Panasonic 4K / 12MP Camera Tested

By Ethan Ace, Published Aug 17, 2015, 12:00am EDT

We bought the new Panasonic 4K / 12MP WV-SFV781L dome camera and tested it against the: 

In this in-depth report, we tested:

  • FoV widths up to 135' to determine how the 4K cameras would compete at under 30ppf levels / wide areas
  • Daytime, nighttime and WDR scenes to examine how performance varies across the most fundamental different scene types.
  • 4K vs 12MP modes
  • Smart IR performance
  • Super Chroma Compensation: Low Light Color Mode
  • Compression Level differences
  • Bandwidth consumption
  • Panasonic's 4K WV-SFV781L delivered significantly better details in wide fields of view than Axis, Bosch, and Dahua 4K models tested, with above average low light performance, including an enhanced color night mode.

    However, it is relativetely expensive and quite large, closer to the price and size of PTZ speeddomes than fixed domes. Bandwidth is also a concern, as its consumption in many scenes was the highest of cameras tested, even when using higher quantization than average.

    Market Impact

    Of the (4) 4K cameras we have tested, this was the first to show major benefits of moving up to Ultra HD to cover larger areas. To that end, we believe this Panasonic model will become an attractive option for such applications.

    Note: next, we plan to test the Sony 4K camera as it starts to ship.

    Key Findings

    This chart sums up our key findings for each camera in this test:

    Details

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    • In well lit scenes, the WV-SFV781L captures more fine details than all other 4K models tested, such as facial features and small text. This was especially pronounced in wide fields of view (50'+).
    • Low light performance in narrow FOVs was excellent, best of cameras tested. However, at wider FOV widths, details are obscured by digital noise, making images moderately less usable than the Bosch 4K and 1080p Panasonic 631L.
    • Strong WDR performance against bright backlight, but poor performance in dark areas, with subjects very difficult to see.
    • Default compression settings ("Normal") resulted in quantization of ~37 average, significantly higher than average, though image quality impact was minimal, with quality similar to cameras using average ~28-29Q.
    • Bitrates in well lit scenes using default compression were 2-3x other 4K cameras, though Panasonic's images were more clear as noted above. Low light bitrates were similar to other models or slightly below.
    • Changing quantization from ~37 to 30 ("Normal" to "Fine" in the web interface) resulted in huge bitrate increases, 12-15x other models in well lit scenes due to more fine details being displayed (paint/carpet patterns, foliage, etc.).
    • Much larger housing than other fixed domes, nearly the size of typical speeddomes.

    Price

    The WV-SFV781L sells for ~$2,000 USD online, making it ~$500 more than the Bosch NBN-80122-F6A (fixed lens, indoor only) and about double the price of the Axis P1428-E (lacks IR illumination).

    Physical Overview

    The WV-SFV781L's most notable physical feature is its size, much closer to that of speeddomes than other fixed domes, illustrated here in this comparison to an Axis Q6045 PTZ:

    The camera also includes on-board controls for zoom and autofocus, as well as a test monitor output, which may speed installation. We review all these features in this video.

    4K and 12MP Modes

    In addition to 4K resolution, the SFV781 is capable of 15 frames at 12MP resolution (4000x3000). This provides essentially the same horizontal PPF, with nearly 50% increase in vertical field of view. The camera had no issues maintaining the specified 15 FPS at this resolution during our tests.

    12MP / 4K Image Examples

    Linked are examples of the Panasonic WV-SFV781L in both 4K and 12MP resolutions. The ~185 MB zip folder can be downloaded here.

    Daytime Image Quality

    The WV-SFV781L captured more fine details in wide FOVs than other cameras tested. This is most pronounced in this ~135' HOV (~100' from cameras), where the Panasonic 4K is able to produce stronger subject details and more legible lines of the test chart than other cameras, as well as easily capture our test license plate.

    At about 50' from the cameras, the FOV narrows to ~70'. The WV-SFV781L still produces the best details of cameras tested.

    Finally, in our narrow indoor FOV, all cameras produce identifying details and the test chart is easily legible, though the SFV781L produces moderately better details with more even exposure and better visibility.

    Low Light Performance

    The WV-SFV781L's IR range is specified for 30m/~98'. At this range, the test subject is detectable in our outdoor test scene, seen here:

    However, details at this range are weak (as in all cameras) due to high levels of digital noise, obscuring the subject.

    Closer to the camera (~25') using a narrower 25' HFOV, the 781 delivers the strongest details of our test chart and license plate, moderately better than the Dahua 4K and Panasonic 1080p IR models.

    Smart IR Performance

    As with other Panasonic models (see our test of the Panasonic 6 Series), the SFV781's IR was responsive to subjects entering the scene and approaching the camera, with power dimming to avoid overexposure. This is visible in the example below, as our subject walks from ~100' in.

    Super Chroma Compensation: Low Light Color Mode

    In addition to its built in IR, the 781 includes a night mode called "Super Chroma Compensation" which opens the mechanical cut filter while staying in color, adjusting white balance to compensate for the purplish shift created by IR light. 

    This results in vibrant nighttime color images, seen below at ~0.2 lux, with slightly better details than the daytime color mode (seen far right below). Note that the IR illuminator is not used in this mode.

    WDR Performance

    WDR performance was strong against bright backlight, but weak in dark areas, seen in this full FOV image:

    The WV-SFV781L was the strongest performer in the bright area of our WDR scene, with the best details of the subject and test chart. However, in dark areas of the scene, it performed worst, with the subject and chart barely visible.

    WDR, ABS, BLC

    In addition to its WDR mode, users may select Adaptive Black Stretch or Backlight Compensation. Panasonic describes Adaptive Black Stretch's function as: "enhances visibility of dark areas without degrading the image quality in bright areas."

    We found ABS' effects to be minimal, with no practical increase in visibility in the dark areas of our WDR scene. Turning BLC on resulted in our subject being almost completely washed out in the bright area of the scene, while he was much more visible in the dark area beside the door, seen here:

    Compression Differences

    The WV-SFV781L's default compression ("Normal", 5 on a scale of 0-9) produced an average quantization of ~37, very high for most cameras, which display significant macroblocking and reduced quality at these levels.

    However, the visible difference between ~37 and average quantization of ~30 in the 781 was minimal, with only slight reductions in very fine details, despite a nearly 6x increase in bitrate. Compare this to the Axis P1428-E, below right, which show a much more significant decrease in quality when increasing quantization to 37, with the subject's face looking slightly blurred.

    Bandwidth Comparison

    Because of this difference in image quality at differening quantization levels, we tested the WV-SFV781L at both their default "normal" quality level and standardized to 30.

    At both quantization levels, the WV-SFV781L was higher than other cameras tested in well lit scenes. However, in low light, bitrates were similar or slightly lower than other cameras tested when using Q30, and the 781 was lowest in the dark with IR on when using their default ~37 quantization.

    Methodology

    Cameras were tested using default settings unless otherwise noted. Shutter speed was set to 1/30s max in all models. Quantization was standardized to ~30 with an I-frame interval of 10 (1 per second).

    The following firmware/software versions were used in this test:

    • Axis P1428-E: 5.80.1
    • Bosch NBN-80122-F6A: 6.11.0006
    • Dahua IPC-HFW4800E: 2.400.Dahua 00.2.R
    • Panasonic WV-SFV631L: 1.85
    • Panasonic WV-SFV781L: 1.05
    • exacqVision: 7.0.3.82314

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