Don't Trust Lux Ratings

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jan 09, 2013

Do not trust lux ratings. Do not use lux ratings to specify cameras. Period.

Lux ratings are widely, and unfortunately, used to define low light performance, with the lower the lux rating, the stronger low light performance. Here's what this commonly looks like on manfacturer specifications:

lux ratings examples

For instance, a camera with 0.02 lux is supposedly 'better' in low light than a camera with 0.05 lux. (Background - See our Lux / Lux Meter Tutorial).

[New Test Results show the reality of low light image quality.]

However, they are so riddled with fundamental problems that lux ratings must be abandoned.

Widespread Misconception

In regular IPVM assessments, we find easily half of surveillance professionals believe and use lux ratings as a viable metric for assessing low light performance.

More importantly, lux ratings are overwhelmingly used in RFPs to require specific low light performance. Cameras that do not meet the RFPs lux ratings specification are rejected.

The Fundamental Problems

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

Here are the fundamental problems:

  • Unrealistic numbers
  • No standard process
  • No revelation of what image looks like
  • Failure to disclose camera settings
  • Gradual image quality decline

Unrealistic Numbers

Most manufacturers have lux ratings that are incredibly unrealistic, with ratings of .001 lux or lower common. However, that is incredibly dark. Almost any camera truly in such conditions in the real world would capture nothing or be so dark and noisy as to be practically useless.

No Standard Process

Each manufacturer measures on their own, by themselves and with whatever 'standards' that they like. As such, it is impossible to compare the results of two manufacturers without more knowledge or testing of one's own.

No Revelation of What Images Look Like

No manufacturer ever releases images of what their cameras look like at their claimed lux ratings. Almost certainly, the images would be terrible.

Failure to Disclose Camera Settings

Many manufacturers use tricky settings such as using super slow shutters and fostering tricks like 'sens up'. Often they will obscure this in their specification, resulting in seemingly eye popping low lux ratings like 0.000001 lux.

Gradual Image Quality Degradation

The image quality of all cameras gradually declines as light levels fall below 50 lux, with falling signal to noise ratios, and increasing gain control levels. There is no magical point where quality turns from good to bad.

Consultant's Fault

The lion's share of the blame goes to consultants who regularly specify cameras based on minimum illumination specifications though they rarely if ever test to verify that the ratings are accurate.

Manufacturer's Trapped

This creates an ugly system where even the most ethical and responsible manufacturers are trapped. The first manufacturer to 'tell the truth' about their low light performance will be disqualified from many large projects. Because of this, no one can afford to do so.

Worse, it rewards the most unscrupulous vendors who realize that they are rarely, if ever, called on their specs.

What To Do?

The best way is to test cameras head to head in the same conditions with the same fundamental settings (especially shutter speed). For example, see our MP low light shootout. Take your finalists and place them for an evening in your desired deployment location. I can almost guarantee that the results will not match what the lux ratings suggest.

Short of that, a few specifications do deliver:

  • F Stop: While small differences in F numbers (1.2 vs 1.4) have limited practical impact, going from F1.2 vs 2.4 typically has a major impact on low light quality.
  • True Day/Night: Cameras with mechanical cut filters consistently deliver notable increases in low light performance.
  • Adding IR: If a scene is quite dark and you want to ensure maximum illumination, consider adding IR either through integrated IR or add-on illuminators.

There is no magic number. Unfortunately, lux ratings are voodoo, more smoke and mirrors than reality. Let's move past them and focus on better metrics for reliably specifying high quality low light performance.

2 reports cite this report:

4MP Low Light Weakness Tested on Jul 19, 2016
4MP cameras are an emerging force in video surveillance, with many manufacturers now focusing on 4MP as their new high end, surpassing...
Surveillance Camera Specification Guide on Aug 19, 2013
Anyone reviewing RFPs knows there are countless common problems, with 'good' specs seemingly few and far between: RFPs copied from more than 10...

