Canon SPAD Sensor with 3.2MP Realizes High Reproduction in the Dark

Canon SPAD Sensor with 3.2MP Realizes High Reproduction in the Dark


Melville, NY—Canon Inc. announced it successfully developed an ultrasmall 13.2mm x 9.9mm SPAD sensor. The new Canon SPAD sensor can capture the world’s highest resolution of 3.2-megapixel images even in low-light environments. This is a higher resolution than Full HD (approximately 2.07 megapixels).

Moreover, the sensor’s ability to capture images in dark environments is due to a proprietary pixel architecture that efficiently captures and greatly multiplies light. In addition, the manufacturing of the new sensor will begin in the second half of 2022.

Canon-Cross-section-SPAD Canon SPAD sensor
Cross-sectional views and top-view layouts of conventional BSI SPAD array (left) and BSI charge focusing SPAD array (right)

Canon also announced that Late News Papers selected a research paper detailing its findings for publication. This is an extremely competitive publication of the International Electron Devices Meeting conference.

A SPAD sensor is a unique 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.” As a result, a single large electrical pulse is created.

3.2MP Canon SPAD sensor

With CMOS sensors, the readout of the accumulated electronic charge contains electronic noise; this diminishes image quality, due to the process by which accumulated light is measured.

However, with SPAD sensors, noise does not interfere with the readout of light as electrical signals. Consequently, it enables clear image capture of subjects that are free from signal noise. It also provides advantages such as greater sensitivity during image capture and high-precision distance measurement.

New Canon SPAD Sensor Details

The newly developed SPAD sensor utilizes a proprietary pixel architecture that reflects photons inside the pixel. It does so 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.

Canon SPAD sensor Canon-PDE-Comparison
Measured PDE comparison between previous Canon SPAD sensors and the newly developed SPAD sensor

This makes possible an ultrasmall design that engineers can install even in small devices. It greatly increases sensitivity, including for light on the near-infrared spectrum. In addition, it realizes video capture with 3.2 megapixels under low-light conditions of 0.002 lux—darker than a starless night sky.

What’s more, by integrating the new SPAD sensor in cameras designed for low-light and monitoring applications, even video footage of low-light environments is viewable as if recorded in bright areas. Notably, it also enables identification of subject movement as though viewing with the naked eye in well-lit environments.

Taken at 0.002 – Lux, darker than starless night condition

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). Thus, it can 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.