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LED Street Lighting To Change Surveillance Performance?

Seems Los Angeles is replacing their high pressure sodium streetlights with blue LEDs (pdf). Some filmmakers are wondering about the effect this is going to have on the look of films shot at night, and how films will, in the future, be dated by their night scenes.

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. When I was a kid, I just naturally assumed that everything, including the sky, turned orange at night (I was a particularly stupid child). I began my career in this industry installing cameras in and around New York City, and got used to night time color shots looking like they were being filmed through Jell-O. More importantly, I got a real feeling for the limitations of cameras at night- IR only illuminates the center of the image, after all.

As more and more localities change over to LEDs, we may have to rethink what cameras can and cannot do at night.

That was an interesting link. Thanks for sharing.

Sentiment aside, I think the move to LEDs are a net good. In the US, residential wattage incandescent bulbs were mostly obsoleted by law anyway at the start of 2014.

One potential drawback I see is replacement cost. When a drunk plows into a lightpole and knocks it over, or thugs decide to shoot out or put out lamps at random, won't it cost much more to replace them? The link puts the cost of an LED unit at ~$250 but a high-pressure sodium unit is like $20.

I would expect the cost of LED lighting to drop quickly the more it's used. I mean, just a couple years ago you'd pay $50 for a simple LED flashlight; now you can get 1W lights for $5 at discount stores.  Where big halogen PIAA and Hella lamps used to be the norm on offroad vehicles, I'm seeing more and more now using massive LED light bars that aren't really that expensive for the light you get, and retrofit LED headlamps are quickly taking over the market.

Here's a little marketing stuff from a local offroad accessory shop:

The more market segments that adopt LED, the faster the price will drop for all of them... I mean, when I first got my Jeep a little over a year ago, light bars light these were THE new gee-whiz thing that only the big boys were getting... now barely 12 months later, they're all over the place - those Radius 4 round lights run $140/pr; the big 50" light bar retails now for about $600.


Here's an example from their deck:

Interesting they claim that the measured light levels are far lower with the LEDs but it looks a lot more even and brighter.

Interesting they claim that the measured light levels are far lower with the LEDs but it looks a lot more even and brighter.

Would it have something to do with better contrast? LED light doesn't seem to diffuse as much so that what is meant to be lit actually is and not the surrounding area. By extension, wether else is lit in the FOV should stand out much better.

Ari, thanks for sharing. I am wondering what the impact will be.

If it's more even lighting that will certainly help as light variations create problems.

On the other hand, it seems that there will be lower overall light levels, yes/no? Also less spillage, it seems?

I'd like to throw a camera up on a wall, see what happens. And what does the reflection of an LED streeghtlight look like to a surveillance camera? What does it do to snow?

Ari, I agree that some IR cameras illuminate the center of the image...But you forgot to mention about stand-alone IR and White Light illuminators are matched to the full Field of View of the camera. There is no center hot spot.

Raytec makes illuminators with the White Light LEDs that provide true colour rendition on the monitor view.


I'm curious..... what kind of growth has Raytec seen (and do you project) for municipal lighting vs growth of your lighting solutions for CCTV.


Sorry, I was referring to built in IRs.

Los Angeles is not the first city to start doing this. Baltimore was also doing that while I was living there about a year and a half ago. Here is an article in the Baltimore sun about it.

Marty, within North America, we are mainly involved with partners who specify and install lighting within security projects. The majority of the growth is for illuminating for video. As IP, HD and MP cameras grow in resolution and require more light at night, we recommend adding IR for the best even-illuminated image and benefiting with lower bit rate, bandwidth requirements and lower storage. White Light Illuminators are recommended for identifying colour at night and for deterring criminal activity. Our area lighting called the URBAN Series also benefit video systems with the "blue" White Light SMT LEDs.

There are a vast number of lighting manufacturers that provide area white light LED fixtures for aestetics, public safety and liability outside of the security plan. However, Raytec is always welcome to provide full engineering support with 2D and 3D Designs for area lighting. More details at

However, we are growing outside of the security market with our Explosion protected Zone 1 and Zone 2 White Light and active-IR illuminators in the hazardous markets of gas, oil and mining. The new SPARTAN Illuminators will soon be launched for use within North America.

I'm not sure this would have any negative impact. Wouldn't you just account for the color cast through white-balance? Most cameras already have modes for Daylight, Tungsten, Flourescent. Add a white-balance mode for "LED".

We tested outdoor LED lighting in our Camera Color Fidelity Shootout. It didn't have rendition issues any different than any bright lighting.

Also, here in Allentown, the city has been replacing street lights on the main street with LED fixtures. There are cameras all up and down that section, and no issues with the lighting. Living here, I have to tell you I really like it. It's much more bright and clear than the sodium lamps we're used to.

In our video production work, we've sometimes experienced problems with some LED stage lighting fixtures causing a noticable flicker on video. This is due to the Pulse Width Modulation that is used to control the light output of the fixture. The only way to "dim" an LED fixture is to quickly cycle it on/off, varying the length of the "on" cycle. It's fast enough that the human eye cannot pick it up but a camera can. I wonder if these LED fixtures would cause similar problems. Maybe not though. Since there would be no need to dim these street lights, they might not use PWM.

I'm seeing more and more gas stations around here using LED lighting retrofitted into their existing canopy fixtures, most of which appear to have a motion sensor that toggles the output between "bright" and "stupid bright" (as much as I've been able to look at them, it does appear to be varying the intensity rather than switching some of the array off and on). It would be interesting to see how the results appear on the surveillance cameras; unfortunately the stores that have gone this way aren't ones that we service (yet).

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