Canon just announced the ME20F-SH, a full-frame 35mm camera with the ability to reach an astonishing 4,000,000 ISO.
The new 1080p camera is aimed at a number of different markets, including nighttime surveillance/security, cinema, reality TV, and nature/wildlife documentaries, just to name a few, and it comes with a positive-locking EF mount and features Canon Log and Wide DR for maximum recorded dynamic range. If you're wondering how this thing came out of the blue — the answer is that they have been developing a sensor like this for some time, and even showed off a version of it back in 2013. Here's a video they posted at that time explaining the sensor:
And here's another showing some pretty impressive footage captured without any light at all:
The true strength will be for the ME20F-SH camera to be able to capture full color 1080p images essentially in the dark:
While capturing video in extreme low-light conditions often requires the use of infrared illumination (a technique that only yields video in black and white), the ME20F-SH camera achieves impressive high-sensitivity performance enabling the capture of color Full HD video with reduced noise in low-light conditions without the need for infrared illumination.
This multi-purpose camera allows users to discern subjects under even some of the dimmest lighting conditions, such as environments lit by artificial illumination or under a moonless night sky. Furthermore, similar to Canon's Cinema EOS System of professional digital cinematography cameras, the ME20F-SH camera includes Canon Log and Wide DR, which make possible a wide dynamic range, delivering high-image-quality video results across a range of illumination environments, from low- to brightly lit conditions.
Here are the specs:
- ME20F-SH Multi-purpose Camera
- 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor (single), effective pixel count: approx. 2.26 million pixels
- Minimum subject illumination: Less than 0.0005 lux (at maximum 75 dB gain setting, equivalent to an ISO sensitivity of over four million)
- Pixel Pitch: 19 Microns
- Lens mount: Canon EF mount (Cinema Lock type)
- Optical filters: ND filter with two density levels (motorized manual / auto) IR cut filter (motorized manual)
- Frame rates: 59.94P / 59.94i / 50.00P / 50.00i / 29.97P / 25.00P / 23.98P
- Gamma: Canon Log, Wide DR, etc.
- Two 3G / HD-SDI BNC jacks (1080P / 1080i / 720P)
- One HDMI connector
- Genlock terminal: BNC jack (input only)
- Remote terminal: φ2.5mm stereo mini-mini-jack (Canon-proprietary protocol), Round 8-pin jack (for RS-422, Canon-proprietary protocol)
- Microphone terminal: φ3.5mm stereo mini-jack
- AF: One-shot AF
- Auto-exposure: Combined interlocking (iris / gain / ND / shutter)
- White balance: AWB, color-temperature setting (setting range: 2000 to 15000 degrees Kelvin), natural light, light bulb, Setting A, Setting B
- Digital teleconverter: 2x, 4x
- Power input: 4-pin XLR DC11-17V, Terminal block 2-pin jack DC11-17V
- Operating temperature: 32 degrees F (0 degrees C) to 104 degrees F (40 degrees C)
- Body dimensions: Approx. 4 inches (102mm) (w) x 4.5 inches (116mm) (h) x 4.4 inches (113mm) (d) (excluding protrusions)
- Weight: Approx. 2.4 lbs (1.1 kg) (body only)
- Availability: December 2015
- Price: $30,000
No it's not going to be cheap at $30K, but for special cases this is a perfect rental and exactly the sort of thing many people have been looking for — a smallish, large sensor EF mount camera with lots of sensitivity. The pixels on this camera are absolutely gigantic. There is a limit to what hardware noise reduction and improvements can do, and generally getting better much sensitivity requires larger pixels, which is why it's limited to 1080p. This camera has optimized hardware to get the ISO as high and as clean as possible.
For a comparison of just how big these pixels are, the 19 micron size is compared to a little over 8.4 microns for the also-super-sensitive Sony a7S (making that moonlight short look like child's play) and 5 microns for a camera like the 6K RED EPIC DRAGON. As another point of comparison, the new Super 35mm Canon C300 Mark II, which is set to be released this fall, has a max ISO of 102,400, and a pixel pitch of 6.4 microns.
Clearly in terms of low-light sensitivity the ME20F-SH blows everything else out of the water, and it will be interesting to see what kinds of projects we will see with it. The design is rather minimal and feels very similar to the ARRI ALEXA Mini, and because of it's compact size and weight, it could be a solid camera for gimbal or drone work. Being able to put a camera in the sky like this means capturing aerials at night that would be essentially impossible otherwise (especially if you're away from a big city with lots of lights).
The only slight catch with the ME20F-SH is that it doesn't record internally, and doesn't have any sort of onboard monitor for changing settings. It's kind of surprising they couldn't figure out a way to put any kind of recording device internally, so you'll have to wire this with an external recorder through HDMI or HD-SDI if you want to actually capture images. The plus side at least as far as the design is concerned is that you can put the ME20F-SH in plenty of places that taller and more awkward cameras can't go. Here's more on recording with the camera, which can be controlled remotely:
Employing output-only 3G/HD-SDI and HDMI terminals, Canon's ME20F-SH camera enables users working on location to output video via a single cable to a variety of peripheral equipment, including external recorders and monitors. Equipped with a φ2.5mm stereo mini-jack and a round 8-pin jack for RS-422, the multipurpose camera is capable of connecting with Canon's RC-V100 Remote Controller (released in June 2014; sold separately). By allowing users to operate the camera or change settings from a remote location, the camera facilitates video capture from inaccessible locations as well as fixed-point surveillance. Furthermore, a φ3.5mm stereo mini-jack allows the camera to connect with an external microphone, enabling users working on location to output audio and video signals to connected peripheral equipment.
It's possible we could find this sensor or some of the noise optimization technology in other Canon cameras down the road (potentially more affordable ones), so this may not be the only product that takes advantage of the significant R&D. Hopefully we get to see some higher-quality video of what this thing can do pretty soon. For more info, check out the Canon press release.