If you thought the pixel race was something that ended a few years ago think again. Canon has announced that its R&D team has developed a CMOS sensor of a similar size to that used in the EOS 1D Mark IV - and it houses 250 million pixels. The APS-H chip measures 29.2x20.2mm, slightly larger than the 27.9x18.6mm EOS 1D Mk IV sensor, and features a pixel layout of 19580x12600.

The company claims this is the highest number of pixels for a CMOS sensor smaller than full frame, and has shown it in a prototype camera fitted with the EF 35mm F1.4 USM lens. We should expect a crop factor of about 1.3x.

Canon says its engineers have developed new circuitry and processing methods that allow the vast amount to data to be cleared from the sensor in an extremely short time, so processing delays don't inhibit the rate at which images can be captured. The new design has the capacity to read off 1.25 billion pixel's worth of information per second, which has allowed the camera it is fitted in to record whole-sensor video at a rate of 5 frames per second. Despite the inevitably tiny pixels, Canon claims the output has a good signal-to-noise ratio and that high ISO settings are possible.

Canon says it is 'considering the application' of the sensor for surveillance, measuring instruments and in 'the field of visual expression' – which sounds a bit like they don't know what to do with it now they've made it. Although the sensor is unlikely to appear in an EOS DSLR any time soon, the technology that has gone into creating it is certain to appear in consumer cameras in the near future, including noise avoidance/reduction techniques and the ability to read pixels at extremely high speed.

Press release:

Canon Europe, a leader in imaging solutions, today announces that its parent company, Canon Inc., is developing an APS-H-size (approx. 29.2 x 20.2 mm) CMOS sensor incorporating approximately 250 million pixels (19,580 x 12,600 pixels), the world’s highest number of pixels[i] for a CMOS sensor smaller than the size of a 35 mm full-frame sensor.

When installed in a camera, the newly developed sensor was able to capture images enabling the distinguishing of lettering on the side of an airplane flying at a distance of approximately 18 km from the shooting location[ii]. With CMOS sensors, increases in pixel counts result in increased signal volume, which can cause such problems as signal delays and slight discrepancies in timing. The new Canon-developed CMOS sensor, however, despite its exceptionally high pixel count, achieves an ultra-high signal readout speed of 1.25 billion pixels per second, made possible through such advancements as circuit miniaturisation and enhanced signal-processing technology. Accordingly, the sensor enables the capture of ultra-high-pixel-count video at a speed of five frames per second. Additionally, despite the exceptionally high pixel count, Canon applied its sensor technologies cultivated over many years to realise an architecture adapted for miniaturised pixels that delivers high-sensitivity, low-noise imaging performance.

Video footage captured by the camera outfitted with the approximately 250-megapixel CMOS sensor achieved a level of resolution that was approximately 125 times that of Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) video and approximately 30 times that of 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixels) video. The exceptionally high definition made possible by the sensor lets users crop and magnify video images without sacrificing image resolution and clarity.

Canon is considering the application of this technology in specialised surveillance and crime prevention tools, ultra-high-resolution measuring instruments and other industrial equipment, and the field of visual expression.