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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]

Related Posts

  1. Canon Announces EOS-1D X Camera with Full Frame Sensor and Enhanced Video Performance
  2. Watch Some of the First Footage from the New Full-Frame Canon 6D
  3. Canon Announces New Budget Full-Frame DSLR Camera, the 6D

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  • 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?

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