Super Low Light vs Integrated IR Shootout 2013

By: 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:

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

  • 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?

Key Findings

These are our key findings from this test:

  • In a lit outdoor parking lot (< 5lux), low light cameras outperformed integrated IR models, providing better detail at close range, and superior detection at further ranges, up to 125'. Only the Avigilon H3 (3-9mm) bullet provided details close to low light models.
  • Outdoors, with the lights out, ~0.1 lux and below, IR cameras provided much better imaging than low light models, with details at close range and detection at longer ranges. Low light cameras produce only detection at very close range, and no usable images beyond.
  • At long range (up to 300'), Avigilon's 9-22mm IR bullet, at its maximum focal length, outperformed low light optimized cameras with the same FoV. The Avigilon bullet was able to detect a subject up to 300' away, while the NBN-733 provided detection at ~125', but not beyond. The Sony VB630 was unable to detect subjects at these ranges at all.
  • Indoors, in our tests up to 20', integrated IR cameras clearly outperformed low light cameras, with better detail and reduced visible noise.
  • With outdoor lighting on, color mode provided superior image quality in low light cameras compared to their monochrome, due to increased contrast and color information. However, with outdoor lighting off, monochrome mode performed better than color.
  • Bandwidth consumption, contrary to conventional wisdom, was not split between the two categories. Among integrated IR models, Dahua used more bandwidth than the low light models at all light levels. Avigilon's H3 bullet had the highest consumption of any camera in our tests with lights off. Finally, the Bosch 733's bandwidth usage was lower than some integrated IR models.

Pricing

Low Light Cameras:

Integrated IR Cameras:

  • Avigilon IR Bullet 3-9mm / 9-22mm [link no longer available]: ~$650 USD estimated street price.
  • Axis M1144-L: ~$560 USD Online
  • Dahua HFW3200SN [link no longer available]: $250 USD Online [link no longer available]

The 8-50mm lens used was the Tamron M13VG850IR (~$165 USD Online).

Recommendations

In very low light scenes below 1 lux (outdoors with no lighting), integrated IR cameras offer details at close range where low light models do not, and detection of subjects at greater distances, where low light cameras produce little to no usable images. Factoring in their typically lower cost, integrated IR is the strongest option in these scenes.

At higher light levels, 5 lux and below (such as lit parking lots), low light cameras are likely the best choice, due to improved details and color information instead of a monochrome image. This is especially true at closer ranges where identifying details may be captured.

In indoor low light scenes, integrated IR cameras are typically the best option. IR illumination is often more effective in these scenes due to the reflectance of walls and other objects in enclosed spaces, resulting in less noise and lower bandwidth than low light optimized cameras.

Finally, though integrated IR cameras sometimes consume less bandwidth at night than low light modes, users should be aware that severe spikes may occur even with them. VBR with a cap is strongly recommended to avoid wasting bandwidth and storage space.

Outdoors, Lights On

Our first test scene was a parking lot and field, with outdoor light on, varying from below 1 lux to ~10.

At 6', the integrated IR and low light cameras are closest in performance. The low light cameras perform better overall, providing more detail of the subject's face and clothes. Some overexposure was present in both IR and low light models from Axis.

At 25', low light cameras perform moderately better, still providing more details and higher contrast in most cases.

At 60', the performance gap widens. IR illumination begins to fade on all cameras at this range, and contrast is lost, with the subject blending into the background and obscured by noise. The low light cameras still offer color information and accordingly higher contrast between background and subject. Neither provide much detail of the subject.

At 125', the subject is nearly lost on all integrated IR cameras, while still clearly detectable in the low light models.

Outdoors Lights Off

Turning the lights off, monochrome mode performed better than color in low light optimized cameras. Light levels dropped to ~0.1 lux throughout.

At 6', the integrated IR cameras deliver facial and clothing details of the subject, while the low light optimized models provide detection only.

The IR cameras continue to outperform low light models at 25', clearly showing the subject. Low light cameras at this range produce only noise.

At 60', the subject is still noticeable in integrated IR cameras, though noticeably more difficult to detect.

Finally, at 125', the subject is difficult to detect even in integrated IR models.

Long Range

To test further ranges, we used Avigilon's 9-22mm IR bullet, along with two low light models equipped with 8-50mm megapixel lenses. We found in previous tests that Avigilon's 60m specified IR illumination range in this model was accurate, though power is greatly reduced at maximum range.

Starting at 125', the IR bullet is clearly superior to low light models. The Bosch NBN-733V is marginally able to detect a moving subject, but the VB630 is not.

At 200', Avigilon still easily detects our subject, while the 733 is still marginal.

Finally, at 300', the IR bullet has difficulty detecting the subject, though he is still visible. Other cameras produce no usable images.

Indoors

Finally, we tested in our standard indoor conference room to get a baseline of image quality and see performance tradeoffs in smaller spaces.

At 20' range, around 1 lux, The IR cameras produce better images than low light models, with the test chart more visible, and some facial detail possible. Low light cameras suffered from higher noise and artifacting.

In full light, performance is close, with cameras generally performing close to the same. The Axis M1114-L suffered from more artifacting than other models in this test, obscuring some details.

Bandwidth

The integrated IR cameras in our tests generally consumed less bandwidth than low light optimized cameras, as seen in the charts below. Note that the Avigilon H3 bullet, Dahua HFW3200SN, and Bosch NBN-733V were outliers in this, however. Dahua consumed more bandwidth than low light cameras outdoors with lights on, while Bosch consumed less than most IR cameras. Most notably, with the lights off, the Avigilon IR bullet consumes the most bandwidth of any camera in the test, near its VBR cap of 12 Mb/s, a 4x increase over its bandwidth with lights on.

