The Super Low Light Shootout 2016

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Mar 28, 2016

How good are surveillance cameras in low light? With the advances in integrated IR, image processing and larger imagers over the past few years, we wanted to find out.

We tested 12 cameras in two key scenes, a dark field, below 0.1 lux, and a parking lot with outside lighting, 1-2 lux, seen below:

Cameras Tested

We used a total of twelve cameras in this test, representing a range of cost, quality, and featuresets.

We included low, medium, and high end IR models, including new 4MP and 4K models from Hikvision and Panasonic, as well as large imager super low light models from Axis and Hikvision. Finally, 1/3" super low light models were included, along with a standard, non-low light optimized model.

Key Findings

Here are our key findings from this test:

Integrated IR Being Caught By Super Low Light

In very dark scenes (<0.1 lux) and short to medium ranges, integrated IR generally provides better details, with more details at close range and detection at longer ranges. However, newer generation super low light models, especially 1/2" large imager models, have narrowed this gap significantly in the past few years.

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

For example, the image below shows a 1080p integrated IR models versus large imager 1/2" and typical 1/3" super low light models. The 1/2" model performs similarly to the integrated IR model, while the 1/3" is only modestly worse.

In past tests, integrated IR was much better than non-IR low light models, as this example from our 2013 test shows. The non-IR model produced nearly no image, while the IR camera provided strong details of the subject.

We review these findings in the video below:

Super Low Light Advantages In Brighter Scenes

In brighter scenes, such as the lit parking lot (ranging from 1-2 lux), super low light models produce image details similar to integrated IR, though with the added advantage of color images. For example, in the 1/3" and 1/2" low light models below, the subject's black jacket and blue jeans can clearly be seen, where both simply appear grey/white in the IR model. The green stripe of the van behind can also easily be seen.

We review footage from these cameras in the video below:

Super Low Light Beats IR At Long Range

At long ranges, large imager super low light models provide moderate advantages over IR cameras, with better detection in our tests due to increased contrast between moving objects and the background, especially when forced into color mode, seen below. This example shows the Avigilon H3 9-22mm bullet versus the 1/2" Hikvision Darkfighter 6026, with the subject easily visible in the color image, but blending into the background in the IR model:

In this video, we review these findings in more detail:

Limited Benefit to New High Resolutions in Low Light

4 MP and 4K/12 MP integrated IR cameras provided few practical benefits over 1080p IR models, making the test chart slightly more legible, but producing no additional details of the subject:

Low Cost IR: Good Close Range/Poor Long Range

Low cost IR bullets, such as the Hikvision 2042 in this test, provided image quality similar or better than much more expensive integrated IR and super lower light models at close range.

However, at longer ranges, beyond these cameras' limited IR range, other models provide better detection of the subject, who can barely be seen in the 2042 below:

Average Low Light Models

As a baseline comparison, the image below shows "average", non-super low light model compared to others. Images are notably dimmer, with less contrast than the 1/3" and 1/2" low light models and both integrated IR cameras.

Test Parameters

Cameras were tested using default settings with the following modifications:

  • H.264, 10 FPS, ~28-30 quantization was used
  • 1/30s maximum shutter speed

IR cameras were tested one at a time to prevent interference between models.

The following firmware/software versions were used:

  • Avigilon 2.0W-H3-BO2: 2.6.0.118
  • Avigilon 2.0W-H3-BO1: 2.6.0.118
  • Avigilon 3.0W-H3-B2: 2.6.0.116
  • Axis M1125: 5.75.3.3
  • Axis P3225-LVE: 6.10.1.1
  • Axis Q1615: 5.80.1.3
  • Axis Q1635: 5.80.1.3
  • Hikvision DS-2CD2042WD-I: 5.3.6 Build 151105
  • Hikvision DS-2CD4132FWD-IZ: 5.3.4
  • Hikvision DS-2CD6026FHWD-A: 5.3.5 Build 151218
  • Panasonic WV-SFV781L: 1.07
  • Samsung SNB-6004: 3.03_150918

5 reports cite this report:

Hikvision 4K Camera Tested on Sep 09, 2016
Hikvision is the most common choice for low price entry level products but they are also competing with low light models, smart CODECs, WDR...
21 Scenes Lux Readings For Video Surveillance on Aug 11, 2016
IPVM went to numerous locations and measured the lux readings / light levels at each one. Here is an example of the approach we took and output...
Integrated IR Camera Use Dominates - 2016 Statistics on Aug 03, 2016
In 2014, IPVM statistics showed integrated IR camera use was surging. Now, new IPVM statistics show that the surge continues, with integrated IR...
Camera Innovation is Amazing on May 04, 2016
The innovation in the video surveillance camera market has never been higher or faster. While there is much negativity about the race to the...
Axis P3225-LVE Camera Tested on Apr 18, 2016
Though Axis is embattled at the low end of the market, the mid to high end has typically been more favorable to them. Recently, Axis announced new...

