Four Basic Controls for a Digital Imaging Sensor

digital imaging sensor

You probably noticed a number of complicated sensor control options in your camera’s menu given the large range of cameras that are currently accessible. What are they and how do they impact your image or video, when you alter these distinct settings?

It is essential to master these sensor controls in order to get the best results from a camera in a variety of lighting situations. Correct use of these parameters will result in a better image with reduced noise.

Let’s take a closer look at a few cameras controls that provide you with easy access to the imaging sensor.

Four basic sensor controls

The four fundamental sensor controls that you can change on the sensor are as follows:

  • Resolution
  • Gain
  • Exposure Time
  • Black Level Compensation (Brightness)



PPI, or pixels per inch, is a unit of measurement for the number of pixels displayed per inch of an image. Higher resolutions have more pixels per inch (PPI), which means more pixel information and a better, more precise image.

Lower-resolution images have fewer pixels, and when an image is stretched, those few pixels can become too large, and the image will lose detail.

An image with a resolution of 600 PPI, for instance, would have 600 pixels inside each square inch of the image. This picture will appear very clear and finely detailed. Now contrast that with a 72ppi image, which has fewer pixels per inch, and you will see that it does not look as sharp as the 600ppi image.

In a digital sensor, this is the total number of individual pixels on a particular digital sensor that goes into creating an image. This can be described as a horizontal-to-vertical ratio. For example, the typical pixel count for HD cameras is 1920 x 1080.

These numbers are now abbreviated by the letter “K” (2K, 4K, 6K, 8K, etc.). For instance, a 4K image sensor means it has 4000 pixels (3840 x 2160 pixels) in its horizontal axis.

Analyzing the resolution needed for the use case is necessary before choosing the camera. We must take into account a number of factors in relation to resolution, including:

  • Higher Resolution, means more pixels, allowing for greater detail to be achieved.
  • Higher Resolution means smaller pixel size. Smaller pixels require more attention to be provided to lens selection in terms of lens format, MTF, and so on.
  • Higher pixel size enables better low-light sensitivity.
  • Higher pixel size ensures better HDR.



Using the gain control, we can boost the analog signal from a pixel before conversion. Electronic signal amplification increases the voltage applied to your imager’s pixels, which causes them to amp up their intensity and brighten your image.

  • The advantage is that gain control allows for a higher grayscale level.
  • Gain control’s drawback is that it increases noise. Gain boosts the entire signal, including any potential background noise.

Understanding the following elements is necessary before using gain control.

  • Both the noise level and the signal level will rise as the gain value is increased.
  • The image quality is not improved by gain control.
  • Gain control should only be used as a last resort to boost brightness.
  • When bit depths are increased, gain control may become limited.

Exposure Time


The amount of time the sensor is exposed to light during this process is known as the exposure time. This phrase is frequently compared to shutter speed or integration time.

To achieve the right exposure, only a precise amount of light is needed. Underexposed photos result from a too-short exposure time. The photos will be overexposed if the exposure time is too long. A camera-integrated component or an autonomous device with an exposure meter can be used to determine the required exposure time.

However, in order to use the exposure time control, we must first understand the following factors.

  • The pixel well fills up faster as the exposure time increases. This results in a higher SNR.
  • A longer exposure time would essentially slow down the frame rate.
  • Motion blur is more likely to occur with longer exposure times.

Black Level Control


You can modify the overall brightness of an image using the Black Level camera feature. A screen can only be as dark as its black level. In essence, it is when the screen stops emitting any light. Using a deep black level will primarily enhance the appearance of bright objects and colors next to it.

With the help of the black level control, we can offset the pixel values. We can anticipate a positive offset in the digital values output for the pixel when we increase the black level settings, and vice versa. Black Level, in contrast, to gain, lets you work with the digital signal rather than the analog signal.

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