Canon New CMOS Sensor Can Shoot at Even the Lowest Light

March 6, 2013, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

Canon has been working on a low light CMOS sensor, and word comes that it has developed a large sensor chip for shooting video in extremely dim conditions.

The company said its new 35mm CMOS sensor can shoot high-definition video in environments with just 0.03 lux of illumination, at which the human eye has difficulty distinguishing objects. It can record stars with a magnitude of 8.5, compared to the magnitude 6 at which stars can be detected using traditional low-light CCD sensors.

Canon’s new sensor achieves its high sensitivity by increasing the size of individual pixels and lowering the overall pixel count.

Canon-incense-light

The company said it has about 2 megapixels, about 1/10th the number of its high-end cameras, but each pixel has about 7.5 times the surface area. It also features modified hardware and algorithms to decrease noise in dark environments.

Canon has built a test camera for the sensor and is testing it for use in cases where video is often shot with little light. Canon said it has no firm schedule for when it will commercially manufacture the sensor. Canon rival Sony last year showed a back-illuminated CMOS sensor intended for better performance in low light and HDR movie making.

canonA video on Canon’s website compares scenes shot with the new chip compared to a traditional EMCCD. EMCCD, or Electron Multiplying CCD, are image sensors that can amplify incoming light without increasing noise.

They are commonly used in fields such as astronomy and biomedical research. But with this chip rolling out, that might change for the better. Interestingly, the 36 x 20mm sensor’s use of 19μm pixels means it creates its video footage from a 1920 x 1080 array.

This means it has only one photosite per output pixel, and so won’t offer the same color resolution as Canon’s EOS C300 professional video camera, which has four capture pixels (a Red, Green, Blue, Green quartet) per output pixel.

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