100+ Million ISO May Not Be Far Away!

100+ Million ISO May Not Be Far Away!

Some of you may remember this article that I wrote a while back in which I touched on the benefits of capturing wide-spectrum light rays with photographic sensors, and while I haven't seen anything about single-pixel detectors hitting the consumer market anytime soon, I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll soon be able to see some of these benefits anyway with the help of one of the lightest industrial materials on earth - Graphene!

A team of researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, with the help of a $200,000 grant has developed a camera sensor using Graphene which is - according to them, 1000x more sensitive than current pixel-based light sensor technology due to its ability to capture and hold light-generated electron particles from wavelengths beyond the visible spectrum. In laymen's terms, it "sees" a lot more light than our eyes can, and therefor can produce much cleaner images at higher ISO settings.


(Photo credit: Nanyang Technological University)

According to research team leader, Assistant Prof. Wang Qijie, the sensor has been developed with current manufacturing methods in mind, and can be built using the CMOS process which is already used to make the sensors that we see in our cameras today.  While we often hear about technology that could, theoretically lead to innovation in the photographic industry - I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll actually be seeing these on the market in the not too distant future.

So, what does this mean to photographers? While I can't compare this to the jump from film to digital, its still huge - especially if you're someone who frequently has to shoot in low light. I guess the question is then, how big of a difference will these actually make? On that point all I can do is speculate. While they say it will amount to 1000x efficiency I highly doubt we'll see the next generation of DSLR's with ISO 100,000,000... I can't think of any new technology that's actually lived up to it's claims of potential in its first appearance in the consumer market whether it's due to manufacturing limitations, cost-cutting measures, or plans to increase the capabilities in stages for maximum profit. What I can tell you, is when this does come to market shooting at ISO 6400, 12800, and even higher won't be considered a last resort anymore.

Outside of traditional photographic purposes, there is also hope that this technology can be used to improve security systems, satellite imaging,  and infrared detection.

[Sources: CNET & Science Daily]

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The funniest thing is that the 1000x better result is when compared to old Graphene sensor, not CCD and CMOS. So, when compared this to current CMOS sensor, the difference is roughly 10x better so not a huge deal but you can always sell those sensors with that slogan.

get a clue what you talking about.. this article is full of nonsense....

Ale Vidal's picture

ahahahah you have absolutely right :D

Ok. Fine. I'll do it.

"1000x more sensitive than current pixel-based light sensor technology"
They get an increase from 10mA/W in previous single-layer tech, to 8.61A/W in their new modified graphene. Exactly how they modify the band structure, or how the electron trapping works is beyond me (I'm still working with "oldskool" electronics). How this compares to existing CMOS or CCD technology is not mentioned once. In fact, I can't find anything on the current responsivity of any existing CMOS sensor. (Apparently in the 0.1 - 0.6A/W range for Ge/Si. Don't know if this is what Canikon uses. Any patents out there?)

"[...] due to its ability to capture and hold light-generated electron particles from wavelengths beyond the visible spectrum"
Which is totally useless. At least, for most imaging applications. You still need to filter before the light hits the sensor (unlike foveon-type technology, and especially so because of the electron trapping), which means you'll still be using a Bayer-like layout. Maybe one green pixel can be replaced with IR or UV (because you're weird like that), or alternatively you could have interchangeable filters (Good luck with the alignment, though). So far, this thing just captures everything in a large range (not everything, but enough to call it "broadband". Refer to my earlier statement of me not knowing enough about band structure engineering), which isn't helpful for capturing isolated colours.

"In laymen’s terms, it “sees” a lot more light than our eyes can, and therefor can produce much cleaner images at higher ISO settings."
In layman's terms, it sees all colours (including mid-range IR), and produces a very odd B/W image. There is also no information on read noise, or A/D conversion possibilities, which is what ISO is all about. (You know this right? ISO has nothing to do with exposure. This technology is like a high(er) quality pre-amplification before the A/D conversion.)

"While they say it will amount to 1000x efficiency I highly doubt we’ll see the next generation of DSLR’s with ISO 100,000,000…"
No! They don't even claim 1000x efficiency. They claim 10x power efficiency (to what? I don't know), and make no comparison to responsivity in CMOS/CCD! And also, ISO 1M means you are amplifying this (presumably already stronger) signal EVEN MORE! This makes no sense whatsoever! It's much more likely that this new technology would make ISO800 equivalent (in terms of analog amplification) to ISO100(ish) for current CMOS tech.
Higher responsivity -> less analog amplification needed for ISO100 (look up how film speed is measured) -> lower noise from A/D conversion. Clean ISO 1M will only happen when responsivity increases by a factor of... you guessed it: 1 million.


Mark Weikert's picture

It's posts like this that make me wish people like you wrote for fstoppers. Instead of just reposting an article, it's nice to see someone do some homework on an article.

Like everything else, even if they have the capability to release something now, it will be 10 years and 5 product generations before we ever see it. Incremental growth = maximum profits.

Just ask Apple. They've been sitting on things for at least 2 years already.

Won't be consumer tech for a long time. This will be expensive for a foreseeable future and will be useful in niche applications for maybe military operations etc..

Haymo- I generally disagree with that ... graphene is, unlike other innovations in semiconductors, surprisingly easy to apply and use.

As others have said, current CMOS sensors have quantum efficiencies around 50% and a read noise of 2-3 electrons. Therefore for every 6 or so photons, you can reliably detect a signal - that's all the room for improvement that remains in sensors - 2-3 stops. While its not nothing, there isn't some giant room for improvement unless you can suddenly make inexpensive, high quality medium format sensors.

See: http://www.sensorgen.info/