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Line-scan vs. area-scan cameras: What is right for your machine vision application?

April 16, 2017
By Chromasens

Apr. 15, 2017 – Machine vision integrators are confronted with seemingly endless options when designing an inspection system. Perhaps the most critical decision is whether to use line-scan or area-scan cameras. While both perform a similar role, these technologies are miles apart in how an image is captured.

“Line-scan cameras build images a single pixel row at a time using a sensor which passes in a linear motion over an object, or more often when the object passes under the sensor,” said Klaus Riemer, product manager for Chromasens GmbH, a manufacturer of line-scan camera systems. “As a conveyor or web moves, a 2D image can be reconstructed in software line-by-line for inspection. This makes it ideal for high-speed continuous applications such as document scanning, print inspection, web inspection of paper, aluminum, steel or glass, and in detailed inspections requiring measurements be done in microns. Line-scan can also inspect round bodies without perspective distortion.”

Because line-scan cameras use a single row of pixels, they can build continuous images not limited to a specific vertical resolution, allowing for much higher resolutions than area-scan cameras in both 2D and 3D.

In contrast, area-scan cameras are more general purpose. Used in the majority of machine vision systems, they contain a large matrix of pixels that capture a 2D image of a given scene in one exposure cycle with horizontal and vertical elements, for example in 640 x 480 pixels. While they may offer easier setup and alignment, they are not always effective when an object under inspection is moving or if it cannot be contained in a practical size field of view. Area-scan cameras are best suited towards applications where the object is stationary, even if only momentarily. Uninterrupted capture of continuous materials by an area-scan camera is achieved only by capturing overlapping images. Software must painstakingly crop each individual image, eliminate distortion and assemble the images in the correct sequence.

Additional benefits of line-scan systems include their more compact footprints that allow them to fit more easily into tight spaces, for instance, when a camera must peek through rollers on a conveyor to view the bottom of a part. Also, line-scan cameras create smear-free images of fast moving objects without requiring strobing or the redundant processing of frame overlaps.


Despite these advantages, integrators regularly harbor reservations about deploying line-scan cameras because of perceived system complexities or higher cost. In reality, a single line-scan camera will often do the job of several area-scan cameras, minimizing setup and overall system cost. And while coordination and acquisition timing are critical, line-scan cameras require only simple illumination.

Submitted by Chromasens

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