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

Arecont Vision MicroDome Duo Tested on Feb 14, 2017
Arecont Vision is back with another multi-head camera, this time thinking smaller with the MicroDome Duo, a two-imager model, with the tagline...
Hikvision PanoVu Multi Imager Tested on Feb 08, 2017
Hikvision has entered the multi-imager market with their 180° PanoVu DS-2CD6986F-H, an 8MP, 4-imager model equipped with ~1/1.8" imagers and...
Axis 15MP Multi-Imager Tested (Q3708-PVE) on Feb 07, 2017
Axis continues to expand in the multi imager market, adding to a segment started with the 33MP Q3709. We bought the Q3708-PVE and tested it...
LAST DAY - Camera Course Winter 2017 on Feb 02, 2017
[NOTE: Today, Thursday is the last day to register.] Learn video surveillance and get certified. IPVM provides live online classes, recorded...
Panasonic Extreme H.265 Cameras Tested on Jan 26, 2017
Panasonic has released their latest generation, the i-Pro Extreme series, with enhanced compression (smart H.265) enhanced WDR and secure...
WDR Shootout 2017: Low vs High Cost Cameras on Jan 24, 2017
Multi-exposure WDR was once only available in expensive cameras but in the past few years, this capability has become available even in sub $200...
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...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Simplisafe is 'Blowing The Doors Off' on Feb 17, 2017
The company alarm dealers love to hate, Simplisafe, is 'blowing the doors off' according to Michael Barnes, one of the top financial advisors in...
Hikvision OEM DDNS Devices To 'Lose Remote Access' on Feb 17, 2017
The fallout of Hikvision's DDNS discontinuation is expanding, this time hitting OEM partner Supercircuits, who reports that on June 30th: The...
Milestone: "Easy Money Days Are Over" on Feb 17, 2017
Contrary to IPVM's criticisms, Milestone has reaffirmed that glory days remain. But they admit that they 'easy money days are over': Are the...
Directory of Alarm Panel Manufacturers on Feb 16, 2017
Alarm panels are the central controller of intrusion systems. The following is a list of manufacturers of alarm panels. This directory only covers...
Panasonic Favorability Results on Feb 16, 2017
Panasonic is one of the largest brands in the world and a long term provider of both video surveillance imagers and cameras. But, like all...
China Huawei Gives France Free City Surveillance on Feb 16, 2017
China is using its financial resources again, this time in France, just a month after the Chinese government funded a $100 million security /...
Hikvision Silicon Valley and Canada R&D Expansion on Feb 15, 2017
After massive growth in their sales team, Hikvision is now planning to add two new R&D centers in North America. In this report we examine...
Directory Of Wholesale Central Station Monitoring Providers on Feb 15, 2017
Wholesale central stations help smaller and local dealers providing monitoring to their customers. Dozens of options exist.  Below is the first...
Bosch/Genetec Video Cybersecurity Partnership Examined (CHAVE) on Feb 15, 2017
Surveillance products have been relatively weak when it comes to cyber security. Default passwords, open ports, and weak authentication mechanisms...
Security Alarm Industry Trends - Barnes on Feb 14, 2017
This is a review of key security alarm industry trends, taken from Michael Barnes' presentation at the 2017 Barnes Buchanan conference. Key trends...

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