ImmerVision's 5MP 360 Lens Examined
Panoramic lens designer ImmerVision has announced [link no longer available] a new 5MP version of their IMV series of lenses. In this update, we will examine whether this nearly 4x increase in resolution over their current lenses may help to alleviate recurring issues with immersive cameras: low pixel density, low-light performance, and wide dynamic range challenges.
ImmerVision produces lenses using panomorphic technology, which differs from typical fisheye lenses in that they have increased resolution at the edges of the image, and cover more of the camera's image sensor. The ImmerVision lens can be used in place of the stock lens with any compatible camera, which is then mounted vertically. This installation process is overviewed in this YouTube video.
Current models of ImmerVision lenses [link no longer available] are optimized for only VGA and 1.3MP resolutions. The jump to 5MP will allow much more variety in camera selection, and 4x increase in resolution (1280x1024 vs. 2560x1600). Most panoramic camera providers, such as Mobotix, Sentry360, and GrandEye OnCam, make cameras in a variety of resolutions above 1.3MP, normally 3.1, 5, or even 10, so this release helps to match these resolutions for ImmerVision.
As we have discussed in previous updates (see our Criteria for Selecting Panoramic Cameras), users should be careful when deploying panoramic cameras for a few reasons: Dewarping and digital PTZ functions are not supported by every VMS. Support is increasing, with Exacq [link no longer available] and Milestone [link no longer available] now supporting the lens in all versions of their software, and Videolarm manufacturing a housing specifically for ImmerVision-equipped cameras.
Additionally, scenes with wide lighting variations may be an issue for a camera to handle, and pixel density must be carefully considered, as it's greatly reduced when viewing a scene this large. That being said, ImmerVision's decision to improve their lenses for use with higher-resolution cameras will assist in maintaining acceptable pixel density. Since it is an add-on lens, users also have the flexibility to choose a well-performing wide dynamic range camera (see our Wide Dynamic Range Shootout) to alleviate image quality issues.
The 5MP-rated lens is currently a prototype, and as such, no pricing has been set, but we imagine that pricing is in line with ImmerVision's previous versions, which sold online for around $500. This is expensive for a lens, with most megapixel rated lenses running under $200.
Adding the ImmerVision lens to a camera, such as Sony's fixed cameras, the CH120 and CH140 ($550 and $850 online, respectively), results in a final price for the ImmerVision/camera assembly of about $1,050-1,350. This is about $300-500 above Mobotix's Q24 or Vivotek's FE8171V panoramic cameras, both around $800 online. Immervision does allow camera flexibility, however. Selecting the right camera may alleviate some of the low light and dynamic range issues, which we have noted in our past tests of the Q24.
UPDATE: NOW SCHEDULED FOR OCTOBER 2013, confirmed with Fuji who is manufacturing / distributing those lenses.