Panasonic New Integrated IR Camera Reviewed

By Ethan Ace, Published Apr 10, 2012, 08:00pm EDT

Panasonic is the latest manufacturer to jump on the built-in IR bandwagon with the introduction of the WV-SW316L outdoor camera. This camera promises improved nighttime performance without the additional expense and complexity of external illuminators. In this update, we look at this new model's features and compare to competitors Sony and Axis.

Overview

The WV-SW316L [link no longer available] is a a pre-packaged box camera (IP66 housing/sunshield/camera in one), with the following features:

  • 1/3" MOS image sensor.
  • 3.1-10mm varifocal lens.
  • True day/night with mechanical IR cut filter.
  • Built-in IR LEDs with specified range of 15m (~50'), dynamically adjust based on object distance from the camera, to avoid overexposure of subjects.
  • High profile H.264 as well as MJPEG, MPEG-4.
  • 30 FPS specified at maximum resolution, 1.3MP (1280 x 960).

The WV-SW316L will be available Q2 2012, with an MSRP of $1,690, and an estimated street price around $1,200, based on available models' MSRP and online pricing. The following image illustrates the camera's all-in-one construction and IR LEDs:

Competitive Comparison

The SW316L is a catch-up release for Panasonic. Other major manufacturers, such as Sony, Arecont, and most recently, Axis, have each released a range of models with built-in IR illuminators, in either dome or bullet form factors, versus Panasonic's single model. Like Panasonic, both Sony and Axis's models feature "smart" IR, which adjusts as subjects move toward or away from the camera. Axis also allows for adjustment of the IR coverage pattern to match the set field of view. Sony, Arecont, and Panasonic do not offer this.

This video demonstrates the dynamic adjustment of the IR illuminator:

The WV-SW316l's pricing places it in the same range as the Sony SNC-CH180, around $1,200 online, and above Arecont's AV1325IR bullet and Axis' new P series -L model domes, $800 and $950, respectively. Both Panasonic and Sony specify that their models feature WDR capability, however. Panasonic's use of H.264 high profile may also provide modest bandwidth and storage savings.

Recommendations

While built-in IR illuminators may be useful in some instances, users should beware of two common issues which make them less than perfect for all applications:

  • Overstatement of range: As we've found in our testing, manufacturers commonly overstate IR illuminator range. In some cases, range is as little as 50% of specifications. Users should be aware of this before counting on illuminators to fill the camera's field of view.
  • Short range: Relative to external illuminators, built-in IR provides limited range. External illuminators may provide hundreds of feet of range across a wide field of view, though at a higher price, normally hundreds of dollars. 
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