Super Low Light vs Integrated IR Shootout 2013

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Oct 07, 2013

Two of the biggest trends in IP cameras collide in this unique IPVM shootout.

In the past few years, a surge of manufacturers have released integrated IR cameras as well as 'super' low light ones. Indeed, many manufacturer now offer both types.

They both address the same core problem - poor low light performance - but which one is better? and what are the tradeoffs?

The Test

In this shootout, we took 6 cameras - 3 integrated IR ones and 3 super low light optimized ones and tested them head to head.

  • Integrated IR cameras: Avigilon H3 (both 3-9 and 9-22mm models), Dahua and Axis M1114-L 
  • Super Low Light cameras: Axis Lightfinder P3354, Bosch Starlight NBN-733v, and Sony Gen 6 SNC-VB600

We then tested them indoors and outdoors, ranging from distances of 6' to 300', and light levels of 10 lux down to 0.1 lux.

Below is a preview of the 14 image comparisons we compiled from our tests:

The Questions

Our test results answered the following questions:

  • Which cameras provided the best details?
  • How did the results vary across light levels (e.g., who was better at 0.1 lux, 1 lux, 10lux, etc.)?
  • How did the results vary across distance? (including a special long range 125' - 300' test)
  • How did the results differ indoor vs outdoors?
  • Which cameras did better in minimizing bandwidth consumption? Is IR's advantage here real or a myth?

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Test ********** 

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Comments (16)

This is very informative. Just adds to the compelxity of trying to design an optimal low light surveillance system :)

Nice Test & report for understanding of system designers on what goes where?

Thanks.

Not sure who is picking which Dahua cams to include in testing, but this one is a much better low light performer.

Jon, this is a technology test comparing two segments (IR and super low light). While we obviously picked real cameras, the focus is not on specific vendors but how the two segments compared. Regardless of whether we used the Dahua model you suggested (or the Axis P series integrated IR model), the overall segment results most certainly would have been the same.

In the future, we will do an Integrated IR Shootout where we take the 'best' of each camera manufacturer and then test them head to head. At that time, we will ask Dahua for their input on which of their cameras they believe is their strongest integrated IR model.

John, sorry if I upset you. Your response seems as if I touched a nerve. Was not my intent, and maybe my post could have been worded better.

That said, my point has merit. You could buy the lower cost model that I linked above on Amazon for $161, which is cheaper than the model you chose, and on top of the savings, you would find that it would perform better than the more expensive unit. Not every Dahua cam is worth a review, as is probably true with other brands, but it seems like your staff keeps picking the losers in their lineup.

I think your coverage of Dahua is fair and unbiased, but just think you would see better results with selecting their better units. If the focus is low light, you wouldn't pick the worst performing Avigilon or Axis., I'm sure.

Jon, we asked Dahua directly for recommendations and bought those cameras directly from them. Perhaps you can ask them why they are 'losers'? :)

Also, the model you recommend (IPC-HFW2100) and the model we used (IPC-HFW3200S) are rated for the same maximum IR distance: 20 meters.

Btw, we used an Axis M series integrated IR model instead of the P series one. So your insinuation that we would somehow choose a 'bad' Dahua model but not do that with Axis is wrong.

But again, the point is that this is a technology test and even if we used the HFW2100 or the Axis P series integrated IR unit, the overall recommendations between super low light and integrated IR would remain the same.

Can't wait for your Integrated IR Shootout. I presume only the adaptive IR ones will be good performers.

That's one topic we'll definitely be testing. Interestingly enough, the Dahua camera shown here does not have adaptive IR and the illuminator is very strongly aimed toward the middle of the image. Yet it doesn't wash out at close range like the Axis M1144-L (which has a more dispersed IR pattern). It will be an interesting test.

The Dahua is not bad, though a bit overexposed nonetheless. The wringles on the shirt are not visible.

Likewise, I've used at least one analog IR camera (not adaptive) that did not overexpose, even at fairly close range.

Whats the difference between "Low light camera" vs "High dynamic rage" vs "Wide dynamic range" cameras? Are these cameras slves the same problem (capturing image in low light)?

High dynamic range and wide dynamic range cameras are essentially the same thing, intended to deliver better images in scenes with wide variations in lighting, such as lobbies with many windows, loading docks with open overhead doors, etc.

Low light cameras are intended to produce images at lower lux levels than other cameras, often in color at night. They aren't usually intended for scenes with wide light variations, however.

There is some overlap in performance, as some new models perform well in both WDR and low light scenes. We see this in cameras like the Axis Q1604, Bosch NBN-733V, and Sony's 6th generation. Most cameras claim one or the other, however, not both.

Any chance we could get a look at the Samsung WiseNet III cameras in a low light shootout? At ASIS, they had a display that touted their low light abilities, but I want to see if it was all marketing, or if they really do have their place in the top tier of low light models.

Have you guys (and ladies) thought of testing the cameras using optimal settings in addition to your baseline test that you already test? For instance, I know that you like to standardize the shutter speed, but leave all other settings at defaults. Isn't that unfair to a camera that has WDR, but is off by default? It is like saying you are test driving a Ferrari, but you only drive it in first gear.

I know that it is a larger undertaking when spending that much time on any given camera, but I think it would give us a more clear performance winner. Some of us are looking for the least expensive, yet effective product, where others are looking for the best performers. This should elevate the bar and make it clear why spending twice the amount for a top tier camera is worth it, or maybe not.

Jon, what are the specific settings you would like us to change? You want us to turn WDR on for cameras where it available but off by default? Do you mean digital WDR or multi-exposure WDR? What other settings?

We have heard this concern before, and we tested this but it turned out that manufacturer optimizations did very little to improve performance.

For example, most of the cameras we have installed out of the box are usually poorly tuned for the environment they are installed into. I can't remember many times where the default settings were already perfect. Here are a short list of settings that commonly get changed:

1) WDR/DWDR on/off

2) Shutter speed (which you usually standardize for fairness, but maybe not optimize)

3) Gain

4) Brightness/contrast/saturation/etc

I'm not saying this would make or break an image, but if we are testing cameras that are close in performance, setting them up in the best possible scenario would possibly give the edge to a clear winner/loser scenario. I think that you may find in the low light testing especially, these manual adjustments might make a difference.

And I'm not suggesting that you abandon your current method, because it has merit as well. I like that you test with defaults, with the exception of shutter. It is a fair baseline test that is good to compare against the optimized settings.

"In the low light testing especially, these manual adjustments might make a difference."

No.

Obviously, shutter speed makes a difference, and as you have acknowledged, this is why we adjust/normalize them.

Essentially every camera defaults to automatic gain control, allowing the camera to increase gain to its max in low light. You can reduce the gain levels but this will certainly make cameras worse in low light (you'll reduce some digital noise at the expense of considerably darker images).

Brightness/Color/Saturation do not make material differences in details captured/displayed and certainly make no material difference in low light. However, some people like their images 'visually' better with changes to these settings but ultimately these are subjective.

For WDR, if it's digital, it rarely makes any difference either way (whether it's day or night). If it's multi-exposure, it can make a modest difference and we often show that for cameras where this is the case (if they allow it to be turned off at night).

Your said that we are doing the equivalent of test driving a Ferrari in first gear, which implies that our result are way off.

If you or any one else has images that show massive optimizations, feel free to post and we will consider. However, I am telling you we have tried tests with every combination that you have mentioned and that those settings make nearly no difference outside of subjective personal preferences.

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