Axis Q1604 Shootout ResultsBy John Honovich, Published Feb 27, 2012, 12:00am EST (Research)
In the past year, Axis has advocated improved image quality versus more 'megapixels'. The two cameras most central to that are the Q1602 Lightfinder camera and the Q1604 WDR camera. In this report, we share test results of the Q1604.
We focused our testing in the two areas we have found the most challenging and differentiating for surveillance cameras:
- Wide Dynamic Range Scenes - For example, a person opening a door walking inside a building during the day.
- Low Light Scenes - A dark scene with minimal ambient lighting
In these tests, we compared the Axis Q1604 to Bosch, Pelco and Sony camera as well as the Axis P1344 and the Axis Q1602.
Below is a sample of the image comparisons we conducted:
In our test, we examined:
- How does the Q1604's performance compare to leading WDR cameras from our previous tests?
- How does the Q1604's performance to leading low light cameras from our previous tests?
- If you are looking at an Axis HD camera, should you choose the new Q1604 or the existing P1344?
- For low light applications, how does the Axis Q1604 compare to the specialist, low light marketed Q1602 camera?
Here are our key findings from the test:
- The Q1604's WDR performance was strong, in a similar range to Sony and SureVision but without the artifacting common in them
- The Q1604's low light performance, with WDR on, was competitive with top performers in our MP low light test even though max shutter speed for the Q1604 with WDR on is 1/44s
- With WDR off and set to a common 1/30s exposure, the Q1604's low light performance is superior to any MP camera we have tested
- The Q1604 can be set to automatically turn WDR mode off at night but the steps to do so are cumbersome
- 720p Matchup: Compared to the 720p Axis P1344, the Q1604 is superior in WDR and in low light. Its bandwidth consumption is also significantly less during the day but can be significantly more in low light.
- Compared to the Q1602, the eVGA LightFinder camera, with WDR on, the Q1604 is significantly worse in low light. However, with WDR off and at a common 1/30s exposure, low light performance is fairly close.
The Axis Q1604 is a strong overall camera that will be very competitive in professional / enterprise applications looking for both low light and WDR performance. However, if you want the Q1604's best low light performance, you must manually configure the camera to turn off WDR mode at night.
The main barrier for the Q1604, with an MSRP of $999 USD, will be price. While the technical attributes are strong across the board, the pricing is roughly $200 more than similar cameras in its category (Sony CH140, Pelco Surevision 1.2MP, etc.). On the one hand, it is not a huge price difference but it is likely enough for most users to be a serious issue to consider.
The secondary barrier for the Q1604 is that it is only available in a box form factor. If you require a fixed dome, Axis does not have an option in the Q series. By contrast, typically competitive offerings do have.
Compared to other leading Axis cameras:
- The Q1604 is a better camera than the P1344 in pretty much every way and if you are deciding between the two, the only obstacle will be the roughly $200 increase in price.
- For most low light uses, the Q1604 is better than the Q1602. With WDR off at night, the Q1604's low light performance is close. Plus, during the day, the Q1604 is better. Since they are the same price, unless you have extreme low light conditions, the Q1604 is likely the better choice.
Future Tests and Comparisons
Given the performance of the the Q1604, this impacts our results for previous MP Low Light shootout and MP WDR shootout. We plan to do a full re-shoot when the upcoming Panasonic and Bosch MP cameras are released in the next few months.
Turning off WDR Mode
Turning off WDR mode is a 3 step process in the camera configuration (see this zip file for screenshots of the steps). It is a manual process and not simply clicking a button. Also, we do not think it is prominently posted in the public technical documents. We asked Axis specifically about this and that is how we found out.
Warning - Low Light Bandwidth Consumption
Because the Q1604 has much more aggressive gain levels and defaults to VBR and WDR on, Q1604 bandwidth consumption can soar in low light to as high as 15Mb/s - about 3 times what the P1344 consumes in the same scene. Be careful as this can cause serious problems. Here are 2 main steps to rectify:
- Turn off WDR mode at night. This will allow for a longer shutter speed that will likely reduce the noise level. Even going from 1/44s to 1/30s significantly reduced bandwidth consumption.
