Parking Lot Shootout

Author: Antony Look, Published on Apr 24, 2011

Parking lots are one of the most important areas for using surveillance cameras. Thefts, assaults, vandalism, loitering and accidents are among the many common incidents that cameras can help solve or stop.

However, parking lots are particularly challenging to deploy. Cameras need to cover large areas over a variety of lighting conditions and are often costly to integrate.

In the last few years, parking lot surveillance options have increased with the proliferation of multi-megapixel cameras. However, what benefits do they provide and what can users realistically expect?

In this report, we share our extensive findings from a real world parking lot test. We went out to a public parking lot with a kit of 6 IP cameras (including SD, 720p, 2MP, 5MP from Axis, Bosch, IQinVision and Sony) to better understand the tradeoffs for ourselves. As the image of the location below demonstrates, we chose a moderately wide area to simulate common use:

We placed our camera kit underneath a light pole, as is typical in installations, and conducted a series of tests, from more than 200 feet away to right in front of the camera. The overhead image and map below show this:

Then we analyzed a series of scenes to see how performance varied across the cameras. The sample image below shows how we digitally zoomed each camera to the same level to see the differences. In the image below, the bottom row shows an overview with a red box over the area that is being analyzed / zoomed:

We then conducted our analysis across a dozen different scenes. They are:

  • Midday Even Lighting (Far Subject)
  • Midday Even Lighting (Near Subject)
  • Twilight Harsh Lighting (Far Subject)
  • Twilight Harsh Lighting (Near Subject)
  • Twilight Overcast (Far Subject)
  • Twilight Overcast (Near Subject)
  • Nighttime (Far Subject)
  • Nighttime (Near Subject)
  • Midday Even Lighting (Far Vehicle Profile)
  • Midday Even Lighting (Far Vehicle Profile)
  • Nighttime License Plate Capture (Tail Lights On)
  • Nighttime License Plate Capture (Tail Lights Off)

For each scenario, inside the Pro section, we share a full video export and a screenshot comparison along with our analysis and ranking of the camera's relative performance.

Using These Results

The primary intent of these results is for integrators and users to see how surveillance video will look in real world scenarios that they commonly use. For instance, if you want to cover a parking lot with a fixed camera, this report will show you wide and far you can realistically capture a face or a license plate.

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To help you see the tradeoffs, we have picked different categories of cameras (by levels of resolution and day/night support) so you can anticipate the value of choosing one product tier vs another (e.g., color vs day/night or 720p vs 5MP, etc.). Since substantial price differences exist between each category, this can help you determine whether or not a premium tier is 'worth it' in this specific application.

While we disclose the models and manufacturers use, it is not our intent to show that one manufacturer is better than another. Indeed, we have a strict policy forbidding manufacturers to use our results as a testimonial or endorsement for their products. Products are choosen to be representatives of categories (e.g. 2MP color only or 5MP D/N). The model numbers (and settings used) are disclosed so readers can check for themselves and better understand any issues or tradeoffs in how we conducted our tests.

We strongly encourage you to use these results to set appropriate expectations for surveillance in a given real world scenario and to understand the tradeoffs of different types of cameras.

[ADDENDUM: Bosch 720p results were removed from the test findings. A VMS integration problem caused an imaging problem.]

Key Findings

First, and most importantly, we recommend you look at the screenshots and watch the video exports. You really need to see for yourself to appreciate the performance delivered.

That noted, a few observations are worth calling out:

  • The practical benefits of megapixel were more significant closer to the camera (making out details of faces, license plates and cars). While the megapixel cameras generally provided a better image at further distances, the pratical benefits were minimal as the objects captured were 'blob' like, lacking in detail.
  • Glare and low light (even with street lighting) significantly reduced and, in some cases, eliminated the quality benefits of megapixel over SD.
  • The Sony performed strongest in high lighting variance scenes (glare and shadow) but relatively poorly in even lighting scenes. Our theory is that Sony's superior WDR capabilities moderately reduces its ability to provide details in 'ideal' scenes.
  • The 2MP color camera from IQinVision repeatedly provided the most details during the day and the least during the night.
  • Capturing license plates on cars with their lights on was very difficult with default settings (regardless of the resolution).

In the video below, we discuss and show our key findings:

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Midday Even Lighting (Far Subject)

In this scenario, cameras are digitally zoomed into subjects ~210ft out where the horizontal FoV (HFoV) is ~196ft. Two human subjects and one vehicle are the focus of the analysis. Note that lighting is even and not particularly challenging.

