Subscriber Discussion

Why Buy Expensive Brands When Cheaper (Not Junk) Ones Are Available At Half The Price?

I am pretty new at the IP camera field.

I am wondering why do people purchase expensive brands (panasonic for example) when their are cheaper (not junk) brands avaialble at half the price.

For examaple, a 1.3 MP panasonic can go for $500+ when I can get the equivlant vivotek or acti for half the price. I know they may not be the exactly the same, but they are pretty close.

To be honest, I never did a side by side live comparision of the two. Is the difference that big?


That's a very good question.

The easy answer is that there are a bunch of buffoons who buy almost entirely on brand, even if the camera is literally the same one being sold by low cost vendors for half the price.

However, that is not everything. Two other common differentiators exist:

(1) Advanced feature set differences - often a higher price camera will come with advanced features like analytics or serial ports or integrated zoom, etc. To many users, these are irrelevant and are never considered but for larger scale, more complex deployments, they might make or break the product decision.

(2) Technical support and 3rd party integration - often, premium brands have better, faster, local technical support and deeper integration with 3rd party systems. This is not universal, some cheap brands might be as good as some premium brands. However, Axis is a good example of someone who benefits from this (see our IP camera favorites report for a discussion on this).

The last thing I can think of has to do with sales / marketing support. A big brand is often easier to sell. End users know the Honywell or Panasonic brand and they may assume it's better quality even if Vivotek delivers the same performance at a lower rate. However, the integrator often has more cost / burden to justify the less known name.

Finally, strong premium manufacturers try to minimize the price gap by aggressively releasing lower cost offerings to keep the delta down (Axis M series ongoing expansion is a good example of that).

I am used to Aimetis having analytics on the VMS side. What type of analytics would a camera have on it?

So my take from this is that in most situations (not a special igh security, or etc...), there is no reason to go with a high end if I a customer will be willing to go for a non name brand?

For analytics, see our recent test on Camera Analytics Tested: Axis vs. Bosch vs. Sony. Axis, in particular has many partners for its camera application platform.

I wouldn't say 'no' reason, that's a bit strong. However, if you are happy with ACTi / Vivotek / Hikvision support/service and you don't need specific high end features in more expensive big brand cameras, then you should be served well by lower cost providers.

Buffoons? Hardly. As an end user who has only switched camera manufacturers a few times, I can attest that there is more to choosing cameras and camera manufacturers than buffoonery.

One factor is warranty and support, as you mentioned. If I buy a couple of cameras from a manufacturer and I'm happy with both the results and the manufacturer's support, I will likely continue to buy that manufacturer's cameras for as long as the cameras and their manufacturer provide quality products and support.

That was the case with Pelco. In the late 90's we tested a number of cameras and enclosures and found that the Pelco CCC13xx series provided better picture quality in one of the smallest form factors we'd ever seen so that we could reduce the dome enclosure size from 8" to 5" (DD5). After installing hundreds of CCC1300h-2, CCC1370h-2 and CCC1380h-6 cameras, and trying the very few other cameras that would actually fit in those housings with lenses (not too many), we were perfectly happy until the infamous C10 series replaced the CCC1300-series.

We still had hundreds of DF5 housings which required very small cameras but the C10's (and subsequent C20's) weren't cutting it so we set about finding replacements and found inMotion, whose 11S3N2D (and their 11S4N2D replacements) fit in the DF5's and offered far superior picture quality than any other camera we tested. We would have probably stayed with Pelco if 1) their newer cameras were any good and 2) their customer service didn't take a severe nosedive.

It's not as simple as you make it sound, John. We don't always have the time or the inclination to test every possible (or even a large number of) camera on the market, nor do we want to deploy many different cameras - it can be confusing trying to remember which brand/model does what or requires what settings. It is far easier and less fraught with peril to keep using what has and is working for you.

In regards to major manufacturers versus minor ones - many times you have to go with what is available from your preferred supplier. In the case of inMotion cameras, I convinced SSI (our preferred supplier) and inMotion to get together. I believe they are very happy with each other.

Easy now, Carl. My point is that there are some integrators / users who pick almost entirely on brand, without doing any material investigation/testing.

The rest of my previous comment lays out a number of valid reasons for picking more expensive, premium brand products.

Standards??? 3 Mega Pixel from brand A costing 2X may look the same as 3MP from brand B costing X, but the image sensor

in brand A is double the size of brand B resulting in superior picture quality which is most obvious in lower light conditions.

