360 / Panoramic Cameras Selection

By: John Honovich, Published on Oct 19, 2012

A number of important considerations should be factored in when selecting Panoramic / 360 degree cameras. Key ones include: (1) limited VMS support, (2) low light issues, (3) Wide Dynamic Range problems, (4) pixel density limitations and (5) mounting height. We examine each issue, considering the options and alternatives. For background, see our test results of 2 panoramic cameras - Mobotix and Grandeye.

VMS Support

VMS support for panoramic cameras has traditionally been very limited because they require special integration to handle the immersive / digital PTZ controls. While any VMS can integrate fairly easy with the video stream, to be able to control what aspect of the 360 degree image one looks at requires implementing a proprietary and uncommon SDK. Without that, the user cannot control the panoramic camera unless they switch to the web browser interface of the panoramic camera.

If you already have or are committed to a specific VMS, you should start your selection process by determining what, if any, panoramic cameras the VMS supports. Indeed a number of panoramic cameras are only fully supported by the camera manufacturer's own VMS (e.g., Mobotix).

Recently, newer providers have eliminated or downplayed the role of immersive controls, favoring a dewarped output that is easier for VMSes to integrate. For example, this is the only option for Axis's 360 cameras.

Low Light Issues

Many panoramic cameras have poor low light performance because they have high high f numbers (e.g., f/2.0 or higher is typical) and lack mechanical cut filters. This is often due to the small form factors of the mini dome housings common with panoramic cameras (examples include Grandeye, Geovision and Mobotix - though Mobotix offers a b/w only option). A few panoramic cameras support box camera models that provide mechanical cut filters (e.g., using Immervision lenses or Sentry 360's Full Sight series). However using a box form factor can take up more space and be aesthetically less pleasing.

In either case, be careful about potential low light performance issues.

WDR Problems

Because panoramic cameras use a single imager to look in 'all' directions, the camera is susceptible to lighting variations and having part of the image either washed out or very dark. All cameras vary the exposure setting to determine how much light is gathered and can face problems if the lighting variation is too wide. However, with traditional cameras covering a narrow field of view, the probability of wide variations is lower simply because of the limited area captured. If you use multiple traditional cameras, each one can set its exposure for the light levels for its portion of the scene (e.g., long exposure for dark interior, short exposure for bright entranceway). However, with panoramic, only one exposure can be selected.

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

In our tests, image quality problems were common as one part of the scene regularly faced sunlight during the day while another was of a much darker interior scene. If you are OK with part of the scene being under or overexposed, this can be tolerated but it should be considered up front.

Pixel Density Limitations

While the upside of panoramic cameras is that they can look in every direction, the downside is that the same number of pixels need to cover a much much larger area. Because of this, the image does not 'look' as good as traditional cameras. In our tests, even 3MP panoramic cameras 'look' like CIF resolution with the major benefit that it is 'CIF quality' in every direction.

This tradeoff is fundamental. Let's say a panoramic camera covers the equivalent area of 6 'regular' cameras (assuming 60 degree horizontal FoV for each). This means that the panoramic camera will have 1/6th the pixel density at any given point. If you expect to see clear facial details of a person 15 feet from the camera with a 'regular' camera, you may only be able to make a rough outline at that same distance with a panoramic camera.

There's no way around this. More resolution will help moderately but this is an inescapable aspect of the technology. Avoid VGA / SD panoramic cameras unless you only want an overview camera that shows little to no fine details. On the other hand, increasing resolution from 2MP to 3MP or 5MP is likely to provide only modest image quality benefits as the additional pixels are spread out over a very wide area.

Mounting Height

The last significant consideration for panoramic cameras is mounting height. You want the panoramic camera to be as close as possible to the people / objects being monitored. With traditional surveillance cameras, if a camera needs to be mounted far from an object, the simple solution is using a longer focal length (e.g., a 50mm lens instead of a 5mm). However, panoramic cameras do not offer optical zoom nor varifocal panoramic lenses. As such, if a panoramic camera is mounted on a 30 foot ceiling, people are going to look like ants. Either avoid such high mounts or use a extension mount to position the camera closer (bearing in mind that such mounts may be aesthetically unappealing).

Product Options

In 2011, only a handful of companies make 360 / panoramic cameras:

Expect to pay an average of $1,000 per camera for those cameras.

However, in 2012, many more manufacturers have released panoramic offerings, including Axis, Panasonic and many Taiwanese manufacturers. Now with these offerings, pricing has moved down to the $500 - $800 range.

Alternatives

Multi-imager cameras provide many of the benefits of panoramic / 360 degree cameras with a major limitation. On the plus side, multi-imager cameras often cover 180 or 360 degrees, providing a very wide coverage area. They send out 'standard' video streams so integration is easy. Also beneficial, often each imager can set its own exposure control, reducing the above mentioned WDR risk. The major downside is that they eliminate the immersive / 360 degree controls. While you can still use digital PTZ controls like any other camera, you can not rotate or 'move' throughout the image.

