Wrong: Why Imager Size Is NOT Key To Low Light

By Ethan Ace, Published on Feb 06, 2014

We hear it all the time: bigger imager means better low light performance. But is it really true? In this note we compare imager size to low light performance from our industry leading testing in order to settle this once and for all.

The Truth

1/3" inch imagers are by far most common in our tests (and in IP cameras), followed by the marginally larger 1/2.8" and 1/2.7" sensors. Cameras with these imager sizes, similar resolution, and F stop ranged from best to worst, and everywhere in between, illustrating the point: better gain control, noise removal, and other image improvements resulting from increased processor performance in recent cameras far outweigh simple imager size.

Here is our test chart with highlights showing how the same hardware specs (such as imager size) delivered radically different low light performance:

Imager Size Helps But....

Larger size imagers size can help but:

  • It gets really expensive to use larger imagers (especially 1/2" or above), both in the cost of the imagers and lenses to use with them. Aside from Avigilon's Pro series (the most common example of larger 35mm sensors in surveillance) and the new 1/2" imager Sony SNC-VB635, few examples are common in surveillance.
  • Moderate increases in imager size (1/3" to 1/2.7") are far less impactful than advances in gain control / image processing and newer images (same size but better). Our chart above shows the same imager sizes delivering radically differing low light performance due directly to far better processing.

Image Processing

You see many names for 'super' low light performance - LightFinder, LightCatcher, StarLight, Super Light Enhancer, etc. - what they all have in common is (1) advanced image processing and (2) similar size imagers.

What To Do?

We understand that it would be easier to simply look up the imager size on a spec sheet and conclude that the larger imager is best. The reality, though, is that is a bad metric to use. 

2 reports cite this report:

Surveillance Camera Imager Tutorial on Dec 23, 2016
Imagers - CCD, CMOS, 1/2", 1/4", big pixels, small pixels, etc. In this...
Axis Large Imager HD Camera (Q1635) on Dec 16, 2014
Many surveillance professionals love large imagers. Axis is feeding into...
Comments (21) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Cheap Camera Problems at Night on Feb 19, 2020
Cheap cameras generally have problems at night, despite the common perception...
Taiwan Lilin NDAA Compliant Cameras Tested on Aug 13, 2020
Taiwan-based manufacturer Lilin is taking direct aim at Dahua and Hikvision...
Video Surveillance Cameras 101 on Feb 25, 2020
Cameras come in many shapes, sizes and specifications. This 101 examines the...
Quantum Dots Potential for Surveillance Cameras Explained on Sep 08, 2020
Quantum dots are starting to be used in TVs for better images, but how will...
Mobotix 7 Line Camera Tested on Mar 12, 2020
Mobotix is attempting a turn-around, struggling for years, then releasing the...
Uniview Deep Learning Camera Tested on Jul 14, 2020
Uniview's intrusion analytics have performed poorly in our shootouts. Now,...
Sunell "Panda Cam" Thermal Body Temperature System Examined on Apr 09, 2020
Sunell's Panda Cam is the most visually recognizable coronavirus camera, sold...
Verkada Video Analytics Tested 2020 on Oct 08, 2020
In 2019, Verkada released people and face analytics but our testing then...
Infinova, March Networks and Swann H1 2020 Financials Examined on Sep 02, 2020
While Dahua and Hikvision, helped by fever camera sales, are recovering from...
Average Hard Drive Size Statistics 2020 on Oct 07, 2020
Hard drive sizes keep increasing (up to 18TB announced recently) but what...
Hanwha AI Object Detection Tested on Sep 28, 2020
Hanwha has added detection and classification of people, cars, clothing...
Hanwha AI Analytics Camera Tested on Aug 11, 2020
Hanwha has released their Wisenet P AI camera, adding person and vehicle...
Favorite Video Surveillance Hard Drive Manufacturer 2020 on Aug 27, 2020
Western Digital and Seagate effectively have a duopoly in hard drives but...
TVT / InVid White Light Camera Tested Vs Hikvision ColorVu on Mar 18, 2020
With mega China manufacturers Dahua and Hikvision facing both bans and human...
Multi-Imagers Added to IPVM Camera Calculator on Jun 15, 2020
IPVM has added multi-imager cameras to the Camera Calculator, supporting this...

Recent Reports

Consultants Online Show LIVE Today! on Oct 27, 2020
IPVM's 7th online show will feature 20+ consultants and recruiters presenting...
Eagle Eye Networks Raises $40 Million on Oct 27, 2020
Eagle Eye has raised $40 million aiming to "reinvent video...
Hikvision Q3 2020 Global Revenue Rises, US Revenue Falls on Oct 27, 2020
While Hikvision's global revenue rises driven by domestic recovery, its US...
VICE Investigates Verkada's Harassing "RawVerkadawgz" on Oct 26, 2020
This month, IPVM investigated Verkada's sexism, discrimination, and cultural...
Six Flags' FDA Violating Outdoor Dahua Fever Cameras on Oct 26, 2020
As Six Flags scrambled to reopen parks amid plummeting revenues caused by the...
ISC Brasil Digital Experience 2020 Report on Oct 23, 2020
ISC Brasil 2020 rebranded itself to ISC Digital Experience and, like its...
Top Video Surveillance Service Call Problems 2020 on Oct 23, 2020
3 primary and 4 secondary issues stood out as causing the most problems when...
GDPR Impact On Temperature / Fever Screening Explained on Oct 22, 2020
What impact does GDPR have on temperature screening? Do you risk a GDPR fine...
Security And Safety Things (S&ST) Tested on Oct 22, 2020
S&ST, a Bosch spinout, is spending tens of millions of dollars aiming to...
Nokia Fever Screening Claims To "Advance Fight Against COVID-19" on Oct 22, 2020
First IBM, then briefly Clorox, and now Nokia becomes the latest Fortune 500...
Deceptive Meridian Temperature Tablets Endanger Public Safety on Oct 21, 2020
IPVM's testing of and investigation into Meridian Kiosk's temperature...
Honeywell 30 Series and Vivotek NVRs Tested on Oct 21, 2020
The NDAA ban has driven many users to look for low-cost NVRs not made by...
Ubiquiti Access Control Tested on Oct 21, 2020
Ubiquiti has become one of the most widely used wireless and switch providers...
Avigilon Aggressive Trade-In Program Takes Aim At Competitors on Oct 20, 2020
Avigilon has launched one of the most aggressive trade-in programs the video...
Mexico Video Surveillance Market Overview 2020 on Oct 20, 2020
Despite being neighbors, there are key differences between the U.S. and...