Do you have a practical example of this?

Low light optimizations rarely come from sensor size, in practice, but from advanced image processing (Lightfinder, starlight, etc., are all 'regular' size imagers). That said, cameras with those optimizations typically cost more.

John, I came upon this by accident a couple of years ago. I have forgotten the brands (possibly Vivotek vs. Arecont) but one 2MP cost considerablly less than the other 2MP and at the time the only difference I could find on the spec sheets was the sensor size.

Anyway, you would think it just stands to reason that 1/4" sensor in a 2MP camera is going to have a harder time seeing light than a 1/2" sensor with the same optics?? May be I'm wrong... it just makes sence to me!

My point is that if you select 10 commonly selected low cost cameras and 10 commonly selected premium brand cameras, the difference in lens size will be minimal. For example, rarely do HD camera vendors (low or premium) use 1/4" imagers anymore and it's still rare to see 1/2" imagers. Most of the time, the imagers are 1/3" or 1/2.7" across the board.

For sure, if one camera had a 1/4" imager and another had a 1/2" imager, the small imager would be a detriment but check our test result of a new Pelco value line camera with a 1/6" imager that did not too bad at all.

"For sure, if one camera had a 1/4" imager and another had a 1/2" imager, the small imager would be a detriment"

Yes John!!! Just like I said in my opening post! John, who knows where someone will source what kind of camera. I am merely throwing a cautionary note out to someone who may not know that this specification can make a considerable difference when comparing apples to apples in the future!! End of story.

My point is that, in practice, such massive sensor size differences are not common and often do not even ensure significant low light differences.

"My point is that, in practice, such massive sensor size differences are not common and often do not even ensure significant low light differences."

Actually in practice, such massive sensor size differences ARE common and of course they will ensure significant low light differences.  You just concurred with this in your previous post!!!! And with Pelco at 1/6.9" sensor, the 'massive sensor size' differences, arguably, may just become more common!

Really?  where are you going with this......actually forget need to answer.  Take a week off and step outside the box!!  Trust me, it works!!

Let's say you are my optometrist client that I installed for today.  He knows he is not tech savy, he was looking at cameras online and just gave up due to the hundreds of different products with numerous spec sheets etc, etc... 

However, there are thousands of folks shopping online 24/7 who are buying thousands of cameras like the ones below because price for the most part, will influence their decision, when in fact, if they had more knowledge they would likely choose a camera with the larger sensor.  Now, they will still probably be happy but they might have been a whole lot happier if the camera had a 1/2.7" sensor instead of the 1/4".

Once again, my opening point was valid.  I was not looking to debate an issue that serves no purpose other than the fact you seem to want to have the last word. Anyway, the next two are my last!!

Good night

GE Security TVD-M2210W-4-N TruVISION Outdoor 2MP with 1/4" CMOS sensor 

  H.264 Hi3507 2MP HD 1/4" CMOS SENSOR  Array IR LED Dome Camera


Richard, trust me, I do not enjoy spending my time debating with you. However, I cannot all you to publish misleading and incorrect theories about the industry without providing a response. This is imperative so other members understand IPVM's position.

Your examples at the end show that there are cameras with 1/4" imagers available in the industry. This is not in dispute.

However, your original statement about cameras with imagers twice the size of other cameras is highly misleading. This is very rare, in practice. Most cameras are 1/3" or very close to it. Some low end cameras are 1/4". Pelco is the only super small sensor I have seen in surveillance.

Beyond this, our test results show that sensor size increases often does correlate to low light image quality improvements and to the extent they do, it tends to be marginal, not massive.

John, firstly, I hope your day went well.

How important do you consider the size of a cameras imager when choosing a multi MP camera? scale of 1 - 10 10=very important

Is a 1/2" imager twice the size of a 1/4" imager?

In my opinion the size of the imager carries as much weight for the camera as the optics or the manufacturer's after-sale service. I mean for the most part, "bigger" is better...right?

About a 2 on a scale of 1-10. It's pretty unimportant to me. 1/4" imager makes me a little nervous unless it has integrated IR (which many of them do have). But anything 1/3" or larger is typically fine. The differentiation then is typically not marginal sensor size increases (1/3" vs 1/2.7" vs 1/2.5", etc.) but image processing and feature sets.

