Are Premium Camera's Components Really Better Than Low End Ones?

A manufacturer recently commented to me:

"You get into the slippery slope of what components do you use the low end Chinese, the midrange Korean or high end Japanese. All spec sheets look the same but the differences are light years apart."

So, anyone care to expound on what those advantages are of high end components from high end cameras? Specifics please. If they do exist, why are manufacturer so poor at communicating / marketing that?

Based on my previous experience with electronics manufacturing (professional audio equipment), I believe there are only a few camera components that affect out-of-the-box performance and image quality. These are the lens, camera sensor, CPU type and performance, and firmware. All the rest including resistors, capacitors, power supply, connectors and more will certainly affect service life, but not initial quality.

General design considerations such as dome clarity and thermal management may also have some impact.

PTZ cameras of course have a large number of mechanical and electromechanical parts to consider.

The optimization of default settings is also an area where attention given can provide improved out-of-the-box performance.

When I did factory training for one of our VMS manufacturers recently, they said one of their complaints when dealers use very low end IP cameras, for instance, is the camera will respond very slowly when you try to do fancy things like change resolution and frame rates based on motion, and sometimes they'll blame the VMS for this. They've seen some cheap cameras (no brand mentioned) will actually reboot anytime the VMS changes the frame rate or resolution in the stream. It doesn't happen in premium brand cameras.

I don't know about regional quality differences between components. However I know from firsthand experience in military remanufacturing that both 'high end' and 'low end' electronic components often come from the same factories, same manufacturing lines, and often the same shift.

The difference between low end and high end ('mil-spec') stuff is the high-end passes more strict quality assurance tests.

Every batch of resistors or capacitors or whatever gets quality tested, and the components that pass high end checks get tossed in the 'high end' box. All the rejected stuff then is tested to the next level of lesser tolerance standards, and the components that pass there get tossed in the 'midrange' box, and so on.

The high end stuff generally sells for more money, because it has been tested to meet tighter tolerances. The low end stuff is built the same exact way, but just doesn't pass the test.

So in terms of Chinese vs. Korean vs. Japanese sources: I doubt that quality is strictly a function of region. Rather, they all produce high-end and low-end stuff. It's just a question of truthful disclosure and how much money is spent in purchasing a batch of components.

The high end stuff generally sells for more money, because it has been tested to meet tighter tolerances. The low end stuff is built the same exact way, but just doesn't pass the test.

Sounds like a forecasting nightmare. Since you are not trying to make anything but the highest quality components, and therefore always looking to improve yields, your quality ratios could be quite variable, even though your unit volume matches your orders.

Do you then give the 'good' stuff at the 'cheap' price, or short the order?

And what do you do when you have an order for the cheap stuff but no order for the good?

Make for stock? If you sell the good as cheap pretty soon people will buy the cheap because it's good.

Btw, I'm not doubting this happens, I've just always wonder how you can manage production of somewhat randomly produced inventories if selling significant quantities of 'second stock'.

You are exactly describing things like "CPU overclocking". this is exactly the business of manufacturers of "Game" GPU boards. And this nightmare for GPU card contract manufacturers (TMSC?) for the past 3-4 years.

There can be a lot of differences in components among cameras with "identical" specs from different manufacturers.

Most components are rated for various tolerances, the most common example that people might be familiar with is resistors. High-end resistors will be rated for a 1% tolerance, low-end ones might be 20% tolerance. Similar specs for capacitors, inductors, and all the other components that go into an electronic device. If there is a lot of variance among individual components device to device, you increase the chances that 5 identical models of the same camera all produce slightly different images.

Similarly, you might find that components from different suppliers respond to temperature extremes in different ways. Stability over a temp range is important, as is overall longevity. I think that several people here would remember the electrolytic capacitor fiasco of about a decade ago that caused lots of motherboards in PCs to suddenly fail.

It's hard to really communicate this in marketing material, you're somewhat limited on a datasheet (trust me, space fills up fast), and it's hard for people to *see* or *test* that. If I tell you my camera is from all components with 1% tolerance, how do you know? Or how do you know that it matters? How do you know that the components actually *have* those values and it's not just the component supplier telling me a lie that gets passed on unchecked?

