Realization and opto-electronic Characterization of linear Self-Reset Pixel Cells for a high dynamic CMOS Image Sensor
Conventional CMOS image sensors with a linear transfer characteristic only have a limited dynamic range (DR) of about 60–70 dB. To extend the dynamic range considerably, the already successfully demonstrated concept of a linear self-reset pixel was employed in this work. With the self-reset concept the limit of the maximum analyzable photo generated charge (Qmax) during the exposure time is extended to a multiple of the saturation charge of the photo diode (Qsat) by asynchronous self-resets of the photo diode. Additionally, the remaining charge at the end of the exposure time is evaluated to increase the resolution of the opto-electronic conversion. Thus we achieved pixels with a DR of more than 120 dB combined with an improved low light sensitivity using a pinned photodiode. This paper focuses on two topics: One is the realization and opto-electronic characterization of further self-reset pixel cells for an experimental optimization of the functionality with respect to linearity and high signal-to-noise ratio. The second one is the assembly and digital readout of a cluster structure composed of 16 × 16 pixel matrix on a CMOS test chip. One constraint for later usage of the pixel cells in a high resolution (> VGA) image sensor is the required layout area of the individual circuit blocks. For the cluster structure a size of 20 × 20 µm2 for the analog part of the pixel containing the photo diode and the other analog circuit blocks, the comparator and the signal shaping, was desired. The circuit design and layout work included several variants of the pinned photo diode with floating diffusion (FD) readout node, which is also used for analog voltage storage, and different control transistors. Further for the comparator a telescopic differential amplifier with high gain was implemented as well as peripheral 10 bit counter/shift register as static and dynamic versions. Test chips have been fabricated in an advanced 0.18 µm CMOS technology for optical sensors with low leakage currents. The sensor chips have been evaluated with a specifically developed test setup which gives the flexibility to arbitrarily generate the digital and analog control signals in terms of timing and voltage levels. Based on this, the number of asynchronous self-resets could be read out from the counters of the pixel cells as coarse values. The remaining charge at the end of the integration time was digitized using a ramp analog to digital conversion and could be read out as fine values. An opto-electronic characterization with adjustable illumination from 0 lx to 13 klx was done to measure and analyze the opto-electronic conversion function (OECF) and the noise of six different self-reset pixel cells having the high-gain differential amplifier as comparator. Finally the coarse values of two implemented 16 × 16 pixel clusters could be read out as a mini camera using a lens for optical image formation.