Ranking IP Camera Low Light Performance

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Jan 20, 2014

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.

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. 

Using the IPVM Low Light TVL counts (LL - TVL), the community can better compare and specify cameras based on actual quantified low light performance differences.

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Comments (57)

For clarity, I would just like to point out that the ACTi D11 is our most economical Day Only unit.

I would still be interested in a comparison of cameras that are marketed and sold as "Low Light" units.

Hi Dennis, this ranking consists of things we've tested in the past year, as well as some older units. We do have plans to expand it as new models are released and we test other cameras. What models specifically would you suggest we test from ACTi?

I understand the basis for this report, and it does provide some interesting data on the overall state of camera technology across the board. But most Integrators tend to focus (sorry for the near pun) on two to three brands, and are looking for specific performance, features, or price points to make those decisions.

While broad brush tests are great for compare/contrast, were I still an integrator I would be more concerned with tests such as Fisheye Camera shoots outs (which IPVM has done for instance), Low Light shoots outs (this is a rapidly changing part of the IP Camera field with a LOT of claims being made on all sides), Noise Reduction comparisons, etc.

I dont know what IPVM's policy is on test cameras - if you take Demo's from Manufacturers, or purchase them on the market. If you do take demo product from manufacturers, it probably wouldnt be difficult to get even the top end units for comparisons.

Of course, as an RSM I would always recommend the cameras that where think we are strongest 8-) For Low Light, any of our SLLS cameras. For Auto/Remote Focus and Zoom and of our B6/B8 models.

It's IPVM's purpose to keep us on the manufacturing side honest, and I do find the articles interesting and challenging (and occaisionally agravating), so I think you are doing a great job on that score.

"were I still an integrator I would be more concerned with tests such as Fisheye Camera shoots outs (which IPVM has done for instance), Low Light shoots outs (this is a rapidly changing part of the IP Camera field with a LOT of claims being made on all sides)"

This is a low light shootout, by its very definition.

I do not think this is fair that you have hijacked the comments to make a protest for the products you sell at ACTi.

As Ethan already said, and you know, we are going to test more cameras and use this same metric so we can compare and contrast other cameras and other models.

Had no intention of "taking over", and sorry you took it that way. Ethan asked me to expand, and I did.

Note to ALL manufacturers. If you think our results are wrong and have actual evidence or specific claims (like new firmware), feel free to post a comment here.

If you are simply upset that specific models were not included, contact us directly. The reason for this is that otherwise this will dominate the comments, drowning out legitimate questions from people actually specifying or using questions.

Ethan asked you, "What models specifically would you suggest we test from ACTi?" Instead of responding to that, you launched a general critique of what you think integrators want to see and how this is not it, even though this is a low light shootout.

If integrators don't like this, they can speak for themselves. Trust me, they will.

And as I have said repeatedly, we will test other cameras, as we already do on an ongoing basis. Clogging up comments with manufacturer complaints is not a way to accelerate the process.

Given the scale of this report, we're sure there are going to be questions and comments. Leave them in the comments and we'll be happy to address them.

John, you stated,

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

I would be interested in seeing test results of the same cameras but with moving objects in the video, primarily a moving "person". Perhaps with the top 5 cameras you listed in the results.

Thanks!

Murray, we just released a test of slow shutter and moving objects here: Camera Slow Shutter / Ghosting Tested.

Most useful article! Thanks. Wonder if a similar daytime test array would help as well.

Thanks. We are considering it. The low light version was the initial priority, simply because it was obvious that there were massive differences across camera models that minimum illumination ratings clearly did not capture.

In my opinion

I would group cameras with the same LUX level ( specify by manufactures ) and then do test

Grouping by lux level would be weird because that would presume those levels actually have any validity.

However, it would be interesting to list the minimum illumination / lux level in a column next to our LL-TVL results. Ethan/Derek, please add that.

This way, we can see how 'off' certain manufacturers are and any patterns amongst the actual test result to the manufacturer spec.

