The beginning of PCO’s story of success dates back to the 1980s and a research project of the founder, Dr. Emil Ott, who was working at the Technical University Munich for the Chair of Technical Electrophysics. While performing measurements with intensified slow scan cameras, Dr. Ott realized that the existing standard did not meet the sophisticated requirements of scientific applications – and so PCO came to life in 1987. With a small team of engineers Dr. Ott began to develop his first image intensified camera followed by several variations on the original model, geared to overcoming all the existing flaws and surpassing standards of the day. During these early years PCO developed a now well established core of advance technologies used as the foundation to develop cutting edge products. One result of the technology developed by Dr. Ott and his team of engineers was the market introduction of the world’s first camera for particle image velocimetry (PIV): the SensiCam – and there was a lot more to come.
In the early 1990s PCO expanded its business activities to the global market by successfully establishing an international network of highly trained sales partners and customers. We entered additional fields beyond traditional scientific research expanding the potential for our cameras’ applications in life science, automotive testing and even broadcasting. This step paved the way for a wide range of innovative highlights:
1989: DiCam: the first image intensifier video camera with 5ns exposure time
1993: VarioCam: the first cooled long-term-exposure video camera with interline sensor
1996: SensiCam: the first digital interline camera with 12-bit ADC
2000: pixelfly: the first 12-bit machine vision camera
2009: pco.dimax: the first 12-bit high-speed camera with broadcast image quality
sCMOS sensor: co-developer of a revolutionary new CMOS image sensor generation
2010: pco.edge: the first sCMOS camera
CameraLink HS interface: founding member of the international CLHS standard committee
2016: pco.flim: the first modulatable 40MHz camera based on a CMOS sensor
As of 2017, PCO has three decades of technical know-how and expert knowledge in the development and manufacturing of high-performing camera systems. In-house competence of all significant technical disciplines and partnering with leading image sensors manufactures ensures cutting edge sCMOS, CMOS and CCD technology for all PCO cameras.
“PCO” stands for what we are: a Pioneer in Cameras and Optoelectronics. With 30 years of expert knowledge and experience PCO has forged ahead to becoming a leading specialist and innovator in digital imaging used in scientific and industrial applications such as life and physical science, high-speed imaging and machine vision. We have the most versatile sCMOS camera portfolio on the market and are recognized globally for creating a broad variety of superior camera systems that are on the cutting edge of technology. Our worldwide entities ensure that PCO cameras are developed and supported in a way that meets our customer applications. Our customers’ input has a direct path back to our product development and support teams. Constant advancement of our hardware and software guarantees profound innovational strength and enables powerful competitive capacity.
From its start in 1987 up to the present, PCO has been growing continuously. We have more than 80 employees at our headquarters in Kelheim, Lower Bavaria, Germany and host in-house competence of all required technical and administrative disciplines in a purpose-built work space of 54,000 sq ft. Bavaria and the surroundings of Kelheim make up an important research and high-tech region close to Munich. Kelheim is a historic town, first documented in 866. The Hall of Liberation, its major landmark was built by King Ludwig I in 1863 on top of Mount Michael and is visible from all over the town and valley.
Since the early 90s PCO has striven to improve its position as a global supplier by being geographically closer to its customers. To that end, PCO now has subsidiaries in North America and Asia along with its German headquarters. In 2003 PCO opened its branches in Canada and the USA. In addition to sales and service activities for all the Americas, PCO’s Canadian office also offers innovative photonics and calibration products and services exclusively for the Canadian market. Our third subsidiary was established in Singapore in 2013 with the objective of serving our Asia sales partners and OEM’s more effectively by providing required technical and sales related support. Recognizing the importance and growth opportunities in Asia, we will continue to invest in resources to meet the growing market’s needs. To strengthen the Chinese market division and to satisfy the rising level of demand, PCO’s China subsidiary opened in the beginning of 2017 in Suzhou. Suzhou is a key city in the Yangtze Delta, the economically strongest and most important region of China.
After gaining experience with image intensifier systems in its early days, PCO began developing a more extended ranging portfolio, allowing for greater adaptability in a variety of applications.
The most versatile sCMOS camera portfolio on the market – pco.edge family & pco.panda
As one of the three inventors and developers of the scientific CMOS (sCMOS) sensor, PCO is pioneering a new generation of high-performance cameras that are used in countless applications. Before introducing sCMOS to the market, scientific applications had to compromise between CMOS sensors for high frame rates or CCD sensors for high image quality. Now, thanks to new developments in sCMOS sensor design, users get the highest resolution, dynamic range, quantum efficiency and frame rates with the lowest readout noise. PCO’s sCMOS camera systems provide these desirable characteristics combined with special microscopy readout modes in a lightweight and compact camera body. Our sCMOS cameras are available with a variety of interface options; the Camera Link HS interface is the latest and fastest addition which enables ultra-fast data transmission up to 1.1 GByte/s.
High-speed cameras – pco.dimax family
PCO's high-speed cameras offer resolutions up to 4 MPixel at maximum frame rates, best light sensitivity and real 12-bit dynamic range. Based on these improvements PCO established a new level of image and color quality within the field of high-speed imaging. All models come with a variety of trigger options and can be easily synchronized.
Luminescence decay time microscopy camera – pco.flim
The pco.flim camera system is the first luminescence decay time microscopy camera using a two-tap CMOS image sensor. Synchronized pixel modulation and excitation light enables the analysis of decay times in the range of 100ps to 100µs. A broad variety of trigger options allows the camera's integration in versatile fields of applications like fluorescence lifetime imaging.
As a true successor of the very first PCO product, high-resolution MCP image intensifier camera systems are an important segment of our camera portfolio. With ultra-fast-shutter times down to 3ns and the ability to detect even single photons, this camera type is still the only answer to several challenging imaging requirements.
We have created a large selection of different scientific and industrial CCD cameras with interline transfer CCD image-sensor technology. The camera systems have dynamics in the 12 to 14-bit range and are designed with thermo-electrical cooling for extra-long exposure time performance, NIR and UV light detection or other specified fields of application.
PCO is supporting the constant advancement of science and industry by relentlessly pursuing technological perfection. Our cameras are used in scientific and industrial research, quality control, metrology and a large variety of other applications all over the world. PCO also develops customer-specific OEM solutions such as camera systems for industrial applications where high dynamics, extreme offset stability or other special features are required.
“If you want to do something special, particularly in the high end fields, you have to develop your own image sensors. So we work with partner companies who develop tailored sensors made especially for us. This is something we are doing continuously, so we’re already working on the next generation of cameras that we will introduce in the coming years” – Dr. Emil Ott.
In PCO’s first 30 years, Dr. Emil Ott took a company that he started right after finishing university and has built it into a major player in scientific and industrial cameras – and there’s plenty more to come.