Axis Lightfinder / Q1602 Examined

By John Honovich, Published May 24, 2011, 08:00pm EDT

In this note, we examine the features, competitive positioning and pricing of the Axis Q1602. This camera's announcement has generated a significant amount of interest because of Axis's new Lightfinder technology. With this, Axis claims that this camera can maintain details and colors even in very dark conditions.

First, let's look at the key features and then contrast it to Day/Night cameras, integrated IR cameras, EMCCD and IR illuminators.

The most notable specifications include:

  • Standard Definition / D1 camera - not megapixel
  • Progressive scan CMOS sensor - not CCD nor EMCCD
  • Day / Night camera supports black and white 
  • Minimum illumination specifications are not finalized; However, Axis projects dramatic advantages in color mode and significant advances in b&w mode relative to traditional surveillance cameras
  • Axis is basing its low light projections based on 1/30s exposure - not dependent on digital slow shutter
  • Similar general feature sets as a P-line camera: audio, on board storage, analytics, vari-focal lens, etc.
  • Q1602 MSRP is $999, estimated shipping date: August 2011
  • Most similar Axis camera (without Lightfinder): the P1343, an SVGA Day/Night camera with a $749 MSRP

For Axis's pitch / overview, review their Lightfinder whitepaper and the embedded video below:

As with any newly announced camera claiming low light performance benefits, it is impossible to appropriately guess how much better the performance will be until we test. Below are samples from Axis's own testing:

Potential Positioning

The value of the Q1602 depends primarily on a few factors:

  • Need for low light color imaging: Almost all other low light optimized products focus on providing high quality images in black and white mode (D/N cameras, integrated IR cameras, added IR illumination, thermal, etc.). The only two exceptions are white light LEDs and EMCCD cameras. EMCCD cameras are extremely expensive ($5,000 - $10,000 minimum). While they claim to provide outstanding color images in very dark conditions, given the vast price differences and likely superior performance of EMCCD, we see the products being in different categories. However, white light LEDs are an interesting option. For a few hundred dollars, spot lighting can be added. We suspect this would likely provide a better image in short range scene but would cost more overall (adding in installation and energy costs) and may create undesirable light pollution in some scenes. That noted, we see the Q1602 and cameras with added white light LED illumination as the two closest options.
  • Value of low light color: A lot of users are willing to forgo color at night. It is not clear to us what night time applications are a 'must have' for color. Potentially, this could help identify an unknown suspect by capturing the color of their hair, clothing, car, etc. To the extent that users do not require color, many other more existing options exist (D/N cameras, cameras with integrated IR illuminators, etc.).
  • Digital Slow Shutter as Substitute: Many cameras can provide high quality color images in very low light scenes by slowing the shutter. The downside is that this can create motion blur. However, in some scenes, it is not a practical risk. For instance, the Bosch Dinion defaults to 1/7s max exposure and is likely to provide similar detail/quality as the Q1602 in scenes with slow motion (like the above sample closet / storage room scene). Indeed, even the Axis P1343 with its default slow shutter might provide a suitable alternative.
  • The Q1602 Absolute Low Light Performance: To the extent that the Q1602 can provide materially better low light performance in its black and white in more extreme low light scenarios than competitors, the camera could find broader use. This would be especially true if the Q1602 could do this without the motion blur problematic in using digital slow shutters.

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