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Canon Develops SPAD Sensor with World-Highest’s 3.2-Megapixel Count That Realizes High Color Reproduction Even in Dark Environments


MELVILLE, NY, December 16, 2021Canon Inc. announced today that the company, thanks to a proprietary pixel architecture that efficiently captures and greatly multiplies light, has successfully developed an ultra-small 13.2 mm x 9.9 mm SPAD sensor capable of capturing the world’s highest1 resolution of 3.2-megapixel images—a higher resolution than Full HD (approximately 2.07 megapixels), even in low-light environments. The manufacturing of the new sensor will begin in the second half of 2022. In addition, a research paper detailing the company’s findings has been selected for the Late News Papers2, an extremely competitive publication of the International Electron Devices Meeting3 conference, from December 11-15, 2021.

A SPAD sensor is a uniquely designed image sensor in which each pixel possesses an electronic element. When a single light particle, called a photon, reaches a pixel it is multiplied—as if creating an “avalanche”—that results in a single large electrical pulse. With CMOS sensors, the readout of the accumulated electronic charge contains electronic noise, which diminishes image quality, due to the process by which accumulated light is measured. Meanwhile, with SPAD sensors, noise does not interfere with the readout of light as electrical signals. This enables clear image capture of subjects that is free from signal noise, and provides advantages such as greater sensitivity during image capture and high-precision distance measurement4.

The newly developed SPAD sensor utilizes a proprietary pixel architecture that reflects photons inside the pixel in order to effectively detect photons across the entire range of the effective pixels. Under equivalent light, this SPAD sensor can capture the same images as a conventional CMOS sensor while requiring only 1/10 of imaging area. This makes possible an ultra-small design that can be installed even in small devices and greatly increases sensitivity, including for light on the near-infrared spectrum, and realizes video capture with 3.2 megapixels under low-light conditions of 0.002 lux5—darker than a starless night sky. By equipping cameras designed for low-light and monitoring applications with this new SPAD sensor, 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.

In addition, the SPAD sensor is capable of extremely high information processing speeds on the level of 100 ps (picoseconds, one-trillionth of a second), enabling it to capture objects moving at high speeds including photons. With a resolution that surpasses Full HD and high sensitivity that enables capture of faint light, the sensor’s unique rapid response functionality can be utilized in a wide range of applications including self-driving vehicles, medical treatment, diagnostic imaging devices and scientific precision measuring instruments.

About Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Canon U.S.A., Inc., is a leading provider of consumer, business-to-business, and industrial digital imaging solutions to the United States and to Latin America and the Caribbean markets. With approximately $30.4 billion in global revenue, its parent company, Canon Inc. (NYSE:CAJ), ranks third overall in U.S. patents granted in 2020† and is one of Fortune Magazine's World's Most Admired Companies in 2020. Canon U.S.A. was selected as Most Loved Workplace on Newsweek’s list for 2021, ranking among the top 100 companies for employee happiness and satisfaction at work. Canon U.S.A. is dedicated to its Kyosei philosophy of social and environmental responsibility. To keep apprised of the latest news from Canon U.S.A., sign up for the Company's RSS news feed by visiting www.usa.canon.com/rss and follow us on Twitter @CanonUSA. 

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1 Among SPAD sensors. As of December 14, 2021. Based on Canon research.

2 An extremely competitive selection of research papers submitted to the IEDM (see footnote 3).

3 International Electron Devices Meeting, the leading international conference for the field of semiconductors.

4 For more information on the differences between SPAD and CMOS sensors, please visit Canon’s Technology Website at: https://global.canon/ja/technology/spad-sensor-2021.html

5 Light from stars estimated at 0.02 lux. Ambient light in starless night environment estimated at 0.007 lux.