More conscientious manufacturers in all industries tend to work with their suppliers to ensure the integrity of discrete components. It's also common to do sample tests, pulling random finished goods from inventory before shipping and doing a thorough quality check on those devices to ensure they continue to meet stated specs. A manufacturer that is just going for highest volume/lowest price will commonly not have the ability to do integrity checking. As long as everything is living up to expectations (supplied components maintain their quality, assembly processes are followed, seals and gaskets are sealed and gasketed) then it's not an issue, but when something bad happens in that situation it can affect 100,000 units in the blink of an eye, and you don't hear about it until the failures start showing up in the field.

It's more expensive to pay attention to the details batch by batch, and of course you tend to see this in the MSRP of the product. But you also (hopefully) see it in reduced failures, longer lifespans, more consistency unit to unit.

Even with all this in mind, you may still have situations where failures occur in the field in large numbers due to unforeseen circumstances, but you definitely cut the probability way down with proper attention to QC.

There can also be hesitation to call out the discrete components too directly because you don't want customers getting hung up on the wrong things. The CMOS vs. CCD "battle" is a good example of this, you get people that go on believing that the technology or component brand that was best in class 5 years ago is forever the best option. As a manufacturer you really want customers buying your product (mostly) not the sub-components it's made up of.

Another example would be telling you that my camera is capable of X # of simultaneous streams or Y fps because I'm using a particular microprocessor that is better or faster. But those features are also a function of efficiency of the code and other factors. Another company could slap the same processor in their camera with suboptimal code, but hold it up as being "just as good" as my camera because it has that same quality component.

So, you don't see the discrete components called out as much as the finished product, but you tend to the see the manufacturers confidence in the product made up of these components through things like warranty period, or RMA policy, or higher-level ratings (an IP67 instead of IP66 rating, a temp spec covering a wider range).

"It's hard to really communicate this in marketing material, you're somewhat limited on a datasheet (trust me, space fills up fast), and it's hard for people to *see* or *test* that. If I tell you my camera is from all components with 1% tolerance, how do you know? Or how do you know that it matters? How do you know that the components actually *have* those values and it's not just the component supplier telling me a lie that gets passed on unchecked?"

But if you do not try, how can you know it will not make a difference?

As a practical example, I'd love to hear if Axis / Avigilon / Bosch / Panasonic / Pelco / Samsung / Sony, etc. have any specific quality / component advantages over Dahua / Hikvision. Since I've never heard any specific claims from any of these manufacturers, I conclude that there must be known. Am I assuming incorrectly or?

"you tend to the see the manufacturers confidence in the product made up of these components through things like warranty period, or RMA policy, or higher-level ratings (an IP67 instead of IP66 rating, a temp spec covering a wider range)."

Best I can tell looking at these higher level metrics, most companies are the roughly the same in surveillance, well except for Axis M series and their paltry 1 year warranty....

" I think that several people here would remember the electrolytic capacitor fiasco of about a decade ago that caused lots of motherboards in PCs to suddenly fail."

Oooooh yeah. The computer store I was doing work for had almost a pallet full of returned boards for RMA. It put a heavy black eye on popular name of ASUS, even though it affected other brands as well.

You know, this reminded me of another anecdote somewhat related that happened around the same time period. That same computer store also installed the name brand of Maxtor hard drives in about 20 computers it sold to a large dentistry practice. The hard drives started experiencing high failure rates and they ended up replacing about 3/4 of them in the first year! I was like "How could this happen to a known name brand like Maxtor?".

Before that occurred there was a hard drive company named Quantum that made a low profile series drives called the Fireball. My friends and I said that was because the drives would eventually go up in flames. Not because they'd literally catch on fire, but they were very unreliable junky drives that often failed completely without any warning signs at all, so you rarely got a chance to save the data.

I looked at one of the failed Maxtor drives from the dentist office and it said "Maxtor Fireball". I didn't realize till later Maxtor had bought Quantum and were just repackaging the inventory of Fireball hard drives they got with the purchase.

So that's just another example of how a manufacturer can go wrong, getting an influx of low grade parts through an acquisition.

...they were very unreliable junky drives that often failed completely without any warning signs at all, so you rarely got a chance to save the data.

Quantum Uncertainty...

I have no specific insight into this, but it seems to me that most companies use parts/materials/components that they can get at the lowest cost. So if a "good" manufacturer is using raw materials acquired from the lowest bidder, how is that any different than a "bad" manufacturer using the same, cheap raw material. In the end, it all may very well be made from the same junky stuff.