Test Parameters

The following firmware versions were used in this test:

Low Light Cameras

  • Axis P3354: 5.40.17
  • Bosch NBN-733V: 73500580
  • Sony SNC-VB600: 1.5.1
  • Sony SNC-VB630: 1.5.0

Integrated IR Cameras

  • Avigilon 2.0W-H3-B01-IR (3-9mm bullet): 2.4.6.24(8181)
  • Avigilon 2.0W-H3-B02-IR (9-22mm bullet): 2.4.6.26(8383)
  • Axis M1144-L: 5.40.10.6
  • Dahua HFW3200SN: 2.210.General 01.0.R,build:2013-05-17(V4.1.1)

Cameras were standardized at 1/30s maximum default exposure. Other settings were left defaulted.

4 reports cite this report:

Gain Control / AGC for Video Surveillance Guide on Apr 23, 2015
Gain control is a critical, though often overlooked, factor in low light...
Testing Day vs Night With IR on Dec 09, 2014
IR illumination helps. When it gets dark, especially real dark, with no...
Integrated IR Camera Use Surging 2014 on Jun 10, 2014
Not too long ago, integrated IR cameras were looked down upon. Like offering...
How Well do IP Cameras Work in Low Light? on Jun 06, 2009
[2016 Update: Camera technology has changed substantially since 2009. The...
Comments (16) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Taiwan Lilin NDAA Compliant Cameras Tested on Aug 13, 2020
Taiwan-based manufacturer Lilin is taking direct aim at Dahua and Hikvision...
Tiandy Super Starlight Cameras Tested on Apr 30, 2020
Tiandy is taking aim at China competitors Dahua and Hikvision, with a new...
K3 Pro Wall Mounted IR Gun Tested on Aug 28, 2020
The original K3 model was lacking in features that the K7 model had and was...
K7 Wall Mounted IR Temp Gun Tested on Jun 26, 2020
The original K3 model was missing a number of important features but the...
Uniview Deep Learning Camera Tested on Jul 14, 2020
Uniview's intrusion analytics have performed poorly in our shootouts. Now,...
Dahua, Hikvision, ZKTeco Face Mask Detection Shootout on Jun 19, 2020
Temperature tablets with face mask detection are one of the hottest trends in...
Vivotek LPR Camera Tested on Apr 15, 2020
Vivotek has historically sold license plate capture cameras but not LPR. Now,...
Quantum Dots Potential for Surveillance Cameras Explained on Sep 08, 2020
Quantum dots are starting to be used in TVs for better images, but how will...
Face Detection Shootout - Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Uniview, Vivotek on Jul 30, 2020
Face detection analytics are available from a number of manufactures...
Avigilon Elevated Temperature Detection Camera Tested on Sep 17, 2020
Avigilon has entered the temperature screening market with the release of...
TVT Temperature Measurement Terminal Tested on Jul 23, 2020
While Dahua and Hikvision get the most attention for China temp products,...
Vivotek Presents AI Analytics and LPR on May 19, 2020
Vivotek presented its AI Analytics and LPR at the April 2020 IPVM New...
Infinova, March Networks and Swann H1 2020 Financials Examined on Sep 02, 2020
While Dahua and Hikvision, helped by fever camera sales, are recovering from...
Hanwha AI Analytics Camera Tested on Aug 11, 2020
Hanwha has released their Wisenet P AI camera, adding person and vehicle...
K3 Wall Mounted IR Temperature Gun Tested on Jun 12, 2020
Is this the solution to not spending thousands of dollars on fever...

Recent Reports

OnTech Smart Services Partners With Google and Amazon To Compete With Integrators on Sep 25, 2020
A pain point for many homeowners to use consumer security and surveillance is...
The Future of Metalens For Video Surveillance Cameras - MIT / UMass / Immervision on Sep 25, 2020
Panoramic cameras using 'fisheye' lens have become commonplace in video...
Hikvision Sues Over Brazilian Airport Loss on Sep 24, 2020
Hikvision was excluded from a Brazilian airport project because it is owned...
China General Chamber of Commerce Calls Out US Politics on Sep 24, 2020
While US-China relations at an all-time low, optimism about relations...
Verkada Disruptive Embedded Live Help on Sep 24, 2020
Call up your integrator? Have someone come by the next day? Verkada is...
IP Networking Course Fall 2020 - Last Chance - Register Now on Sep 23, 2020
Today is the last chance to register for the only IP networking course...
Drain Wire For Access Control Reader Tutorial on Sep 23, 2020
An easy-to-miss cabling specification plays a key role in access control, yet...
Norway Council of Ethics Finds Hikvision Human Rights Abuses "Ongoing" on Sep 23, 2020
Hikvision's involvement in "serious human rights abuse" in Xinjiang is...
IPVM Camera Calculator User Manual / Guide on Sep 23, 2020
Learn how to use the IPVM Camera Calculator (updated for Version 3.1). The...
Installation Course Fall 2020 - Save $50 - Last Chance on Sep 22, 2020
Today is your last chance to save $50 on registration for the Fall 2020 Video...
SimpliSafe Business Security Launched Examined on Sep 22, 2020
SimpliSafe has launched "SimpliSafe Business Security" that the company...
FLIR CEO: Many New Fever Entrants "Making Claims That The Science Just Won't Support" on Sep 22, 2020
FLIR's CEO joins a growing number calling out risks with fever / screening...
China Bems Temperature Measurement Terminal Tested on Sep 22, 2020
Guangzhou Bems (brand Benshi) is the manufacturer behind temperature...
Axis Exports To China Police Criticized By Amnesty International on Sep 21, 2020
Axis Communications and other EU surveillance providers are under fire from...
Milestone XProtect on AWS Tested on Sep 21, 2020
Milestone finally launched multiple cloud solutions in 2020, taking a...