Nikon has announced a 17.8-megapixel square CMOS HDR sensor that shoots 1,000fps

Tips & Techniques

With as many sensors as Nikon buys from companies like Sony, TowerJazz, Toshiba, etc. it’s easy to forget that Nikon can and does actually design their own imaging sensors, too. That’s exactly what they’ve done, though, announcing a new, slightly odd square format 4224 x 4224 pixel CMOS HDR sensor that they offers “the industry’s highest level of HDR”.

While the idea of a square sensor of this resolution and frame rate sounds like it would be a lot of fun for things like Instagram and other square format social media, though, it seems this sensor might be destined more for industrial use.

The stacked BSI CMOS sensor offers a square format with what is essentially 4K x 4K of resolution, for a total of around 17.8-megapixels. When it comes to physical dimensions, it’s actually a hair wider than your standard 1.5x APS-C crop sensor, coming in at 1″ x 1″, or 25.4mm x 25.4mm. 1.5x crop APS-C sensors typically come in at around 24x16mm.

It offers what appears to be a rather ridiculous dynamic range, with Nikon showing off a set of images. The large one is the entire dynamic range captured by the new square HDR sensor, while the two images on the right are exposed for the highlights and shadows, to highlight the detail lost in the opposite extreme that their sensor manages to retain in a single image.

Nikon says the dynamic range is 110dB at 1,000fps and 134dB at 60 frames per second. I’ll let you all fight about exactly how many stops that is in the comments, but if the samples above are anything to go by, it’s a far wider range than most of us may face in the real world for 99% of the image we’ll ever photograph.

What’s intriguing about this sensor, and how it seems to achieve the above results, is that the sensor is divided up into 16×16 pixel blocks and then 264 x 264 such blocks make up the entire sensor array. Each of these 16×16 pixel blocks offers individual exposure control. This means you can shoot multiple images at the same time and then composite to get your final result.

Nikon’s wording suggests that these sensors may be destined for industrial use and not for cameras intended for photographers and filmmakers. But the idea of one of these sensors in a camera is fantastic. And I’m not just talking about the potential dynamic range advantages. A sensor with this physical dimension of around 25.4 x 25.4mm would let you use this sensor with any existing full-frame lens, all of which would project an image circle big enough to cover the entire sensor.

Sure, you’d still effectively have about a 1.5x crop horizontally, give or take, but it would mean you can have the option to crop either horizontally or vertically in post or keep it square for platforms like Instagram and other social media. And, you might think that sounds odd, but Instagram didn’t invent the square format. I’ve got a Mamiya C330 Pro F in its case behind me that proves square format has been around for a long time.

Whether or not we will ever see square format DSLRs or mirrorless cameras… As appealing and interesting as the idea might be, I think it’s probably unlikely.

If you want to find out more, read the full announcement on the Nikon Japan website.

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