Grouping by minimum lux rating ( stated by manufactures ) you will have valid point

at least it will be apple to apple comparison

This is an apples to apples comparison because we tested all cameras under the same conditions. Lux ratings, by definition, are not 'apples to apples' because each manufacturer chooses their own.

We are not going to group by manufacturer lux levels but we will add an entry field so people can compare what the vendor claims to what we achieved in an independent test.

Very interesting report.

Something I noticed by chance: is there an error with the number for the Axis Q1604? In the tables it shows as 350 TVL but the image captions indicate 400 LL-TVL. Which is correct or have I just misunderstood?

Thanks for pointing that out, Richard. The charts have been updated. It was a typo on my part.

Great testing, was just sad to see that brands such as Dahua, Hikvision & ACTi were tested but not Vivotek.

Would've loved to see what the IP8151, IP8162 and IP8173 would score fail or no fail.

Just a little note. The TVL value represents vertical resolution and should be tested on patterns with horizontal lines. These results are valid only if all the cameras have exactly square cells.

Or am I wrong?

Great Article. Would like to throw in some other cameras for the next test!

It might be useful to add a column for street pricing for these cameras and maybe form factor. The price range of the cameras on the list appears to be from just over $100 to a couple of thousand dollars. Most of us aren't familiar with all of the different models listed and it would be good to see the relationship between price and performance.

Bill, that's a good idea. We'll add online / estimated street price to give readers a sense of price differences.

Bill, pricing has been added to the tables inside.

First of all thanks for an interesting test!

Let me also make clear that I’m an integrator and we don’t use ACTi cameras (and I’m not native English speaking).

I think that John has been unreasonable hard in his reply to Dennis comment. As I read Dennis comment it was not a general criticism of the test nor an attempt to hijack the comments, he just pointed out that it’s unfortunate that a day-only camera is used in a low-light test, which I totally agree on. The ACTi D11 (I had to look up the datasheet) is clearly not meant for night/low-light applications. This is like comparing a race car to a limousine on a race track. The only thing you get out of it is that you make the limousine look bad.

Dennis also asks where you get your cameras, which is actually a very good question. If you get samples/demos from vendors for shoots outs, I would highly doubt the performance of a camera you buy would in general match the one you get for the shoots out. The performance of the camera very much depends on the sensor used. The sensor performance depends on multiple factors like for example where on the wafer the sensor was cut out. So when you ask for a camera you might get a camera that performs especially well. In my previous job I worked at a machine vision camera manufacture and I know that for some camera models the performance of each sensor and each camera is measured. It’s then very easy to find a camera that performs especially well.

About the test, it would be nice to have a gray scale on the test images as well as a person’s head is not black/white and you don’t know how the gamma correction in the camera is set by default. This could result in very good performance in light colours and bad performance in dark colours or vice versa. In general it would be nice to have an evenly distribution of bits over the dynamic range of the camera.

Keep up the good work!!

Peter, the problem with Dennis response is that (1) he did not answer Ethan's specific question and (2) he is promoting his own products.

As for how we get cameras, we buy the overwhelming majority of cameras we test including the most expensive ones. The barrier here is not that the ~$400 or so to buy the ACTi 'super low light' camera, it's just that no one, except for him, an ACTi sales person, has ever asked us to test that series.

I am trying to avoid manufacturers publicly complaining and getting free promotion on IPVM for their cameras.

In all our previous tests, we have used human faces/heads as test subjects. You can find them in the individual shootouts. They look like this:

This test was meant to supplement existing reports to provide a numerical metric.

Hi, I think this is a good test! Thanks!

Not often you get to see so many cameras compared. Especially I like the photos you posted at the end. As a consultant/end user this is very interesting.

I assume all have default lenses, have you done a test of how lens choice would affect the result? How many different sensors are really in the test? Do you know which use the same or are all using different?

