Super Low Light Color Cameras Examined (EMCCD Cameras)

By John Honovich, Published Nov 08, 2011, 07:00pm EST

This update examines FLIR's recent announcement of new color cameras optimized for super low light conditions. The series, called EMCCD, offers standard definition/60fps and 1.3 MP/30fps [link no longer available] camera. Background information can additionally be found in the EMCCD brochure [link no longer available].

UPDATE: This note was originally posted in June 2010. Now, in November 2011, FLIR has confirmed to us that the series is being end of lifed. Details at the end of the note.

EMCCD is a technology that provides significant increases in gain for low light scenes producing much clearer images. We were not able to find any non-technical introductions to the general technology. However, you may review the Wikiedpia entry on EMCCD and a site dedicated to EMCCD.

FLIR's marketing demo of the EMCCD is shared below. Note: we have not tested nor seen the camera in action so we cannot verify performance.

The cameras do not support an IP interface and requires Camera Link to connect to monitoring/recording systems. We are not clear on how to adapt/convert Camera Link to IP.

FLIR mentions that the cameras require 'starlight' levels of visible light

The cameras can use off the shelf 1/2" CS lenses.

The MSRP of the standard definition camera is $9,000 and the 1.3MP version is $22,000. Compared to similar resolution thermal cameras, the pricing difference is not very significant. This will be especially interesting for users that want to discern details in very low light scenes.

These products leverage technology from FLIR's 2009 acquisition of Salvador Imaging for $13 Million USD [link no longer available].

End of Life

FLIR informs us that this promising product line has been end of lifed. They noted:

"The earthquake and resulting tsunami in Japan impacted our supplier’s decision to end-of-life (EOL) the EMCCD sensors, and also jeopardized FLIR’s ability to make an EOL purchase of additional EMCCD sensors into the foreseeable future. We currently have a limited supply of EMCCD sensors in our inventory which  will be used to meet existing sales obligations; and, based on our historical warranty experience, to provide warranty and post-warranty support for at least 5-years after shipment. We will no longer accept orders after May 31, 2011.  FLIR is investing in other technologies and anticipates replacing EMCCD technology with next-generation, low-light products in the future."

This is unfortunate as low light products continue to draw significant interest. Currently, Axis's Q1602 is gaining significant attention for similar application. However, from both companies claims (and pricing), the EMCCD sensors would have likely provided better performance at very low light levels.

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