Be the way I am assuming that everyone wants to be able to view the scene at night/darkness - is this a bad assumption?
IMO, selecting the proper camera (make, model, installation location) and selecting the proper illumination (type, location) are two separate tasks in a good design.
Cameras with built-in IR rarely offer any kind of adjustability to the illumination power or beam spread, and they mostly seem to be a hallmark of cheapish products.
It's not just Axis that does not offer this, look across all the major camera manufacturers, and it seems like built-in IR is rare to non-existant.
If someone truly wants good scene illumination at night, it's going to take more than a dozen LEDs sprinkled around the lens.
Knowing Axis reasonably well, I think BK hit it on the head (which makes sense because he is in the same boat).
I would guess that all of your major camera manufacturers have Product Managers who have looked at it, tried it, tested it, re-tested it, etc. Evidence of this is Axis finally coming out with the P3364-LVE, and that they offered an IR LED array in the past that integrated into the housing of their P33 domes.
The manufacturers that you see including these are usually black box camera manufacturers whose products are purchased based upon the low cost, not the feature or functionality of the IR. However if you throw $0.10 of LEDs on your $30.00 camera, and now can charge $50 and give the worker at the counter of Eighty Eye distribution, who knows nothing about cameras, something to say about "IR is great for night visibility"... sold!
I agree with your that the best/optimal performance will come from external IR illuminators. However I work with IR bullets that I have tested in pitch black outdoor areas to work well to 20m/60ft, and PTZs that illimunate to 50m/150ft (some are rated to 100m but I did not have the resources/envrionment to test to that distance to verify)
Wouldn't 20m be adequate for most indoor applications and a significant portion of CBD/metro outdoor applications where there is envrionmental lighting not that far away (~40m/120ft or so)?
Supplying and installing a reliable IR illuminator would increase total system cost by 30-50% (illuminator/cabling/PSU) which is rather prohibitive in SMB/medium business applications.
Brian, your answer brings another thing to my mind - are manufactuers intending to optimize color night vision through advanced electronic techniques like Axis Lightfinder to avoid the black and white IR business altogether?
Yeah I'm not trying to say which is best/better/worst, just giving an educated opinion about why Axis (and other manufacturers) bring out the products they do.
"Brian, your answer brings another thing to my mind - are manufactuers intending to optimize color night vision through advanced electronic techniques like Axis Lightfinder to avoid the black and white IR business altogether?"
Not to my general knowledge, though good color night images would be the Holy Grail.
One of my other points about being unable to adjust built-in IR LEDs is also important (at least, IMO ;) ). Sure, 20m coverage is adequate, maybe even "great". But what about when the area you REALLY want is 5M away and those LEDs are washing out the whole subject? Or what about when you want 20M @ 10M HFOV vs. 20M @ 30M HFOV. Then what?
To me, the built in LEDs can be optimized (maybe) to a very limited coverage and beam spread area. If that happens to match your requirements, then you're in luck. But if not, they become more of a hindrance than a help.
Like so many other features, IR is a tool that really exists to address a specific need... and alas, has been shoehorned into a lot of cheap cameras to make them seem like more than they are, as in Sean's example.
Axis and other "big" names aren't building cameras for the lowest common denominator, and as such, I expect don't see a need to bump up all their lines with lowest-common-denominator features.
Integrated IR is a big trend for pretty much every major camera manufacturer. After years of it being knocked as cheap, it's clearly on the rise even in professional applications. Axis, Sony, Panasonic, Bosch, Arecont, Avigilon, now Pelco all have integrated IR, in addition to the Taiwanese/Chinese manufacturers who have had integrated IR for years.
Note: Axis released 2 IR series last year - box and dome. While I have no inside info on this, I would not be surprised if they added more this year.
Plus, at the high end, the big trend of integrated IR is auto adjustments for either FoV width or subject position in FoV.