What Are The Best Low Cost, Low Light IP Cameras?

Many IP cameras are getting quite good at low light, closing in or matching analog cameras, even with higher resolution. However, these cameras tend to be quite expensive (in the $750+ range).

I am curious what you find to be the best low cost, low light camera. Here, by low cost, I mean sub $500 including lens.

I suspect there will be two categories:

  • True Day/Night cameras that offer strong low light without added illumination
  • IR integrated cameras that add IR

Looking forward to your suggestions. We'll take the most promising and include them in a future shootout / test.

We just replaced a failed IQ A11 color dome in a dining/lounge with a 3MP Dahua dome with IR (retail about $500, which is less than half of our cost on the original A11), and disabled the IR... I haven't had a chance to check it at night, but my coworker who installed it says it looks spectacular. I'll peek in on it this evening and let you know how it looks.

hi john. the 1.3 mp dahua cams with the aptina sensor provide some real nice low light images. i would love to see this one be put to the test. there are ir and non ir cameras.

Anything else besides Dahua? :) I appreciate the recommendations, but we're going to need to compare / contrast to other vendors.

Maybe there aren't any? ;)

Been poking through CNB's website to see if the Monalisa chip made it into and IP/MP cameras, but it doesn't appear so. Pity.

What? There must be Hikvision, ACTi, Vivotek, etc. cameras out there that meet these specs, especially if you are looking for models with IR?

There's a Vivotek we used in a couple of our usual low-light sights, works pretty well with, with WDR as well... the IP8162-P. I don't know if it would rate "low cost" in this case, seems to me cost on it was around $650.

There must be some cheap, low cost IP / IR bullet camera equivalent to the ones offered in costco kits, no? I am not expecting them to be $25 each but something in the $150 range strikes me as feasible?

I can't speak for anyone else, but we're not usually shopping in that range, so I really have no idea what there is. The only reason I got into the Dahua stuff was because Sean sent me, unsolicited, a four-channel FULLD1 DVR to evaluate... and I was impressed (I have *never* been impressed by a standalone DVR before). Then he sent me one of the 1080p minidomes, and I was impressed with its performance for the price. Now we're making regular use of much of Sean's product line :)

Anyway, I have nothing else to suggest right now... at the risk of sounding pedantic, I don't consider most IR cameras to be "low light cameras" - they're typically (with some exceptions) cameras with crappy low-light response that make up for it by effectively strapping a flashlight to their backs.

I use to be dismissive of IR cameras as 'fake' low light cameras but now I am now sure if that is a reasonable position. Why does it matter if they do it by 'strapping a flashlight to their backs' as long as they can deliver the image and do it at reasonable cost and reliability. Of course, there are concerns about integrated IR performance but for those who want a low cost way to cover small areas in the dark, IR cameras are very attractive. Agree / disagree?

John, I don't disagree that IR, like so much else, has its place. I just think it's far too often used as a "crutch" ESPECIALLY when you're talking about "cheap" cameras. After all, why bother with a quality sensor, efficient image processing, ICR and IR-corrected lenses, and all those things that actually make for a good camera - and add the to cost - when you can just take a cheap colour board camera, throw $2 worth of IR LEDs around the outside, and market it as "NIGHT VISION" (which for most people conjures images of SWAT guys with high-tech night vision googles)?

I have to say I agree and as new to "pro CCTV" I was very surprised to notice that pros in general do not like IR on cameras. I understand that "real" D/N camera will generally offer better performance than IR ones but it also seems that they will require at least a minimum amount of light - they will never work in total darkness. So my big question comes: how can you guarantee that there will always be that minimum amount of light so that you can record something - what happens in an emergency/theft situation where unexpected total darkness happened?

Harris, good question: "How can you guarantee that there will always be that minimum amount of light?"

This is a tough one on multiple levels. First of all, even if you have a little bit of light (like 1 or 2 lux) that's still going to be a problem and performance of a non IR camera is so going to be severely degraded. See our test on how lowering light levels impacts surveillance performance.

Second, adding visible lighting can be expensive and/or logistically complex. That's why, despite limitations, integrated IR is, by far, the least expensive overall solution to 'guaranteeing' a minimum amount of light.

It's a question I have been rethinking myself. Why should I pay Axis $1,000 for a low light camera if I get an integrated IR one for half that or even 75% less? There are some benefits - no risk of overexposure, color video, etc. but for simple scenes, I think professionals (myself included) have been unnecessary negative bout IR cameras.

