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New 4K microscope using 4K block camera (FCB-ER9500)

A shared vision: Close collaboration between Sony ISS and Denmark-based TAGARNO leads to the development of the world's first digital microscope featuring a 4K camera with 60 frames per second


Digital microscopes depend on the highest quality cameras to provide unrivalled visualization, magnification, and image capture, allowing ultra-high-definition inspection of objects, surfaces and specimens, depending on the application.

Sony ISS has a long and distinguished history of innovation in this area, having worked with Danish company TAGARNO – one of the world leaders in digital microscopes - since 2009. This relationship means TAGARNO’s digital microscopes are now used in various industries, from electronics to medical science.

In the electronics industry, specifically, TAGARNO’s digital microscopes have been a game-changer for PCB inspection, quality control and repair. They are excellent tools for activities such as soldering, with users experiencing a smooth live image as the operatives move the PCB around to spot any issues during production, allowing any findings to be easily documented, stored, or forwarded to technical colleagues for more collaborative operations. They are also used for research and development purposes when the goal is to create as much documentation as possible, such as with First Article inspections, and for quality control with PCB analysis, checking conformal coatings and component alignment. In short, digital microscopes are highly versatile tools that are the bedrock of the electronic industry.

In recent times, though, there has been an acknowledgement that the performance of first-generation digital microscopes with 4K resolution from other suppliers has been hampered by vision systems offering a frame rate of 30 frames per second. This specification often causes a noticeable lag between the actual microscope view and what is displayed on the monitor, leading to discomfort and reduced user efficiency. This image delay is a distraction for microscope users and has been known to cause motion sickness and fatigue.

TAGARNO wanted to avoid launching a 4K product with such technical shortcomings. It was keen to utilize advances in camera technology to enhance the performance of digital microscopes to provide ultra-high-quality images in real-time, with no lag. This capability could be delivered by 4K cameras with an unprecedented 60 frames per second, ensuring real-time visualization and enhancing productivity for professionals working with microscopic inspection. For such performance, Sony ISS was the supplier of choice – with TAGARNO depending on the Japanese company to develop a digital camera that met all its criteria.

"We recognized that digital microscopes with 4K/60 cameras could be crucial in overcoming the problem of lag between the actual microscope view and what is displayed on the monitor," says Anders Ravnskjær Pedersen, Head of R&D at TAGARNO. "But we only wanted to launch a product that we knew would provide a step-change in performance.

"To meet expectations, we needed to work with a vision system specialist who could overcome the challenges that other manufacturers had encountered with previous iterations of 4K microscopes. We wanted to launch the world's first digital microscope featuring a 4K camera with an unprecedented 60 frames per second – providing unparalleled clarity, precision, cutting-edge technology, and real-time viewing – and for that, we turned to our trusted partner Sony ISS with whom we have developed an incredibly successful relationship over many years."

Sony ISS provides the answer

TAGARNO has used Sony ISS cameras since it introduced the world's first HD digital microscope in 2009. This long-standing partnership was the starting point for assessing the 4K FCB-ER9500 camera, which was identified as the ideal solution for 4K/60 frame per second performance. The camera was developed to achieve ultra-high visibility by adopting a new lens, image sensor, and image signal processor, providing 30x enhanced optical zoom and 12x digital zoom while being packaged in a compact size. Other attributes included a new super image stabilizer that could significantly improve blur suppression compared to conventional camera models.

The assessment showed that the FCB-ER9500 camera had all the attributes needed to provide 4K/60 frame per second performance. But a camera alone is not a digital microscope – and there needed to be intense research and development efforts between Sony and TAGARNO to bring the new product to life. For example, in-depth knowledge of the camera's critical performance criteria related to factors such as the control interface was crucial to the development process.

"There were technical challenges around factors such as data handling to overcome to ensure that the microscope could realize its full potential," says Anders Ravnskjær Pedersen. "We also wanted to introduce new features such as auto-height adjustment to ensure that the microscope offered the highest quality visualization while also being ergonomically sound and really comfortable to use."

From Sony's perspective, this collaborative effort reflected the mutual respect that had been built up between the two companies' technical teams. Despite an enormous disparity in the size of the organizations, Sony has consistently recognized TAGARNO's market-leading position in digital microscopes and was prepared to create early production versions of the FCB-ER9500 camera to help accelerate the development process of the new microscope.

"The FCB-ER9500 camera was the perfect solution for TAGARNO's 4K/60 requirements," says Marco Boldrini, European Senior Marketing Manager at Sony ISS. "We needed to work in partnership to ensure that all integration challenges were quickly overcome. Our combined knowledge and dedication to applying vision technology to solving challenging inspection problems has resulted in a fantastic product that will revolutionize 4K/60 digital microscope performance."

4K/60 microscope launched worldwide

TAGARNO will launch the world's first digital microscope featuring a 4K camera with 60 frames per second at the upcoming productronica exhibition in Munich, Germany. The collaboration is also expected to lead to other commercial opportunities. TAGARNO is looking to build additional artificial intelligence functionality into the new microscope over the next few years and is planning other exciting developments such as flex arm and robotic microscope applications. This functionality could take into new markets and applications.

The project's success is a testament to the ongoing relationship between Sony and TAGARNO, which is set to continue over the long term. "We look forward to applying our vision system expertise to help TAGARNO continue to set the pace in digital microscopes – now and in the future," concludes Marco Boldrini, European Senior Marketing Manager at Sony ISS.

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