It must be faster to do this test than for example the slow shutter/ghosting test you did, right? I would like to have seen a motion aspect on the test above as well (the ghosting test is only cameras with default slow shutter, or have I misunderstood). But I understand that would take mcuh more time.

Other test of interest would be low light PTZ-cameras and no I dont know how to do it in any efficient way?

Interesting input Ulf. We have updated our spreadsheet with the imager size of each camera we tested for further analysis.

Hi Guys,

Good test. Would it be possible to add in colour at low light testing for the next batch as a few manufacturers are now making claims in this areas with Lightfinder and starlight technology to name a few. This may be an altogether different set of tests for True day/night external cameras.

It would also be interesting to measure the bandwwith of the cameras at day/night to report on network efficiency during night operations.

Thanks

We have a separate test of camera color fidelity that includes low light testing under a variety of environments and scenes.

We've been doing shoot outs of the Axis and Samsung Fixed domes as a lot of our low light installs require vandal resistance that the box cameras don't offer well. It would be nice to see the fixed domes added as that's what we use primarily. It would also be nice to see some 180s in the mix like the Arecont or Scallop imaging. We've been fairly impressed with the night vision of the Arecont 180s and 360s other than their brutal bandwidth consumption. We did a shoot out of the Axis P3364-VE and the Samsung SNV-5084 just yesterday and do an amazing job in nearly zero light. We forced the Samsung into colour mode and were shocked how well it did, though there was a bit of ghosting.

I would be interested in seeing some side-by-side testing for the 180- and 360-degree cameras from Arecont, Avigilon, and Scallop (and anyone else who makes a similar multi-camera 'panoramic'), too. Deegan - we have had similar positive results with the Arecont models in lower light. Most of our parking areas have some illumination - don't know specific lux ranges - and the Areconts have done well, even when forced to stay in color mode.

Has anyone out there used any equipment from ICRealtime? I have used some, and it seems to be adequate in those particular applications. But, I am swinging more into IP, plus they have some lower cost NVRs with POE. I have some potential client applications for low light and IR assist. If you have used ICRealtime cameras, especially IP cameras in low or zero light situations, what has been your experience as compared to other cameras like in the above list?

David, see this discussion on ICRealtime. For products like ICRealtime and Qsee, that are primarily OEMs and distributors of Chinese products, their value proposition revolves around low cost (like you said) and turnkey kits.

For them, I would focus on using integrated IR cameras (which is a standard offering). You might have some overexposure close to the camera and some issues with object far away but it will be at a price point dramatically lower than the top low light, non IR cameras cited here.

We've updated the charts to include the manufacturer's specified lux levels.

Derek, thanks. As expected, there is a very weak correlation between manufacturer lux spec and actual performance.

One that might be confusing is the Arecont AV3116dnv1. From their spec sheet, they list:

"Color (non-binned): 0.3 Lux @ F1.4

Color (binned): 0.15 Lux @ F1.4

Day/Night: 0 Lux, IR sensitive"

If we use the color one, it's misleading because the camera does go into black and white mode. If we use the Day/Night mode, it is confusing because 0 lux assumes not only sensitivity to IR illumination but it's actual presence in large amounts. Of course, that is strange since this is not an integrated IR camera ... but that's Arecont for you.

This is a pretty darn good test, but I'm confused about some of the results. I agree with most of them, to within 50 TVL. However, to me the following are way off (I did download the zip files) :

Too Generous:
ACTI KCM5111 Nothing visible!
AXIS Q1755 Nothing visible!
SONY SNC-CH240 Very marginal visibility
VIGILON (Both) Barely visible

Too Stingy:
DVTel 4221 I could easily justify a 600, puting this one in the lead. Rated at 400.

Am I missing something on the rating criteria?

Hi Dave, let's address the too generous ones first: On most of my monitors (I have three laptops I regularly use, and two setups with dual monitors), their ratings as listed are really easy to see. However, on the one I'm sitting at now, they're difficult. It's 99% likely it's due to contrast, brightness, and gamma settings. The monitor I'm at now I haven't calibrated at all, and I can tell it's overly bright and low contrast, so it blows the lines right out.

