Electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) images are commonly collected using either charge-coupled devices (CCD) or photographic film. Both film and the current generation of 16 megapixel (4k × 4k) CCD cameras have yielded high-resolution structures. Yet, despite the many advantages of CCD cameras, more than two times as many structures of biological macromolecules have been published in recent years using photographic film. The continued preference to film, especially for subnanometer-resolution structures, may be partially influenced by the finer sampling and larger effective specimen imaging area offered by film. Large format digital cameras may finally allow them to overtake film as the preferred detector for cryo-EM. We have evaluated a 111-megapixel (10k × 10k) CCD camera with a 9 μm pixel size. The spectral signal-to-noise ratios of low dose images of carbon film indicate that this detector is capable of providing signal up to at least 2/5 Nyquist frequency potentially retrievable for 3D reconstructions of biological specimens, resulting in more than double the effective specimen imaging area of existing 4k × 4k CCD cameras. We verified our estimates using frozen-hydrated ε15 bacteriophage as a biological test specimen with previously determined structure, yielding a ∼7 Å resolution single particle reconstruction from only 80 CCD frames. Finally, we explored the limits of current CCD technology by comparing the performance of this detector to various CCD cameras used for recording data yielding subnanometer resolution cryo-EM structures submitted to the electron microscopy data bank (http://www.emdatabank.org/).
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