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Canon's New Full-Frame 35mm CMOS Sensor Made for Video Can See in the Dark (Really)

03.4.13 @ 1:06PM Tags : , , , ,

You might be thinking, how much more light-sensitive can video cameras really get if the sensors don’t get much larger? Well, if you’re Canon, the answer is a lot better. They’ve just announced a new full-frame 35mm sensor that absolutely swallows up light, and it’s specifically made just for video. We may not be seeing it in our cameras just yet, but it’s definitely a breakthrough kind of technology for the world of video, and opens up all sorts of possibilities for available light shooting. Check out the video Canon posted on their site below.

Here is a little bit about the sensor from their press release:

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.

The video above is just mind-blowing. We’ve talked about using moonlight as a light source before, but this sensor is actually capable of doing it with little noise. That’s just unbelievable on so many levels. While it’s not being targeted at filmmaking according to their press release, it could completely change the way people shoot for certain applications. The sensor itself is only about 1920 x 1080 (based on the pixel size), so you’re not ever going to get that resolution in color thanks to debayering, and therefore it would fall somewhere between the better DSLRs and cameras like the C300 in terms of resolving a clean 1080.

Even though there would be some technical hurdles, and probably quite a bit of cost, a 3-CMOS camera using this sensor would resolve a perfect 1080p while at the same time literally being able to see in the dark. Focusing with a full-frame sensor isn’t easy, but there are so many applications that could benefit from this type of flexibility besides just astronomy and security cameras. I could see news organizations or a documentary utilizing this sensor to take their cameras into places where they can’t use any lights or draw attention to themselves, but they want to capture the action clearly and crisply. You have so much light sensitivity that you could even shoot stopped down to f/5.6 or f/8 and still get tremendous low-light performance while keeping things in focus.

Of course, narrative filmmakers could still use it to their advantage. It’s certainly not about foregoing the use of lights, either. There are so many possibilities for types of shots that you never would be able to get with even the best low-light cameras today. You could really shoot an entire movie under natural moonlight. The moon can even act as a bounce in these kinds of low-light situations. For anyone who has taken long exposures at night with their still cameras, there is something magical about the way that light reacts to faces and surfaces under such little light. These are the sorts of advancements that push the art form to another level completely by freeing you from having to see the way a camera sees.

Even though we may not ever see it in a traditional filmmaking camera (let’s hope we do), what are some of the uses you can think of for the sensor? How could you utilize it to tell a story no one has ever been able to tell before? Have there been situations where this could have saved you from gritty and grainy footage?

Link: Canon develops 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor for video capture — Canon Website

[via Canon Rumors]


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Description image 82 COMMENTS

  • Worst Video demo ever!

  • That is really amazing!

  • Day for night? Try night for day… jeez. This is crazy.

  • Is the full moon shot real???? OMG

  • Wow, colored nightvision is finally coming to the public.

  • There was still quite a bit of noise though – even if you run NeatVideo over something like that, won’t the stars kind of get muddled, or would you also throw grain over that afterwards?

    This can definitely be the next step in using smaller amounts of lighting equipment (for all of us on a budget!) to still get beautiful shots. Hopefully this also keeps people from shooting f/1.2 to achieve such!

  • That’s pretty extraordinary but, Joe, you mentioned using 3 of these sensors to resolve a true 1080P image. I’ve often wondered, since the advent of the larger sensors becoming the norm, why have none (at least, to my knowledge) of the manufacturers built cameras with 3 super35 sensors? I realize that could make the cost prohibitive for a lot of people but, the larger studios could afford it. Or, be a rental item for large productions.

    • Joe Marine on 03.4.13 @ 1:46PM

      I have to imagine it’s both a cost issue, and a lens issue. I’m wondering if the prism to split the beam of light would have to be so big that it’s just not worth it, and you’d really have to build a fixed lens on the camera, which would also be a cost issue. I’m honestly not sure – I think cost is the easy answer. I’m sure there is someone more knowledgeable than me who can chime in on this.

      • Panavision Genesis uses “true RGB non-Bayer sensor”. From Wiki: “12.4 megapixel CCD chip, arranged in a 5760×2160 horizontally RGB filtered array. The vertical resolution is cut in half to 1080 by pixel binning, so the final output pixel resolution is 1920×1080.”

        I don’t really understend this tech, but it’s supposed to deliver “perfect” 1080p image. Almost like 3CCD?

        • Joe Marine on 03.4.13 @ 3:54PM

          Yeah it’s just oversampling, similar to RED’s strategy at achieving closer to real 4K by squeezing more pixels into one CMOS sensor. The Sony F65 sensor is similar, oversampling from around a 5K/6K image with rotated pixels. Sony actually designed the Panavision sensor and electronics as well.