When I worked for a "good" manufacturer, we cared about component cost and quality. because if the quality was low, it caused more returns, which would eat up the benefits of low cost materials. We also spent a lot of money on test jigs that would test all of the components on each board. again it cost money up front, but reduced costs of returns, and more importantly, opportunity costs by mitigating the negative impact to our reputation.

The FPGA chip is a programmable chip that can perform many functions depending upon the code that a hardware engineer writes for it. Their are FPGA chips tailored for all sorts of specific needs, such as cameras, as well as more general ones. Some FPGA chips provides features for compression, especially H.264 compression. These are available from a number of manufacturers but the video quality varies considerably due to bugs in the chips. So when programming FPGA chips, bugs in the design of the chip can cause hardware engineers to have to work around those bugs. There is only a finite amount of space for the code so you never want to write too much extra code as it's always wise to leave space for firmware updates at a later time. Furthermore working around bugs increases development time and so increases costs. So it can make a lot of sense to buy a more expensive (high end) FPGA if it is known to have fewer bugs. Unfortunately the only way to find this out is usually to spend some time with the different FPGAs. Over time, one tends to learn which brands are more reliable and which are more buggy. The case of the FPGA is different to other components, such as resistors and capacitors, which do not need programming.

There is a common belief, among people I speak to in Vietnam, that products made for Western markets are made to a higher quality than products made for Vietnam and other Asian markets. This belief is sufficiently strong that many people would rather buy an iPhone or Dell computer from the USA or Australia than buy it from within Vietnam. I've no idea if this suspicion is well-founded but, if true, it would blur the lines on what constitutes a high end and low end product and how much one should pay.

...and could be why manufacturers, most of them anyway, offer 'regional' rather than 'global' warranties

Many moons have passed in the sky since I was a product manager and one engineer we used who also designed for NASA years ago offered a little advice on parts purchasing.

He said we could save money buying parts with a 10 or 20% tolerance instead of the MIL SPEC of 1% he was used to designing with. He did warn that the actual product would have over 1000 components and if each we 20% off his design specification, simple math would define the expected failure rate.

He had a dry sense of humor but it got the point across.

If you have been in this industry for a while, you might remember that HID had a very large batch of prox readers that had a particular component that failed (about 10 or so years ago). The end result was that the reader would, without warning, just "go to sleep". It would stop working for no apparent reason. You could do whatever you wanted to, but it was dead. All the lights were on, but no one was home.

HID indentified the component, and sent out a notice to all of its dealers. They also put one of their project managers in charge of recalling and replacing the effected readers until they were all replaced, at no charge to the customer.

They did not dodge the problem. They didn't try to hide it, couch it or cover it up. They did the best thing which was to take it head on. They put someone in charge of replacing the readers, identified that person, made it easy to find him and started shipping good product again. As units failed, or as we were able to, we would take readers out of the field and replace them with quality readers.

One insignificant, substandard component can make a big difference if you have made your name selling quality products.

We are still an HID dealer to this day.

Were they HID 6005's?

When this happened, our HID RSM dropped a big box of new replacements off and just told us to call if we needed more.

Yep. They got out in front of that whole debacle.

I have worked with some Chinese manufacturers (Not Hik nor Dahua) and also with the Taiwanese. We wanted to go in for UL listing for our products and none of Chinese manufacturers were not even interested. One key requirement for UL listing for cameras is that critical components inside the camera should be UL listed or certified. Critical components include - Power supplies, motors, LEDs, external interfaces (ethernet), terminal blocks etc. Besides UL, there are tests applied for IP 66/67 and IK08/10 rating. There are more tests for the CE and FCC mark. The Taiwanese manufacturer that we worked with gave us reports from SGS and TUV (reputed companies) whereas the Chinese gave us reports for some local "accredited" test agency which seemed rather dubious given the camera build quality.

From what I've seen, to get the cost down the Chinese OEMs generally propose Hisilicon SoC based solutions (cheaper) compared to Ambarella / Sony. The sensor is usually Aptina / OmniVision and they ask more $$ for Sony sensors. The lens are usually from local Chinese manufacturers as compared to branded manufacturers like Tamron, Computar, Fujinon etc. The firmware from the low-end manufacturers is almost the same as what Hisilicon provides with SoC - H3518E / C, H3156 etc.

Quality manufacturers spend a lot of money in certifications - CE, FCC, UL, IPxx, IKxx for each product series. This includes recurring costs from UL for factory visits and inspections.