Below is the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

The 2MP color-only (IQ042S) provides the highest level of detail at this range and lighting conditions. The 5MP shows slightly less detail and is also a bit under-exposed. At this wide HFoV (~196ft) the 2MP yields ~8 pixels/ft for the subjects within this scene while the 5MP (Axis P1347) yields roughly 13 pixels/ft, yet a slight edge still goes to the 2MP (IQ042S) in this scenario. In the SD (Bosch NBN-498) the human subject changing clothes by the SUV is barely distinguishable from the SUV itself.

  • Superior - 2MP color-only (IQ042S); 5MP D/N (Axis P1347)
  • Average - 720p D/N (Axis P1344); 720p D/N (Sony CH140)
  • Inferior - SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)

Midday Even Lighting (Near Subject)

In this scenario cameras are digitally zoomed onto a human subject roughly 35ft out where the HFoV is ~33ft. The lighting is even, and not particularly challenging.

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

The 2MP color-only (IQ042SI) provides the greatest level of detail on our human subject. The picture is noticeably crisp and the identity of the subject can be determined with high certainty. The 5MP D/N, offers the next best level of subject details, but is slightly under-exposed and has diminished contrast in the subject's facial details. The 720p D/N (Sony CH140) and 720p D/N (Axis P1344) are similar to each other given that they both provide a fair degree of facial details. In the SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498) subject details are not very strong and the subject looks blurry.

  • Superior - 2MP color-only (IQ042S); 5MP D/N (Axis P1347)
  • Average - 720p D/N (Sony CH140); 720p D/N (Axis P1344)
  • Inferior - SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)

Twilight Harsh Sunlight (Far Subject)

In this scene, cameras are digitally zoomed into a human subject ~130ft out, with a HFoV of ~121ft. Direct sunlight (~40K lux) into the cameras pose a considerable lighting challenge.

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

In the 2MP color-only snapshot the human subject is easily distinguished amongst the surrounding vehicles. In stark contrast, the SD D/N and the 720p D/N (Axis P1344) are so limited in details that the human subject is not even detectable in their snapshots. The other 720p D/N (Sony CH140) and the 5MP D/N offer less details compared to the 2MP color-only camera, however, an ability to detect the human subject amongst the vehicles is possible. Note that the 5MP D/N struggles to produce contrast and is quite under-exposed.

  • Superior - 2MP color-only (IQ042S)
  • Average - 5MP D/N (Axis P1347); 720p D/N (Sony CH140)
  • Inferior - SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498); 720p D/N (Axis P1344)

Twilight Harsh Sunlight (Near Subject)

In this scene, cameras are digitally zoomed into a human subject ~30ft out, with a HFoV of ~28ft. Direct sunlight into the cameras poses a substantial lighting challenge.

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

The 2MP color-only (IQ042SI) clearly shows the greatest level of details on the human subject. In this snapshot the identity of the individual can be arrived at with high certainty. The 5MP D/N, despite having roughly 2X the number of pixels/ft. at its disposal provides considerably less details on the subject than the 2MP color-only. Indeed, the 5MP seems to struggle with contrast and exposure levels in this harsh lighting environment.

  • Superior - 2MP color-only (IQ042SI)
  • Average - 720p D/N (Sony CH140)
  • Inferior - 5MP D/N (Axis P1347); 720p D/N (Axis P1344); SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)

Twilight Overcast (Far Subject)

In this scene, cameras are digitally zoomed into a human subject ~130ft out, with a HFoV of ~121ft. The cloud cover (overcast) softens the harshness of the sunlight and dims the ambient lighting level to a degree.

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

In comparison to the harshly lit scene earlier, this overcast scene produces a 'friendlier' lighting environment. As a result, many of the negative lighting effects have diminished or have been eliminated throughout the composite, and now the human subject is detectable in all cameras. The 2MP color-only provides the most details. The 720p D/N (Axis P1344) exhibits some color distortion or oversaturation in the picture. The 5MP produces a fairly crisp image, but shows lesser contrast and is somewhat under-exposed as well.

  • Superior - 2MP color-only (IQ042SI)
  • Average - 720p D/N (Sony CH140); 5MP D/N (Axis P1347)
  • Inferior - SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)

Twilight Overcast (Near Subject)

In this scene, cameras are digitally zoomed into a human subject ~30ft out, with a corresponding HFoV of ~28ft. Cloud cover softens the harshness of the otherwise direct sunlight into the cameras.

