Varifocal Illuminator (NuOptic)

By Brian Rhodes, Published Sep 06, 2012, 08:00pm EDT

While surveillance users are accustomed to picking varifocal lens for cameras and easily adjusting the FoV on the spot, this is not the case for IR and white light illuminators. Most illuminators require picking the angle before you order (10, 30, 60, etc.), sticking you with whatever the unit delivers even if it is too narrow and leaves dark spots or too wide and fails to cover the far side of the scene. Now, a new US manufacturer named NuOptic is releasing the "Varifocal Illumination System" or VIS. Inside, we examine its features, pricing and competitive positioning versus Raytec.

Key Feature: Beam Adjustability

The VIS line offers one key attribute not found in other products: the illuminator beam is mechanically and dynamically adjustable. Unlike other products that are fixed focus, or require manually swapping the aperture lenses to change 'throw' distance and diffusion angles, the VIS has a rotating lens that dynamically changes the dispersion of light. The manufacturer's marketing video below provides an example of how this feature works:

The dispersion angle can be changed remotely and internally within the unit, and multiple VIS units can be 'ganged together' to cover angles beyond 100º.  When joined in this way, the units behave as one single large illuminator, and the focal 'convergence' point of the illuminator's beams can travel across the total field of view - following a PTZ as it patrols within range. Alternatively, the units can be simply be hung 'unganged', as separate units, but in close proximity to increase illumination intensity within a fixed area. The manufacturer's video below shows how multiple VIS units can be used with multi-imager panoramic cameras to illuminate very broad areas, and ganged together for PTZ use:

Other notable attributes of the VIS line:

  • Available in both White Light and Infrared options (850nm and 940 nm wavelengths) with 'throw distance' up to 980'
  • Two wattage classes: 40 watt [link no longer available] or 80 watt units [link no longer available] - the units with greater wattage have increased throw distance
  • Non PoE Compliant: VIS Power Requirements are 20V-29V AC or 24V-36V DC, up to 2.5A
  • Fully controllable via RS-485 communications interface or Pelco D protocols
  • Cost: Prices range from MSRP $940 (40W, White Light) - $1580 (80W, 940nm IR)
  • 5 year Warranty, excluding motorized 'drive train' components

PTZ Integration

VIS is designed to remain stationary, which presents a design problem when used with PTZ cameras. In this situation, the manufacturer recommends two options:

  • Gang a number of illuminators together to cover 360º, requiring four or more units
  • Mount a single illuminator in a fixed position on a PT mount (see report for additional details), and use a non-PTZ camera to accomplish the same FoV.

Both of these suggestions introduce issues of cost, extra equipment, or complexity to and installation. Even though VIS permits a unique level of adjustment that can be used with PTZ cameras, implementation of that is far beyond simple 'plug and play' and will require configuration labor, perhaps hours of labor depending on complexity, of both the illuminator and camera/positioner unit. 

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Warranty 

The 5 year warranty excludes the drive train - the mechanism that moves the lens to focus the IR beam. Like a speeddome camera, the mechanical components are subject to wear and break over time due to normal use.

While the warranty exclusion is inline with similar mechanisms (e.g., PTZs on continuous tours are frequently only warranteed for 90 days), users should keep this aspect in mind especially if they plan to frequently refocus the IR beam.

Comparison

The closest comparable is Raytec's Vario line, although the feature sets are not identical. As we addressed in our Vario review, that product must be manually adjusted by changing lenses and the beam intensity is adjusted through an IR remote control unit on site, but not via a network. By contrast, the VIS can be adjusted through a serial interface with no need to change parts. Here's a comparison:

  • Raytec Vario I8 [link no longer available]: range up to 720 feet, adjustable diffusion between 10º  - 120º: ~$850 online
  • NuOptic VIS-1080 [link no longer available] (850nm IR): range up to 980 feet, adjustable diffusion between  7º  - 100º: expected street pricing of $900 - $950

The NuOpic will likely have a modest premium as it will when comparing the NuOptic shorter range version to the Vario I4. The question then becomes whether this premium is worth the capability to remotely optimize or dynamically adjust.

However, NuOptic is clearly only a fit for those looking to spend a premium on illumination as its 'cheapest' offering has an MSRP of $940. By contrast, many IR illuminator providers have offerings from $100 to $400 that might not have long range nor adjustability but are more than sufficient for simpler, smaller Field of Views.

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