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

Axis Door Station Tested (A8105-E) on Jul 19, 2017
Axis continues their push into niche markets, especially audio, with network speakers, an IP horn, and video door stations. We bought and tested...
Uniview Low-Cost Bullet PTZ Tested on Jun 21, 2017
Uniview is offering a HD zoom bullet camera, the IPC742SR9-PZ30-32G, with an integrated pan / tilt positioner, for the price of a low-cost...
Bluebeam Revu Security Floorplan Estimation App Test on Jun 15, 2017
Bluebeam Revu is a construction design markup tool that claims it is "used by 94% of top US contractors", but what role does it have for physical...
Avigilon Announces New Lowest Cost Camera (Mini Domes) on Jun 06, 2017
Avigilon's first Micro Dome (see IPVM's test) is now 4 years old. Since that time, low-cost fixed focal Chinese manufacturer dome usage has...
Samsung SmartCam A1 Totally Wireless System on Jun 06, 2017
Hanwha is keeping the Samsung brand alive in consumer cameras with the SmartCam A1, a new offering combining an autotracking 1080p camera with base...
IP Camera - 15 Year Shootout on May 22, 2017
How far have IP cameras come? We bought and tested 4 cameras across the past 15 years to understand how much and where performance has...
48MP 180 Camera (Digital Watchdog) Test on May 10, 2017
Camera resolution continues to advance, with Digital Watchdog offering the MegaPIX PANO 48MP 180° camera, the highest resolution mainstream camera...
Hanwha 9MP Fisheye Camera Tested (PNF-9010R) on May 09, 2017
12MP sensor fisheye panoramic cameras are becoming increasingly common. We have tested Hikvision's DS-2CD63C2F as well as Panasonic's SFV481 4K...
Axis Lowest Cost Outdoor IR Camera M2025-LE Tested on Apr 24, 2017
Axis has lagged offering low cost IR cameras while their Asian competitors have made IR standard even in their most entry level cameras. Recently,...
Hanwha Lowest Cost WiseNet X Camera (XND-6010) Tested on Apr 13, 2017
IPVM bought and tested the lowest-cost WiseNet X model, the indoor 2MP fixed focal XND-6010 dome, continuing our testing of Hanwha's new WiseNet X...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Competing Against ADT on Jul 20, 2017
ADT is one of the biggest players in the security industry, with ~$4 billion revenue. In 2017, they were acquired / merged with Protection...
Hikvision Launching Deep Learning Recorders on Jul 20, 2017
Hikvision has become a common choice for super low cost NVRs. Now, Hikvision is aiming to move up market, with deep learning NVRs that claim far...
PR Campaign Exploiting Manufacturer Cybersecurity on Jul 20, 2017
Manufacturers increasingly have a bulls-eye on their back. As cyber security solutions providers grow, they realize a great way to get publicity...
Axis Door Station Tested (A8105-E) on Jul 19, 2017
Axis continues their push into niche markets, especially audio, with network speakers, an IP horn, and video door stations. We bought and tested...
Manufacturer Favorability Guide on Jul 19, 2017
This 120 page PDF guide may be downloaded inside by all IPVM members. It covers our 20 manufacturer favorability rankings and 20 manufacturer...
$8 Billion Utility Georgia Power Enters Surveillance Business Offering Avigilon And Genetec on Jul 19, 2017
Utilities are typically considered major customers of surveillance integrators but one utility, Georgia Power, with $8+ billion in annual revenue...
Knightscope Laughs off Robot Drowning on Jul 18, 2017
A day after a Knightscope robot drowned, Knightscope has issued an 'official statement' making fun of the issue: The implied message is that...
Microsoft Video AI Cloud Services Examined on Jul 18, 2017
Microsoft has released one of the most amazing video analytics marketing videos ever. In it, they detect oil spills, track individual people giving...
Hikvision USA Head of Cybersecurity Exits on Jul 18, 2017
Hikvision USA's Head of Cybersecurity has exited the company. In this note, we review the move, share Hikvision's feedback and examine the...
'Suicidal' Knightscope Robot Drowns on Jul 17, 2017
Knightscope continues its hyper growth, at least when it comes to controversy, this time with a 'suicidal' robot in Washington DC. And here is...

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