Canon’s next big move in sensor technology might be a new organic compound that maintains a high level of transparency and is uncharacteristically efficient for light transmittance as far as organic electrochromic compounds go.
Rumors have been swirling in recent weeks about Canon’s next big thing and the key feature being tossed around is that Canon has some killer new sensor technology. As I spent a good chunk of my weekend reading Canon patent applications (because I’m more than an average camera geek), I came across a trend of sensor technology and some chemical engineering patents that relate to image sensors.
Canon seems to be cranking out a trio of types of image sensor patents lately. There are several patents that build on the already solid Dual Pixel AF technology that we’ve seen in the Canon 70D.
Additionally, Canon continues to refine its backlit CMOS technology to make it even more efficient at seeing the dark. I think the low-light battle is the new megapixel race, as Sony seems to have thrown down the gauntlet with the new Sony A7s.
For example, in a recent patent application from Canon,
. . . in the back-side illumination solid-state imaging apparatus I, the light sensitivity can be improved for both vertical incident light and oblique incident light. According to the fourth and fifth examples, a mixture of colors between adjacent pixels can be reduced. Hence, in the solid-state imaging apparatus I, it is possible to implement excellent f-number proportionality in the imaging system. It is also possible to implement to reduce the sensitivity difference between the center and the peripheral portion of the imaging region of the solid-state imaging apparatus I and implement satisfactory intra-frame uniformity. (via USPTO Appl. No. 14/051904)
Finally, there are several patents on different chemical and organic compounds that appear to be aimed at creating a new and superior sensor technology.
Admittedly, I understand a fraction of the chemical engineering references in these patents; however, what I have been able to garner from them is that these organic compounds used for light transmittal are typically poor choices due to the fact that they break down during oxidization and would therefore be poor choices for use in digital camera image sensors and optics.
However, Canon has developed “a novel electrochromic organic compound and an electrochromic element containing the organic compound,” which Canon discloses in part in US Patent Application No. 14/046553. This particular patent seems to be aimed at optical elements that would serve as low-pass filters or possibly sensor microlenses, which are commonly more made from silicon oxide or silicon nitride.
In addition to its high level of transparency, the compound is capable as serving in a non-transparent state as a built-in ND filter. The compound remains stable for a completely transparent function or it can be activated to exist in a black colored state. The application also mentions that it could be used as an optical element inside of actual lenses.
Some key language from the claims in this particular patent:
. . . . the present invention can provide an EC element formed of an EC composition that absorbs no light in the visible light region and is transparent in its colorless state and that absorbs light in the entire visible light region and is colored black in its colored state.
The present invention can also provide an EC element that has high durability under repeated oxidation and reduction.
An organic compound according to an embodiment of the present invention has high transparency with no optical absorption in the visible light region in its colorless state, absorbs light in a long wavelength region in its colored state, and is stable under repeated oxidation and reduction. Thus, the organic compound can be used in EC elements as well as optical filters, lens units, and image pickup apparatuses including the EC elements.
So whether these are the parts and pieces that make up the next Canon 7D Mark II, 5D Mark IV or whatever else Canon has coming down the pike, Canon and its engineers remain hard at work at pushing to the next camera tech hurdle. I’ve got a stack of more recent patents from Canon and others to pilfer through, so hopefully I’ll have more to write about soon.
If you happen to have insight on any of these patents or developing technologies from Canon or other camera manufacturers, please shoot me a message via the contact form or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.