Science

Canon Global Advancement: Read the Side of an Airplane!

Canon's corporate logo consisting of red lettering with sharp serifs.
Canon's Corporate Logo

Canon, a leader in technology for digital cameras has made an amazing breakthrough in complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology. Phys.org reports that Canon has developed a CMOS with the highest pixel density ever for a 35 mm full-frame sensor and simultaneously overcome the major hurdles to getting there. At 250 megapixels, or roughly 250 million pixels, it is one beast of a sensor!

A CMOS sensor that appears with a gradient of blue to green to orange from top left to bottom right surrounded by the circuit it is situated on and the thin metal pins the protrude from all four sides.

The Canon-developed approximately
250-megapixel CMOS sensor via Canon Global

The features of this new visual sensor are nothing short of revolutionary. Canon shows it’s new sensor as being able to perform massive digital zoom without pixelation. At 1,920 x 1,080 pixels the sensor is capable of nearly 125x digital zoom and at 3,840 x 2,160 (4K) it is still capable of roughly 30x digital zoom without loosing resolution! They claim that at such high resolution, the digital zoom is able to capture a readable photo of the lettering on the side of an airplane that is over 11 miles (18 kilometers) up! A typical commercial airliner travels at between 30,000 and 40,000 feet or between 5.5 and 7.5 miles high.

Canon also had to overcome some age-old issues with increasing pixel count. As CMOS sensor pixel count increases, so too must the amount of data sent from the sensor into the camera’s memory. Unfortunately this increase in needed bandwidth isn’t always available and you end up with delays before all the information can be stored. If the signal can’t be read all at once you can also get discrepancies where parts of the images are read at slightly different times. This means if a boat is passing through the frame at high speed it could be cut in half or show up in two places within the same image. However these were not issues with the new sensor as circuit miniaturization and an increased speed of signal processing is able to handle the larger bandwidth throughput. In fact, the new technology, even at the highest resolution the sensor is capable of (19,580 x 12,600 pixels), was still able to capture video at 5 frames per second (fps)!

Canon is currently looking at developing this sensor for surveillance equipment, possible medical applications, and manufacturing. It will be interesting to see what becomes of this and how the advances affect camera technology all the way down to cell phones over time.

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