          • Kevin Marshall on 03.4.13 @ 7:32PM

            The difference with the Genesis/F35 is that the striped pattern on that sensor meant each color was offset by 1/3 pixel from each other, leading to easily-induced chroma aliasing. Graeme Nattress has had several lengthy posts on the topic, including some zone charts.

      • Technicolor cameras worked essentially the same way, right? A prism split the light into three different colors and exposed three different black and white negatives running simultaneously. I would think these cameras were pretty large. Were the lenses for them large? Proprietary? Seems like Panavision would have built a 3 Super35 chip camera just to have actually done it. And then, rented the hell out of it.

      • Kevin Marshall on 03.4.13 @ 7:27PM

        3 full-frame sensors and a prism to match would be both costly and huge. But a bigger factor would be that lenses designed for a single sensor/for film – basically all stills/cine glass – would not work with the prism. This is why B4 to PL adapters (not just the doublers) have optical elements.

  • This just broke my brain. Unbelievable.

  • Holy… fuck…

  • I don’t think this sensor will be used in cinema cameras for creative purposes. the source clearly states that the prototype will be exhibited in a “Security Show”, therefore it might be more geared towards advanced video surveliance or scientific/military applications.

    Also technically, I don’t think a sensor with 19 micron square pixel size would produce sharp enough video.

  • I was like “Meh!” for the first 2 demos, then I saw the moon lit one 0.0 Holy crap no way. This is like reverse day to night.

  • c.d.embrey on 03.4.13 @ 2:34PM

    The Press Release said it had a sensitivity of 0.03 Lox. That’s 0.002787091 Foot Candles. Not really useable in the real world.

    • Joe Marine on 03.4.13 @ 2:45PM

      That’s not the sensitivity of the sensor, that’s how little light it needs to expose an image.

      • c.d.embrey on 03.4.13 @ 3:50PM

        Meh!! The whole world loves a nit-picker. The PR is short on facts, no ISO, etc. The only fact given is 0.03 Lux as the amount of light needed for exposure (hich is related to sensitivity), and they don’t even tell us what f/stop was used. Did they use a f/0.95 lens, a f/1.2 lens or a f/1.4 lens.

        Joe, could you please tell us how much ND would you need to stack on your lens to shoot in sunlight?? Which is my point, un-useble for normal production.

        • Joe Marine on 03.4.13 @ 4:47PM

          I just wanted to point out that it was minimum sensitivity needed to expose an image (not the only sensitivity), which may or may not be an acceptable one.

          But sensors don’t quite work how you’re describing, you can more or less make them operate at whatever ISO you want, it’s simply about adding voltage or clamping down on the signal, both of which have their consequences. You’re not stuck at 50,000 ISO or something, it’s simply a matter of what range they want the sensor to operate in, and how much noise they think the user will be willing to deal with, and how much heat the sensor can deal with. The biggest thing that would probably be affected in this case would be dynamic range, which we also have no idea about.

          The security cameras this would be going in would probably also be operating in daylight and in well-lit areas, so it has to be made to handle a wide variety of situations.

          I’ll play devil’s advocate though anyway, since I’m curious what you’d need operating at a similar exposure as they do in the video. Let’s say they are shooting at an equivalent of 409,600 ISO in the video, at f/1.4 – that seems reasonable based on some of the stuff I’ve seen at 204,800. Let’s figure the Sunny 16 rule, so you’d need about ISO 50 at f/16 to get a proper 1/48 shutter at 24fps for cinema (though it looks like they are at 30fps or more in the video). If you’re trying to avoid diffraction, f/5.6 would be pretty safe for full-frame and some good lenses, and it’s still pretty shallow. You’d need 16 stops of ND in that situation, and I know 10-stop NDs aren’t that uncommon in photography. So you’d have to stack a 6-stop and 10-stop together to get your proper exposure. Of course that’s ridiculous, but again, the sensor can pretty much operate at whatever ISO they want it to.

          If you watch the clip above, the last bit has two different exposures using that same sensor, with the first looking like a normal 400 or 800 ISO shot, so the sensor is definitely capable of quite a wide range.

  • I’m hoping this will be in the rumored “Canon C50″

  • good for shooting ghosts

  • Lord of Darkness on 03.4.13 @ 2:53PM

    “There will never be another DAWN!”

  • i love the canon scientist in the lab coat, pissed that he got pulled off the bench for a camera test … dying to get back to his algorithms.

