Ranking IP Camera Low Light Performance

By Ethan Ace, Published Jan 20, 2014, 12:00am EST

This first ever program rates and ranks IP camera low light performance, introducing LL-TVL counts, enabling accurate and quantified comparisons.

This has been impossible to do historically, as minimum illumination specifications are untrustworthy, with each vendor rates themselves with whatever incomparable technique they choose.

IPVM solved this by testing dozens of manufacturer cameras under the same controlled conditions and process.

The IPVM Low Light Test

In a dark room (0.5 lux), we tested each camera with an ISO12233 chart, as shown below (lights on so you can see):

We ensure all cameras are set at a normalized 1/30s shutter speed (eliminating sens up tricks and ghosting/slow shutter problems).

Then we take the output image from each camera. The images will vary depending on the performance of the camera. Here's an output of charts captured from superior, average and poor cameras:

Finally, we determined resolution of each camera to the nearest 50 TVL. Those of you familiar with analog TVL measurements and our Real Resolution of MP Cameras test report will notice this is the well accepted TV line count metric traditionally for full light measurements but never applied to low light.

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Cameras Tested

We included a broad mix of new, old, expensive, cheap, name brand and not cameras to determine a range of performance. Here is the alphabetical listing of models tested, 34 cameras total from 14 manufacturers:

  • ACTi D11
  • ACTi KCM5111
  • Arecont AV3116DNv1
  • Arecont AV5115DNv1
  • Arecont AV10115DNv1
  • Avigilon 1.0-H3-B2
  • Avigilon 3.0W-H3-B2
  • Axis M1114
  • Axis P3354
  • Axis Q1602
  • Axis Q1604
  • Axis Q1755
  • Bosch NBN-498
  • Bosch NBN-733
  • Bosch NBN-932
  • Bosch NDC-274-P
  • Dahua HD2100N
  • Dahua HF3101N
  • DVTel CF-4221
  • Hikvision DS-2CD7164-E
  • Hikvision DS-2CD864FWD-E
  • IQeye IQD42S
  • Mobotix D24
  • Panasonic WV-NP502
  • Panasonic WV-SP509
  • Pelco IL10
  • Pelco IXE10LW
  • Pelco IXE20DN
  • Samsung SNB-5004
  • Samsung SNB-6004
  • Sony SNC-CH240
  • Sony SNC-DH120
  • Sony SNC-VB600
  • Sony SNC-VB630

Excluded - Integrated IR and Panoramic

The two categories of cameras we excluded are (1) integrated IR cameras and (2) panoramic cameras, because they cannot be tested with the same process. We will test these in future, dedicated treatments using specialized approaches for those segments.

Ratings / Rankings

Inside, we share the full rating and rankings, including an ordered table. Here's a preview:

Benefits

Low light performance varies far more, and in far less predictable ways, than full light/day time performance. 

Here are our key findings from these rankings of 34 cameras:

  • Generally speaking, 720p cameras performed best in our tests, with brighter, less noisy images. This was not universally true, as some 1080p and even SD models also outperformed 720p cameras.
  • In nearly all cases, 720p cameras outperformed 1080p counterparts in a given manufacturer's line, with the best balance of low light performance and resolution.
  • Top SD low light cameras (the Bosch NBN-498 and Axis Q1604) were beaten by many HD cameras, despite historical notions of SD cameras' better low light performance.
  • Performance gains in new generation cameras versus older counterparts was notable, an increase of 50-150 TVL or more, depending on manufacturer.
  • Five cameras of 34 tested failed to produce images in which the ISO chart couuld be discerned. Two of these were budget models (ACTi D11 and Pelco Sarix IL10). However, both Panasonic models failing to produce images were current models in their higher end box camera line, the new generation SP509 and older NP502. 

Notes about Performance

These rankings are useful for establishing performance metrics of a wide variety of cameras, as distance from target (~3') and light level (~0.5 lux) were kept consistent wherever possible. However, there are two factors worth noting:

  • The test chart is much closer to the camera than most subjects in real world applications would be, with the white surface filling the FOV. As a result, more light is reflected back to the camera than subjects against a less reflective background would reflect at range.
  • The distance fixed lens cameras were tested at varied, since no FOV adjustments were possible. This results in minimal variations in image brightness, but no practical impact on TVL delivered.

New Generation vs. Old

The first and one of the most telling differences this TVL test provided was the difference in performance between current generation cameras and their older counterparts.

This varied from about 50 TVL, as seen in the 720p Sony DH120 vs. the sixth generation VB600.

The performance difference in 1080p models from 5th to 6th generation was most drastic, ~150 TVL increase when moving from the CH240 to VB630.

Manufacturer Series Differences

Performance also varies widely within a single manufacturer's line. This comparison shows the difference between the Axis M1114, a color only 720p model, and the low light Axis Q1604. The Q1604 produces much brighter images with a 150 line gain in TVL.

Resolution Comparisons

720p was not universally better than other resolutions in this test. However, in a specific manufacturer's line, it outperformed SD and 1080p resolutions in nearly all cases. For example, the SD Lightfinder Axis Q1602 measured 300 TVL, while its 720p counterpart, the Q1604 managed 350.

Looking at Bosch, the NBN-733 clearly performed best (among all cameras in this test, actually), at 550 TVL vs. 300 for the NBN-498 and 450 fo the NBN-932. 

As we saw in our Samsung Wisenet III camera test, the 720p SNB-5004 easily outperformed its 1080p counterpart, with lower noise and brighter images.

Finally, the comparison below shows Arecont 3, 5, and 10MP models side by side, with only the 3MP camera providing any usable image:

Slow Shutter Defaults

In a number of cases, cameras defaulted to slow shutter, skewing results. Users should beware of this during installation or when performing maintenance, as severe motion blur may occur.

The Pelco IXE20DN defaulted to 120ms exposure, producing 600 TVL. Standardized to 33.3ms, the camera is unable to reproduce the chart at all.

Master Ranking

This chart shows all 34 cameras in our test, sorted by TVL from highest to lowest, along with resolution and firmware version used.

Alphabetical Reference

Finally, this chart simply lists all cameras in alphabetical order for reference.

Individual TVL Measurement Images

We have included an image of every camera in alphabetical order facing the ISO12233 chart, which is cropped to the listed TVL measurement. For your convenience, we have also included a .zip file containing all of these images.

ACTi

Arecont

Avigilon

Axis M Series

Axis P & Q Series

Bosch

Dahua

DVTel

Hikvision

IQeye

Mobotix

Panasonic

Pelco

Samsung

Sony

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