After all of this, is there a difference in quality? Take a guess.

Undisclosed 3 Manufacturer brings up a very important point. This is what makes that UL label (among others) relevant to you. I know some don't care; I know that some don't know. I also know that some do know and still don't care.

Somewhere near the beginning of the National Electrical Code is a section that talks about certification by a " Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory". UL is such an authority. CE and CSA are two other examples. If the equipment being installed does not have that listing, if it does not bear that label, the equipment and the installation is not in compliance with your local code, your State Code, and the National code, AND OSHA. Those codes matter. They are there to protect the consumer, not just from physical harm but to also offer the consumer some assurance that they are getting the quality they think they are getting.

I know this gets ignored frequently. I know enforcement is non-existent in some locales. Inspectors can't be everywhere, and can't be asked to know every code for every single thing. That is what makes your education, your training and your expertise valuable. You are the professional and you should know. That is also part of what makes licensing important. This kind of thing is talked about in a training class. It is on your test for a license. These types of questions are on your tests for annual recertification.

Just because your state or locale does not have a requirement for "low voltage license" does not mean there is no requirement for licensure what-so-ever. To install cable in your state, to install electrical devices in your state as a professional, you must have an electrical license of some kind. Special Low Voltage is just one of many. Without proper licensing, without proper testing and recertification, how else can your ability be assured by the consumer?

Customers may not care if the price is cheap. Code enforcement cannot be everywhere. You, the installer, the person or company who has to put your name on it, the person who has to have insurance to stay in business and play by the rules; you who take your profession seriously should care. Among other things, these codes help keep inferior equipment out of your market.

I talk about this from time to time on this board and elsewhere. Every time I do, I hear howls from the crowd about how licensing is not needed, not required, a nuisance. Really? If codes and requirements keeps cheap inferior products off of the market, if they help protect consumers on several levels, if they help keep trunk slammers off the street; if a bi-product is to help put money in your pocket, money you need to buy your insurance and run your company in a professional manner, to keep up with inflation, to pay for health insurance for your employees; explain to me please how that is a bad thing?

And as a side note, the lack of ability for "enforcement" is what makes ONVIF not relevant no matter their intention. There are articles on this very website every month about the future of ONVIF as it pertains to one new development or another. If the FCC had gotten out in front of this years ago and took this for action it would have become law - Federal law. Codes do address it. Codes are adopted by States and locales. AHJ's just don't have the time or understand their reach.

IF "parts are parts", if we all followed this recipe, would all of our chocolate cakes taste the same?

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup boiling water

"IF "parts are parts", if we all followed this recipe, would all of our chocolate cakes taste the same?"

But who is using better parts and what are they that differ? I am still trying to understand this for Axis, Avigilon, Panasonic, Sony, etc.?

Agreed, and what are they doing to inform the public? What are they doing to inform and educate integrators? What are they doing??

Finally! After nearly two (2) years of membership, someone posts something that I know a little bit about.

While the range of quality for the ingredients that you listed are minor at best (most of us couldn't taste the difference between this recipe made with basic ingredients and the highest quality), the baker's skill can make a significant difference even when the ingredients are identical.

As a prospective end-user who is evaluating video security systems, hardware specs are but a small part of the equation. At the end of the day, it's the installer/integrator that makes the difference e.g. one who can look at a business, make recommendations for the ideal hardware and software combination, and then install and optimize the system.

(Yeah, I sell cakes for a living.)

Yeah, I sell cakes for a living.


Jeff, great first comment, thanks! :)

We could start with the battle of plastic over metal on housings, simple to quantify. Glass lenses instead of plastic. Maybe IPVM adds quantifies to the selection tool? How about Country of Origin or "Owned by a government" LOL

Avigilon was using the KAI series sensors from TrueSense (formally Kodak) on the previous generation of MegaPixel cameras... these sensors were on numerous Nasa Missions, including the Mars rover. Some quick searching with the known specs of cameras, you can find the OEM vendor for many of the todays cameras. On the high end, the supporting technology for the sensor is part of a complete sensor package - not simply a sensor. In much the same way Intel provides a complete CHIPSET - DESIGN package for PC systems. The future of CCTV camera technology might follow a similar path, as the drive to increase performance, drive down costs requires more integration and higher volumes.

"HALT" electronics testing from a camera vendor would be confirmation of quality components.

