There’s a dimly lit moon out tonight, but Canon’s new CMOS sensor can see it just fine

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It’s a given that many cameras have difficulty working in low-light situations. But Canon’s newly developed high-sensitivity 35mm full-frame CMOS, designed especially for video recording, “enables the capture of Full HD video even in exceptionally low-light environments,” according to the company. The sensor is so sensitive that it could record a meteor shower and a room lit only by the light from a burning incense stick.

canon-full-frame-cmos-2How is the sensor able to capture that much light? The new sensor is more than 7.5-times the surface area of current CMOS sensors found in the Canon EOS-1D X and other DSLR cameras, with pixels measuring 19 microns square in size. When pixel sizes increase, so does the noise level, but Canon says they are using new tech in the pixels and readout circuitry to reduce noise (but not completely noise-less). “Thanks to these technologies, the sensor facilitates the shooting of clearly visible video images even in dimly lit environments with as little as 0.03 lux of illumination, or approximately the brightness of a crescent moon – a level of brightness in which it is difficult for the naked eye to perceive objects,” Canon says. When recording the night sky, the new CMOS sensor can capture faint stars with a magnitude of 8.5 and above, versus the magnitude 6 of an electron-multiplying CCD sensor.

With a prototype camera, Canon shot a test video (see below) with a variety of footages, including the aforementioned meteor shower and incense stick illumination (around 0.05–0.01 lux). Don’t expect this sensor to show up in the next DSLR just yet. Canon is focusing on astronomical and natural observation, medical research, and security and surveillance as initial customers, but there’s no word on applications for the general consumer. Canon is showing off the prototype at a security industry trade show in Tokyo.

(Images and video via Canon)

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