New 'Low Cost' Thermal Zoom CameraBy Ethan Ace, Published Oct 14, 2014, 12:00am EDT
Zoom thermal cameras have typically been feasible only to those with the largest budgets, requiring expensive cooled cameras with six figure price tags. Now, Sierra Olympic claims to bring this capability to the commercial market at breakthrough prices with their Vinden CZ uncooled thermal camera, with prices a fraction of existing models. In this note we look at this new camera, its capabilities, and potential impact.
These are the key features of the Vinden CZ:
- Uncooled LWIR camera available in VGA or 320x240 resolutions.
- Continous 3x zoom lens (35-105mm), with field of view from 5.9-17.1 in VGA models and 3.0-8.9 in 320x240 models.
- Analog and IP outputs. H.264 and MJPEG supported via RTSP/HTTP streaming only, with no ONVIF support.
Warning: Sierra Olympic deceptively markets these cameras as "12x" zoom, multiplying the optical zoom factor (3x) with a 4x digital zoom (digital zoom not a differentiator).
The video below shows the full zoom range of the Vinden CZ:
The Vinden CZ's lack of ONVIF support makes integration more complex for two reasons:
- Not all VMSes support RTSP or HTTP streaming, and may simply be unable to connect to the camera without developing a custom driver.
- Even if the camera's stream is supported by the VMS, the zoom lens may only be controlled via serial or the camera web interface. Neither of these allow for simple PTZ control via VMS UI users are accustomed to.
Both these issues could be overcome if VMSes chose to develop direct drivers for the Vinden CZ. However, given the relatively small market for thermal IP cameras, adding one-off drivers for niche cameras is very unlikely.
The Vinden CZ's physical construction is also unlike commercial cameras integrators are used to. As seen in the image below, it looks more like an OEM camera module, with exposed wiring and mechanical components, pigtail connectors for each output or an optional connectorized board connected via ribbon cable. Integrators must also use a third-party thermal camera housing if the Vinden will be used outside, which most integrators are not used to selecting.
Sierra Olympic says this camera module is available both to integrators, as well as an OEM camera module to manufacturers, a much more likely market. Most integrators will not want to deal with the challenges of zoom lens control or integrating streams with their VMS.
Pricing was not yet available, but Sierra Olympic states it will be "a fraction" of existing continuous zoom thermal cameras, hinting at prices in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, instead of $100,000+ common in these models.
Other manufacturers have had continuous zoom cameras available for some time, such as the FLIR HRC and Vumii Sii XR. However, the majority of these cameras use cooled sensors, much more expensive than uncooled packages, with prices over $100,000 common.
However, competitive cameras have much larger zoom ranges with longer focal length options than the Vinden CZ. For example, compared to Sierra-Olympic's single 35-105mm option, FLIR HRC models are available in 22-275mm, 40-500mm, 60-750mm, and extremely long 88-1100mm options.
The Vinden CZ fits in a niche of a niche of the surveillance industry as a whole, given the small relative size of the thermal camera segment, and even fewer seeking zoom capability in these cameras. Further, systems which do require optical zoom thermal cameras are generally high end, such as border security, military, or critical infrastructure, which have the budget for existing high price cooled thermal zoom cameras with longer focal ranges than the Vinden provides.
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