Testing Low Light Vs Image Quality

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Jan 07, 2013

While minimum illumination ratings imply a magical point where image quality goes from good to bad, the reality is that image quality gradually degrades as lighting levels lower. In this report, we share test results showing what this looks like and the rate of decline.

We took three well-known surveillance cameras (from Axis, Arecont and Sony) and put them side by side for a simultaneous shootout from 1 hour before to 1 hour after sunset, recording images and lux ratings at 10 minute intervals. We placed a subject carrying an eye chart at a 30 foot wide FoV. Here's an overview of the scene used:

lowering scene overview

These tests were performed at progressively lowering light levels of:

  • 7,000 lux
  • 4,000 lux
  • 3,500 lux
  • 2,300 lux
  • 1,800 lux
  • 900 lux
  • 330 lux
  • 40 lux
  • 6 lux
  • 3 lux
  • 2 lux
  • 1.5 lux
  • <1 lux

The minimum illumination ratings of each of these cameras also varied, as follows:

  • 3.1 MP Arecont: 0.3 lux color/ "Day/Night: 0 Lux, IR sensitive"
  • 1080p Sony: 0.4 lux color/0.25 lux black & white @ F1.2
  • 720p Axis: 0.4 lux color/0.06 lux black & white @ F1.2

Did these lux ratings hold true? Ha!

Overview / Key Points

Image quality fell modestly when light levels were over 500 lux, but then started to drop significantly from the 300 to 3 lux levels. All of the camera experienced significant visual quality loss far above their rated lux ratings.

This image shows a comparison of seven decreasing lux levels, for reference (click for full size):

Side by side lux levels

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

Lux Level Examples

Official sunset on the day of this test was at 4:51 PM. We set our scene at 3:50 PM and began recording starting at 4:00. At this time, the day was still very bright at over 7,000 lux. All cameras displayed clear video with little noise.

4PM

At 4:10, the results were approximately the same, with light levels dropping to about 4,000 lux.

4:10

At 4:20, dropping down to ~3,500 lux, the 3.1 MP camera began to display a notably dimmer image, while 1080p and 720p models remained fairly close to earlier ones.

4:20

At 4:30 PM, at ~2,300 lux, results were similar to the previous, with little change in any image quality.

4:30

Little change at 4:40 PM and ~1,800 lux:

4:40

Around sunset at 4:50 PM and ~900 lux, close inspection reveals visible noise beginning in 3.1 MP and 1080p cameras, though not a lot:

4:50

5:00 PM, at ~330 lux, continues this with noise more pronounced especially in the 1080p camera. At this point, light levels were reduced by about 95% from our starting point of 7,000 lux.

5:00

As the sun continues to set at 5:10, down to just ~40 lux from ~300 lux ten minutes prior, we see a jump in visible noise in the 1080p camera. The 3.1 MP and 720p models remain pretty steady, with the 720p camera only modestly dimmer than when the test began.

5:10

At 5:20 PM and ~6 lux, the 3.1 MP model switches to night mode, the first camera to do so, at around 6 lux. Noise continues to increase in the 1080p model, and sharply increases in the 720p camera, both still in color mode.

5:20

At 5:30 PM and ~6 lux, the increase in noise in the 720p model begins to negatively impact our ability to recognize the subject. The 1080p camera has cut over into night mode at this point, and noise is somewhat lower than in the previous color image.

5:30

Noise continues to increase in the 720p image at 5:40, with the camera still in color mode at ~2 lux. While dimmer, the 3.1 MP and 1080p models provide approximately the same image quality as at the prior light level.

5:40

The 720p camera finally switched to night mode at 5:50, though noise remains constant. At this point, the sun had fully set, with outdoor lighting providing a constant 1-2 lux scene.

5:50

Switching off the outdoor lights, the light level drops below 1 lux. The subject is still detectable in the 3.1 MP and 720p cameras, though details cannot be made out. The 1080p camera provides no usable footage of the subject at this light level.

No outdoor lights

Methodology

Key steps for setup included:

  • All cameras were reset to factory default.
  • Shutter speed was standardized to 1/30s.
  • Auto back focus was run on the 720p and 1080p cameras, but was not supported on the 3.1 MP model, which was manually focused.
  • Day/night cutover settings were left defaulted. This resulted in all cameras cutting over at differing times, as can be seen in the images.

The specific models used were an Arecont AV3116DN, an Axis Q1604 and a Sony SNC-CH240.

