Low Cost License Plate Capture Shootout

By: Derek Ward, Published on May 21, 2014

License plate capture (LPC) is very popular as shown by our License Plate Capture Shootout 2014's high member interest. 

One challenge is that purpose built LPC cameras can get quite expensive, even an inexpensive one, like the Geovision MP LPC we tested, runs ~$1,000.

We decided to test 4 low cost integrated IR IP cameras, all $200 or less, including Dahua, Hikvision and Q-See models, to see if they could deliver effective license plate capture.

We tested at slow speed (~5mph) and higher speed (~30mph), day and night, like so:

And we created image comparisons for each of the 10 runs (including various shutter speeds), that look like so:

Fundamentals

For background on fundamental issues in capturing license plates, see:

Key Findings

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

Here are our key findings from this test:

  • Using default settings, all cameras were able to capture plates at slow (~5 MPH) and fast (~30 MPH) speeds during the day.
  • No cameras were able to capture plates using default settings at either speed at night.
  • Given the poor illumination patterns of these lower cost integrated IR cameras, overexposure of the highly reflective plate was a problem, requiring faster shutters speeds for reliable capture, substantially darkening the overall scene.
  • Since the vast majority of low cost integrated IR cameras use fixed lenses, properly selecting one to match the mounting location, lane width, etc., may be problematic, reducing performance.
  • Among the low cost cameras tested, the Hikvision DS-2CD2032-I bullet performed best at both slow and fast speeds due to a more even illumination pattern, capturing plates at shutter speeds as low as 1/750s. Other cameras required 1/1000s and up for reliable capture.
  • The Q-See QCN7001B performed worst in our tests due to a very bright IR hotspot causing overexposure of plates, requiring 1/2,000s shutter speed for reliable capture at ~5 MPH, and failing to capture plates at ~30 MPH even at 1/10,000s shutter.

Pricing

Comparative camera pricing is as follows:

Recommendations

For low speed license plate capture, these low cost integrated IR cameras may work, with substantially faster shutter speeds than default. Given their low price, installing two cameras (using one for capture and one for scene overview using default settings) is possible for less than the cost of one dedicated specialized license plate capture camera (~$850 and up).

For faster speed license plate capture, 30 MPH and up, they may work, but IR pattern and range will likely be bigger issues than at slower speeds. Performance should be verified in the field before relying on them for capture.

IR Illumination Patterns

One of the key differentiators for low cost IR cameras and their ability to successfully capture a license plate is their IR illumination patterns. Cameras with hotspots in the middle of the FOV and uneven IR patterns require faster shutter speeds to compensate for a heavily illuminated image.

For example, below is a comparison image of the Hikvision DS-2CD2232-I5 and the Hikvision DS-2CD2032-I. Compared to the 2232 from our 2013 Hikvision IP Camera Test, it's hot in the middle but not nearly as hot, and less noisy.

Slow Speed Comparisons (<10 MPH)

We then tested the cameras performance at slow speeds, ~5-10 MPH in a commercial parking lot. Cameras were set to capture two lanes, or a ~22' HFOV.

Below is the Daytime FOV with the license plate captures of each camera at default settings with a 1/30 sec shutter speed. As seen in our street daytime testing, all cameras are able to capture the plate of the test car.

Night

We tested in this same FOV at night, as well:

1/30 Shutter Speed

Similar to our street scene, cameras are unable to capture a license plate of a moving car even at ~5 MPH with a 1/30 second shutter speed, due to motion blur and overexposure of IR illumination on the plate.

1/500 Shutter Speed

At 1/500 second shutter speed, we get a clear image of the license plate with the Hikvision DS-2CD2032-I in this scene. All others are able to only partially grab plate characters or are washed out due to ir illumination.

1/1,000 Shutter Speed

With 1/1,000 shutter speeds, both Avigilon and Dahua can capture the plate, similar to our street testing.

1/2,000 Shutter Speed

At 1/2,000 shutter speeds, the Q-See and Hikvision DS-2CD2232-I5 are able to get a clear view of the plate when the test car is traveling ~5 MPH in our parking lot location.

High Speed Performance

We first tested daytime performance, with our test vehicle travelling about 30 MPH. The 5 cameras were left at default settings, with a 1/30 sec shutter speed. All cameras were able to successfully capture the car with minimal motion blur as well as grab a clear image of the license plate.

Nighttime Performance

At night, the lux levels remained at ~15 lux due to an overhead streetlight directly above the cameras. Below is the general FOV used for testing. All cameras were left at default settings, with adjustments being made exclusively to shutter speeds.

1/30 Shutter Speed

Starting at the defaults from the daytime testing, we can clearly see that no camera out of the 5 we used for testing was able to get a clear ID off the license plate.

1/250 Shutter Speed

Speeding up the shutter to 1/250 seconds, the license plate becomes less washed out and blurry. Still, no camera is able to capture a clear license plate.

1/500 Shutter Speed

At a 1/500 second shutter speed, the Avigilon and Hikvision 2032-I are able to produce a partially legible plate, while the Dahua, Hikvision 2232-I5 and Q-See are still significantly blurry and washed out.

