On Thursday, Canon released a video showcasing its new(ish) 120 megapixel sensor. For the sake of comparison, the highest resolution full-frame DSLR camera in the world (also made by Canon) comes in at just over 50 megapixels.
In the video, Canon demoes the sensor’s ability to film the very small and very large: It shows the gears of a ticking watch in incredible detail, but also is able to capture the facial expressions of spectators across the field during a rugby match.
As detailed in a blog post by Canon, the size of the 120 megapixel sensor is comfortably between a full-frame sensor and a crop sensor.
It’s an impressive feat, but there are a number of caveats to consider here. For starters, the video compares the sensor to the Canon Mark IV, which is able to shoot video at 4k resolution and comes with 30.4 megapixels. Yet for the demo Canon has the Mark IV shooting at 1080p (2 megapixel) resolution.
You’ll also notice that the 120 megapixel footage is a look less smooth than the HD shot from the Mark IV. This is because the 120 megapixel sensor is capped at 9.4 frames per second due to the huge amount of processing power required for each image.
To get a smooth moving image, you generally want at least 30 frames per second, which the Mark IV can do at 4k (or 8.3 megapixel) resolution. So although the video shot by the 120 megapixel camera would technically qualify as above 10k resolution, it’s significantly limited by its low framerate.
Moreover, Canon still hasn’t clarified when or if this sensor will ever be commercially available. It first announced the 120 megapixel sensor back in 2010. Nothing more was heard about until 2015, when Canon showcased a 120 megapixel DSLR model at a tradeshow.
The DSLR could only shoot in very high lighting levels and had another significant drawback: The file size of the photos. As detailed at PetaPixel, the 120 megapixel DSLR yielded RAW photos—image data that hasn’t undergone processing—that were a whopping 210 MB apiece. For the sake of comparison, a photo taken with an iPhone is around 3 MB.
There is a possibility that Canon isn’t focusing so much on the consumer DSLR aspect of the sensor, and may market it more as a surveillance tool, where high frame rate wouldn’t be so important. Indeed, in its video it cites a possible future application of the sensor as “wide-area monitoring, in a field with many unspecified people.”
In any case, the 120 megapixel sensor is a pretty amazing technology, but any camera geek hoping to get their hands on one anytime soon shouldn’t hold their breath.
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