  • Soon there will be cameras able to record naked bodies without clothes. iPhone 10? ;-)

  • Pretty awesome. For filmmaking, I could see this being implemented in special-shot circumstances, kind of like the Phantom for slow motion.

  • Talk about a shot in the dark…


  • I wonder if this impressive tech could have significant military use. If yes it could be risking an export ban as separate sensor.

  • What do you mean by “full-frame 35mm sensor” Cine or stills?

  • Maybe this will help with good stories, oh wait….. no, it’ll just help you for better low light. Stop all this nonsense, get out and shoot some good stories, full frame, micro 4/3rds blah blah blah. To many tools, to many “filmmakers” and not enough good stories to use them right. Just another camera with huge sensor specs for another product yet to come out. Whats next, a sensor the size of toast? If all this goes to Vimeo or youtube it truly is a waste.Youtube is becoming the graveyard for filmmakers and canon is becoming the microwave food for the new filmmaker. Just my two cents.

    • I was missing already the ‘content is king’ post.

    • Hey buddy, thanks so much for your completely worthless and predictable input. If you’re concerned about people getting out there and shooting, perhaps you should be doing that instead of wasting valuable minutes on the internet, mmkay?

      • What’s worthless is posting a ‘shut up and shoot’ message EVERY TIME a tech news is posted.

        We all know that stories are the most important part of the equation. That doesn’t mean we cannot discuss a technical breakthrough, mate.

        • I think Luke meant to respond to John Barns’s post and not yours, Alex. Not sure, though. In any case, I completely agree with you – how many “content is king” posts do we need, and why do those who post them think it needs to be said over and over again, particularly in a tech-related post? Also they ignore the fact that tech-minded people come to this site and their concerns are worth addressing too.

          • Sorry then. One day I’d like to write a post for Nofilmschool titled ‘Content is King’ about films made possible by the appearance of new techniques.

            Like the Nouvelle Vague.

        • I was indeed responding to John Barns.

  • video embed doesn’t show for me – “No video with….found” If it’s the same for you the video can be viewed here:

  • Robert Hardy on 03.4.13 @ 6:22PM

    Gee Wilikers Batman! That is mind-blowingly sensitive!

    I’m just slightly worried that if we keep pushing technology like this, it will only propagate the myth that lights are unnecessary as long as the camera is sensitive enough to get proper exposure. Maybe that’s just me being cynical, though. Either way, this is totally rad, and I hope this technology makes its way into the video realm sooner rather than later.

  • Damn! Canon just smashed it out the park!

  • Michael Bishop on 03.4.13 @ 8:06PM

    I think it’s great.

  • Well, that’s neat.

  • Can that black rectangle please be the new body design of the next canon cinema camera

  • Will Scott on 03.5.13 @ 3:32AM

    I appreciate low light capabilities as much as anyone, but information on the comparative camera they used was very Lacking. I WANT MORE TECHNICAL DETAILS ABOUT F STOP, ISO, LENS USED, AND CAMERA/COMPRESSION for each respective shots. I would get excited but I don’t understand the settings

    • This is Canon we’re dealing with. They have a history of releasing horribly low-quality/SD videos with ambiguous production attributes even when debuting a camera focused on video.

  • Seems they are taking design advice from Black Magic now!

  • they have this installed in a modified c300 and 1dx, its amazing

  • Impressive. Hopefully it will add several stops of dynamic range.

  • Crazy – the shot lit by that full moon was exposed at 2,048,000 ISO!

    BTW – C300 does not debayer its sensor to read out its photosite information to generate RGB pixel info. Each pixel has 2 greens, a red, and a blue photosite each that read natively for each frame – the greens alternate between each frame. so the 1080p signal is a true 1080p signal. read Canon’s white paper on the sensor tech.

    Since the c500 uses the same chip, I presume that 4K RAW will need debayering on the otherhand.

    I’m curious to see of this new CMOS chip produces 1080p pixels the same way that the C300 does… in that case, one would not need to debayer to get true 1080p resolution.

  • Impressive. The best part about this video is the music

  • Sweet! Now we can shoot night for day footage.

  • I would use this A LOT. I film live performances of mid-level bands in typically dark venues.

  • Gary Simmons on 03.8.13 @ 4:40AM

    Where do they get all those wonderful toys.

  • Daniel Mimura on 03.11.13 @ 9:29PM

    I don’t get why they would compare this to a CCD…in this day and age.

    And speaking of dated…what’s up with the style of that post? Why does the title page look like it done in the early or mid-90′s (like it was actually an old release about the first CMOS sensors or something)…

    It was supposedly from March this year…but that’s just weird. Did one of their engineers throw this together at home after work?

  • When will be available camera with this chip in market? And how much will it cost approximately?