Canon Develops Sensor that Can Shoot Full Color Photos in the Dark

Canon has created an image sensor capable of taking high-quality color photos even in dark conditions. Canon claims that the sensor can capture clear images even in dark environments.

According to Nikkei a new type light-receiving element has been developed by Canon called a single photon avalanche (SPAD) which is being implemented on a CMOS sensor. SPAD photodetector technology isn’t new and has been around since the 1970s. Canon however, has created a sensor with 3.2million pixels. This sensor is three times more resolution than conventional SPADs. It also makes it the most high-resolution sensor ever made.

This sensor is intended to replace or provide an alternative to infrared night-vision cameras. While infrared can recognize shapes and provide sight in the dark for some purposes, it is not capable to recognize colors. Cameras that are able to see color in the dark can only be used with high ISOs. This can work up to a point, but can eventually result in extremely noisy images at extreme levels of darkness.

canon spad sensor schematic

Nikkei explains that the SPAD sensor also has an extra feature. This allows it to measure distance from an object based on the time taken for the reflected sunlight to return to it. It can therefore understand space in three dimensions. This sensor could also be used in devices that use LiDAR.

Canon plans to introduce the new sensor in security cameras by 2023. Mass production will start in 2022. Nikkei reports that Canon plans to use a lot of its existing CMOS sensor manufacturing equipment to produce the SPAD sensors. This will allow them to save time and money than having to build new factories, or ship new equipment. There is a lot of demand for sensors in smartphones, but Canon and other companies are anticipating a rise in demand in autonomous sectors, such as robotics and vehicles, in the next few years. The market will grow to $15 billion by 2025, and 3D-capable sensors such as the SPAD here will be more valuable.