Canon has been going a bit mad on the Single-Photon Avalanche Diode (SPAD) sensor development, it seems. Having just announced their groundbreaking 1-megapixel SPAD sensor a little over six months ago, Canon’s back with a new 3.2-megapixel SPAD sensor, which is not only the most densely pixel-populated sensor of its kind, but it’s also more light sensitive.
According to a report there are plans for Canon’s Kawaski plant to begin mass-producing the new sensor in 2022, but don’t get too excited just yet. This sensor won’t be going into mirrorless cameras – at least, not for a while. Initially, Canon plans to put it inside its own Canon-branded security cameras and even that won’t happen until late in 2022.
SPAD works differently from a conventional CMOS image sensor due to the way it captures light. CMOS sensors send out signals to the processor based on the number of photons captured in a specific amount of time. SPAD sensors work by detecting each individual photon and amplifying it, allowing for much more accurate low-light images without the need for infrared light and sensors. This means that the new SPAD sensors will not only be able to capture images in the dark, but they’ll be able to do it in colour, too.
While mass-production of the sensor is set to begin in the second half of 2022, they’re not stopping there. Nikkei reports that can is planning to invest more than 21 billion yen ($185 million) into building a new image sensor plant in Hiratsuka, Japan, where it will eventually increase production – which they say can be done for about the same cost and using the same technology as a traditional CMOS sensor.
I think if this technology does eventually come to the mass consumer market outside of security use, it’ll most likely come to smartphones before “real” cameras. The smaller sensors used in smartphones mean they can make more out of a given amount of silicon and they can get it into the hands of more users more quickly for that all-important user feedback for future development.
If that ends up being the route that Canon takes the SPAD sensor, it will be interesting to see if they can compete with Sony’s dominance in that sector, especially given that Sony has now teamed up with Qualcomm for tighter integration into their Snapdragon processors and given the fact that Sony’s probably working on SPAD sensors of their own, too.