Canon Develops Interchangeable-Lens Camera That Sees in the Dark
Canon Develops Interchangeable-Lens Camera That Sees in the Dark

Canon Develops Interchangeable-Lens Camera That Sees in the Dark

2 mins read

Canon has announced the development of a world-first ultra-high-sensitivity ILC (Interchangeable-Lens Camera) equipped with a 1.0-inch Single Photon Avalanche Diode (SPAD) image sensor that can see in the dark. The new camera is called MS-500.

The Canon MS-500.
The Canon MS-500.

Canon MS-500

Canon announced today that the company is developing the MS-500, the world’s first ultra-high-sensitivity interchangeable-lens camera (ILC) equipped with a 1.0 inch Single Photon Avalanche Diode (SPAD) sensor featuring the world’s highest pixel count of 3.2 megapixels. The camera leverages the special characteristics of SPAD sensors to achieve superb low-light performance while also utilizing broadcast lenses that feature high performance at telephoto-range focal lengths. Thanks to such advantages, the MS-500 is expected to be ideal for such applications as high-precision monitoring, and filming in completely dark environments.

Canon MS-500 with SPAD image sensor. Source: Canon
Canon MS-500 with SPAD image sensor. Source: Canon

1.0-inch SPAD image sensor

The currently in-development MS-500 is equipped with a 1.0-inch SPAD sensor that reduces noise, thus making possible clear, full-color HD imaging even in extremely low-light environments. When paired with Canon’s extensive range of broadcast lenses, which excel at super-telephoto image capture, the camera is capable of accurately capturing subjects with precision in extremely low-light environments, even from great distances. The MS-500 employs the bayonet lens mount which is widely used in the broadcast lens industry. This enables the camera to be used with Canon’s extensive range of broadcast lenses which feature superb optical performance. As a result, the camera can recognize and capture subjects that are several km away.

Canon's SPAD image sensor. Source: Canon
Canon’s SPAD image sensor. Source: Canon

Measuring the Value of Light – not the Amount

SPAD (Single Photon Avalanche Diode) sensors are a type of image sensor. According to Canon, the term “image sensor” probably brings to mind the CMOS sensors found in digital cameras, but SPAD sensors operate on different principles. Both SPAD and CMOS sensors make use of the fact that light is made up of particles. However, with CMOS sensors, each pixel measures the amount of light that reaches the pixel within a given time, whereas SPAD sensors measure each light particle (i.e., photon) that reaches the pixel. Each photon that enters the pixel immediately gets converted into an electric charge, and the electrons that result are eventually multiplied like an avalanche until they form a large signal charge that can be extracted. CMOS sensors read light as electric signals by measuring the volume of light that accumulates in a pixel within a certain time frame, which makes it possible for noise to enter the pixel along with the light particles (photons), hence contaminating the information received. Meanwhile, SPAD sensors digitally count individual photon particles, making it hard for electronic noise to enter. This makes it possible to obtain a clear image. Moreover, under equivalent light, this SPAD sensor can capture the same images as a conventional CMOS sensor while requiring only 1/10 of the imaging area. Thus, even video footage of low-light environments can be viewed as if it were recorded in bright areas, enabling identification of subject movement as though viewing with the naked eye in well-lit environments. Explore the slide below which demonstrates CMOS vs SPAD image sensors:

Canon's SPAD image sensor, vs CMOS.  Source: Canon
Canon’s SPAD image sensor, vs CMOS. Source: Canon


Although the Canon MS-500 is not intended for utilization in cinema production, the technology is there. Therefore, SPAD sensors can find their way to be implemented on the Cinema EOS lineup as well, bringing unique ultra-low-light capabilities, which are needed, especially in documentary filmmaking. Unfortunately, there are no ample videos shot on the MS-500. However, for those who are curious, the MS-500 will be displayed as a reference exhibit at the Canon booth during the 2023 NAB Show for broadcast and filmmaking equipment, to be held in Las Vegas from Saturday, April 15 to Wednesday, April 19.

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Yossy Mendelovich

Yossy is a filmmaker who specializes mainly in action sports cinematography. Yossy also lectures about the art of independent filmmaking in leading educational institutes, academic programs, and festivals, and his independent films have garnered international awards and recognition.
Yossy is the founder of Y.M.Cinema Magazine.

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