Problems with CCTV Footage of LA Arsonist

Author: 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 Winter 2017 on Jan 05, 2017
Learn video surveillance and get certified. IPVM provides live online classes, recorded videos, personal help, cutting edge education and...
Avigilon Pro 4K Camera Tested on Jan 03, 2017
Avigilon is best known for their large sensor, high megapixel cameras. But with new offerings from Sony and soon Axis, the questions is how well...
Surveillance Cameras 2017 Review on Jan 02, 2017
This report concisely explains the developments and most common options for surveillance cameras offered in 2017, including resolution, H.265, HD...
Calculating Video Surveillance Storage / Bandwidth on Dec 29, 2016
Calculating surveillance bandwidth is complex, and inexperienced users can easily underestimate bandwidth, leading to reduced storage durations...
The PPF / PPM Video Surveillance Guide on Dec 23, 2016
Pixels per foot / Pixels per meter is the most fundamental and valuable, though imperfect, metric for specifying video surveillance image...
WDR Tutorial 2017 on Dec 20, 2016
Understanding wide dynamic range (WDR) is critical to capturing high quality images in demanding conditions. However, with no real standards, any...
HD Analog vs IP Guide 2017 on Dec 19, 2016
For years, HD resolution was IP camera's greatest advantage. However, starting in 2013, analog cameras with HD resolution started shipping and,...
Video Surveillance Bandwidth Guide 2017 on Dec 16, 2016
Bandwidth is one of the most fundamental, complex and overlooked aspects of video surveillance. Many simply assume it is a linear function of...
Resolution Tutorial on Dec 16, 2016
Understanding video surveillance resolution can be surprisingly difficult and complex. While the word 'resolution' seems self-explanatory, its use...
Hanwha Wisenet P 4K Bullet Tested on Nov 21, 2016
Hanwha Techwin (formerly Samsung) continues their push into H.265 cameras, now with the high-end P series, including 4K resolution and smart...

Most Recent Industry Reports

2Gig Expands Into Commercial Intrusion With Vario on Jan 23, 2017
2GIG, an alarm product manufacturer best known for their wireless products, has introduced a new line of wired panels aimed at the commercial...
Integrator Service Vehicle Guide on Jan 23, 2017
Few assets are as commonly used by integrators and installers as their service vehicles. 125 integrators explained to IPVM in detail about their...
Goodbye Samsung, Hello Wisenet X on Jan 23, 2017
Samsung is gone but Hanwha is back. Their latest generation Wisenet X, touts a slew of new high end features including H.265, WiseStream II,...
Vivotek Favorability Results on Jan 20, 2017
Financially, Vivotek is doing relatively well. The company did ~$130 million in 2015 revenue and 2016 revenue (through Q3 reported) was up more...
PR Firm Pleads Don't Scrap PR Spending on Jan 20, 2017
PR is not dying, warns pleads PR firm. Take 40+ year old industry PR firm LRG, who recently lamented the 'misconceptions' that: Traditional PR...
Getting Started With Your IPVM Membership on Jan 20, 2017
Here's how to get started and get the most out of your IPVM membership. Books for Members All members can download the 3 member-only books below...
Jim Cramer Sucks Up To Knightscope on Jan 19, 2017
Credit must be given to Knightscope. They are raising money right now and despite their $80 million pre-money valuation against a lowly sub $1...
ADT Launches Canopy - Professional Monitoring For DIY Devices on Jan 19, 2017
The intrusion industry has criticized DIY security systems for years, claiming systems like Canary or Scout cannot match professionally installed...
Dahua UnFavorability Results on Jan 19, 2017
Dahua, the mega-Chinese surveillance manufacturer not primarily owned by the Chinese government has been trying to break out of the shadow of...
Paxton Hosted Access - Disruptive Low Dealer Pricing on Jan 19, 2017
Paxton is entering the hosted access game, with BLU, at a cost that is a fraction of key competitors. The different approach could be very...

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