Back in July, Canon announced the ME20F-SH, a multi-purpose full-frame camera with amazing low-light capabilities.
Though the camera is only 1080p, the giant 19 micron pixels on the sensor mean this thing can pretty much see in the dark, with a max ISO of 4,560,000 (yes, over 4 million). While the camera is going to cost $30K, it's more of a specialty rental than something the vast majority of people would own anyway.
When it was first announced, we didn't have any quality footage to show us how the high ISOs would really look, and now, thanks to Canon Japan, we've got our first taste of footage from the camera, with a range of ISO examples:
As a refresher, 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
Though I know it's pretty stupid to compare them because they are in totally different leagues price-wise and are aimed at a different audience, here is a low-light video from the newly announced Sony a7S II, which maxes out at a little over 400K ISO (a few stops below the 4 million of this camera). Obviously it's impressive that the Sony is $3,000 and can shoot 4K internally, but it's clear that the Canon is a few stops better (possibly more):
As you can see, it looks like the a7S II starts showing noise at 25,600, whereas the Canon still looks clean at over 100K (so that's at least two stops, potentially more). It would be interesting to see the Canon against some other cameras, but there is no question what they are doing is impressive.
I don't really think anyone expected this camera to be clean at 4,560,000 ISO. That would be an absolute marvel. Cameras are still bound by physics and there is only so far you can push them — even with hardware and software noise reduction.
What I really wanted to see was how high the ISO is really usable for situations like being intercut in a movie (since a lot of the uses above are more industrial or deal with nature). The ME20F-SH looked rather clean at 102,000 ISO, and though we didn't get much of a look at the ISOs between that and 1 million, I'll bet this camera is still pretty usable for the most part even to half a million ISO (and with a bit of noise reduction). Being able to shoot clean at around 100K is about more than just low-light, it also lets you shoot long lenses, with high f-stops, at higher frame rates. People often ask why you'd ever need such high ISOs, but the best reason to keep pushing forward is so that we don't have to shoot wide open at a f/1.4 just to get usable footage without a ton of light. This lets us either use slow lenses, or use lenses at more optimal apertures.
Another thing about noise is that if you're shooting into complete darkness, it tends to be a lot more noticeable. Obviously the zebra footage at 4,560,000 ISO is noisy, but there is nothing illuminating the scene. The highway shot was a better example of what you can do with high ISOs in a normal situation, and the noise was much less distracting at the highest ISOs (until it completely blew out, and then there was no detail anywhere).
We've seen moonlight shorts before, but this camera is going to take that to a whole different level, and it will be interesting to see how people use this in creative ways. Two places where it's difficult to have lights are under water and flying on a drone, so that's where I would expect filmmakers to get the most use out of something like this outside of documentary situations.
On a side note, it's great to see the battle scars on the camera body, which tells me that they really put this thing through its paces, and that it's designed to take a few hits in some brutal environments.