Fair enough. Thank you

Moving on to the Pelco 1/6.9". What exactly is advantegous in having a camera with a 1/6.9" sensor for a SFF enclosure? I mean really, are they pulling straws? I dunno, but to it seems like Pelco are still trying to figure out where their place is in the market place!! It can hardly be a cost saving measure? Am I missing something? Frankly, I'd fire my R&D team if this is what they brought me!! Educate me please.

Presumably, it's cost, not size, as I believe it's a cell phone style imager. How much it saves on the BOM, I don't know.

The savings are massive.

The 1/3.2" high end BSI sensor used in the iPhone 4 and our 5MP cameras cost about $45 for the sensor alone.

A cheap 1/4" entry level sensor from the same manufactuer (Omnivision) costs under $20.

That $25 difference in BOM easily translates to a $100+ difference in the camera's retail price.

There can be no other reason then cost for Pelco to choose between a 1/6" and a 1/3" - because both are "small sensors" that use "small lenses". Its only when you get to 1/2" size sensors or larger that you need bigger more expensive lenses and so forth.

I like Brian's succinct post.....To Carl's point, using a brand and model you have found works well for as long as it does indeed perform well is a strategy that isn't always apparent until you have a couple thousand cameras deployed in some really diverse locations and THEN discover the impossibility of standardizing use, installation, testing etc 10 or 20 different brands/models. Its just not a problem for an end user with 20 or 30 cameras but it will really get ugly for large users.

The best maxim in my opinion is buy cadillac equipment, hire the best integrators in the business to install and support it and negotiate a competitive price. No one has yet found a way to build superlative equipment at dirt cheap prices. Leave that to the trunk slammers.

Two cameras with the same specs don't always perform the same.

Even if two cameras perform exactly the same up front a camera that has better warranty and support is worth more 100% of time to us and our customers. Probably not twice as much but I have yet to see anywhere near this much difference in price on the products we use.

It has been my experience that every camera job I have lost due to price because the image was good enough, I have been back to in low light conditions. I represent Samsung where yes brand counts and the goal is to be great quality at affordable prices.

The question always to ask is are they happy with their purchase 6 months to one year later? I have been involved in very intense security projects and it is amazing the "night" shots I have seen..menaing there is not picture....or totally useless video.

In ignorance, I would have expected many things to have more effect on low light performance than sensor chip size.

First, I would think that the area of the outer surface of your optics would be a primary driver, since it places an upper bound on the number of photons you can possibly capture.

Then, I would think that the manufacturer would design the system such that the lens directed 100% of those capured photons (less imperfections and reflections) onto the chip's active sensing area, whatever its actual size.

If the chip were to have a lot of space between pixels, then the percentage of photons getting to the active sensing components would be lower than if the pixels were very tightly spaced, so I would expect that percentage of active sensing surface vs chip area could be another significant performance driver, since photons that fall on non-sensing surfaces are wasted.

Then, I would expect that things like conversion efficiency and noise levels would be more significant differentiators between these two hypothetical cameras than simple chip size would.

Starting to look at things like lens quality (a cost driver), fraction of IC that is really sensing area, capture efficiency, readout efficiency, noise, and probably a host of issues I can't even imagine, it seems that there would be many dimensions to effect low light performance more substantially than would the sensing chip size.

My basic and admittedly ignorant impression has always been, larger lens = greater sensitivity.

The lens does play a factor in low-light performance, Horace, but generally in just one way: the aperture size, which is the ultimate "choke point" for light entry. Typically, the lens elements will be sized accordingly to support the maximum aperture (usually between f/1.4-f/1.8 for CCTV lenses), so their diameter is not a limiting factor.

Also, keep in mind that the larger the aperture, the less depth-of-field you get, and the harder it is to get a good focus - everything is a trade-off when it comes to optics.

Beyond that, quality of the optics has more of an effect on final image quality (sharpness, clarity, etc.), but negligible (and in most cases, probably nearly unmeasurable) effect on light transmission. Lenses by nature try to redirect 100% of the light at the sensing surface - in fact, doing so is the whole point of a lens.

There was extensive discussion on lenses on the old LinkedIn group quite a while back, and one thing that was covered was that anything less than a full f-stop difference of aperture has negligible effect on a camera's low-light performance; if that's the case, then I wouldn't expect poor element coatings and glass imperfections skewing a few photons to have any effect at all - most of them will still reach the sensor, maybe just not where you want them to in the image.

