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Canon develops high sensitivity full-frame CMOS sensor for video

By dpreview staff on Mar 4, 2013 at 19:30 GMT

Canon has developed a 35mm full-frame CMOS image sensor designed for low-light video capture. The 16:9 sensor features a 1920x1080 pixel array, meaning each pixel measures a huge 19 microns along each edge - 7.5 times larger than the ones in the EOS-1D X. The large pixels and low readout-noise circuitry allow the sensor to capture light around 10 times less bright than current CCDs used for astronomy. The sensor will first be shown in public at a security show in Japan. Other applications the company is looking into are astronomy and medical research.

Interestingly, the 36 x 20mm sensor's use of 19μm pixels means it creates its video footage from a 1920 x 1080 array. This means it has only one photosite per output pixel, so won't offer the same color resolution as Canon's EOS C300 professional video camera, which has four capture pixels (a Red, Green, Blue, Green quartet) per output pixel.

Press Release:

Canon develops 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor for video capture

Photos taken before and after increasing sensitivity using the CMOS sensor on a full moon night. Click through to view Canon's video demonstrating more sample images.

TOKYO, March 4, 2013—Canon Inc. announced today that the company has successfully developed a high-sensitivity 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor exclusively for video recording. Delivering high-sensitivity, low-noise imaging performance, the new Canon 35 mm CMOS sensor*1 enables the capture of Full HD video even in exceptionally low-light environments.

The newly developed CMOS sensor features pixels measuring 19 microns square in size, which is more than 7.5-times the surface area of the pixels on the CMOS sensor incorporated in Canon's top-of-the-line EOS-1D X and other digital SLR cameras. In addition, the sensor's pixels and readout circuitry employ new technologies that reduce noise, which tends to increase as pixel size increases. Thanks to these technologies, the sensor facilitates the shooting of clearly visible video images even in dimly lit environments with as little as 0.03 lux of illumination, or approximately the brightness of a crescent moon—a level of brightness in which it is difficult for the naked eye to perceive objects. When recording video of astral bodies, while an electron-multiplying CCD,*2 which realizes approximately the same level of perception as the naked eye, can capture magnitude-6 stars, Canon's newly developed CMOS sensor is capable of recording faint stars with a magnitude of 8.5 and above.*3

Using a prototype camera employing the newly developed sensor, Canon successfully captured a wide range of test video,*4such as footage recorded in a room illuminated only by the light from burning incense sticks (approximately 0.05–0.01 lux) and video of the Geminid meteor shower. The company is looking to such future applications for the new sensor as astronomical and natural observation, support for medical research, and use in surveillance and security equipment. Through the further development of innovative CMOS sensors, Canon aims to expand the world of new imaging expression.

Canon Marketing Japan Inc. will be exhibiting a prototype camera that incorporates the newly developed 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor and sample footage captured with the camera at SECURITY SHOW 2013 (, which will be held from Tuesday, March 5, to Friday, March 8, at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center in Tokyo, Japan.

*1 An imaging element (aspect ratio: 16:9) that supports the largest image circle size possible when shooting with a Canon EF lens.
*2 A CCD sensor with a readout mechanism that multiplies electrons after being converted from light. Applications include nighttime surveillance and the capture of astral bodies and nighttime nature scenes.
*3 The brightness of a star decreases 2.5-times with each 1 magnitude increase.
*4 Recording of test video footage was made possible through cooperation from ZERO Corporation.


Total comments: 103
By sportyaccordy (Mar 4, 2013)

There is definitely merit to the idea of trading resolution for sensitivity. 2MP is pretty low but I would be fine with something like 6-10MP if I could legitimately shoot at ISO25,600. This could usher in a whole new frontier of low light IQ. This development is long overdue.

By Nightwings (Mar 4, 2013)

Further proof .... that... the larger the pixel.. the less noise the overall image will have. ;)

By ryansholl (Mar 4, 2013)

While that may seem common sense, I think I'd hold off on a statement like that until there are actual images to view :)

By spqr_ca (Mar 4, 2013)

Presuming everything else is equal and that is seldom true...

By Dennis (Mar 4, 2013)

I don't think it's proof of anything like that; rather, that 2MP native beats whatever is currently being done to get HD from high res sensors at 60 frames per second.

1 upvote
By ryansholl (Mar 4, 2013)

Again, without some actual images from the sensor it doesn't do much good to speculate that it's beating anything :)

Common sense does say that it will probably offer some benefit, but whether that benefit is something amazing over binning a higher MP sensor is something that really needs to be evaluated from the actual output of the sensor.

By HowaboutRAW (Mar 4, 2013)

Fewer pixels in a big sensor are very likely to improve high ISO performance. That's a good thing, it's hard shooting with a lens only open to say 5.6 indoors, this helps.

For those suggesting there's no improvement with fewer pixels that may very well be true at say ISO 100.

KL Matt
By KL Matt (Mar 4, 2013)

A 2MP full-frame DSLR - now that would be a popular camera.

By Shirozina (Mar 4, 2013)

What part of 'exclusively for video' did you not understand?

KL Matt
By KL Matt (Mar 4, 2013)

The part that said "you are strictly forbidden from using your imagination and coming up with any ideas about possible alternative applications of this technology on your own." ;-)

By rmbackus (Mar 4, 2013)

You're right, not for pixel-counting amateurs, but for the medium format using professional who used to shoot with Tri-X Pan in the past.

KL Matt
By KL Matt (Mar 4, 2013)

2 MP is really not so hot for photography, which is why this sensor will never ever be seen in a production dslr. What does that micron pitch translate to for a 645 sensor? 4MP max? Not even anywhere close to the resolution of medium-format film.

By liviutza (Mar 4, 2013)

Considering the place where they will present it, I believe it will be a very niche product designed for /very/ low-light applications such as security or astronomy. So its presence is a nice novelty but not directly relevant to photography...

By Managarm (Mar 4, 2013)

>> You're right, not for pixel-counting amateurs, but for the medium format using professional <<

Well, actually the medium format professionals prefered sticking to pixel-counting and moved up to 80+ MP digibacks. I hardly think 2 MP would be too compelling for their uses... ;)

Comment edited 42 seconds after posting
By Roy2001 (Mar 4, 2013)

for best sharpness 1080P video, I think they should make it 3840X2160 to make it true color 1080P.

Total comments: 103