10MP vs 5MP vs HD Shootout

By: Ethan Ace, Published on Nov 20, 2013

HD cameras are commonplace. Everyone offers 1080p. The big question now is how much better is 5MP or 10MP? Is a 10MP camera 5 times better than 1080p as pixel count proponents claim?

In this report, we share test results of a head to head shootout between 1080p, 5MP and 10MP cameras. For this test, we bought 3 compact box cameras from Arecont (3MP AV3116, 5MP AV5115, and 10MP AV10115), known for both their unrealistic claims and high resolution offerings. This allowed us to eliminate any variances across manufacturers and focus simply on the advantages and disadvantages of varying resolution

Key Questions Answered

Our tests answered the following key questions:

  • How much more details did the higher resolution cameras deliver at 20', 50', 100' wide FoVs?
  • Which camera was the best in low light and by how much?
  • Which camera was the best in strong backlight scenes - the WDR HD camera or the higher resolution 5MP or 10MP ones?
  • Here are our key findings from this test:

    For Full Light

    • In full light with relatively small fields of view (~20' and under), 5 and 10 MP cameras delivered no practical gain in details of our test chart and subject compared to the 1080p..
    • Increasing horizontal FOV to ~50', the 1080p camera loses many details of both subject and chart while the 5 and 10 MP cameras provide recognizable subject details and chart legibility.
    • Widening the FOV to ~100', both the 5 and 10 MP cameras provide similar details of the subject, while he was essentially a blur in the 1080p image. Only 10MP provides any legibility of the test chart, down to line 2.

    For Lower Light / Parking Lot (3-8lx)

    • In lower light, varying between 3-8 lux, at a 20' HFOV the 5MP camera provided the best tradeoff between low light performance and resolution, delivering more and clearer details than both the 1080p and 10MP models.
    • At 50' horizontal FOV in lower light, neither 5 or 10 MP cameras produced any images of our test subject, but the more reflective chart was still visible (though only the first line) in the 5MP camera. The 1080p camera provided basic details of the subject, but the chart was barely legible.
    • In lower light at ~100' FOV, the 1080p camera was able to provide detection of our subject, but not details. Neither the 5 nor 10 MP cameras produced any usable video at this range.
    • By contrast, a third party 'super low' light 720p camera, delivered far brighter images across all test spots as well as detail in the narrow FoV.

    For Low Light (1lx and below)

    • In truly dark scenes, the 1080p, 5MP, and 10MP cameras did not provide usable details of subject or chart at any range. The 1080p camera was able to minimally detect the chart, but not the subject.
    • The third party super low light 720p camera at this range delivered brighter images, though without identifying details due to extremely low light levels.

    WDR

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    • The 1080p true WDR camera handled WDR scenes best in both light and dark areas. The only exception was the 10MP's ability to read lower lines in the test chart but only the light area.
    • The 10MP camera handled the brightly backlit area of our WDR scene well, far better than its 5MP counterpart. However, in the dark area next to the overhead door, neither camera provided details of the subject.

    Recommendations

    In most cases, especially where low light or WDR performance are a concern, 1080p is still a better choice than higher resolutions. 5 and 10 MP cameras, while delivering higher pixels per foot, suffer from poorer performance in these scenes.

    In evenly lit scenes, such as well lit interior areas or lit parking lots, 5 and 10 MP resolution offers advantages across wide fields of view (20'+). At these ranges, 1080p is much less likely to deliver necessary details.

    In WDR scenes, true WDR cameras should be used. While the 10MP model in this test performed better than its 5MP counterpart, both were outperformed by the true multi-exposure 1080p model. However, since true WDR is generally not available in cameras above 3MP, in large areas such as multi-door loading docks, 10MP may be beneficial due to its better WDR performance. 

    FOV Comparisons

    We made the following comparisons outdoors on an overcast day, at three light levels. Users can download a 13MB zip file of these scenes. 

    Full Light, ~380-500 lux

    At a horizontal field of view of ~20', the 5 and 10 MP cameras do not deliver more practical details than the 1080p camera. Our subject is recognizable in all three, with the chart legible to line 5/6 in even the 1080p camera.

    At a 50' HVOF, however, differences become apparent. The 5 and 10 MP cameras provide much more detailed of our subject, with the chart remaining legible than using 1080p.

    Finally, widening the field of view to 100', 10MP offers the best performance, with better details of our subject, and the first and second lines of the chart discernable.

    Lower Light

    In this scene, outdoor lighting produced between 3-8 lux, depending on distance. At a 20' horizontal FOV, the 5MP edges out the 1080p camera in details of the subject and chart. The WDR 1080p camera produced some noise and artifacting at this light level, obscuring some details. The 10MP model clearly shows the test chart, but no details of the subject. All are outperformed by a 720p low light optimized camera, shown for reference.

    At a 50' HFOV, the 5MP camera still shows more detail of the test chart, but our subject is nearly impossible to see. The 1080p camera shows both subject and chart, though without any details, while the 10MP model is barely able to see the test chart.

     

    Finally, at our widest FOV, 100', the 1080p model and 720p low light camera still provide detection of our subject and chart. The 5MP model minimally shows images of the test chart, while the 10MP camera is nearly black, with high levels of noise.

    Dark, <1 lux

    Finally, in a truly dark scene, the 1080p camera is able to detect our test chart, but provides no details. Both 5 and 10MP cameras were essentially black, with no usable image.

    At a 50' HFOV, the 1080p camera barely sees the chart at all.

    And finally, using a 100' HFOV, none of the cameras are able to produce usable video, with even the 720p low light camera only minimally detecting the chart.

    WDR Comparisons

    To test WDR performance, we set up our cameras in a warehouse with a wide open overhead door, creating a 20x variance in lux levels, seen in this image:

    The 1080p true WDR camera was the clear best performer in this scene. However, the 10MP model, due to its higher resolution, performed well in the strong backlighting of the overhead door, as well. Neither 5 nor 10MP models provided details in the dark 60lx area next to the door.

    Interior Hallway Comparison

    Interior performance of 5 and 10 MP resolution can be seen in this hallway shot from our Camera Selection Guide. In this case, 5MP outperformed both 1080p and 10MP, being the best balance between resolution and light handling in this scene, about 45 lux on target.

    Test Parameters

    All cameras were left at default settings for this test, with the exception of exposure, which was normalized at 33ms, and binning, which was turned off.

    The following firmware versions were used:

    • Arecont 3MP AV3116 - 65221
    • Arecont 5MP AV5115 - 65221
    • Arecont 10MP AV10115 - 65221
    • Bosch NBN-733V - 16500585

2 reports cite this report:

Axis 4K Tested (P1428E) on Oct 29, 2014
[UPDATE August 2015: We recently updated firmware on this camera for an upcoming test, from 5.55.5.1 to the new 5.80.1. In doing so, WDR increased...
5MP Super Low Light Tested (Bosch) on May 27, 2014
Low light performance remains the biggest showstopper for multi-megapixel cameras. Test after test, 5 MP and even 1080p cameras are consistently...
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