Related Reports

Geovision Launches Direct Cloud Offering on Jan 18, 2017
Add cloud, subtract integrator. Geovision has launched myGVcloud, an offering that allows consumers to buy cameras and cloud services directly...
ADI Battles Manufacturer Partners on Jan 11, 2017
ADI is battling their manufacturer partners, building up their own competitive house brand W-Box, while manufacturers still fund ADI's business...
ADI "HD Cameras As Low As $29.99" on Jan 06, 2017
ADI has reached a new low - literally. [premium_content] ADI is making no attempt to sell value or quality here, with their email subject...
Camera Course Winter 2017 on Jan 05, 2017
Learn video surveillance and get certified. IPVM provides live online classes, recorded videos, personal help, cutting edge education and...
Avigilon Pro 4K Camera Tested on Jan 03, 2017
Avigilon is best known for their large sensor, high megapixel cameras. But with new offerings from Sony and soon Axis, the questions is how well...
Surveillance Cameras 2017 Review on Jan 02, 2017
This report concisely explains the developments and most common options for surveillance cameras offered in 2017, including resolution, H.265, HD...
Calculating Video Surveillance Storage / Bandwidth on Dec 29, 2016
Calculating surveillance bandwidth is complex, and inexperienced users can easily underestimate bandwidth, leading to reduced storage durations...
Lux Rating / Minimum Illumination Guide 2017 on Dec 23, 2016
Lux ratings are one of the poorest specifications to use in selecting cameras. Now, with the rise of integrated IR, they are increasingly...
The PPF / PPM Video Surveillance Guide on Dec 23, 2016
Pixels per foot / Pixels per meter is the most fundamental and valuable, though imperfect, metric for specifying video surveillance image...
Surveillance Camera Imager Tutorial on Dec 23, 2016
Imagers - CCD, CMOS, 1/2", 1/4", big pixels, small pixels, etc. In this tutorial, we explain the fundamental issues and drivers in surveillance...

Most Recent Industry Reports

2Gig Expands Into Commercial Intrusion With Vario on Jan 23, 2017
2GIG, an alarm product manufacturer best known for their wireless products, has introduced a new line of wired panels aimed at the commercial...
Integrator Service Vehicle Guide on Jan 23, 2017
Few assets are as commonly used by integrators and installers as their service vehicles. 125 integrators explained to IPVM in detail about their...
Goodbye Samsung, Hello Wisenet X on Jan 23, 2017
Samsung is gone but Hanwha is back. Their latest generation Wisenet X, touts a slew of new high end features including H.265, WiseStream II,...
Vivotek Favorability Results on Jan 20, 2017
Financially, Vivotek is doing relatively well. The company did ~$130 million in 2015 revenue and 2016 revenue (through Q3 reported) was up more...
PR Firm Pleads Don't Scrap PR Spending on Jan 20, 2017
PR is not dying, warns pleads PR firm. Take 40+ year old industry PR firm LRG, who recently lamented the 'misconceptions' that: Traditional PR...
Getting Started With Your IPVM Membership on Jan 20, 2017
Here's how to get started and get the most out of your IPVM membership. Books for Members All members can download the 3 member-only books below...
Jim Cramer Sucks Up To Knightscope on Jan 19, 2017
Credit must be given to Knightscope. They are raising money right now and despite their $80 million pre-money valuation against a lowly sub $1...
ADT Launches Canopy - Professional Monitoring For DIY Devices on Jan 19, 2017
The intrusion industry has criticized DIY security systems for years, claiming systems like Canary or Scout cannot match professionally installed...
Dahua UnFavorability Results on Jan 19, 2017
Dahua, the mega-Chinese surveillance manufacturer not primarily owned by the Chinese government has been trying to break out of the shadow of...
Paxton Hosted Access - Disruptive Low Dealer Pricing on Jan 19, 2017
Paxton is entering the hosted access game, with BLU, at a cost that is a fraction of key competitors. The different approach could be very...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact