Canon’s new SPAD sensor shoots high quality colour images using 1/10th the light required by a CMOS sensor

Dec 10, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Canon’s new SPAD sensor shoots high quality colour images using 1/10th the light required by a CMOS sensor

Dec 10, 2021

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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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.

[Nikkei via TechSpot]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “Canon’s new SPAD sensor shoots high quality colour images using 1/10th the light required by a CMOS sensor”

  1. Justin Case Avatar
    Justin Case

    If SPAD sensors are able to imbue smartphones with the light-collecting capabilities that Canon claim it really is the bell tolling for anything other than professional cameras.

  2. Handy Mann Avatar
    Handy Mann

    Smartphones are inhibited by size of the photosite on the sensor. This sensor is using 3.4um pixel pitch and a size of 13mmx9mm and only 3.2megapixels. That’s too large a size and too few pixels for a phone. It would take considerable miniaturization of the sensor and a huge increase in pixel count. This will, naturally, reduce the available photons to achieve what they’ve done so far.