I can really only speak from my own experience, but when I have a customer who wants to be able to identify people in a restaurant, glowing eyes don't help matters. Overexposure isn't so much a problem as UNEVEN exposure. The 3MP Dahua dome we put in a site recently (on a 12' high vaulted ceiling) ended up with a speaker array mounted right under it - if the IR is enabled, the array is brightly lit up and everything else in the FOV is dark - "intelligent" IR is of zero use in a situation like that.

I think, too, that a lot of people find it creepy to look up and see those faintly glowing LEDs staring back at them - at least, the people running these particular restaurants do, and they don't want to "annoy" customers with that.

I've used some Raytec IR illuminators for a parking lot that didn't have a lot of ambient light... they helped a bit, closer in, but didn't provide nearly as good of OVERALL illumination as the HPS lights mounted at about the same level on the wall.

On the whole, I just haven't seen an setup where IR works all that well. If someone asks me about cameras for watching their yard or something, I tend to suggest a good D/N camera and some motion-activated halogen flood rather than IR cameras - not only do you get color images without the glowing eyes, but a bright light snapping on is more likely to be a deterrent to someone creeping around... plus the initial instinct is to look toward the source of the light, meaning if the camera is mounted nearby, you get a great face shot.

Matt, good feedback. As I mentioned earlier, I certainly acknowledge image quality issues with IR. On the other hand, if it's real dark, even if you have a super good low light camera, it's going to have it's own issues as well - low contrast, high level of visible noise, etc.

I wouldn't put IR LEDs next to customers but there are lots of applications where the cameras are reasonably far away from seated people and that either do not want or cannot justify adding in a motion-activated halogen flood.

Right on Matt, could not agree more. Raytec, Bosch make great commercial illuminators for large areas.

I have used the cheap ones in the past, trying to save a buck. So Sorry I did. Now will only use proven quality performers .

Love the references john did. I would name names, but don't want to start that. Just promote the best ones.

Icould see for commercial installs, cameras with built-in IR may not be needed since lighting at night is alot more flexible. For small businesses and homes, this is where cameras with built in IR really makes sense. I'll take my house for example, I could get a non IR camera and leave a lot on at night, but I dont want a bright light shining through my window at night. I could also get a seperate illuminator, but then I have the added costs of the illuminator not to mention I have to run extra wire to the thing and power it. So a camera with built in IR sounds alot better in this case.

Yeah bugs swarm the IR at night and spiders crawl around the camera, but its alot than seeing nothing!

But to get back on topic, there has to be some Hikvision or Vivotek cameras that are sub $500 to test.

Yeah bugs swarm the IR at night and spiders crawl around the camera,

Yeah, that's the other problem :)

But to get back on topic, there has to be some Hikvision or Vivotek cameras that are sub $500 to test.

I think you've cornered the market :)

The ACTi TCM-1111 is a decent low light IP MP camera. It's cost is under $300 but the mount for it is like $45. I have one installed at a gas station and it's working out fine. I had in my office last summer demoing with exacqVision. The TCM-1111 give me a decent black and white shot with the lights turned out. A little bit of a motion blur but not terrible like eariler gens of IP cameras. Only down side is has a high F-stop and a fixed 4.2mm lens. It's easier to adjust the lens then it's Vivotek IR MP counterpart, IP8332

Speaking of the Vivotek IP 8332, that was around $320 market back in 2011 so maybe the cost on that has gone down. Installed 3 of them and worked out fine as well.

Hikvision's "low light" model, the DS-2CD855F-E, is over $500. Their IR bullets are, too. I think, for better or worse, Hikvision is no longer trying to be rock-bottom on price, but is trying to compete on quality. The difference between the older IP cameras and the WDR model we tested is night and day, as far as I'm concerned, though again, it's still over $500, without lens.

I'll agree with the assessment of built-in IR, also. I feel like I'd only use it if it were "smart" IR and didn't blow out the subject(s), which of course, adds to cost. And the range is short enough that you're likely looking more for identification than simply detection.

On the other hand, I think cameras like the Q1602 and Bosch's new starlight series (test to be released this week) are more fitting for detection than identification, since they can at least produce an image across a wide area at range in very low light. A bullet with IR isn't going to do that, considering the cheap ones usually claim range of 30-40'.