720p vs 1080p Camera Shootout

Author: John Honovich, Published on Oct 25, 2011

When choosing High Definition cameras, one of the most fundamental questions is what of the two common resolution levels one should choose: Do you use 720p or 1080p cameras? The fundamental alternatives are familiar to any user who has bought a TV in the last few years. However, how do you choose when buying network cameras?

The main case for 1080p cameras over 720p ones is that a 1080p camera has over twice the resolution (i.e., pixels) than a 720p one. A 1080p camera has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (2.07 MP) while a 720p camera resolution is 'only' 1280 x 720 (.92 MP). Because of that, marketing people often conclude that a 1080p is equivalent to (2) 720p cameras.

Our Test

In this test, we choose two very similar cameras from the same manufacturer - one that was 1080p (Sony CH210) and the other that was 720p (Sony CH110). As you can see in the sample image below, from the outside the cameras even look identical:

We wanted to better see how much performance would vary between two seemingly identical cameras with resolution being the main functional difference.

[Note: this is just the latest of our comparison tests of cameras with different resolution. We routinely test SD vs 720p vs 2MP vs 5MP etc. (for other comparisons, see our indoor camera shootout, our parking lot shoot, WDR camera shootout, etc.)]

The Test Process

We took these two cameras and we ran a series of head to head shootouts in a number of conditions:

  • Indoor lighting as one might have in an office or retailer that represent ideal conditions for cameras
  • Low lighting conditions (from 20 lux down to 7, 3 and 1 lux levels) that represent challenging common scenarios for cameras
  • Outdoors for larger area monitoring
The combination of these three scenarios provides a broad range of real world scenarios. The sample image below provides an overview of the scenarios filmed:

Expectations vs Results

Conventional wisdom sets two common expectations of megapixel:

  • Higher resolution cameras provide much better image quality (2x, 3x, 4x, etc.) than lower resolution cameras.
  • Higher resolution cameras are much worse at night than lower resolution cameras.

What's particularly interesting about this test is that both of those expectations are violated here, teaching us important lessons about how we should evaluate and specify higher resolution cameras.

**** ******** **** ********** *******, *** ** *** **** *********** questions ** **** ** *** *** ****** ********** ****** *** should ******: ** *** *** **** ** ***** *******? *** fundamental ************ *** ******** ** *** **** *** *** ****** a ** ** *** **** *** *****. *******, *** ** you ****** **** ****** ******* *******?

*** **** **** *** ***** ******* **** **** **** ** that * ***** ****** *** **** ***** *** ********** (*.*., pixels) **** * **** ***. * ***** ****** *** * resolution ** **** * **** (*.** **) ***** * **** camera ********** ** '****' **** * *** (.** **). ******* of ****, ********* ****** ***** ******** **** * ***** ** equivalent ** (*) **** *******.

Our ****

** **** ****, ** ****** *** **** ******* ******* **** the **** ************ - *** **** *** ***** (**** *****) *** *** ***** **** *** **** (**** *****). ** *** *** *** ** *** ****** ***** *****, from *** ******* *** ******* **** **** *********:

** ****** ** ****** *** *** **** *********** ***** **** between *** ********* ********* ******* **** ********** ***** *** **** functional **********.

[****: **** ** **** *** ****** ** *** ********** ***** of ******* **** ********* **********. ** ********* **** ** ** 720p ** *** ** *** ***. (*** ***** ***********, *** our****** ****** ********, ********** *** *****,*** ****** ********, ***.)]

The **** *******

** **** ***** *** ******* *** ** *** * ****** of **** ** **** ********* ** * ****** ** **********:

  • ****** ******** ** *** ***** **** ** ** ****** ** retailer **** ********* ***** ********** *** *******
  • *** ******** ********** (**** ** *** **** ** *, * and * *** ******) **** ********* *********** ****** ********* *** cameras
  • ******** *** ****** **** **********
*** *********** ** ***** ***** ********* ******** * ***** ***** of **** ***** *********. *** ****** ***** ***** ******** ** overview ** *** ********* ******:

Expectations ** *******

************ ****** **** *** ****** ************ ** *********:

  • ****** ********** ******* ******* **** ****** ***** ******* (**, **, 4x, ***.) **** ***** ********** *******.
  • ****** ********** ******* *** **** ***** ** ***** **** ***** resolution *******.

****'* ************ *********** ***** **** **** ** **** **** ** those ************ *** ******** ****, ******** ** ********* ******* ***** how ** ****** ******** *** ******* ****** ********** *******.