Avigilon was using the KAI series sensors from TrueSense (formally Kodak) on the previous generation of MegaPixel cameras...

Are they still using KAI?

A good source to match up advertised camera specs against the OEM items is below. there may be contractual arrangements for a slightly custom sensor that is not advertised by the OEM source.

First rule in design, the best of quality is only as good as your weakest component. This is analogous to bandwidth in a system or thruput, where is the limit. Here is a simple example. A 2 MP camera, has a 2 MP sensor. You add a 2MP lens. What is the meaning of a 2 MP lens. Test and you will see that optics are not constant throughout the optical surface. That is unless you evaluate from manufacturer to manufacturer. Not to cast a broad stroke but the Japanese companies tend to be conservative and will quote a specification at the weakest point; in a lens it's the edge. The Chinese tend to state specs based on the optimal which is dead center. Good luck finding out who manufactured the lens or its parameters. Even beyond the general optical specifications there is f-stop. You can have a canon or Nikon SLR camera and there are lenses with identical focal lengths but the f-stops will vary widely with exponential price differences. Even further into the specifics of a lens from measurements to f-stops comes materials. You will see down products using actually plastic which unlike metal over time will change due to environmental conditions. So for optics the products vary exponentially with associated price discrepancies. When we talk about processing power when you buy a PC you know if you bought a Celeron or i7 Quad Core. Not the same in cameras. So goes it with processing power in the IP camera which for the most part is a Linux computer. You will never see a camera manufacturer disclose the horsepower so to speak. This then gets into the claims of frame rate capabilities which require a third component to make it a quantifiable answer. Frame rate/resolution/bitrate. In not so short, caveat emptor. That's why without an IPVM there is no Consumer Digest or independent source for measured results. How does one know as well from production run to production run manufacturers are not substituting components to reduce costs and remain competitive in the race to the bottom.
Use Mobotix 10 years installing them without a bad camera. Enough said.

Mobotix's quality has never been in doubt, simply their high prices and weak 3rd party integration.

Use Mobotix 10 years installing them without a bad camera. Enough said.

Ironic, but the post said enough before the "Enough said", but not enough after!

Then Mobotix needs to speak to their quality as it relates to their prices. The 3rd party integration is on them as well.

My obvious frustration is that the people to who need to be doing the talking are silent on important issues. That is what marketing people are supposed to be doing. Marketing is not sales.

When companies or reps come to see me I tell them all the time that I will not spend my time or money doing their marketing for them; then that is disproportionately all I do. Why? Because they suck at it.

What makes Panasonic or Axis or Avigilon different is important if those companies want to differentiate themselves as high end. I believe IPVM talks about differentiators all the time. That is exactly what all of these companies Marketing departments should be doing.

Is is that they don't know how? Is it that there are not any true differences anymore? Are the differences so negligible that they have become less and less meaningful? Is marketing just not important to the manufacturer? Have they measured the cost of marketing and decided that the ROI is just not there?

In the PC world there are differences in machines. What I buy for home use is different than what is acceptable for work. The expectations and demands are different. The manufacturers have lost the ability to put a voice to their quality OR they don't see the need because they are content running the race to the bottom.

Man, this snow and ice seriously needs to melt so I can get back to work. Go Panthers.

Some points that have not been discussed are the "Quality of the Parts Manufacturer". Resistors , capacitors, etc. from a low end supplier may have the same specifications as ones from a high end source ( compare Japanese suppliers to low end Chinese). All specifications may be the same but the quality of the part build will be different and the MTBF will be different.

Another point that is that a "Class A" manufacturer will design more conservatively. For example if a component has a design with 15 Volts running thru it a designer can use a part with a 20 Volt rating or 25 Volt rating. The 25V part costs more than the 20V and both will work. But the wider range for variations will assure less failures and probably longer life.

There is no way for any of us to know who follows the points above and the reputation of the manufacturer over years will answer these questions in product reliability.

I think we should not invent the wheel here - we can refer for pretty old flame about real vs. fake Apple simple equipment like chargers. to name some -

I my experience, there are a lot of ways to fin into specs formally (in controlled environment) without any assurance of meeting them on-field. tolerance rating is one of possible options here, but the problem is broader.

and regional differences - I think there is a bit. In China, customer is responsible to order quality. So, you can explicitly ask for some quality ratio - and they will correct the price and production cycle (definitely - if you order is big enough).