Everything you need to know about USB 3.0 cameras

What if changing your camera meant a 50% decrease in analysis time and no more frustrations with slow focusing? Read on to find out exactly why.

About USB 3.0 technology

USB 3.0, or SuperSpeed USB as it is also called, is the third major version of the Universal Serial Bus standard. It emerged from the need for increased bandwidth between computers and devices, whose performance must meet users' interactive experience expectations.  SuperSpeed technology offers a data transfer rate of up to 5 Gigabits per second, which is more than 10 times faster than the 480 Megabits per second top speed of USB 2.0  When put into practice, this means tranferring a 10 Gb file in approximately 25 seconds instead of 5 minutes.

Zero blur at full resolution

So how does this traslate into an advantage for scientific cameras used in image analysis? Without the data transfer limitations of USB 2.0 cables cameras can now send full resolution images at a much higher rate than previously. The potential data tranfer rate of a 4 Megapixel USB 3.0 camera is 90 frames per second (fps) at full resolution! The advantage is clear when you see your sample in movement, either along the x or y-axis or when trying to focus.


With a typical transfer rate of 12 fps a moving image tranfered from a USB 2.0 camera appears blurred as not enough still images are transferred in the time it takes for our eyes to perceive changes in pixels. At over 30 fps still images are transferred at such a rate that the human eye perceives the movement to be fluid. This is no small detail when it comes to ergonomy: users quickly get accustomed to the new level of detail when seeking out features on a sample or performing a manual focus. 

Greater active chip area lets you see more


Another major feature of these new scientific cameras is the physical size of their image sensor. A 4 Megapixel 3.0 USB camera chip has an active area of 11.26mm x 11.26mm. Compared to the 6.5mm x 4.0mm active area of a USB 2.0 camera sensor, the type of chip used in a USB 3.0 camera allows you to grab much more of the field of view at a time and offers a higher image resolution.

Fig. 1 below depicts the relative size difference between the new sensor (in pink) and the old (in yellow). When light passes through the microscope's optical path and hits the sensor, only part of the image is grabbed (Fig.2). On a given sample fewer fields need to be acquired and this in turn reduces the analysis time by about 50% (Fig. 3).

Optical format of 2:1 or 1:1

Both 4Mp and 2Mp Clemex SuperSpeed cameras are unquestionably suited to image analysis applications. While the 2Mp camera has a format of 2:1, the 4Mp camera has an optical format of 1:1 so the field of view as seen on the screen is a square. This ratio is excellent for capturing as much of the field of view as possible, as a square is the largest rectangle that can fit into a circle, perfect for analyses necessitating high speed and little human intervention. The 2:1 ratio on the other hand matches the computer screen's ratio. It is therefore more comfortable to look at and ideally adapted to applications where operators are more involved.


Does physical appearance matter?

While neither the size nor the shape and color of a camera make any difference when analyzing images in a lab, latest technology has allowed the development of scientific cameras that are discrete yet robust. Combersome devices are often not a welcome sight in a well-equipped lab. But as they say, it's a question of taste. Our cameras have all been chosen for their performance and ergonomy of use together with Clemex software.

The new Clemex SuperSpeed camera is only 65mm (2.5") long.



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