Two years ago, Canon was working on an experimental prototype sensor and had released a video of the footage captured using the sensor:

There had been a lot of hullabaloo and rumors about it, but nothing had been heard about it since. Also, things have been silent on the Canon video front for a long time. Yesterday, Canon finally unveiled the new camera, the ME20F-SH. This is what the press release has to say:

“Canon has launched the ME20F-SH, a professional multi-purpose video camera capable of capturing full colour images in extremely low-light environments. Boasting an industry-leading unrivalled maximum ISO in excess of 4 million (+75dB), the ME20F-SH is designed to be as small as possible whilst delivering high quality professional grade Full HD footage.”

This must be the camera using the much-discussed experimental sensor. The ME20F-SH will be incredibly useful in specialist, niche video applications such as night-time wildlife, deep sea flora-fauna exploration, astronomy and surveillance along with probable scientific and industrial applications. Its compact form factor and operability via remote control also makes it practical to stow away in a place like a crevice with a minimal crew. Canon also mentioned that due to its specialized nature, it will only be made available to select partners and will not be mass-produced like its other cameras.

Now let’s get down to its core functionalities. Traditionally, capturing video in extreme low-light conditions requires infra-red illumination which is only available in monochrome. The ME20F-SH, however, is being touted as being able to achieve video capture in color with reduced noise, without the need of infrared, still producing extreme high sensitivity performance.

The secret behind how this is achieved lies mostly behind the new sensor that they have developed for this camera. It is a full frame 35mm CMOS sensor powered by a DIGIC DV4 processor with 2 MP resolution, which enables it to gather maximum light. The larger the photo sites (19 ?m) the more sensitive a sensor becomes.

The 2 MP resolution may be a let-down for photographers, but it seems Canon aims to target only specialist videographers for this camera. With an ISO of over 4 million (+75db), it can record in almost complete darkness.

This one of a kind camera captures video in Full HD (1080p/1080i) or 720p recorded externally. It offers 12 stops of dynamic range recorded in Canon Log Gamma and Wide DR mode, with reduced motion blur. It also offers slow-motion upto 50/59.94 fps. There are extensive shooting options too, such as automatic functions for exposure via iris and gain control, One-Shot AF and auto white balance.

Along with a camera, Canon is also offering a remote control RC-V100, although it is not yet mentioned whether it is to be purchased separately or comes along with the package (It is already available for purchase since last year). One of the main advantages is that you can electronically control the ND (3-stop and 6-stop) and IR cut filters. It also widens the scope of opportunities for operators to access many in-camera functions and menus – the most important being the iris, zoom (depending on lens) and white balance.

Canon also claims that the ME20F-SH will offer an across-the-board compatibility with Canon’s zooms, primes and selected servo lenses (with a 12-pin interface), by featuring an EF mount with Cinema lock.

Lastly, the camera is being said to also feature extensive connection options for a monitor, output to an external recorder and remote control, including HDMI out, Genlock and two 3G/HD-SDI terminals.

To conclude, here are the core features in a nutshell:

  • Ultra low-light performance at ISO 4 million (0.0005 lux)
  • Full HD 1080p/1080i/720p output – but recorded externally
  • 2 MP stills
  • Control with auto and custom settings
  • EF lenses compatible
  • Remote control
  • Built-in ND and IR cut filters possible
  • Small and lightweight for ease of integration

Canon has always managed to pleasantly surprise us with their innovations and their dedicated approach to the evolution of the camera. Will the ME20F-SH be another milestone in imaging technology? We’ll know by December 2015, when the camera is expected to ship, at a small suggested retail price of $30,000.

Replacement to the A7s? Yeah, right.

One reply on “Canon ME20F-SH 4 Million ISO Camera Announced – Does it Replace the Sony A7s?”

  1. I think the line ”…at a small suggested retail price of $30,000.” would suggest the answer to your question would be ”nope”!

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