1/750 Shutter Speed (Hikvision cameras only).

While testing for the next fastest shutter speed, it was noted that both Hikvision cameras had 1/750 shutter speeds, which was a speed no other camera tested had available. At this speed, the Hikvision DS-2CD2032-I captured a plate clearly, while the 2232-I5 could not.

1/1000 Shutter Speed

At 1/1,000 seconds shutter speeds, the Avigilon is able to get a clear read of the plate in this scene, and the Dahua 3200S captures a blurry plate, with some characters legible.

1/2000 Shutter Speed

Shutter speeds 1/2,000, the Dahua and Hikvision 2232-I5 get clear reads of the license plate. However, the Q-See does not come close to capturing a plate.

Q-See Fails to Capture

At shutter speeds of 1/4,000 and 1/10,000 per second, the Q-See QCN7001B is incapable of capturing a license plate of a ~30 MPH moving car at night.

Video Examples

The following are examples of nighttime plate capture with all cameras at varying settings.

In this video, we have compiled all of the successful passes of each camera in the parking lot scene. Note that the vehicle is traveling ~5 MPH in a ~1 lux scene.

In this example, we have footage of each camera that was able to capture the license plate at their optimal shutter speeds for this test. Cameras are shown in alphabetical order.

In this second clip, we have compiled each pass with the Q-See 7001B at every progressive shutter speed. Users will notice that the Q-See was unable to capture a license plate at any shutter speed.

Methodology

Cameras were tested using default settings at 30 FPS, unless otherwise noted. All cameras started at 1/30s shutter speed, which was sped where necessary. Cameras were tested one at a time so IR illumination interference was not an issue, with the vehicle moving past at the specified speed multiple times to check capture.

Cameras were integrated to Exacqvision version 6.0.10.59050 without issue. The following firmware versions were used:

  • Avigilon 2.0W-H3-BO1-IR: 2.0.6.14
  • Dahua IPC-HFW3200SN: 2.420.0000.0.R, build : 2014-04-14
  • Hikvision DS-2CD2032-I: V5.1.2 build 140116
  • Hikvsion DS-2CD2232-I5: V5.1.2 build 140116
  • Q-See QCN7001B: 2.100.QS00.9.R, build : 2012-12-07

5 reports cite this report:

Integrator Camera Optimization Preferences on Sep 27, 2017
How do integrators make cameras 'better'? What settings or optimizations do...
License Plate Capture 4K Test on Jan 11, 2016
License plate capture is one of the most popular surveillance applications....
Vehicle Entrance Camera Selection Guide on Jul 21, 2015
When it comes to vehicle surveillance, the conversation regularly turns to...
Testing Messoa 3MP LPC Camera on Apr 02, 2015
License plate recognition has historically required specialized cameras with...
Genetec AutoVu LPR Camera Tested on Feb 23, 2015
License plate video is one of the most requested elements of video...
Comments (17) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Uniview Color Low Light Camera Tested Vs Hikvision ColorVu on Jan 07, 2020
Hikvision has been marketing ColorVu aggressively. Now, Hikvision domestic...
Integrated IR Camera Shootout 2020 - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Panasonic, Uniview, Vivotek on Jan 30, 2020
The best and worst cameras tested in this IPVM shootout showed major...
Cheap Camera Problems at Night on Feb 19, 2020
Cheap cameras generally have problems at night, despite the common perception...
Hikvision and Uniview Entry Level Thermal Handheld Cameras Tested on Jun 05, 2020
While most screening systems cost $10,000 or more, manufacturers such as...
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...
IronYun AI Analytics Tested on Feb 17, 2020
Taiwan / US startup IronYun has raised tens of millions for its "mission to...
Tiandy Super Starlight Cameras Tested on Apr 30, 2020
Tiandy is taking aim at China competitors Dahua and Hikvision, with a new...
TVT / InVid White Light Camera Tested Vs Hikvision ColorVu on Mar 18, 2020
With mega China manufacturers Dahua and Hikvision facing both bans and human...
Vivotek LPR Camera Tested on Apr 15, 2020
Vivotek has historically sold license plate capture cameras but not LPR. Now,...
Color Low Light Mega Camera Shootout - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Panasonic, Speco, Sony, Vivotek on Nov 12, 2019
This is the biggest color low light shootout ever, testing 20+ super low...
New Axis M30 Cameras Tested on Mar 26, 2020
Axis has released a new generation of, for them, relatively low cost M30...
Mobotix 7 Line Camera Tested on Mar 12, 2020
Mobotix is attempting a turn-around, struggling for years, then releasing the...
Camera Analytics Shootout 2020 - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Uniview, Vivotek on Jan 22, 2020
Analytics are hot again, thanks to a slew of AI-powered cameras, but whose...
Remote Network Access for Video Surveillance Guide on Jul 27, 2020
Remotely accessing surveillance systems is key in 2020, with more and more...
Axis License Plate Verifier Tested on Jul 21, 2020
Axis has historically left license plate verification to their partners, but...

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 are 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
This is a unique installation course in a market where little practical...
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...