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

In contrast to the harsh sunlight test (near subject), this overcast scenario produces cleaner images overall. The 2MP color-only (IQ042SI) produces the most detailed image with hardly any noticeable artifacts. Suprisingly, the 5MP D/N (Axis P1347) slightly underperforms some 720p D/Ns despite offering nearly twice the number of pixels/ft. (91 pixels/ft to 46 pixels/ft).

  • Superior - 2MP color-only (IQ042SI)
  • Average - 720p D/Ns (Axis P1344, Sony CH140)
  • Inferior - SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)

Nighttime (Far Subject)

In this scene, cameras are zoomed into a human subject ~200ft out, with a HFoV of ~187ft. In this nighttime shot, roughly 5 lux of illumination is provided by artificial lighting in the parking lot. Note that the 2MP (IQ042SI) camera is color-only so no switching to BW is possible.

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

The 2MP color-only (IQ042SI) stands apart with its inability to produce any kind of useful video here. Interestingly, the rest of the field are hardly distinguishable from each other despite their differing specifications. Perhaps, it can be argued that the 5MP D/N (Axis P1347) exhibits the least noise in this particular 'shot', but overall there are no 'real' benefits. Also, the SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498) clearly exhibits the least amount of detail, but is really no less effective in practical terms to the other higher resolution cameras.

  • Superior - None
  • Average - 5MP D/N (Axis P1347); 720p D/Ns (Axis P1344, Sony CH140)
  • Inferior - 2MP color-only (IQ042SI); SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)

Nighttime (Near Subject)

In this scene, cameras are digitally zoomed into a human subject ~30ft out, with a HFoV of ~28ft. In this nighttime scene ~10 lux of illumination is provided by the surrounding artificial lights. Note that the 2MP (IQ042SI) camera is color-only so no switching to BW is possible.

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

The 720p D/N (Axis P1344) provides the best level of detail in this scene. It is clearly sharper than any other snapshot as evidenced by the texture of the subject's clothing being brought out. Surprisingly, at this narrow HFoV the 5MP D/N (Axis P1347) performs inferiorly compared to the other lower resolution D/Ns, despite having ~91 pixels/ft. at its disposal. Moreover, the SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498) with only ~26 pixels/ft appears better than the 5MP D/N.

  • Superior - 720p D/N (Axis P1344)
  • Average - 720p D/N (Sony CH140); SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)
  • Inferior - 2MP color-only (IQ042SI); 5MP D/N (Axis P1347)

Midday Even Lighting (Far Vehicle Profile)

In this scene, cameras are digitally zoomed into a vehicle subject ~90ft out, with a HFoV of ~84ft. Lighting conditions are even and present no 'real' challenges. The focus of the analysis is on the vehicle and its interior (e.g., driver and passenger details).

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

Snapshots of the 2MP color-only (IQ042SI) and 720p D/N (Axis P1344) reveal the greatest detail of the car's driver and interior. Note also that these two cameras provided the truest color rendition (gold rather than silver). Remarkably, the two cameras allow us to see through (both rear passenger and driver side windows) to the other side of the vehicle's exterior. The 5MP D/N (Axis P1347) also performs moderately strong, as we can peer through both windows to the other side, but a lack of contours on the driver's head and a less than true color representation make it slightly less competitive against the two front-runners.

  • Superior - 2MP color-only (IQ042SI); 720p D/N (Axis P1344)
  • Average - 5MP D/N (Axis P1347)
  • Inferior - SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)

Midday Even Lighting (Near Vehicle Profile)

In this scene, cameras are digitally zoomed into a vehicle subject ~35ft out, with a HFoV of ~33ft. Lighting conditions are even and present no 'real' challenges. The focus of the analysis is on the vehicle and its interior (e.g., driver and passenger details).

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

The 2MP color-only (IQ042SI) provides the highest level of details of the vehicle's driver and interior. The darker interior of the vehicle is sufficiently illuminated to determine with a high level of certainty the number of passengers present (or not present). While the 5MP D/N (Axis P1347), 720p D/N (Sony CH140) and 720p D/N (Axis P1344) provide a fair amount of details of the driver and interior, as well, overall performance is not as strong as the 2MP color-only camera. For instance, the 5MP D/N (Axis P1347) is a bit under-exposed in the interior regions of the vehicle.

  • Superior - 2MP color-only (IQ042SI)
  • Average - 5MP D/N (Axis P1347); 720p D/N (Axis P1344)
  • Inferior - SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)

Nighttime License Plate (Tail Lights On)

In this scene, cameras are digitally zoomed into a vehicle's license plate ~42ft out, with a corresponding HFoV of ~39ft. The focus of this analysis is on the ability to read license plates while the tail-lights are on.

