Camera Coverage Areas

By: John Honovich, Published on Feb 10, 2016

How wide and far on an area can a camera cover? 

A fundamental metric in analyzing this is pixel density (aka PPF or PPM). Three key factors contribute:

  • Resolution of the camera (e.g., VGA, 720p, 1080p, 4K)
  • Size of the area (e.g., a room, a restaurant, outside a building, a big parking lot, etc.)
  • Lighting conditions (dark, direct sunlight, etc.)

Using our IPVM Camera Calculator, we have developed a series of 4 comparisons to show you tradeoffs in camera coverage area.

#1 - Residence

In the residence below, notice how even in a small bedroom, a VGA camera not cover the whole room at 40ppf. However, even 720p starts becoming overkill and unless the camera can see through walls, 1080p and 4K are routinely wasteful.

Here is the same coverage area shown dynamically, as a gif, demonstrating tradeoffs:

*** **** *** *** on ** **** *** a ****** *****? 

* *********** ****** ** analyzing **** ******* ******* (*** *** or ***). ***** *** ******* contribute:

  • ********** ** *** ****** (e.g., ***, ****, *****, 4K)
  • **** ** *** **** (e.g., * ****, * restaurant, ******* * ********, a *** ******* ***, etc.)
  • ******** ********** (****, ****** sunlight, ***.)

***** ******* ****** **********, ** **** ********* a ****** ** * comparisons ** **** *** tradeoffs ** ****** ******** area.

#1 - *********

** *** ********* *****, notice *** **** ** a ***** *******, * VGA ****** *** ***** the ***** **** ** 40ppf. *******, **** **** starts ******** ******** *** unless *** ****** *** see ******* *****, ***** and ** *** ********* wasteful.

**** ** *** **** coverage **** ***** ***********, as * ***, ************* tradeoffs:



*** ***** **********'* **** seating **** ** ********** larger **** *** ******* home ****. ** ******* the ***** **** ****** area **** ******** ***** density, even **** ** *** enough. ** *** ***** hand, ** ** ****** overkill *** **** **** unless *** ****** **** details **** ** *** farthest **** ** *** area.

**** ** *** **** coverage **** ***** ***********, as * ***, ************* tradeoffs:

Outside ********

***** ******* ** ***** pixel ******* ********** ***** getting ******. 

** *** ********** '*****' outdoor **** / ****** parking *** ** **** building, **** ** *** will ****** *** **** 20ppf (* ****** ***** that ***** ******* ******** but *** ****** *******), notice *** ******* *** the *********** ***, ****** you *** ***** **.

**** ** *** **** coverage **** ***** ***********, as * ***, ************* tradeoffs:

Parking ***

*******, ** **** ** a ******* *** ** a *** *** ********. In *** ****** *****, we **** **** *** lower **** ** **** parking ***.

******, *** **** ** the *******, **** *** 4K, **** ***** ** covering **** * ******* of *** ******* ***.

**** ** *** **** coverage **** ***** ***********, as * ***, ************* tradeoffs:


****** *** *************.

*** *** ******, **** the '****' ******,*** ***** / ******** will ************* / ******* *********, often ************. *** **** concerns ****** **** ****** sunlight, ******* ****** **** ************* *** even **** ****, ******* degrades ******** ** **** full *****.

******* ***********, ******* ******* enhancements (**** '*****' *** light *** **** ***) tend ** *** **********. For *******, * ***** ago, *** ***** *** many *** ******* *** most **** **** ** low ***** *** ***. Now, **** *** / 1080p ******* *** *********** in ***** ***** *** the ***** ** ******* tend ** ** ****. This, ** ******, **** change **** **** ** technology ********. *******, ****** pushing *** ***** ***** of ******* **********, ** image ******* ****** *** common ** **** *****.

Comments (24)

It seems that 4K doesn't really have a place, sort of like those HD DVDs that came out between blu-ray and traditional DVD. It's seems to be overkill for many situations and doesn't provide a significant improvement in other areas, to justify the price tag.

Next year, I'll likely change my opinion.

Just as a matter of historical accuracy, HD-DVD wasn't "between" DVD and BD... it was a competing standard to BD, both meant as successors DVD.

4K+ has it's place alright, on wide angle views it makes a massive difference, sometimes being able to read details on things going past the camera makes a huge difference

"on wide angle views it makes a massive difference"

Proof / evidence / map markup / something? One man's 'massive' is another man's 'moderate'.

you require proof that the higher resolution is clearer?

makes it far easier to see exactly what's happening, I will never find anyone I provide camera's for saying "this is too clear"

it's just a case of getting the price right, but saying that higher resolutions are "not worth having" which feels like discussion is something I disagree with.


Please re-read my response to you. You claimed, "on wide angle views it makes a massive difference". I am asking you to substantiate that. Show me proof of the massive difference. Images / calculations, etc. Explain what you mean quantitatively about massive.

the point I was making, is that with our wider angle camera's our guys find it makes a huge difference, with the higher zoom camera's (say 8 to 40mm) it tends to be less noticeable, probably more due to the quality of the lens being required to maintain quality at a longer distance or some other effect?

You say the difference is massive. I ask you to substantiate and offer a quantitative response. Then you reply, your 'guys' find it to be 'huge'.