[***************]

Key ********

**** *** *** * *** ****** ******* **** *** ********:

  • *** ***** ***** *** *** ****** ** *** ***** **** the **** *****
  • **** ******* ********* *********** *** **** ***** ****** ** ** indoor ****** *** *****
  • *** ***** ***** ******** ******** ****** ***** ******* ** ********* wide ******* *****

******** ** ************ ******, *** * ******** *** **********.

Key *********** ******* *** *******

***** *** ******* **** *** **** ** *** *******, ** the ****** ***** *** * *** ********* ***********:

  • *** ***** ***** ****** **** * */*.* ****** ***** *** 720p ***** **** * **** ******* */*.* ******.
  • *** ***** ***** **** ************* ***** *** ***** **** ** ***** ********** ******* **** imager.
  • *****: *** ***** *** * ***** ** ****** *** ***** 10% ***** **** *** **** **** * ***** **.* ****** FoV.
  • ***** *** ******: *** ***** *** * ******* ******** **** of */*** ('******') ***** *** **** ***** *** * ******* exposure **** ** */** ('**********/****')

****** ****'* ****, *** *** **** * ****** (***** *****) cameras (**** *** *****) *** *** ******* **** ******. *******, all *** ***** * ****** *** *** ***** ** *** level *** ******* ***** ******* (**** *** * *** * series) ** *** *****. *******, ***** ********-*, *** ****** ******* ** ***** *** ****** *********, **** of *** ********** **** ******* ******* ******* ****.

Our ***************

**** ***** ** * ****** ** *** ***************:

  • ** ******* ** ******** ****** ******* **** **** *** ******* look *** **** *** **** **** *** **** ************. *** guts ** ***** ******* *** ********** *********.
  • ****** ** ******* ****** *****. ***** ** ** *** *********, cameras **** *** ****** ******* ** ** ***** ** */*" tend ** ******* *** ***** *********** **** ******* **** */*" or ******.
  • ******** *** ****** ****. **** ** *** **** ***** ************** as **** ************* ******** *** *** ** *** **** ***** chip **** ****** ******* *********** ** *** *****. *******, ** is ****** **** *** ***** ** *** ***** ** *** 210's ******** *** ***** ***********.
  • ** *********** ******* *** ***** *** *** *****, *** *** essentially ****** $*** **** (~$*** ****** *** *** ***** ** $300 ****** *** *** *****) ** *** ******** *** ***** performance *** ******** ****** **** **** ********. **** *****, ** you ****** **** ****** *** ***** ***********, *** ****** ****** not ******** ***** ******* ** ******* ******* ********** *** ******* (i.e. ***/*****).

**** **** *****, ***'* **** ** *** ****** ***********.

Even ****** ***** (**** ****)

** ***** **** ** '****' ***** **** *** *** *** approximately ** **** **** *** ***** *** ******* ******.

**** **** *** *** ******* *** *** ******* ** ******** different ******* *** ***** ***** *** * ******* **% ***** FoV. *******, *** ***** **** *** **% **** ********** ******. The ********* ********* ** ****** *** **** *** *** ***** is ******* **%.

******* ** ** **** *******, ** *** *** *** ***** of ******* ** *** **** *** ** *** ******* ** the ***** *** **** *******.

*** **** ********** ********** ** *** '********' ** *** ******. The ***** **** ************* ******** *** **** **** ** *** subject.

Low *****

**** ******* ** *** *****, ** ** ****** ** ******* into ********** ****** ** ********. ***'* ***** **** ** **** which ** ******* *** *** ****** *** ***** * **** amount ** *****.

*** *** *** ** *** ********** ***** **** *** *** delivers * **** ******* ***** ** *** *******'* **** **** the ***. *** *** ** ********* ******* ************ ***** **** control ** ********* ** *** ******** ***** *********.

***, ***'* **** *** ******** ** * ***. ******* ** the ***** *****, *** ** * ******, *** ***** ******** looks ******** *** ******* ****** **** *** ***. ****'* ***** on **** ** * '*****' **, ** *****, * ****** variance ** ******* ****** ********. *** ***** **** * ******* max ******** ** */** ** ****** ** ****** ** *** light ** *** ***** **** * ******* *** ******** ** 1/30s.

***, ***'* ********* *** ********* ******* **** **** ** * more ******** */*** ********. ***, *** *****'* ***** ** ******* far ****** *** *******, **** ***** **** *** *****. *************, we ***** **** ****** *** *****'* ******** ** */** ** match *** *****'* *******. *** *** ****** ***** ****** *** same - ** **** ** *** ******** ** ***** *** CH210's *********** ** ******.

***'* *** **** **** ** * *** ***** ** ******** to *** ****** ****. *****, ** ***** **** ******* ********* again ****** *** *** **** ******:

*******, ***** ** ********* *** ******** ** */*** ** **** side, *** *** *** ** ******** ********** **** ******* ** the **** *** ******* ** *** ***** ***** *** *** is **** ****** *** *******.

*******, ***'* **** * **** ** * * *** ***** with ********** *********. ***** *** ***** ** ****** ***** ***** and ****** **** *****, *** ***** ***** ** ******* ** the ******* *** **** ******* ** *** *******.

****: ** ** ********* ** ******** **** ***** *** *********** of *** ***** ** * *** ** ****** **** *** CH110, ****** *** ***/***** ** ******* **** ********** *** ***** only ***** ** *** **** **********.

Outdoors - **** **** ***

*******, ** *** **** ***** ******** ** *** **** ***** happen ** * **** **** *** . *** ***** ***** is ** ******* * *** - *** **** ***. *** 210 ******** **** ******* **** *** ***. *******, *** ******** in ******* *** ****** ******.

*******, ** **** **** **** ** ***** *** **** **** FoV, *** ******* *** ****** ******* *** *** *** *** some ********** ****** (**** *** ****** *****) **** ***** ** a ******* ** *** ******:

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