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FireWire camera

FireWire cameras are connected to computers via an IEEE 1394a or IEEE 1394b interface. Sony labels this interface "iLINK™". The term "FireWire" was introduced by Apple. In the mid of the 1990s, IEEE 1394a already provided a bandwidth of 400 Mbit/s.

At that time, Sony was the first manufacturer that introduced industrial FireWire cameras. This was the beginning of the breakthrough of digital industrial cameras. Today, analog industrial cameras are almost not used anymore in new machine vision projects.

The Imaging Source was one of the first German manufacturers that offered FireWire cameras. Today, they are one of the few worldwide companies that offers industrial cameras with all three interfaces: FireWire, USB and GigE.

Industrial FireWire cameras are either fitted with a CMOS sensor or with a CCD sensor.

FireWire 400 versus FireWire 800

Today, industrial cameras are available with both interfaces: IEEE 1394a and IEEE 1394b. More widely used terms are "FireWire 400" and "FireWire 800". The numbers imply the available bandwidth.

A bandwidth of 400 Mbit/s is still suitable for the vast majority of machine vision applications. Therefore, there are many FireWire cameras on the market that are fitted with a FireWire 400 interface. This is highly appreciated by industrial customers. Usually, they are pretty unenthusiastic about today's "short innovation cycles".

However, newly developed FireWire cameras are only fitted with FireWire 800 interfaces. Fortunately, this does not force users to replace an existing FireWire 400 infrastructure: FireWire 800 is downwardly compatible.

FireWire cameras come without lenses

Most industrial cameras are fitted with a lens thread based on the C-mount or CS-mount standard. Therefore, these cameras can be adapted to various different applications using a C-mount or CS-mount lens. Due to the fact that this is an international standard, the market offers a wide range of such lenses.

FireWire cameras with auto-focus, auto-iris and zoom

Some applications require lens control via the application software. FireWire cameras with an integrated lens meet this requirement perfectly. They use small motors to control the focus, iris and zoom setting of the lens. Obviously this kind of FireWire camera provides an auto-focus and an auto-iris. A typical example for this are the zoom cameras offered by The Imaging Source.

FireWire cameras are at the heart of machine vision

Industrial automation is the root of machine vision systems. These systems are still dominated by FireWire cameras. This is due to the fact that Sony already offered industrial FireWire cameras in the mid 1990s. In addition to their widespread usage, they have other important advantages:

  • Independence of Windows: Right at the outset, Sony fitted its industrial FireWire cameras with a register-level programming interface. This interface was soon standardized under the name DCAM by the IEEE 1394 working group IIDC (Instrumentation & Industrial Digital Camera). Thus, industrial FireWire cameras are compatible to any computer that is itself compatible to IIDC/DCAM - independently of its architecture and operating system.
  • Robust power supply: Similar to USB devices, FireWire devices are powered via the interface. But there is an important difference: A USB interface provides 5 VDC and can handle a load of up to 500 mA. A FireWire interface provides a range of 8 to 30 VDC and can handle a load of up to 1.5 A.
  • Cable length: Initially, the maximum length of FireWire cables was 4.5 m. Due to better cables, this limit was raised to 10 m many years ago. Meanwhile there are FireWire 800 cables of up to 40 m.

What are the disadvantages of FireWire cameras?

FireWire cameras have only one disadvantage: They are still at the heart of machine vision systems, but they have lost some ground in the mass market. Today, it is dominated by USB 2.0. Thus, many computers are not fitted with FireWire interfaces and the accessories for an upgrade are not widely available any more.