Testing Day vs Night With IR

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Dec 09, 2014

IR illumination helps.

When it gets dark, especially real dark, with no nearby artifical lighting, pretty much every surveillance camera (even 'super' ones) are going to deliver significantly degraded images (see: Super Low Light vs Integrated IR Shootout).

Because of that, IR use in surveillance is growing robustly and for good reason.

However, how good is IR?

Specifically, we wanted to know:

  • How does a scene with IR illumination at night compare to the same scene during the day? Would IR illumination deliver the exact same details (save color) as the camera during the day? Or would it be degraded and, if so, by how much?
  • What benefit does increased resolution have using IR? How much better (or not) is 5MP vs 3MP vs 1MP vs VGA etc, when using IR?

We tested this with a variety of cameras to answer these questions.

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Comments (3)

Ethan and IPVM, great job as always. It may be of interest that due to the spectral bands being different from VIS to Near IR, the spatial resolution of the image formed changes proportionately. So if the mean wavelength in the VIS is about 550 nm, and the mean for Near IR is about 1100 nm, then the Near IR image will have half the spatial resolution (since the aperture remains constant). But then also the depth of focus shifts with the longer wavelengths forcing the spot on the imager further back. These two factors conspire to make the Near IR images look relatively blurry.

Hi Skip, regarding focus shift due to IR light: for this test we refocused all cameras (aside from one, which was fixed focal length) after switching to night with IR on. I actually double checked focus in some cases after switching resolution just to make sure nothing had shifted.

The motorized zoom cameras we used all had auto-focus and could be set to refocus when switching from day to night, but I prefer doing it manually during testing. Sometimes the refocus doesn't go quite right and I want to be sure focus isn't an issue.

One thing that I found interesting while doing tests with IR bullet cameras is what happens to “colors” when switching on and off the IR. On one of the test boards we used a ColorChecker that we printed out at the office, and it gets interesting when you have a decent BW picture without using IR and then switch on the IR. Some of the “colors” completely disappear due to the fact that the IR light is not reflecting the colors from the printer and you get blank spots were you previously at least had something greyish.

Magic :-)

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