Long gone are the days of film when ISO 3200 was the maximum sensitivity you could shoot. Digital cameras have been pushing responsiveness to low-light for years now, with six-figure extended ISO settings showing face on some recent DSLR cameras.
But that's nothing compared to the Canon ME20F-SH and its maximum ISO 4,000,000 sensitivity. Yep, ISO four million.
This is no ordinary camera, though, and certainly not something you can pop down your local camera shop and pick up. If you do fancy buying one to “see in the dark” then it'll set you back a cool $30K. Yowch.
Not that the technology is entirely out of reach for the future. The ME20F-SH achieves its ultra-high sensitivity by using extra large “pixels” on its full-frame sensor's surface. Most full-frame sensors are house a dozen or more megapixels, whereas the ME20F-SH has just two million pixels. That means they're extra large for better light-gathering properties.
So the ME20F-SH is not even capable of producing an image as resolute as a Full HD television. But that's besides the point, really: what this camera can do is produce ultra-low image noise through a significant portion of its sensitivity.
At the Canon Expo in Paris we saw the camera in action, zoomed in on a miniature Lego constructed village scene. From well lit, down to dim lit, through to a full lights-out experience, the mounted monitors showed that a relatively clear image was still visible in real time.
Sure there's image noise, but still enough clarity to decipher a car registration plate (and we're talking at Lego scale here), so there's clear application for surveillance.
Speaking to Canon representatives at the show, they confirmed there are no plans to make a product like the ME20F-SH a consumer product, but did state that the company has a “history of starting off technology in the professional world and moving it down into the consumer space”.
So, who knows, we could all be shooting in pitch black in the not-so-distant future.