Canon Shows Off New Toys at Expo 2015: Cutting-Edge Camera, Lens & Printing Tech Unveiled

Canon kicked off its once-every-five-years Canon Expo 2015 show in New York City yesterday where the Tokyo-based company pulled back the curtain on some potentially ground-breaking imaging technology. Shutterbug was on hand for the event, which is part science lab and part marketing showcase, along with thousands of buyers, dealers, and distributors of Canon products eager to see what the company has up its sleeve.

Those looking to catch a glimpse at the potential future of imaging technology were not disappointed. The show featured a range of intriguing innovations, of which imaging technology was only a small part. In addition to a variety of enticing new camera, lens, printing, and sensor technology, Canon flaunted its latest medical imaging devices and a wide number of products that dealt with security and surveillance. (Those thinking the power of “Big Brother” will be curtailed in the future, might want to reassess the situation.)

But along with the shaky grammar behind the “See Impossible” tagline of this Canon Expo 2015 show, the overlying question behind these types of future tech events remains: the products might be possible but will they ever actually be released? (Sort of like those “concept cars” at auto shows that look cool but never see the light of day.)

In Canon’s case you never know. When the company displayed a consumer-style 4K camera at Canon Expo 2010, the idea seemed ridiculous. But now 4K imaging is creeping into consumer cameras, displays, and televisions right and left. So much so that Canon was already pushing 8K imaging at Expo 2015. (Yes, 8K.)

Whether these “innovations” will ever come to market and catch on with the general public remains to be seen. So take this rundown of some of the highlights of the Canon Expo 2015 show with a grain of salt: for every potentially game-changing bit of imaging technology there’s a kludgy clunker that will end up on the scrapheap by the time the next Canon Expo rolls around.

New Image Sensor Technology

In the days leading up to Canon Expo 2015, the company announced several new image sensor “breakthroughs” that were on display at the show. For starters, Canon was touting its new 250-megapixel (19,580 x 12,600 pixels), APS-H-size (approx. 29.2 x 20.2 mm) CMOS imaging sensor. For those keeping score at home, that’s the most pixels ever placed on a CMOS sensor smaller than a 35mm full-frame sensor.

Not only was the 250MP sensor being shown off at Expo 2015 (see below), Canon also had a prototype camera with a very long lens attached (see above) fitted with the new mega-chip.

To demonstrate what the ultra high-resolution sensor could do, a video displayed massively cropped footage shot by the prototype 250MP camera showing someone waving from the Eiffel Tower from 11 miles away. While traditional photographers might find the usage of such an incredibly high-resolution product limited, the applications for security and surveillance seem bountiful. (Big Brother Canon will be watching you!)

A working version of the 120MP DSLR Canon announced it was developing was also on display at the show as part of a mock, studio photography set-up. (See below.)

The 120MP camera concept was interesting but who on earth would need such a high-resolution sensor in a DSLR? According to Canon USA spokesperson Chuck Westfall, a high resolution DSLR of this magnitude might appeal to product and commercial photographers.

“Product photography is one of the areas we were thinking about [when developing the 120MP camera],” Westfall told Shutterbug. “But it might also appeal to architecture photographers or any other type of photographer where you need to capture incredibly fine amounts of detail.”

Canon also showed off a concept version of its forthcoming 8K Cinema camera (see below), which is part of a big push the company is making for 8K products of the future, including an 8K reference display. (Those folks out there who aren’t even on board with 4K yet might be scratching their heads right now.)

Still though, an immersive 8K demo movie the company was screening at the show, which made you feel like you were riding on trains and flying over small villages in Europe, along with the impressively sharp, high resolution still photos pulled from 8K footage and turned into gorgeous prints, made it seem like there might be some viability for this technology.

And finally in the sensor realm, Canon had its ultra-high sensitivity 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor on display at the show. (See below.)

The chip is actually already being fitted into a new camera system that’s slated to go on sale in December 2015: the Canon ME20F-SH. A working model of the ME20F-SH was on display at Canon Expo 2015 as well.

The Canon ME20F-SH’s big claim to fame, so far, is that it can shoot at an ISO sensitivity of over 4,000,000, which allows the camera to virtually see in the dark.

The applications for such a product? Well, along with the requisite nighttime surveillance and security possibilities, Canon thinks it may be suited for cinematic production, reality television, and nature/wildlife documentaries.

New Lens Technology

One of the more intriguing developments for photographers at Canon Expo 2015 was some innovative lens technology hidden away behind an elaborate recreation of Yankee Stadium at the show.

The stadium, complete with actors playing Yankees and Expos baseball teams, was meant to demonstrate Canon’s current lens offerings. But squirreled away on the side was a new concept 600mm f/4 lens (see above) that was designed to be significantly shorter and lighter than current super-telephoto offerings.

There was actually a working version of the lens (see below), which combines Canon’s older Diffractive Optics (DO) technology with its new Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics (BR Optics) technology to, theoretically, produce a shorter more portable lens with better image quality.

According to Canon, their DO/BR Optics 600mm f/4 lens will be 30% smaller than conventional super-telephoto lenses.

“By combining Diffractive Optics with BR Optics, it keeps the size of the lens down while getting rid of Chromatic Aberrations,” Westfall said.

New Printing Technology

For photographers who like to print, Canon had several interesting developments at Expo 2015. For one, a new fleet of 12-ink, professional-level inkjet printers in 17-inch (see above), 24-inch, and 44-inch sizes were prominently on display. (This contrasts sharply with the last Canon Expo where new pro printers were hidden under smoky glass and the press was not permitted to take photos.)

There was not a ton of info on these forthcoming pro photo printers but they seemed very close to finished products. My guess is to stay tuned in the near future for an official announcement on a new photo printer lineup from Canon.

Relatedly, Canon was also showing off several new “textural” printing concepts at the show. One that really caught my eye was a printing service that rendered images as three-dimensional objects with the subject of the photo pushing off the surface of the print. You can see it below in the image of the runner, though you really need to touch it in person to understand the full effect.

I could see many photographers gravitating to this type of printing, since it offers such a unique treatment for photos. This impressive printing tech, however, has a somewhat unimpressive name: Canon Super Creative Printing Technology.

Virtual Technologies

Two other product demonstrations stood out for me at Canon Expo 2015. One, in the “Home” section of the show, presented an interactive table display that allowed you to plop a camera down onto it, pull out photos and videos by swiping them with your hand and start sharing them. (See photo above.)

You could also turn them into automated orders for prints or photo books. (See photo below.)

This was all very high concept and seemed to be more of a canned demonstration than a real achievable service (so far). Still though, the wireless, gesture-based interactivity of the demo looked like something that would appeal to all the soccer moms and dads out there who don’t want to deal with all the clumsy wires and tortuous download and upload times required to get photos from you camera and out into the world.

You’d think we’d have moved on from this antiquated process by now but as evidenced by this future-thinking Canon demo, it’s not there yet.

And finally, for all the super geeks out there, Canon was demo-ing a new High-Resolution Handheld Display device, which is the company’s latest take on the long sought-after Virtual Reality (VR) market. (Canon has been in the industrial VR market  for a while now with its MREAL System.)

Holding a pair of uncomfortable, Canon-branded goggles (see below) and headphones with heavy cords, I was able to have a 360-degree, virtual reality-like video and audio experience, where I watched and heard Flamenco singers and dancers perform for me in an immersive environment. (I almost forgot I was at the Jacob Javits Center!)

I’ve tried VR devices before but they've never lived up to the hype. In this case, however, Canon offered a vision of the future that seemed bright.