Huge and massive are subjective terms and are difficult to evaluate. If you can offer something more precise, I am happy to respond, agree or disagree.

what I'm attempting to convey, is that rather than accepting the reviewed opinion of 4k being wasteful and overkill, instead that the added detail is likely to be welcomed by most end users and in a round about way, I would suggest that folks should try it and make their own opinion.

some of the worst advise we've had from integrators that we attempted to engage previously was that 720p would be enough for various area's.. "you don't need HD cam's"

yet I show them a 3mp and their blown away, even in those small area's they are loving the extra quality starting to show the 4k stuff around it looks like we'll be upgrading a lot of our area's including indoors.

I don't really see the point of talking in ppf, even though it's the accepted industry norm, I never mention it(ever), instead I throw a cam up in an area that the end user wants covered (or a few of them to compare quality) and let them decide.

"I don't really see the point of talking in ppf, even though it's the accepted industry norm, I never mention it(ever), instead I throw a cam up in an area that the end user wants covered (or a few of them to compare quality) and let them decide."

Because ppf helps project quality tradeoffs before going on site. The reality is that ppf shows the best case scenario of potential benefits, so if it does not show meaningful improvements there, it will never in real life (due to problems, e.g., with 4K WDR, low light, lensing, etc.)

Personally, In find it's quite missleading, a lower ppf camera of higher quality has a reasonable chance of giving a higher quality image than a higher ppf (Vivotek come on down)

some of the original Axis 720p cam's smashed lots of the old 3mp yum cha's that we tried.

agree to disagree?

"some of the original Axis 720p cam's smashed lots of the old 3mp yum cha's that we tried."

What's a yum cha? Dim sum?

"agree to disagree?"

No, because we've tested 100+ cameras and camera resolution / PPF has proven to be a quite strong correlation with image quality in full light. Again, low light and WDR are different.

There are only a few exceptions for full light, like the ACTi 10MP with its terrible lens and, evidently yum cha cams....


very cheap chinese electronic component typically of low quality. Urban Dictionary

yeah we've(i) have given the lower end of the market a good bashing, there are plenty of low end units with crazy small sensors and amazingly crap lens, so you can see where I come from (hopefully)

4K doesn't really have a place, sort of like those HD DVDs that came out between blu-ray and traditional DVD.

So what format will be the 'blu-ray' of security cameras, 8K?

"to justify the price tag."

I believe the price point associated with deploying a 4K camera at this time is too high, for what seems to be a minor improvement in quality.

IMO well positioned 3MP or 4MP cameras are more appropriate at this time.

"Next year, I'll likely change my opinion."

yeah, I'm waiting to see things drop down like 3/4mp did, I can't see the higher res sensors being any different technology wise, so it should not take long, then it's a storage issue

I disagree.

I have tested for all weekend (different light conditions, different targets,different distances) #4 cameras (all Samsung):

  • 4K camera SNB-9000 with 8-40mm lens
  • 5MB bullet SNO-8081R- 3.93 ~ 9.4mm (2.4x) motorized varifocal
  • 2MP PTZ camera SNP-6320H - 32x
  • 2MP vandal dome - SNV-6013 - fix lens 2.8mm

I can say that i loved the 4K and i found it, in same scenario, even better of the PTZ 2MP 32x.

The key is the proper consideration of: distance - lens - resolution. Concentrating 12MP in the proper FOV produce a picture with incredible details. The 5MP "new" bullet camera with varifocal lens was not so great covering a wide area (the digital zoom is not useful here. Image too big to get enough details during the zoom). On the other hand, the 4K camera gave me the possibility to use the digital zoom on the picture keeping an incredible level of details/colors).

Honestly, I found the 4K resolution an new opportunity and a proper answer for different customer needs. I keep receiving specific requests from different customer who want to monitor gates up to 1000ft or wide areas with a very good level of details. The 4K is the solution according to my personal experience and hands on test. I also had the chance to test these cameras in a pretty "fresh" environment (we had a "nice" week end with -21/-26'Celsius here in Boston).

The challenge is to properly design the network to handle such performance (even if the new NVRs 4-8-16CH with the PoE switch on board are made to handle these cameras separating the customer network from the cameras network).

When it comes to use an external switch, a proper product has to be selected. VIGITRON is the answer according to my experience: If John wants, i can share the pictures in order to give an idea and share my personal experience.


Thanks for the comment. I see it's your first on IPVM, good to have you hear!

"I disagree... I keep receiving specific requests from different customer who want to monitor gates up to 1000ft or wide areas with a very good level of details. The 4K is the solution."

Actually, we agree. That's the point of the original article above. 4K is a solution worth considering for large / long / wide areas, presuming the 4K camera is good enough for the lighting conditions of the scene one is covering. 4K is mostly overkill in the average indoor setting.

Feel free to share your images. You and other should also review our 4K tests, like this excerpt from the Panasonic one below:

Hi John,

thank you for your friendly welcoming.

Actually i was responding to John Bazyk which was claiming that the 4K improvement is not so great and that 3MP and 4MP can be a good alternative.

I found the 4K (along with the proper lens) a great product. "squeezing" 8/12MP in the correct FOV generate a picture that keeps high level of details even using the digital zoom (ex: monitoring a gate from a long distance)

Here attached one little example.

Thank you all for your precious comments and experience, and most of all, thank you John Honovich for your great job.

the IPC-HFW4800E seems to look way worse than the WV-SFV781L are they not both 4k?

They are both 4K. That is our point above that new technology / early generation high resolution cameras have greater variation in performance.

So, ppf might not always be that accurate?

PPF is not always accurate. Read the original post last section where I explained this.

That said, PPF is better than describing a camera as having 'huge' or 'massive' difference than another.

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