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:
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.
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.
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.
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: 22.214.171.124
- Avigilon 2.0W-H3-BO1: 126.96.36.199
- Avigilon 3.0W-H3-B2: 188.8.131.52
- Axis M1125: 184.108.40.206
- Axis P3225-LVE: 220.127.116.11
- Axis Q1615: 18.104.22.168
- Axis Q1635: 22.214.171.124
- 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