Day/Night vs IR Cameras

By: John Honovich, Published on Jun 21, 2012

When low light image quality is critical, Day/Night and IR cameras are two of the top choices. But how do these two differ and when should you choose one versus the other? In this note, we explain.

Key Similarity

The most important shared aspect are that they both can see 'infrared' / non-visible light. By seeing that light, they can deliver a brighter, more detailed image during times when visible light is poor. While humans cannot see it, even when it is dark out, some non trivial amount of IR light is 'shining' (background: see our IR measurement review). Both camera types can make use out of it.

By contrast, color only cameras, by design, filter out IR light. This is why day/night is preferable to color for low light scenes.

Key Difference

The key difference between day/night and IR cameras is that day/night cameras can only see IR light but they cannot produce it, unlike IR cameras. Indeed, the name 'IR camera' typically implies that the camera has an IR illuminator built into the camera itself.

IR camera's key advantage then is that they can 'see' IR light plus they can shine their own IR light. Therefore, in scenes that are especially dark, IR cameras typically can deliver a brighter image than a day/night camera can.

Why Use IR Cameras

The main reason to use IR cameras over day/night ones, then, is when the the scene is really dark and you cannot (or will not) add visible light. The day/night camera might then deliver an unusable image while the IR camera should be better.

Limitations of IR Cameras

Integrated IR cameras are gaining in popularity, and at a premium of ~$100 more than day/night cameras with the same feature sets are a fairly inexpensive option. However, keep in mind the following drawbacks of many integrated IR cameras:

  • Short range: Typically only specified up to 50 feet, many only produce a useable image for 20 to 25 feet. See a test result.
  • Blooming/glaring: Objects/subjects close to the camera often are wash outed from too much IR light though some offer automatic adjustment. See our discussion [link no longer available].
  • Bugs/insects: Many integrated IR cameras attract bugs and insects. See our discussion [link no longer available].

That noted, IR cameras are used by more than half of integrators. Some integrators default to using IR cameras for any scene that is dark while others use them only if a specific issue arises with day/night cameras. A big factor in the choice is how good your preferred day/night cameras are in low light. Top day/night cameras can be very good (see our low light MP test results). However, those cameras can be very expensive (~$1,000). By contrast, cheap IR cameras that simply slap on some IR LEDs can be half that price or less though with many of the limitations noted above.

Comments : 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 that integrated IR makes cameras mostly the same, according to new...
IR Surveillance Camera Guide on Feb 06, 2020
Integrated infrared (IR) cameras are everywhere in 2020, but not all IR is created equal, with many differences in coverage, overexposure,...
Color Low Light Mega Camera Shootout - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Panasonic, Speco, Sony, Vivotek on Nov 12, 2019
This is the biggest color low light shootout ever, testing 20+ super low light models from 10 manufacturers: Increasingly, each manufacturer...
Biggest Low Light Problems 2019 on Nov 08, 2019
Over 150 integrators responded to our survey question: "What are the biggest problems you face getting good low-light images?" Inside, we share...
Integrated IR Camera Usage Statistics 2019 on Oct 21, 2019
Virtually every IP camera now comes with integrated IR but how many actually make use of IR or choose 'super' low light cameras without IR? In...
Hikvision ColorVu is Smart Marketing on Oct 03, 2019
Hikvision ColorVu (see IPVM test results) is smart marketing, a lesson to be learned by competitors and a rising trend. Inside this note, we...
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 20MP Multi-Imager Tested on May 30, 2019
Vivotek has released their latest repositionable multi-imager camera, the MA9321-EHTV, a 20 MP model claiming "Supreme Night Visibility", "Optimal...
Startup Spectral Edge RGB+IR Claims "Unique Low Light Performance Tech" on Apr 03, 2019
This UK startup, born out of university research, is boldly proclaiming that they deliver "Unique low light performance tech for video surveillance...
Axis 5MP P Vs Q Camera Shootout (P3227-LVE vs Q3517-LVE) on Apr 02, 2019
While Axis' Q3517-LVE tested well, it is one of Axis' most expensive dome cameras, over $1,000 USD. Because of this, members asked us how it...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Pivot3 Mass Layoffs on Mar 27, 2020
Pivot3 has conducted mass layoffs, the culmination of grand hopes, a quarter of a billion dollars in VC funding, and multiple failures to gain...
Athena CEO Criticizes 'Deplorable' 'Nitpicking', IPVM Refutes on Mar 27, 2020
Athena Security's CEO Lisa Falzone has strongly objected to IPVM's reporting on Athena, calling it 'deplorable' and repeatedly criticizing IPVM's...
Hikvision Admits Sanctions Harming Its Financial Performance on Mar 27, 2020
While Hikvision initially downplayed being sanctioned for human rights abuses, the company is now admitting a significant impact in a new PRC...
New Axis M30 Cameras Tested on Mar 26, 2020
Axis has released a new generation of, for them, relatively low cost M30 series cameras, claiming to deliver "sharp video quality even in poor...
Coronavirus Shuts Down ADT Door Knockers on Mar 26, 2020
Coronavirus has another victim - this time, alarm giant ADT has stopped all door to door sales. Door knockers are a critical but controversial...
Access Control Course Spring 2020 - Save $50 Last Day on Mar 26, 2020
Register Now - Spring 2020 Access Control Course. Today, March 26th is the last day to save $50. IPVM offers the most comprehensive access...
Convergint Coronavirus Cuts on Mar 25, 2020
One of the world's largest security integrators, Convergint, has made a major move to handle the impact of coronavirus, with cuts across the...
VSaaS 101 on Mar 25, 2020
Video Surveillance as a Service (VSaaS) is the common industry term for cloud video. But what does it mean? How does it all work? Inside this...
TVT / InVid Facial Recognition Tested on Mar 25, 2020
Facial recognition is frequently sold for thousands of dollars per channel but some China manufacturers are offering full facial recognition...
IPVM Launches On-Demand Courses on Mar 24, 2020
For nearly a decade, IPVM has been a leader in online live courses. Now, we have added on-demand versions for all courses. The same course...