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

Overall, severe blooming from the tail-lights is observed in all the camera's except for the 720p D/N (Sony CH140) and 2MP color-only (IQ042SI). The 5MP D/N (Axis P1347) exhibits particularly extreme levels of blooming, where the presence of a vehicle is hardly detectable. The two cameras that exhibit better control of the blooming effect, however, are still unable to provide enough details on the license plate for capture.

  • Superior - None
  • Average - 720p D/N (Sony CH140); 2MP color-only (IQ042SI)
  • Inferior - 5MP D/N (Axis P1347); 720p D/N (Axis P1344); SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)

Nighttime License Plate (Tail Lights Off)

In this scene, cameras are digitally zoomed into a vehicle's license plate ~42ft out, with a corresponding HFoV of ~39ft. The focus of this analysis is on the ability to read license plates while the tail-lights are off. Note that lighting fixtures provide roughly 5 lux of illumination.

Here are the snapshots from the cameras (download the full video clip):

The 5MP D/N (Axis P1347) is clearly providing the best level of detail of the license plate, while the 720p D/N (Sony CH140) is next best in terms of details. However, in both cameras the plates cannot be ascertained with absolute certainty, but a fairly good 'guess' can be made, especially in the 5MP D/N (Axis P1347). In contrast, the remaining four cameras do not allow a reasonable 'guess' as to the license plate's characters.

  • Superior - 5MP D/N (Axis P1347); 720p D/N (Sony CH140)
  • Average - 720p D/N (Axis P1344); SD D/N (Bosch NBN-498)
  • Inferior - 2MP color-only (IQ042SI)

Methodology

The following are the six (6) cameras used in the 'Parking Lot Shootout':

  • Axis P1347 (online $1350) - 5MP D/N; 1/2.5" CMOS; F1.6 Kowa;0.08 Lux (B/W)
  • Axis P1344 (online $759) - 720p D/N; 1/4" CMOS; F1.2 Computar ; 0.05 Lux (B/W)
  • Bosch NBN-921 (online $775) - 720p D/N; 1/3" CCD; F1.3 Bosch; 0.4 Lux (B/W) [Removed from Final Results]
  • Bosch NBN-498 (online $700) - SD D/N; 1/3" CCD; F1.3 Bosch; 0.06 Lux (B/W)
  • IQinVision IQ042SI (online $400) - 2MP Color-only; 1/3" CMOS; F1.6 IQinVision ;0.2 Lux (Color)
  • Sony CH140 (online $800) - 720p D/N; 1/3" CMOS; F1.2 Fujinon; 0.1 Lux (B/W)

Each of the six cameras were simultaneously recorded to an Exacqvision VMS during four (4) key lighting scenarios. All cameras are set to their defaults during test scenarios.

Here are the key default settings for each camera:

  • Bosch NBN-921 - 1/60s shutter; SensUp 4x; AGC on '15'
  • Bosch NBN-498 - 1/60s shutter; SensUp 4x; AGC on '15'
  • Sony CH140 - 1/30s shutter; View-DR/VE On; AGC 'Middle'
  • IQinVision IQ042SI -1/30 shutter; Color-only
  • Axis P1347 - Exposure Value '50'; Exposure Control 'Automatic'
  • Axis P1344 - Exposure Value '50'; Exposure Control 'Automatic'

Here are the Four (4) key lighting scenarios we examined:

  • Midday Even Lighting - Even sunlight; ~10k to ~20k lux
  • Twilight Harsh Lighting - 30k - 40k lux directly into cameras
  • Twilight Overcast - Cloud cover reduces and evens out sunlight intensity
  • Nighttime - Artifical lighting varies from ~0.5 lux to ~10 lux

Throughout each lighting scenario, both a vehicle (Hyundai Sonata - Gold) and human subject move throughout the scene in a choreographed and pre-determined pattern. The human subject starts from a position far from the cameras (~210ft) and progresses in a mostly straight line towards the cameras (to within ~30ft). The vehicle begins a pattern relatively far from the cameras (~90ft) and drives in a loop throughout the parking lot towards the cameras. The vehicle then parks in a stall with the rear of the vehicle directly facing the cameras (~42ft). Another vehicle (Honda Fit - Silver) that remains stationary throughout the filming is parked two stalls over from the 'driven' vehicle (~50ft).

1 report cite this report:

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