There are only a few multi-imager camera options available:

Expect to pay an average of $1,500 to $2,000 for these cameras.

[NOTE: An earlier version of this note was published in March 2011 but has been revised in October 2012 to reflect new developments].

1 report cite this report:

Arecont 20MP Camera Examined on Apr 05, 2011
Arecont Vision has announced a 20MP camera. This would be the highest resolution production surveillance camera in the world. While there are some...
Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Camera Focusing Tutorial on Oct 14, 2019
Camera focus is fundamental to quality imaging. Mistakes can significantly reduce details, making cameras less effective. In this guide, we...
Axis HD Analog Encoder Tested on Oct 11, 2019
Two years after declaring "Everything is IP", Axis has released their first HD analog encoder, the P7304, with support for AHD, CVI, TVI, and SD...
Network Optix NxWitness 4.0 Tested on Oct 10, 2019
Network Optix released Nx Witness 4.0, proclaiming new features like a deep learning analytics metadata SDK, increased H.265 support, and UX...
Avigilon H5A Analytic Cameras Tested on Oct 07, 2019
Avigilon has released its H5A analytic cameras, claiming to "detect more objects with greater accuracy even in crowded scenes." We tested the...
Crisis At China's Largest VMS Provider, Netposa, Now State-Controlled on Oct 07, 2019
NetPosa, which bills itself as the PRC's largest VMS provider, is in a crisis. The firm is pursuing huge unpaid bills from clients, and its...
Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) Guide on Oct 01, 2019
Understanding wide dynamic range (WDR) is critical to capturing high quality images in demanding conditions. However, with no real standards, any...
Vivotek 4K S-Series Camera Tested on Sep 30, 2019
Vivotek's highest-end S-series camera claims "Supreme Night Visibility", "Smart IR II", "Smart Stream II", "WDR Pro for unparalleled visibility in...
RealNetworks SAFR Facial Recognition Profile on Sep 25, 2019
RealNetworks entered the surveillance market by giving away their analytics to schools for free, and is now targeting large commercial users with...
Hikvision Acusense Analytics Tested on Sep 23, 2019
Hikvision touts "The Magic Behind It All" in their new Acusense line are 'deep learning algorithms' inside these cameras and recorders. But how...
Axis Perimeter Defender Improves, Yet Worse Than Dahua and Wyze on Sep 19, 2019
While Axis Perimeter Defender analytics improved from our 2018 testing, the market has improved much faster, with much less expensive offerings...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Altronix Claims Tango 'Eliminates Electricians' on Oct 15, 2019
Power supply provider Altronix claims its new Tango power supply 'eliminates the need for an electrician, dedicated conduit and wire runs'. In...
Hikvision Dissolves North American Business Unit, Splits Canada and USA on Oct 15, 2019
Hikvision has dissolved its North American Business Unit, splitting up US and Canada operations as the PRC-government owned manufacturer faces...
Camera Focusing Tutorial on Oct 14, 2019
Camera focus is fundamental to quality imaging. Mistakes can significantly reduce details, making cameras less effective. In this guide, we...
"UL Has Blood On Their Hands" Alleges The Interceptor / Keith Jentoft on Oct 14, 2019
"UL has blood on their hands" alleges Keith Jentoft of "The Interceptor Project". We examined The Interceptor in-depth last year, see: The...
Access Control Course Fall 2019 - Save $50 Last Chance on Oct 14, 2019
Register Now - Fall 2019 Access Control Course. Save $50 through October 10th. Thursday, October 17th is the last day to register. IPVM offers...
Axis HD Analog Encoder Tested on Oct 11, 2019
Two years after declaring "Everything is IP", Axis has released their first HD analog encoder, the P7304, with support for AHD, CVI, TVI, and SD...
Dahua Celebrates PRC 70th Wearing Communist Party Hammer and Sickle on Oct 11, 2019
Dahua celebrated the PRC's 70th anniversary with a video of various Dahua employees wearing China Communist Party hammer and sickle pins as shown...
Last Chance - Register Now - October 2019 IP Networking Course on Oct 10, 2019
Last Chance - Register Now - Fall 2019 IP Networking Course. The course starts next week. This is the only networking course designed...
Network Optix NxWitness 4.0 Tested on Oct 10, 2019
Network Optix released Nx Witness 4.0, proclaiming new features like a deep learning analytics metadata SDK, increased H.265 support, and UX...
HID Fingerprint Reader Tested on Oct 09, 2019
HID has released their first access reader to use Lumidigm optical sensors, that touts it 'works with anyone, anytime, anywhere'. We bought and...