5 reports cite this report:

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...
Camera Coverage Areas on Feb 10, 2016
How wide and far on an area can a camera cover?  A fundamental metric in analyzing this is pixel density (aka PPF or PPM). Three key factors...
Video Surveillance Commissioning / Install Checklist on Feb 08, 2016
This 60+ point checklist helps end users, integrators and consultants verify that video surveillance installation is complete. It covers the...
Avigilon Real Time Exposure And Gain on Feb 24, 2015
Knowing how exposure and gain impact image quality, bandwidth, and camera performance can useful in installation and troubleshooting. Very few...
How Well do IP Cameras Work in Low Light? on Jun 06, 2009
[2016 Update: Camera technology has changed substantially since 2009. The same pattern occurs but cameras are generally much better in low light....
Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports on Low Light

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...
Covert IP Camera Shootout - Axis, Hanwha, Hikvision, March, Vivotek on Mar 20, 2019
Covert cameras were one of the last holdout areas for analog cameras. However, in the past few years, IP / HD covert cameras have become...
Axis IR Multi Imager Camera Tested (P3717-PLE) on Feb 18, 2019
Axis has released their first IR multi imager, the P3717-PLE, a repositionable model listing 360° IR illumination and flexible positioning,...
Hanwha Smaller Multi Imager Tested (PNM-9000VQ) on Feb 14, 2019
Hanwha's first repositionable multi imager PNM-9081VQ tested well, but was huge, over 12" wide and weighing in at over 10 pounds. Now, they have...
Bandwidth vs Low Light Shootout - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Geovision, Hanwha, Hikvision, Uniview, Vivotek on Feb 08, 2019
Nighttime bandwidth spikes are a major concern in video surveillance, but do all manufacturers' cameras perform the same? Are some more consistent...
Sony Favorability Results 2019 on Feb 06, 2019
Sony Favorability amongst integrators improved moderately compared to their 2017 favorability results, with a modest net positive...
Camera Course Winter 2019 - Last Chance on Jan 24, 2019
This is the last chance to register for the Winter 2019 Camera Course. This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth...
Testing Bandwidth Vs. Low Light on Jan 16, 2019
Nighttime bandwidth spikes are a major concern in video surveillance. Many calculate bandwidth as a single 24/7 number, but bit rates vary...
WDR Tutorial on Jan 11, 2019
Understanding wide dynamic range (WDR) is critical to capturing high quality images in demanding conditions. However, with no real standards, any...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Access Control Course Spring 2019 - Last Chance on Apr 19, 2019
This is the last chance to register for the Spring Access Control Course. IPVM offers the most comprehensive access control course in the...
Riser vs Plenum Cabling Explained on Apr 18, 2019
You could be spending twice as much for cable as you need. The difference between 'plenum' rated cable and 'riser' rated cable is subtle, but the...
Verint Victimized By Ransomware on Apr 18, 2019
Verint, which is best known in the physical security industry for video surveillance but has built a sizeable cybersecurity business as well, was...
Milestone Drops IFSEC on Apr 18, 2019
Milestone has dropped out of Europe's largest annual security trade show (IFSEC 2019), telling IPVM that they "have found that IFSEC in EMEA no...
The Fastest Growing Video Surveillance Sales Organization Ever - Verkada on Apr 17, 2019
Verkada has the fastest growing video surveillance sales organization ever. In less than 2 years, they already have more salespeople in the US...
Door Operators Access Control Tutorial on Apr 17, 2019
Doors equipped with door operators, specialty devices that automate opening and closing, tend to be quite complex. The mechanisms needed to...
Securadyne CEO: IPVM 'Entertaining For An Ignorant Few' on Apr 16, 2019
Securadyne's CEO Carey Boethel is unhappy with IPVM's report - Failed Integrator Rollup, Securadyne Sells to Guard Giant Allied. Indeed, he...
Dahua Repositionable IR Multi-Imager Camera Tested on Apr 16, 2019
Dahua has released their first repositionable multi-imager camera, the Multi-Flex 4x2MP, claiming integrated IR, true WDR, and flexible...
Strong ISC West 2019 For Manufacturers But Concerns For 2020 March Move on Apr 16, 2019
ISC West 2019 was strong for manufacturers, according to new IPVM survey results of 100+ manufacturers, consistent with 2018 results. However,...
Axis Supports HD Analog on Apr 15, 2019
In 2017, Axis declared 'Everything is IP': Now, in 2019, Axis has released support for HD analog, with their new encoders.  Why the change?...

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