Dynamic range or the amount of stops from darkest to brightest an image sensor can record, is one of the cornerstones of image fidelity, right next to resolution and color science. While some companies like RED have focused on getting as high a resolution as possible, some have focused on color science and dynamic range.

By now, you’ve likely heard that Canon has developed a new imaging sensor with a jaw-dropping feature—24.6 stops of dynamic range. It’s impressive, but there are some things to consider, including what this sensor is actually designed for and will this technology ever see the light of day in its cinema line of cameras.

Canon's Mega New CMOS Sensor

To start with some unfortunate news for filmmakers, the new Canon sensor won't be found in any new cinema camera. But before you close the window and move on with your day, let's chat about why you should care about this sensor.

The new sensor is a 1-inch, back-illuminated CMOS sensor from Canon that can shoot 24.6 stops of dynamic range (148 dB) while filming in 4K at 30p. To put things in perspective, most cameras these days support, on average, about 12 to 15 stops, with some high-end cinema cameras going as far as 17 stops if we believe the marketing.

Canon new sensorThe exposure of the third image from right is properly balanced, thanks to Canon's new sensorCredit: Canon

Canon's new sensor divides images into 736 areas, which then figures out the absolute best exposure for each area automatically and simultaneously. Think of it like HDR photography but on steroids, and you don't even have to jump into Photoshop to generate the image.

The sensor has 12.6 million effective pixels, and if you bump up to 4K and 60p, the dynamic range drops slightly from 24.6 stops (148 dB) to 23.6 (142 dB), according to Canon's statements.

The company also says it can support a lux range of 0.1 (moonlight) up to 2.7 million lux. 500,000 lux is what a car's headlight achieves, for example.


What Does This Mean for Creatives?

You've probably seen a lot of promotional material over the years for the new "smart" televisions that can reproduce an absurd amount of colors, even though the human eye can only perceive around 10 million colors.

Well, in this case, it's really no different. While Canon's monster new sensor can get up to 24.6 stops of dynamic range, the human eye can only effectively see 21 stops.

In post-production, creatives will have to compress this usable date into something more appealing to an audience.

Canon talks about how the new sensor is really for monitoring purposes. The company gave an example (pictured above) of a parking garage in the daytime where a security camera would have to overexpose the outside to see someone driving their car in the darkened garage or capturing a license plate.

So, why talk about this tech if it is nothing coming to narrative filmmakers? Well, because Canon released a non-cinema camera once, and Alex Lehmann, director of Blue Jay, went ahead and used it anyway. The Canon ME2OF-SH was initially created for use in the military and boasts an ISO of up to 4 Million.

Does that mean we'll see filmmakers like Lehmann using the new Canon sensor sometime in the future? We can't say for sure, but we can't rule it out. Sometimes, the best tool isn't always the right tool, if that makes any sense. Many of our favorite cameras feature some technology that wasn't intended for creative applications. Once the manufacturers saw that there was a market for it, the tech found its way into mirrorless or cinema cameras. So, we'll have to see where this sensor ends up in a few years.

What do you think about this new sensor from Canon? Would you like that kind of dynamic range in a mirrorless body? Let us know in the comments!

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Source: Canon