Color Night Vision Cameras

By John Honovich, Published Nov 06, 2010, 08:00pm EDT

In this update, we examine Flir's Color Night Vision cameras, a new offering from FLIR that leverages the EMCCD camera cores we reviewed in June 2010. The Color Night Vision (or CNV) cameras use the same form factor as FLIR's F and PT series thermal cameras, specifically they allow for swapping out camera core cartridges and an IP network interface. Unlike thermal cameras, the CNV are designed to deliver color images in near zero visible and no artificial lighting environments.

FLIR is positioning the CNV series as a complement to their thermal cameras with the CNV used to identify and assess (with its ability to see details more clearly) and the thermal used to detect (with its ability to see activity at greater distances). To that end, FLIR offers product options that combine thermal and CNV in a single pan tilt unit.

The CNV is available in two basic versions:

  • F-CNV (fixed): $23,000 MSRP
  • PT-CNV (pan tilt): $28,000 MSRP (additional cost for adding thermal imager)

All CNV cameras have 640 x 480 resolution and a built in 20x optical zoom lens (2.4 to 40 degree FoV). FLIR reports integration with Milestone and Genetec using their respective 'universal' driver as well as ONVIF. While a megapixel option is available in the base EMCCD core offering, it has not been productized in the CNV offering.

Light Needs and Distance Achievable

Like all CCD and CMOS cameras, the CNV series does require some light and as light become insufficient the image becomes noisier and darker. However, FLIR reports that the CNV cameras need dramatically less light.

While lux ratings are always difficult to assess (and especially so given the very low light levels being considered), FLIR provided some guidelines:

  • 0.0005 Lux in Color mode 30fps
  • 0.0002 Lux in Monochrome mode 30fps
  • With longer exposure times, minimum lux is even lower (to be expected)

Make sure to check how much light you have in your scene. You will not have to have much but depending on how dark your scene gets, this could impact video quality. Also, factor in worse case scenarios such as new moon and/or overcast skies. Note: we have not tested the camera and are making general comments here.

We asked FLIR for an estimate of maximum distance for the CNV to detect persons. They "expect the detection range to exceed 3000 meters in daylight situations and about 500 to 1500 meters in low light conditions," noting that it would depend on field conditions. The ability to provide color and the maximum distances are advantages over IR illuminators. While the details and color imaging are advantages over thermal, the maximum distance for detection is clearly less.


Given the price point of the CNV series, these cameras will most likely be used in mission critical applications (homeland security, military, industrial, etc.). Even if the cameras do deliver clear color video in pitch black conditions, the 10x increase in cost over 850nm/940nm IR cameras is likely too steep for 'regular' security applications to justify and/or afford.

Additionally, as thermal cameras can detect objects at night to much greater distances than CNV, applications with multi kilometer requirements should consider thermal.

Below is the FLIR produced product overview video:

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