Comments (18)

Only IPVM PRO Members may comment. Login or Join.

Just 5 years ago, people routinely warned about using megapixel in low light. And there was certainly a lot of truth in that as many cameras performed extremely poorly.

And now, there are megapixel cameras, without IR, in very dark scenes, producing images that rival IR. It's amazing progress.

If this continues, what does this mean for integrated IR and for thermal? Does integrated IR become more of a cheap low light option where super low light cameras are the high end, even for very dark conditions? Does thermal get relegated for very niche applications, even further than today?

We have had really good results with the Bosch Starlight series of cams. They come in PTZ, dome and box configurations. In Florida we have to deal with the sea turtle nesting season. All lighting along the coast must be minimized to the point our beach surveillance was compromised or non existent during the nesting season. We replaced the beach cams with Bosch 7000 series Starlight and the difference is night and day no pun intended. We were so happy with the Starlight cams we installed them at remote well sites with equally good results. You guys mightn't try testing the Starlight cams also.

Terry, we have tested multiple Bosch Starlight cameras:

They are certainly good but the market keeps on advancing and there has been many strong new offerings from rivals in the past year.

I missed those tests. Thanks John.

Is there any particular reason IPVM chose to test discontinued H3 cameras? http://avigilon.com/news/security/discontinuation-of-the-avigilon-h3-portfolio-of-cameras/

Because the Avigilon H3 IR cameras were quite strong in our tests and were used as one of the examples of high performing cameras. The Avigilon H3 Non-IR cameras were used as an example of an 'average low light camera'.

Given the H4 HDs were just recently announced, we plan to test them in the near future. This test was actually already in the works before the H3 discontinuation and we're still waiting for our H4s to arrive.

Yes, but 2 or 3.0C-H3A would have much better results also.

Good job, IPVM. So next expected step for manufacturers can be super low light cameras with integrated advanced IR, which can outperform thermal cameras on detection range, resolution and price?

...super low light cameras with integrated advanced IR, which can outperform thermal cameras on detection range, resolution and price?

They are already clobbering them on resolution and price. As for detection, although super low-light and advanced integrated IR cameras will have improved detection range, it's fundementally different than the way thermal detects, and I'm not sure they are directly comparable.

Since thermal is working off a heat differential, it can detect people hiding in the grass, or hiding in a car etc. Of course at low resolution.

Hybrid thermal/visible cameras on the other hand may benefit by having the ability to illuminate in the visible that which is detected in the infrared, with enhanced resolution.

As super low light already outperforms thermal cameras on resolution and price, two of your criteria are already true (and has been true since thermal cameras were introduced).

As for detection range, as long as we're talking perimeter protection, I am certain that thermal cameras will continue to reign in this area (with the exception of a select few scenarios) for the foreseeable future. Although thermal cameras are not immune to poor conditions (fog/rain/snow/pollution) they are much more resilient to such conditions and will provide much more consistent results for perimeter protection.

The false alarm rate is also lower overall for thermal cameras, something that has to be considered.

The gap between regular cameras and thermal cameras will however certainly be smaller, and keep shrinking, making it more cost efficient to use regular cameras for simple/low-risk scenarios.

Ola,

Good points. In an upcoming thermal vs super low light shootout, we plan to test both video quality / ability to capture details as well as video analytics performance. It will be interesting to see how close (or not) super low light cameras do given their noise and the risk of stray lighting impact their performance.

Would you test Hikvision Low Light (Darkfighter) with integrated IR? i.e. DS-2CD4A26FWD-IZ

In my opinion you guys should be testing with Avigilon H4 bullet cameras as they have light catcher and adaptive IR technology. The H3 is older and being phased out

Avigilon H4 test report is being released on Monday.

Thanks John

Our Avigilon H4 test is published. We tested two cameras, the 4K (to see the state of 4K integrated IR models) and 5MP (which Avigilon specs as their most light sensitive model). Neither really moves the needle per se, or has huge impact on the results of this test, and general findings remain the same.