The monitor has the opposite effect on the 4221. My other displays with better settings had that at a solid 400. Some lines were visible beyond, but not enough to confidently say it was higher than 400.

As a rule, the first point at which lines blended together at all was where we counted TVL. I think some people may see things slightly differently. We were going for consistency most of all.

Dave, thanks. And to expand on Ethan's point, that's one of the reasons we included the images / zip files, so people can see and judge for themselves.

One thing I noticed was that some cameras tend to be brighter yet have less resolving power, i.e., don't show as many lines. Some people like brighter images even if they don't show details. I don't think that way but people can look at the images and make their own choice.

Ethan, the monitor I viewed them on is a full size (22") monitor that I use for photo editing and is calibrated with a Spyder which corrects contrast, brightness, gamma, and color. I don't know if you are using calibrated monitors, but to do tests such as this you surely should be.

Thanks again for a very useful test!

It seems like the DVTel 4221 got a harsh treatment compared to several of the other readings. From the posted pictures it seems to me like 450 is ok.

Could you please explain a bit on how the readings are done?

Disclaimer: We don't use DVTel, but do use several of the other manufacturers.

Hi Birger, I looked at that one again and again, since a couple of people mentioned it, and I stand by the 400 TVL rating. As I explained above, we did the measurements by eye. They were checked by two of us, on multiple monitors. Monitor setup has some effect on the reading, but overall, the first point at which lines blended together at all was where we counted TVL. At 450 TVL, I do not see a crisp 5 lines.

Thanks for the update Eathan.

Hello, I'm looking at the Panasonic SP509 specification and it is mentioned

High sensitivity with Day & Night (IR) function:0.5 lx (Color), 0.06 lx (B/W) at F1.4

There is something doesn't make sense here?

Thanks

Tariq, are you saying that our measurements don't make sense due to Panasonic's minimum illumination specifications, or something else?

Minimum illumination specs, as we've pointed out, are no measure of actual performance and are very very often completely detached from reality. We're going to do more comparing cameras from this test to minimum illumination coming up.

I do not understand why you refusing to post FULL size image from your test ?

Hi Ethan,

What I'm saying there should be a logical explination becuase Japanees are usually accurate. Is their result due to the used f-stop and/or the shutter speed. it is important to know their value was under which parameters. Thanks

Tariq, the logical explanation, as we've seen time and time again, is that minimum illumination specs (Panasonic's as well as others) are nonsense. They give no indication of shutter speed (we test at 1/30s), or any other camera settings, and there is no standard as to what minimum illumination even means. Does minimum illumination mean a usable image? Does it mean there is some electrical signal at that light level, even though the image is useless? No one specifies.

Simply put, the minimum illumination spec is useless, and the SP509 is poor in low light, as we've seen here, and in our shootout of it against other HD cameras.

Hi Ethan, are you sure all manufacturers specify without F value, shutterspeed, IRE, and other settings that are used? I agree with you that lux level specs confuse customers as it is Hard to specify what image you get. If there was an international standard like ingress protection rating that would be good for everyone except some manufacturers.

John, what lens and f-stop where used for the tests? Am I correct in assuming that the .5 lux was measured at the chart?

Howard, the lenses are all the manufacturer's included ones or the manufacturer's recommended ones from their websites. This makes sure we are using the most common / 'approved' lens of the respective camera manufacturer.

The lux reading was done at the chart.

What f-stop was used? Where they all they same? If not, that could sway the results.

Regards

Great article!

Hats off to you guys for taking aim at this one. There is definitely some information to be extracted from those stills!

However the testing misses the mark considerably. I'm not tryin to rumple anyones feathers but y'all said nobody's done this kind of test before yatta, yatta, yatta. And maybe that true for cctv, but in digital videography in general that horse has left the barn a time ago.

Maybe take a look-see at the ANSI CEA-639 standard for Video Camera Low-Light Performance. You might notice that they consider resolution only one of 5 contributing factors. The basic problem is that the way you did your test, is you are ignoring the contrast level performance, which in normal illumination is not nearly as important as in low light settings.

Here's a tip-off that something done run amuck: When you can't even makeout the chart ledger values on the left side, yet you are still 'seeing' resolution on the same line on the right, then the chart is not being used correctly. It's plum crazy if you think about it.

Take a look at your Samsung snb-6004 image, I can't make out the numbers can you?

Yet this camera you rank in the top third of all tested! Maybe the resolution is greater than most, but the contrast is abysmal and makes the picture one of the worst not the best. Just one mans opinion :)

I am glad somebody else notice that

That why I was asking for FULL size test picture

Jim, thanks. That's good feedback about the contrast level and I see your point about the Samsung 6004.

For others, here's the images he is referring to:

We'll take a look at the standard and see what other metrics / measurements we can add.

What was the video capturing methods of the images?

I think the bit-rates of the camera can influnce on the image quality.

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Fisheye panoramics have not had much innovation in the past few years, with their multi-imager cousins getting most of the advances, e.g.,...
Dahua 4K Micro 4/3 Camera Tested (IPC-HF8835F) on Apr 03, 2018
Dahua is going big. Their new 4K HF8835F Micro Four Thirds sensor is one of the largest now on the market. Dahua is claming: Starlight...
Axis Z-Wave IP Camera Tested Poorly on Mar 20, 2018
Z-Wave is drawing notable interest for video surveillance use. In IPVM's initial coverage, 84% expressed interest in it, with nearly half being...
Camera Form Factor Guide on Mar 16, 2018
When selecting surveillance cameras, users may choose from a number of different form factors, each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses,...
Next Gen 5MP / 6MP Camera Shootout (Axis vs Dahua vs Hanwha vs Hikvision) on Feb 28, 2018
Many manufacturers have released new generation 5MP / 6MP cameras that tout super low light, WDR and other features historically typical in 1080p...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Stealth / UCIT - Remote Video Monitoring Provider Profile on May 18, 2018
Can 2 remote video monitoring companies, Stealth Monitoring from the US and UCIT from Canada combine to impact the market and compete in a changing...
Cybersecurity for IP Video Surveillance Guide on May 18, 2018
Keeping surveillance networks secure can be a daunting task, but there are several methods that can greatly reduce risk, especially when used in...
Forced Entry / Duress Access Tutorial on May 17, 2018
Even though access control normally keeps people safe, tragedies have revealed a significant issue. If users are forced to unlock doors for...
ADT Stock Drops 50% Since IPO on May 17, 2018
It has been a brutal 4 months for ADT. They first expected to IPO at ~$18. They IPOed at $14, dropping immediately to $12.39 And now, not even...
Dahua 12MP Fisheye Camera Tested (NK8BR4) on May 16, 2018
Continuing our coverage of 12MP sensor fisheye cameras, we bought and tested the Dahua NK8BR4, examining: Default vs. Optimized...
Worst Manufacturer Technical Support 2018 on May 16, 2018
5 manufacturers stood out as providing the worst technical support to 190+ integrators in new IPVM results. These integrators answered: In the...
Installing Cameras in Plenums Tutorial on May 15, 2018
There is often confusion about plenum ceilings, with misinformation about what is required when running cables through them and mounting cameras...
Top Benefits Of Attending Trade Shows (Statistics) on May 15, 2018
150 integrators told IPVM: What are the top benefits of going to trade shows? The clear top 2 responses in order: (1) Networking (2) New...
Measuring For Security Installation Guide on May 15, 2018
Accurate measurement is a fundamental skill, yet many installers do not know how to do it. Using these tools are a key skill needed for security...
Arecont Files Ch.11, Agrees To Sell To Turnaround Specialist on May 14, 2018
The long-anticipated sale of Arecont Vision is finally happening. After raising $80 million in debt in 2014, a failed sale in 2017 and the...

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