Learn About Camera Link Cameras

Camera Link is one of the most common machine vision interfaces. With a range of user-friendly attributes and frequently updated specifications, it's also one of the most useful and versatile. This page offers a summary of the history, features, uses and advantages of Camera Link.

A Brief History of Camera Link

Camera Link has existed in one form or another since late 2000. Officially known as Camera Link Interface Standard 1.0, the interface was designed to be faster and more responsive than other interfaces. In fact, it worked so well that the Associated Imaging Association waited nearly four years to introduce a major update. To accommodate rapidly changing image processing software programs, the AIA Standards Committee released Camera Link 1.1 in early 2004. Camera Link 1.2 followed in early 2007 with new connection protocols and a strengthened set of electrical descriptions. After more than four years of success with CL 1.2, the AIA finally released Camera Link 2.0 during the 2011 holiday season.

How Does It Work?

Camera Link is a comprehensive interface that delivers real-time machine vision for industrial camera users. Using a highly technical but efficient set of specifications, the interface links cameras, frame grabbers and vision acquisition software at bandwidths of up to 850 MB/sec. Camera Link uses at least one and up to three Channel-link transceiver chips to perform these lightning-fast transfers. Each chip presides over four data streams and a dedicated "clock" that keeps the transfer running smoothly. This basic model makes Camera Link transfers extremely stable and reliable. Depending on the user's needs, the technology may take several common forms:

  • Base configuration:
    These days, the Camera Link base configuration uses a single 26-pin MDR cable and 11 LVDS pairs to produce bandwidths of up to 255 MB/sec.
  • Medium configuration:
    This setup uses a second 26-pin cable to double bandwidth and produce crisper images. A "full" configuration may use a third cable.
  • Extended configuration:
    These specialized configurations require customized cables that can transfer at speeds of 850 MB/sec or more.

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Camera Link Cameras

Cables and Connections

One of Camera Link's biggest selling points is its standardized connection system. Many Camera Link systems use 26-pin MDR cables from CEI to establish fast, redundant connections between cameras, frame grabbers and PC-based acquisition programs. Virtually all modern Camera Link products use screwed ports that accept "interface-compatible" cables. This reduces equipment costs and streamlines the ordering process. Of course, it's possible to source specialized cables to boost Camera Link bandwidths even further.

Popular Uses

Businesses that regularly use machine vision industrial cameras find this interface to be indispensable. Since Camera Link works well with line scan and area scan imaging devices, its applicability is truly impressive. Some of the most popular uses for the Camera Link standard include:

  • Automated industrial inspection processes
  • Quality control operations that require automated "stop triggers" in real time
  • Medical imaging
  • Thermal/infrared imaging
  • Stimulus-response observation and recording
  • Movement-sensitive applications

Recent Updates

While Camera Link 2.0 remains in vogue with a wide range of demanding industrial users, the future looks quite bright for fans of the Camera Link standard. In 2012, the AIA defined a brand-new Camera Link HS standard that offers even more intuitive and efficient connections as well as a five-fold increase in bandwidth. There's never been a better time to be a Camera Link user.