses.webp__PID:cabadc1d-9038-478a-9ec1-b9515597d704

US Engineering Support

M12 Lens in the US.webp__PID:de4930ea-2073-44ee-ad75-d40d9d92487e

Easy Global Shipment

M12 Lens Manufacturing.webp__PID:7f1f5e48-3df5-4feb-9fa4-5a6210d8de49

Volume Production Ready

What's Your Application? Our Lenses Cover the Spectrum.

215°@6.8mm M12 Fisheye Lens

CIL220-F2.3-M12B650

215°@6.8mm M12 Fisheye Lens

Low Distortion 2.2mm M12 Lens

CIL023-F2.2-M12A650

Low Distortion 2.2mm M12 Lens

Low Distortion 6mm M12 Lens

CIL059-F1.7-M12B650

Low Distortion 6mm M12 Lens

Mobile Robotics?

Find a low F# or low distortion lens to optimize your computer vision.

Factory Machine Vision?

Our cost-effective compact C-Mount lenses are designed for up to 1.1"~1.2" format global shutter sensors.

180°@14.2mm C-Mount Fisheye Lens

CIL505-F2.2-CMANIR

180°@14.2mm C-Mount Fisheye Lens

8mm C-Mount Lens 1.1" 12MP

CIL508-F2.4-CMANIR

8mm C-Mount Lens 1.1" 12MP

12mm C-Mount Lens 1.1" 12MP

CIL512-F2.8-CMANIR

12mm C-Mount Lens 1.1" 12MP

No Distortion 3.2mm Lens

CIL034-F2.3-M12BNIR

No Distortion 3.2mm Lens

Low Distortion 6mm M12 Lens

CIL059-F1.7-M12B650

Low Distortion 6mm M12 Lens

Low Distortion 2.7mm M12 Lens

CIL027-F2.8-M12A650

Low Distortion 2.7mm M12 Lens

Intelligent Everywhere?

Our low distortion lenses with multiple F# can be used to optimize your depth of field.

Surveillance?

Our fisheye and IR Corrected lenses are suitable for doorbell cameras and active IR illuminated scenes.

190°@5.7mm Fisheye M12 Lens

CIL290-F2.2-M12A660

190°@5.7mm Fisheye M12 Lens

IR Corrected 4.4mm M12 Lens

CIL046-F2.0-M12A650

IR Corrected 4.4mm M12 Lens

Telephoto 35mm M12 Lens

CIL350-F2.4-M12A650

Telephoto 35mm M12 Lens

200°@4.5mm MiniFisheye M12 Lens

CIL914-F2.4-M12B650

200°@4.5mm MiniFisheye M12 Lens

195°@5.2mm Fisheye Lens

CIL818-F2.0-M12A660

195°@5.2mm Fisheye Lens

190°@5.7mm Fisheye M12 Lens

CIL290-F2.2-M12A660

190°@5.7mm Fisheye M12 Lens

Does it Require Getting Dirty?

Our IP67 and IP69K lenses are suitable for applications exposed to the environment.

Aerial Robotics?

Our tiny lenses are ideal for collision avoidance and object recognition.

195°@5.2mm Fisheye Lens

CIL818-F2.0-M12A660

195°@5.2mm Fisheye Lens

Small 2.1mm M12 Lens

CIL821-F2.4-M12ANIR

Small 2.1mm M12 Lens

Small 2.8mm M12 Lens

CIL829-F2.5-M08A650

Small 2.8mm M12 Lens