In order to develop an ultra-high-sensitivity multipurpose camera, Canon drew upon its optical technologies, cultivated through its digital SLR cameras, to realize an ultra-high-resolution and ultra-high-sensitivity CMOS sensor.
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From surveillance to observing natural phenomena, there is a growing need to capture video in the dark. Canon has developed an ultra-high-sensitivity sensor capable of Full HD video capture in color with reduced noise, even with minimal subject illumination—conditions under which subjects would be difficult to discern with the naked eye.
One way to better capture clear video images in low light is to enlarge the pixels on the CMOS sensor, increasing the amount of light each pixel is capable of receiving. In 2013, Canon announced the development of a prototype camera equipped with a 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor for video capture. The sensor featured large-scale pixels measuring 19 μm (μm=micron, one millionth of a meter) square. Compared with the CMOS sensor incorporated into Canon’s top-of-the-line EOS-1D X Mark II digital SLR camera, the pixels on this CMOS sensor have more than 7.5 times the surface area. In addition to enabling video capture in a dark room with no more illumination than that provided by burning incense sticks (approximately 0.05–0.01 lux), the ultra-high sensitivity 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor also succeeded in capturing nighttime video (in an exceptionally dark shooting environment of less than 0.01 lux) of the Yaeyama-hime fireflies that inhabit Japan’s Ishigaki Island.
Canon further refined the performance of the sensor and incorporated it into the ultra-high-sensitivity multipurpose camera, the ME20F-SH, which was launched in 2015 and is capable of capturing color video with a minimum subject illumination of less than 0.0005 lux, equivalent to an ISO sensitivity of four million (at maximum 75 dB gain).
In 2016 this multipurpose camera was used to successfully shoot video of a moonbow, a natural phenomenon rarely seen in Japan, using only the light of the moon.
Multipurpose cameras capable of operating in almost total darkness enable image capture in locations that are otherwise difficult to access. In addition to applications in disaster prevention and crime prevention, other possible uses include measuring instruments and industrial machinery, as well as the production of video of wild animals in their natural habitats.
Shot by comparable professional-use video
Shot by the ME20F-SH, Canon’s ultra-high sensitivity multi-purpose camera
Canon was quick to launch R&D efforts on CMOS sensors as far back as the 1990s. In 2010, the company produced a CMOS sensor with 120 megapixels, achieving a level of resolution equivalent to that of the human eye, a feat that garnered considerable attention. In 2015, Canon successfully developed an APS-H-size CMOS sensor with approximately 250 megapixels (19580 x 12600 pixels), the world’s highest pixel count for its size. This ultra-high-pixel-count CMOS sensor achieves a level of resolution that is approximately 125 times that of Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels) video and approximately 30 times that of 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) video.
Despite the compact pixel dimensions, sensitivity was maintained by creating a structure that maximizes the amount of light captured. Though increases in pixel count results in increased signal volume, which can cause signal delays and timing discrepancies, an ultra-high-speed signal readout of 1.25 billion pixels per second was achieved through circuit miniaturization and enhanced signal-processing technology. Accordingly, the sensor is capable of capturing ultra-high-pixel-count video at a speed of five frames per second.
* As of December 31, 2017. Based on a Canon survey
CMOS sensor with approximately 250 megapixels
Image captured with a prototype camera equipped with an EF 800 mm telephoto lens using digital zoom. The image was digitally enlarged, and additional image processing was applied. The resulting image enables the identification of lettering on the fuselage of an airplane 18 km away, beyond impossible for the human eye.
Canon has developed a global shutter-equipped CMOS sensor for industry, instrumentation and film production. This new CMOS sensor not only offers improved sensitivity and noise reduction, but by reading the data from the sensor’s pixels at one time, it eliminates the “rolling shutter” effect, a distortion caused by taking in data from fast-moving subjects line-by-line.
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