Higher Resolution Cameras Need More Light?

By: John Honovich, Published on Dec 13, 2012

One of the most misleading myths is that higher resolution cameras need more light than lower resolution ones to provide quality night time video. The underlying premise behind this claim, pixel size, is a factor but one of many that impacts image performance. In this note, we share an excerpt from a distributor's catalog and break down how to best evaluate low light vs resolution:

Here's what Tri-Ed recommends:

"Lower resolution cameras have large pixels and therefore capture more light. This means they require less light to generate a usable image. Higher resolution cameras have smaller pixels that will require increasing amounts of light to provide high quality video."

However, this is too reductionistic. Let's review the many factors that come into play for low light:

  • Pixel size varies even within resolution: There are SD cameras with tiny 1/5" imagers (example) to very large ones, like 1/2" imagers (example). The range is extremely significant. Even if you are focused on the imager size, make sure you check what each camera's imager size is. Many SD cameras have 1/4" imagers while increasingly HD cameras have significantly larger 1/2.7" imagers.
  • F stop impact: Regardless of resolution, the F stop of the lens will have a huge impact on low light performance. Even if you have a large pixel size, using a high F number (like f/2.8) will almost certainly result in far worse low light performance than a higher resolution one with a lower f number (e.g., f/1.2). To learn more, read our f stop tutorial.
  • Image processing differences: Some camera have advanced gain control or low light image processing to increase low light image details, regardless of the sensor size. For instance, this is what Axis is doing with their Lightfinder series (see our SD and HD test results). The imager is 'normal' size (1/3") but the advancement is in image processing.
  • Imager Advancements: Newer imagers, almost all HD, have improved low light imaging even for the same imager size as legacy SD cameras.

Recommendations

For HD cameras (720p and 1080p), you will likely find similar low light performance as for SD cameras of similar specifications (form factor, lens selection, etc.), due to more advanced imagers, slightly larger imager sizes and improved image processing.

Where pixel size concern is most significant is for 5MP and greater resolution cameras. These cameras typically use the same imager size as HD cameras and, as a result, have far smaller pixels that contribute to significantly reduced low light performance. (See our MP low light shootout). However, this will not likely be the case forever. Just like early generation HD cameras had great deficiencies that were resolved over the last few years, we expect a similar path for multi-megapixel.

While pixel size is worth being aware of, overdoing its importance and not appreciating other key drivers will likely result in poor decisions.

Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports on Low Light

Repositionable Multi-Imager Camera Shootout - Avigilon, Axis, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Panasonic, Vivotek on Jun 19, 2019
Repositionable multi-imager cameras are one of the fastest growing segments in video surveillance, with a slew of new offerings being recently...
False Verkada 'Unrivaled' Low Light Performance Claim Removed on Jun 12, 2019
Verkada falsely claimed that it delivered 'UNRIVALED LOW LIGHT PERFORMANCE' until IPVM questioned. In fact, Verkada's low light performance is...
Camera Course Summer 2019 - Register Now on Jun 12, 2019
Register for the Summer 2019 Camera Course.  This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth product and technology...
Avigilon 32MP and 12MP H4 Multisensor Cameras Tested on Jun 11, 2019
Avigilon has released their H4 Multi-Sensor line of cameras claiming "broad scene coverage and high image detail" We bought and tested the...
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...
Panasonic 32MP Multi Imager Camera Tested (WV-X8570N) on May 16, 2019
Panasonic has released their first multi imager models including the 32MP (4x4K) WV-X8570N, claiming "Extreme image quality for evidence capturing...
Hikvision DeepinView Camera Analytics Tested on May 08, 2019
Hikvision is expanding its 'deep learning' offerings with a new camera series called 'DeepinView' claiming false alarm reduction and improved...
Speco Ultra Intensifier Tested on Apr 22, 2019
While ISC West 2019 named Speco's Ultra Intensifier the best new "Video Surveillance Cameras IP", IPVM testing shows the camera suffers from...
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

Repositionable Multi-Imager Camera Shootout - Avigilon, Axis, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Panasonic, Vivotek on Jun 19, 2019
Repositionable multi-imager cameras are one of the fastest growing segments in video surveillance, with a slew of new offerings being recently...
Genetec Synergis Cloud Link - Complex, Costly and Confusing on Jun 18, 2019
Genetec's Synergis Cloud Link is complex, costly and confusing compared to competitor access control architectures. Inside this note, we examine...
Startup Vaion Launching End-to-End AI Solution Backed with $20 Million Funding on Jun 17, 2019
An EU / USA video surveillance startup, Vaion, founded by ex-Cisco Senior Directors is launching an end-to-end VSaaS platform with $20 million in...
Biometrics Usage Statistics 2019 on Jun 17, 2019
While face and fingerprint recognition are used regularly for smartphones, it is not as common in physical security. In this note, we examine...
The Scheme Hikvision and China Importers Use To Avoid Tariffs on Jun 17, 2019
Hikvision and numerous China importers are avoiding 25% tariffs by including an SD card slot in their IP cameras to claim they are 'digital still...
Sighthound Transforms Into Enterprise AI Provider Profile on Jun 14, 2019
Sighthound is now rapidly expanding its R&D team, building an enterprise AI service. This may come as a surprise given their origins 6 years...
ADT Eliminating Acquired Brands, Unifying Under 'Commercial' Brand on Jun 14, 2019
ADT is eliminating the brands of the many integrators it has acquired over the past few years, including Red Hawk, Aronson Security Group (ASG),...
NSA Director Keynoting Dahua and Hikvision Sponsored Cybersecurity Conference [Canceled] on Jun 13, 2019
The technical director for the NSA’s Cybersecurity Threat Operations Center will be keynoting a physical security cybersecurity conference that is...
Farpointe Data Conekt Mobile Access Reader Tested on Jun 13, 2019
California based Farpointe Data has been a significant OEM supplier of conventional access readers for years to companies including DMP, RS2, DSX,...
Embattled $400 Million China Funded Philippines Surveillance System Proceeds on Jun 13, 2019
An embattled 12,000 camera surveillance system project that will cost ~$400 million will proceed.  The project contract was awarded, had its...

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