Canon is Developing a New Organic Compound for Sensor and Optics Technology


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.

Further Dual Pixel AF Technology Development

Further Dual Pixel AF Technology Development

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.

Canon BSI Sensor Patent

Canon BSI Sensor Patent

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.

Canon Organic Compound

Canon Organic Compound

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



  1. G. W. says

    Interesting information. Based on the IQ comparison at Digital Photography Review site, the A7s is only about one and half stop cleaner at high ISO when compared with 5D III and less than one stop when compared with 6D (3 stop when compared with Sony’s own A7 sensor). When and if Canon is willing to provide new sensor technology that is cleaner than the current models, it will not be hard for them to out perform the A7s.

    Thought the limitation on a digital camera these days is the sensor itself, I still would like to see Canon to produce mirrorless camera so no “micro focus adjustment” will be needed for any lenses and the body will be smaller and lighter to carry.

  2. Paul says

    Why not a version of an electro chromatic compound instead of a moving mirror. Simply switch modes electronically for exposure.

    • Jon Rista says

      There are two modes with this electrochromic compound: Transparent and Colored. That implies that the non-transparent mode is still not 100% opaque, which would be insufficient to operate as a shutter. You would require 100% opacity for this to behave as some kind of organic shutter…who knows if that is what this will lead to.

      The more interesting implication of the organic compound is…could it lead to organic dynamic color filters? Imagine a camera that had 100% fill factor for all three color channels, or potentially any number of color channels, or RGB+L (luminance), all with high transmittance and more sensitivity than a Foveon. That’s what I think of when I hear “electrochromic”…a better future alternative to full color fill factor sensors than a Canon (or Sony, or Aptina, …) version of the Foveon.

  3. says

    All companies, including Canon, lock their hardware and don’t release all the features. Same thing is done with the technologies that they have. It is financially more lucrative to release everything slower. I am looking forward to the announcements of how many MP 5dm4 will be and if DR will increase.