Canon’s new video camera sees in the dark better than your eyes can

One of the big challenges for any camera is the ability to shoot video in low light – it’s not impossible, but what you get is a grainy image that’s hard to make out. But Canon’s new ME20F-SH “multi-purpose camera” could change all that. The industrial, Full HD interchangeable lens camera can capture video with less than 0.0005 lux of illumination, which translates to an ISO sensitivity of more than 4,000,000 (that’s 4 million). To give you some sort of comparison, the latest DSLRs don’t even break 100,000.

The keyword here is “industrial,” and while this is a production camera (available in December 2015), the $30,000 camera is designed for applications like nighttime surveillance and security. In fact, the cube-shaped camera bears no resemblance to Canon’s photo and video equipment, looking more like a security camera – it doesn’t even have an LCD. But unlike security cameras that utilize CCD sensors, this high-sensitivity CMOS can deliver a brighter, clearer image. However, Canon also sees the ME20F-SH being used for film production, such as reality TV, nature and wildlife documentaries (imagine, no more green night-vision or black and white footage, but color), and cinematic situations that call for filming in extreme low light.

On the front is an EF mount with Cinema Lock (the mount itself rotates to lock the lens in, which allows for easier lens swapping) that’s compatible with a range of EF and EF-S lenses. Canon says a list of compatible lenses will be revealed closer to the ship date, and that it might even sell an adapter for its broadcast lenses. In terms of lenses, Canon has some of the best in the industry.

The capability is due to a new 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor. At 2.26 megapixels, it’s not designed for photography; it’s purely a video camera that can handle Full HD 1080, at up to 60p. But what makes it unique is that each pixel measures 19 microns, which is 7.5-times larger than the ones in Canon’s EOS 1Dx DSLR. Noise is an obvious concern when you’re talking about high sensitivity, and it’s especially so when the pixel size increases, but Canon says it’s employing proprietary technologies in the sensor and readout circuitry for noise reduction; noise won’t be completely eliminated, but it’s controlled. Canon claims the camera “allows users to discern subjects under even some of the dimmest lighting conditions, such as environments lit by artificial illumination or under a moonless night sky.”

This screen grab from a previous video from Canon shows what the ultra-high-sensitivity sensor can achieve. The image is from an earlier prototype, not the production model.
This screen grab from a previous video from Canon shows what the ultra-high-sensitivity sensor can achieve. The image is from an earlier prototype, not the production model. Canon Inc.

For filmmaking purposes, the ME20F-SH has Canon Log and Wide DR, “which make possible a wide dynamic range, delivering high-image-quality video results across a range of illumination environments, from low- to brightly lit conditions,” similar to its Cinema EOS filmmaking cameras, Canon says. On the camera, there are ports for 3G/HD-SDI and HDMI (for external recorders and monitors, since the camera doesn’t have a built-in card reader or display), remote controller, microphone, and other pro-level video and audio equipment. Exposure and white balance settings are automatic.

For Canon followers, if the technology sounds familiar, it’s because the sensor was revealed back in 2013. Developed specifically for video recording, the sensor is sensitive enough to record a meteor shower, a room lit only by the light of an incense stick, or the glow from a firefly. At the time, Canon said the sensor would be useful for astronomical and natural observation and medical research, in addition to security and surveillance, but it’s now branching out to include filmmaking. Canon didn’t release any sample video with this announcement, but you can watch these samples from an earlier prototype. Although this isn’t a consumer product, it’s an indication of where sensor technologies are heading, in terms of ISO sensitivity.

Product Review

With outstanding image quality, the ‘basic’ Sony A7 III excels in every way

Replacing the four-year-old A7 II as the new entry-level model in Sony's full-frame line, the A7 III is an impressively capable camera that gives more expensive models a run for their money.
Product Review

Fewer pixels, better camera? The Nikon Z6 shows the beauty of restraint

The Nikon Z6 is the sibling to the new mirrorless Z7 -- but for some photographers, the cheaper Z6 may be the better option. Read where the $2,000 camera beats the $3,400 one (and where it doesn’t) in our Nikon Z6 review.
Photography

Full frame or 4K for less than $1K? These 4 older cameras still have a lot to offer

Looking for a great camera deal? Sometimes, you might be better off buying one that's a few years -- last generation's professional models may not cost much more than today's entry-level models.
Mobile

Which smartphone has the best camera? We found the sharpest shooters

They say that the best camera is always the one you have with you and that makes your smartphone camera very important indeed. Join us for a closer look at the best camera phones available right now.
Photography

Golf ball-sized Lume Cube Air is a pocketable LED for photos and video

Off-camera lighting for smartphones and GoPros just got even smaller. Meet the Lume Cube Air, a smaller portable LED light designed for photos and videos that weighs only about two ounces.
Photography

Edit portraits with A.I. and adjust focus in the new ON1 Photo RAW 2019 editor

ON1 Photo RAW 2019 now has a dedicated tab for portraits that automatically recognizes faces to help with retouching. The update also brings a new focus stacking tool, enhancements to layers, and improvements to local adjustments.
Mobile

Taking shots in the dark with Night Sight, the Pixel’s newest photo feature

The Google Pixel range has always been the home of some of the mobile world's best phone cameras. That performance is now getting even better with the introduction of the low-light Night Sight mode.
Photography

Alpha Female: Sony awards five women grants to support artisan diversity

Women can face several challenges in launching a photography career -- Sony's latest initiative aims to help propel women in the industry forward. Sony recently announced the winners of the Alpha Female program.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Social Media

Build a wish list and shop videos with Instagram’s latest shopping update

Eyeing a product on Instagram? Now there are more ways to shop from the social network. Instagram just rolled out options to save products in a collection as users can also now shop from videos.
Photography

See the National Forests like never before in these awe-inspiring drone videos

What's the difference between a National Park and a National Forest? Drones. With no ban on drones in National Forests -- at least, not yet -- filmmakers have a way to capture the immensity of these locations with stunning results.
Social Media

Addicted to Instagram? Its new ‘activity dashboard’ is here to help

Ever get that nagging feeling you're spending too much time on Instagram? Well, a new "activity dashboard" has a bunch of features designed to help you better control how you use the addictive photo-sharing app.
Photography

Photography news: Best spot for fall photos, new firmware from Fuji and Nikon

Where's the best spot to take fall photos? Michigan, according to social media and a Nikon contest. The results and more in this week's photography news, including significant firmware updates for the Fujifilm X-T3, X-H1, and GFX 50S.
Mobile

How to take great photos with the Pixel 3, the best camera phone around

You’ve scored yourself a new Google Pixel 3 or Pixel 3 XL, and you want to take advantage of that incredible camera. We’ve got everything you need to know right here about how to snap the best photos with your Pixel 3.