September 13, 2015

First Footage from Canon's Insane 4 Million ISO Full-Frame Camera

Canon ME20F-SH Footage 1
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. 

Canon ME20F-SH Footage 2

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.      

Your Comment

19 Comments

I think Canon is thrown out of the water

September 13, 2015 at 8:58PM

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Vishwanath Reddy
Director of Photography / Editor
81

Hmm, the upload quality on the video makes it very hard to judge the footage. It's a blocky mess at any ISO...

September 13, 2015 at 9:38PM, Edited September 13, 9:38PM

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The same quality applies to all uploads. The internet does not treat Canon video worse than other cameras. All footage from the Sony a7S look better than this.

September 16, 2015 at 8:22AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1012

Is the pixel size really that impressive? it's a 1080P S35 sensor, isn't that the same as the FS100? If that as a 1080P Full Frame sensor, then one could only imagine how cleaner it could be at 4.000.000 ISO

September 14, 2015 at 12:42AM

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Rodrigo Prata
Director of Photography
190

It IS a full-frame 35mm sensor...

September 14, 2015 at 5:15AM

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Michael Bialik
Sound Designer
117

That is noisy as heck. How do you justify paying $30k for that camera?....

September 14, 2015 at 12:44AM

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Mustafa Johnson
Director/Videographer/Editor
168

Yep Canon is still hangover

Cmon what a horrible video.. And that noise is what my DV Cam used to do..
No comprendo, i wait to see a proper test of the camera

September 14, 2015 at 1:38AM, Edited September 14, 1:38AM

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Chema Mumford
Filmmaker, Documentary, Cinematographer
194

Black Magic Micro shoot 1080 RAW with global shutter...... minus the high ISO and $29,000.

September 14, 2015 at 2:38AM

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Keith Kim
Photographer
1423

The only good thing coming out of this camera is more data for new sensor research purposes. For me even the 100k ISO footage is unusable. For (quote) "flying on a drone"? We can already shoot beautiful footage from a drone even at night and with cameras that aren't even designed for low-light scenarios. Now with the A7s II coming out with the 5-axis stabilization built-in you can slap that on a drone and shoot 4K internally at night, with 14 stops of DR without all the vibration from the flight. I really can't see any other purpose for this camera if the footage will look like it does in the demo...

September 14, 2015 at 5:24AM, Edited September 14, 5:24AM

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Michael Bialik
Sound Designer
117

Please... Be serious, post the video on Vimeo in a good format. With a poor quality like that you can't judge the quality of the camera, it's stupid...

September 14, 2015 at 9:58AM, Edited September 14, 9:58AM

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Sentry
128

to noisy for me... sry cannon nice try

September 14, 2015 at 10:12AM

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Kyle Lamar
Director Producer DP
1181

30k for a camera that can shoot terribly grainy/almost, but not quite night vision?
Maybe if I wanted an over-priced security camera, but definitely not for practical filmmaking.

This seems more like a science experiment than a legitimate camera. Neat idea, terrible investment.

September 14, 2015 at 11:25AM

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Umm... 30k for that?

No thank you. Its a neat camera but the pricing is a pipe dream.

September 14, 2015 at 12:32PM, Edited September 14, 12:32PM

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Definitely for special situations.

September 14, 2015 at 1:51PM

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Dantly Wyatt
Musical Comedy & Content Creator.
668

Canon why can't you innovate anymore? And you only made it 1080p?? You suck! Why didn't you sacrifice the low light of a purely low light camera to make it 4k! I wanted a cheap Arri Mini! But yours is 30k??? Scam artists! Also your camera is noisy at max iso! failures...

September 14, 2015 at 3:05PM, Edited September 14, 3:05PM

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Matthew Devapiriam Emmanuel
Camera Operator
335

Compression is so bad you can't tell what the footage actually looks like.

September 14, 2015 at 5:58PM

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Looking for the first side by side with the a7S ii.

The price difference between the two is Grand Canyon.

September 14, 2015 at 6:32PM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
1012

Yeah, but will it blend?

September 14, 2015 at 7:54PM

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John Lee
101

Yeah this does look noisy. But it also seems to look quite different than the A7S breed. Comparison of the two side by side will be nice but thinking back to tests from A7S etc. I do think these two might be in different categories. I'm thinking especially the way that airplane looked. I can't describe the difference fully but its as if this camera captures the dark parts in a special way. Also, the seafloor moonlight shot? That is the bleeding edge of a new category of video, think about how many reality show moments have to cross the line from traditional video format into green creep.

Also, to everyone crapping on Canon... shove off. Go invent your own camera. Company has been an innovator in their own way for so long. Weah weah, where's the 4K? haterrz.

October 23, 2015 at 9:50PM, Edited October 23, 9:53PM

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