Problems with CCTV Footage of LA Arsonist

By: John Honovich, Published on Jan 04, 2012

Here's an interesting example of problems with real world surveillance footage. Recently, Los Angeles was hit by an arsonist who lit dozens of cars on fire around the city. Needless to say, this created a panic around the area as people feared their neighborhoods and or cars would be victimized. At one point, the police found a suspect on surveillance video but the image was nowhere near good enough to conclusively identify the person of interest.

Let's take a look at what the problems were and how one could improve upon the situation. Let's start with an overview of the scene and the suspect in the middle of the image (black jacket, hands in pockets):

A fundamental element of all surveillance video is the Horizontal Field of View. Looking at the man and assuming he is ~2 feet wide at the shoulders, the Horizontal FoV at the point is between 20 - 25 feet. In our experience, this is a fairly average width. The marked up image below illustrates this:

When assessing image quality and a camera's Field of View, pixels per foot is an often used metric. Assuming this is an analog camera recording at VGA (640 x 480), the ppf at that point in the scene is about 25-32 pixels per foot (i.e., 640 pixels / 20 feet - 640 pixels / 25 feet). That's a modest level all things considered that 'theoretically' should give some facial details. [For background on pixels per foot, review our PPF test report and specifying video quality / PPF guide.]

This noted, the video quality is obviously 'bad' and it's not feasible to make out any facial details. However, this is not a case of the light levels being too low. We regularly measure lux levels in similar public places at night and typically find such areas to have 3 - 5 lux - more than enough to capture a reasonably quality image.

In the image below, we marked up our estimates of the light levels in the scene:

The first big problem we see in the image is the wide variance in lighting between the right center of the image with the streetlight glare and the darker left side. This 7x variance in lighting is a big problem. While most think of WDR as a daytime issue - bright sun through windows or doors, one can have severe WDR problems at night. Indeed, as we examined in our headlights harmful test results, headlights at night are a great example of this problem.

Look at the zoomed in image below and you can see that the subject's face is completely washed out. You only see this with a WDR problem, not simply if the FoV was too wide:

Compounding the glare/WDR issue is the downtilt of the camera. Take a look below at the last image of the suspect at the bottom of the screen in the narrowest FoV. The facial image is still almost completely washed out plus you can see how sharp a downtilt the camera has towards the subject.

This camera is likely mounted 15 to 20 feet from ground level. This is a secondary problem to WDR/glare but it further reduces the ability to capture a clear image.

Steps for Improvement

With these issues in mind, we recommend the following improvements:

  • Higher resolution: With this current FoV, a 720p or 1080p camera would provide a notable and useful increase in pixel density.
  • Day/Night camera: Given the ambient light levels, a super low light camera is not needed. As long as the camera has a mechanical cut filter (i.e. a true D/N camera), this should be sufficient.
  • Superior WDR: Given the glare from the streetlamp and the variances in lighting in the scene, a true WDR camera should be used (see our MP WDR shootout results).
  • Camera Mounting: To get the most direct angle to subject's faces, the camera should be mounted between lower (even 10-12 feet would provide a notable improvement).
Comments : PRO Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Camera Course Summer 2019 - Register Now on Jun 12, 2019
Register for the Summer 2019 Camera Course.  This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth product and technology...
Avigilon 32MP and 12MP H4 Multisensor Cameras Tested on Jun 11, 2019
Avigilon has released their H4 Multi-Sensor line of cameras claiming "broad scene coverage and high image detail" We bought and tested the...
Vivotek 20MP Multi-Imager Tested on May 30, 2019
Vivotek has released their latest repositionable multi-imager camera, the MA9321-EHTV, a 20 MP model claiming "Supreme Night Visibility", "Optimal...
Verkada Video Quality Problems Tested on May 23, 2019
Verkada suffers from numerous video quality problems, not found in commercial IP cameras, new IPVM testing of Verkada vs Axis and Hikvision...
Axis ~$150 Outdoor Camera Tested on May 21, 2019
Axis has released the latest in their Companion camera line, the outdoor Companion Dome Mini LE, a 1080p integrated IR model aiming to compete with...
Panasonic 32MP Multi Imager Camera Tested (WV-X8570N) on May 16, 2019
Panasonic has released their first multi imager models including the 32MP (4x4K) WV-X8570N, claiming "Extreme image quality for evidence capturing...
Bank Security Manager Interview on May 15, 2019
Bank security contends with many significant threats - from fraudsters to robbers and more. In this interview, IPVM spoke with bank security...
Hikvision DeepinView Camera Analytics Tested on May 08, 2019
Hikvision is expanding its 'deep learning' offerings with a new camera series called 'DeepinView' claiming false alarm reduction and improved...
Verkada Cloud VMS/Cameras Tested on May 02, 2019
Verkada is arguably the most ambitious video surveillance startup in many years. The company is developing their own cameras, their own VMS, their...
The HIVIDEO $31 Face Detection DVR Tested on Apr 25, 2019
Face detection in a $31 DVR? That is what "HIVIDEO" (not to be confused with Hikvision, even if the company intends to do that) was promoting at...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Sighthound Transforms Into Enterprise AI Provider on Jun 14, 2019
Sighthound is now rapidly expanding its R&D team, building an enterprise AI service. This may come as a surprise given their origins 6 years...
ADT Eliminating Acquired Brands, Unifying Under 'Commercial' Brand on Jun 14, 2019
ADT is eliminating the brands of the many integrators it has acquired over the past few years, including Red Hawk, Aronson Security Group (ASG),...
NSA Director Keynoting Dahua and Hikvision Sponsored Cybersecurity Conference on Jun 13, 2019
The technical director for the NSA’s Cybersecurity Threat Operations Center will be keynoting a physical security cybersecurity conference that is...
Farpointe Data Conekt Mobile Access Reader Tested on Jun 13, 2019
California based Farpointe Data has been a significant OEM supplier of conventional access readers for years to companies including DMP, RS2, DSX,...
Embattled $400 Million China Funded Philippines Surveillance System Proceeds on Jun 13, 2019
An embattled 12,000 camera surveillance system project that will cost ~$400 million will proceed.  The project contract was awarded, had its...
False Verkada 'Unrivaled' Low Light Performance Claim Removed on Jun 12, 2019
Verkada falsely claimed that it delivered 'UNRIVALED LOW LIGHT PERFORMANCE' until IPVM questioned. In fact, Verkada's low light performance is...
Manufacturer Favorability Guide 2019 on Jun 12, 2019
The 259 page PDF guide may be downloaded inside by all IPVM members. It includes our manufacturer favorability rankings and individual...
Camera Course Summer 2019 - Register Now on Jun 12, 2019
Register for the Summer 2019 Camera Course.  This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth product and technology...
Favorite Wireless Manufacturers 2019 on Jun 12, 2019
Many wireless options exist for video surveillance but how are integrator's overall favorites? 170 integrators answered the question: What is...
Carnegie Mellon AI Startup Zensors Profile on Jun 11, 2019
Zensors is a startup formed by Carnegie Mellon graduates from a Carnegie Mellon research project, offering customized models per camera that they...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact