Canon reveals ultra-high sensitivity interchangeable lens SPAD sensor camera: the MS-500

Canon has announced the Canon MS-500, the world’s first ultra-high sensitivity interchangeable lens SPAD sensor camera. It’s designed for advanced surveillance and can capture color video at night.

What is a SPAD sensor?

SPAD stands for Single Photon Avalanche Diode. The SPAD sensor uses a technology known as “photon counting,” which counts light particles (photons) that enter each pixel on the sensor. The incoming photons are converted to an electric charge which also amplifies them around one million times. The electric charge is then extracted as a digital signal. Because the photons are amplified so much, the sensor can detect very small amounts of light. In addition, because the photons are digitally counted, there is no additional noise. As a result, a SPAD sensor can give clear color video, even in very low-light levels.

The Canon MS-500 specifications

This camera has a one-inch SPAD sensor. The sensor also has 3.2 megapixels which is the highest pixel count on a SPAD sensor at the current time. Canon says that the MS-500 can shoot video with a minimum subject illumination of only 0.001 lux. In addition, the camera has a built-in, industry-standard B4 bayonet lens mount. This means you can use ultra-telephoto broadcast lenses to capture clear color videos of subjects at a distance of several miles, even at night.

Custom picture functions

Canon MS-500 front and back
Image courtesy: Canon

The Canon MS-500 features CrispImg2, a custom picture preset mode that optimizes resolution and contrast while suppressing image noise. This is useful because atmospheric turbulence can affect image resolution especially with long-range surveillance applications or in dark environments. The MS-500 also includes Haze Compensation and Smart Shade Control. These features help reduce the effects of haze and mist while automatically adjusting contrast and image brightness.

What we think

Ultimately, the Canon MS-500 is a specialist camera designed primarily for situations where high-precision surveillance systems are needed both during the day and at night. Canon also suggests usage at locations with extremely high-security levels, such as seaports, public infrastructure facilities and national borders. The high price and relatively low resolution mean that this isn’t a camera you will see on a film set soon. However, it will be interesting to see whether the technology is adopted by filmmakers in the future.

Pricing and availability

The Canon MS-500 SPAD sensor camera has an estimated retail price of $25,200. Canon says it is will be available in September 2023.

Pete Tomkies
Pete Tomkies
Pete Tomkies is a freelance cinematographer and camera operator from Manchester, UK. He also produces and directs short films as Duck66 Films. Pete's latest short Once Bitten... won 15 awards and was selected for 105 film festivals around the world.

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