However, the 5MP Avigilon H4 (left) is clearly more light sensitive than the H3 3MP (right). This is most noticeable in non-IR scenes at night seen here.

The 4K Avigilon H4 is slightly/moderately better in some scenes than other 4K models, but ultimately, as we say above, 4K's benefits in low light are few, if any, versus 1080p/3MP.

See our full test here.

FYI, street prices on the H3 cameras went way down

Related Reports

Dahua 12MP Fisheye Camera Tested (NK8BR4) on May 16, 2018
Continuing our coverage of 12MP sensor fisheye cameras, we bought and tested the Dahua NK8BR4, examining: Default vs. Optimized...
Axis 12MP Stereographic Camera Tested (M3058-LVE) on May 10, 2018
Axis has released the M3058-PLVE, a 12MP sensor, stereographic panoramic camera and Axis' first with integrated IR claiming images "sharp to the...
Vivotek 12MP Fisheye Camera Tested (FE9391-EV) on May 08, 2018
Next in our 12MP fisheye camera evaluation, we bought and tested Vivotek's latest generation FE9391-EV, a new model claiming improved smart IR...
Toughest Manufacturer Competitors 2018 on May 07, 2018
150+ integrators answered: Which manufacturer, when offered by rival integrators, is toughest to compete against? Why? The...
Last Chance - May 2018 Camera Course on May 03, 2018
This is the last chance to register as the course starts next week. This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth...
Avigilon 12MP Fisheye Camera Tested on May 03, 2018
12MP fisheye cameras have become mainstream, with nearly every major manufacturer offering their take on this segment. To see how these new higher...
FLIR Launches Saros on May 01, 2018
Has FLIR solved the video intrusion / remote monitoring problem or have they created an overkill, overly expensive device? FLIR has launched...
Hikvision DarkfighterX Vs Darkfighter PTZ Tested on Apr 26, 2018
Hikvision has focused on improving low-light performance for PTZs, an area that has traditionally been a problem, even more so than fixed cameras,...
Best and Worst ISC West 2018 on Apr 16, 2018
ISC West 2018 had strong attendance, modest overall new products, and a surge in Artificial Intelligence marketing. First, here are 20+...
Axis Launches Mini Concealed IR PTZ on Apr 11, 2018
Axis has been a laggard in releasing IR PTZs. While the company released a laser focus PTZ (the Q6155-E tested) until now Axis has had no PTZs with...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Software Only VMS vs NVR Appliances on May 23, 2018
Should you buy your own PC/server and load VMS software on it or get a turnkey appliance (both hardware and software, e.g., NVR, Hybrid DVR) from a...
Buy Arecont: Top Bid $10 Million Cash on May 22, 2018
Last year, Arecont had a deal for a purchase price of $170 million (see Failed Arecont China Acquisition). This year, Arecont has a deal for a...
Installing Box Cameras Indoors Tutorial on May 22, 2018
This tutorial starts our physical installation for video surveillance series, starting with Box Cameras, one of the oldest and most basic types....
The Hikvision Smart Classroom Behavior Management System on May 22, 2018
Hikvision's rapidly growing offering of analytics, which we most recently examined with Hikvision's ethnic minority analytics, is now going into...
Dahua Intrusion Analytics And VMD Tested on May 21, 2018
Dahua ships basic analytics on practically all their cameras, ranging from low cost to high end. To see how these analytics work in real world...
Exacq Improving Technical Support, Responding To Integrator Complaints on May 21, 2018
Exacq had been a long-term favorite of integrators, but since their 2014 Tyco acquisition, Exacq has fallen in IPVM integrator studies (though...
Best Manufacturer Technical Support 2018 on May 21, 2018
While 5 manufacturers made the worst technical support 2018 list, only 3 stood out as providing the best technical support to 190+ integrators in...
Stealth / UCIT - Remote Video Monitoring Provider Profile on May 18, 2018
Can 2 remote video monitoring companies, Stealth Monitoring from the US and UCIT from Canada combine to impact the market and compete in a changing...
Cybersecurity for IP Video Surveillance Guide on May 18, 2018
Keeping surveillance networks secure can be a daunting task, but there are several methods that can greatly reduce risk, especially when used in...
Forced Entry / Duress Access Tutorial on May 17, 2018
Even though access control normally keeps people safe, tragedies have revealed a significant issue. If users are forced to unlock doors for...

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