Canon’s new large sensor is too big for you, but not for scientists

Canon may be rumored to be working on a full-frame mirrorless camera, but the imaging giant has already developed something even bigger — a CMOS sensor that is more than twice as large as an entire EOS camera. Canon recently shared how the largest high-sensitivity sensor yet, a 7.8-inch sensor that is 40 times the size of a full-frame camera, has helped scientists spot previously only theorized meteors. Canon announced the sensor’s development in 2010, but a recent report shows how scientists were able to use the large sensor and how that could lead to a better understanding of how life on Earth developed.

A typical full-frame sensor measures around 36 by 24 millimeters, or about 1.4 by 0.95 inches. Canon’s largest sensor is 20 centimeters or 7.8 inches on each side. That is the largest yet, Canon claims, but sensors aren’t likely to get much larger anytime soon. The silicon wafer used to build the light-sensitive sensor area is only 12 inches, with the 7.8 inch stretching the materials and manufacturing equipment to maximum capacity. If it were any larger and the sensor would require new, larger manufacturing equipment.

canon largest cmos sensor yet size
A size comparison between the new 7.8-inch sensor and a Canon EOS Rebel camera Canon

Larger sensors are capable of gathering more light, and while a 7.8-inch sensor would mean a camera too large to sling around your neck, the sensor has now been put to use for academic astrophotography. The sensor was recently used at the Kiso Observatory, run by the University of Tokyo. Because of the sensors light-gathering capabilities, the researchers were able to capture meteors not possible to spot with previous imaging equipment. Canon suggests that the equipment could help astronomers better understand meteors and even how they played a role in the development of life on earth.

Just how bright is the sensor? Canon says the sensor can shoot 60 frames per second video in only the light of a full moon. Along with scientific research from astronomy to nocturnal wildlife, Canon suggests that the sensor could also be used in security applications.

While the sensor’s size was previously announced, Canon’s latest report details real-world uses for such a large sensor, though those plans don’t include a giant EOS camera. The large CMOS sensor sits on Canon’s growing list of extreme sensor development, including a 250-megapixel sensor the company first shared in 2015.

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