Note: we have an F Stop tutorial here that explains and discusses key points.

Ah, there it is... thanks, John.

1/2" sensor is ~0.25 sq in in size

1/3" sensor is ~0.11 sq in in size

1/4" sensor is ~0.0625 sq in in size

So 1/2" sensor is 4 times bigger then 1/4" sensor, and 1/3" sensors are ~2 times the size of 1/4" sensors.

If 2 SAME generation and SAME technology tier sensors (e.g. A-Pix vs "entry", BSI vs FSI), and 1 unit is twice the size of the other, then one can expect noticable performance improvement from the larger unit.

"If 2 SAME generation and SAME technology tier sensors"

This presumes one knows what generation and technology each sensor is, which 99.9% of integrators and 99.9999% of end users do not. I include myself in that group. Even if I did, many manufacturers obscure where the sensor is from, only listing its size.

All the OEMs/ODMs we deal with are more than happy to provide these details on request.

When we choose a camera to build on (i.e. improve firmware, etc...) there are 4 main factors we look at:

1. Sensor make and model

2. SoC make and model

3. Lens make and model

4. Physical quality and design.

Only some Tier 1 manufacturers like Bosch, Axis and Samsung do not like revealling these details. Sony for example is more than happy to let you know which Sony Exmor model and which Sony SoC is inside there camera.

Without knowing at least the Sensors, SoC and Lens details of a camera, all marketing/specs is just fluff to us - because we cannot crosscheck the claims with the IC datasheets.

"Without knowing at least the Sensors, SoC and Lens details of a camera, all marketing/specs is just fluff to us - because we cannot crosscheck the claims with the IC datasheets."

I agree. Unfortunately, as you note, a number of big brands hide those details, making comparisons difficult.

Beyond that, even if you did know them, there's still a risk in 'crosscheck[ing] the claims the IC datasheets.', i.e., we have to assume their specifications are accurate and comparable across suppliers.

For pinhole cameras (visible optical systems with very small apertures in which pixel size is approaching the Rayleigh diffraction limit), chips with smaller active area (specifically with pixel size smaller than the optical system Airy disk) should be unable to display the same level of detail as chips with larger active area. This is a clear advantage of a larger chip that relates to resolving power, but not to sensitivity.

If I have two sensor chips

Chip A is a 1/2" sensor (1/4 sq in size)

Chip B is 1/4" sensor (1/16 sq in size)

Both have the same number of pixels

Both lenses capture the same photons and direct them onto the chips' respective imaging areas

The two cases appear comparable

If (maybe a big if) the two chips have comparable % of active area (eg pixels) and % inactive area (eg wiring insulating troughs etc.), the same amount of light is hitting each of the larger pixels as is hitting each of the smaller pixels.

In optical systems not approaching the diffraction limit, I think the performance should be comparable. However, I find there is so much that I don't know, I'm often wrong.

Any idea what feature of the optical and electronics system inherently make the larger chip more effective?


I guess I always look at the other side of the argument... Why would I want to sell a cheaper camera, if I can sell an expensive one.... If I have a standard markup of 50%, why would I want to sell a $100 camera and make $50 when I can sell a $1,000 camera and make $500.

If I sell a 16 "Cheaper" camera system the total cost of all the cameras is only $2400
If I sell a 16 "Expensive" camera the system is now $24000.

No one blinks if I tell them that its going to cost $15K to install $25K in cameras.
No one pays if I tell them its going to cost $15K to install $2.5K in cameras.

I can sell a $10k service contract on a 50K system
I can't sell a service contract on a $5K system

Sure but if you're bid is $24,000 and mine is $2,400, I am going to beat you most of the time (presuming I meet the core needs of the customer).

That said, there are some companies that do take that approach - maximize margin percentages and profits while sacrificing total revenue and market share. The problem is that typically makes a company a niche player. Contract Mobotix who maximizes margins with Avigilon who maximizes market share.

If you consider "Winning" taking a bid and winning it with $800 profit.... Then I guess you win...

But that's capitalism... at least when it's working how it was intended. Competition drives down profits, etc.

I am not dismissing the approach you are talking about. There are quite a number of companies that take that approach. All I am saying is that higher profit margins typically lead to niche status unless you have some sort of network effect / monopoly power that will prevent competitors from undercutting you.