- Turn on CBR / bandwidth cap. In our testing, a bandwidth cap of 6Mb/s was a fairly safe choice to limit bandwidth usage while not impacting quality. See our review of setting up CBR/bandwidth caps on Axis cameras.
We did a number of WDR tests in various scenes. In the following images, we show the results of a common use case - a person walking through a doorway inside a building.
In the first image, we have the subject beginning to enter the door. Notice the Axis P1344, a camera without WDR, has significant washout. The other 3 cameras, with WDR, do not have washout. However, the Axis Q1604 is the only one without significant artifacts.
In the next image, we have our subject standing in the middle of the doorway. In this shoot, the non WDR P1344 still has significant washout. The Sony here provides the clearest image of the subject's face.
Finally, we have our subject walking inside into a darker area. All the cameras struggle more here. The Axis Q1604 does the worst of the 3 scenes with nearly no facial details. While the Pelco and Sony both have artifacts, they do deliver some facial details.
In the comparison below, we have the Axis Q1604 with its default settings (WDR On - 1/44s) versus other MP cameras at 1/30s exposure. Note: With WDR on, the Axis Q1604 cannot have a slower shutter speed than 1/44s. Despite this, the Q1604 is quite competitive with all cameras and far better than Axis's current generation P1344.
The Q1604 has more aggressive gain options than the P1344. For example, the max gain control on the P1344 is 35dB while the max on the Q1604 is 42dB. All cameras are tested with their default allowable max gain controls (which is typically the max overall supported).
In the comparison below, we turn off WDR on the Q1604 and set its exposure to 1/30s just like all the other cameras. The Q1604 image quality improves greatly and is now clearly displaying more details than any other camera in the comparison.
Wide FoV Shootout
The goal of the Wide FoV shootout is to measure any differences in daytime / 'megapixel' performance. In the first comparison, our subject is an ~80 foot wide FoV (roughly 15ppf). The details are close though it appears that the P1344 is capturing slightly less than the others.
Now, our comparison moves to a narrow 40 foot wide FoV. Here, the Sony may have a slight edge in delivering details.
Overall, as to be expected, in daytime, evenly lit conditions, performance is relatively close.
Q1604 vs P1344
Beyond the general improvements in WDR and low light, the Q1604 had one other interesting advantage over the P1344 - 'truer' colors resulting in lower bandwidth. In our daytime, indoor shots, at the same resolution and frame rate, the Q1604's bandwidth consumption was 30-50% lower than the P1344. Part of that is due to using main profile vs baseline. However, even when we forced the Q1604 to use baseline, significant bandwidth benefits remained.
As the comparison below shows, the P1344 routinely generates strange coloration / artifacts that do not occur in the Q1604. This very simple scene shows this:
Our theory is that this makes it harder for the P1344 to encode while making a less 'true' image.
This second comparison shows this in a real world scene. Look at how the crosswalk renders - the lines displayed on the P1344 are blurry/jagged while the Q1604's lines are more solid. Additionally, the facial details captured on the Q1604 are superior (which we would attribute to the WDR capability).
Q1604 vs Q1602
Finally, let's compare the Q1604 to the Q1602 at night using a 0.2 lux scene. In our first comparison, the Q1604 defaults to WDR On. In this comparison, clearly the Q1602 is superior.
However, in the second comparison, if you turn off WDR for the Q1604 and set both at 1/30s exposure, image details are a lot closer with a slight edge to the Q1602.
However, in color mode, even with WDR off, the Q1602 is notably superior. However, for such a low light level (0.2 lux) and a megapixel camera, the Q1604 remains solid.
However, during the day, the megapixel Q1604 captures clearly more details than the extended VGA Q1602:
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