Testing Camera Height vs Image Quality

By: Derek Ward, Published on Sep 27, 2013

A critical debate amongst surveillance professionals is how high should cameras be mounted. The higher the camera is mounted, the less likely it is to be vandalized, stolen or obstructed. But the higher it is mounted, the more likely image quality suffers as the angle of incident steepens (as shown to the right).

The recommendations vary tremendously. Many say never to mount cameras less than 12 to 14' off the ground (4+ meters). Others say, the camera needs to be as close to human height as possible to get full facial details.

The Test

In this report, we put these two competing positions to the test with a series of experiments.

We mounted a camera to an extended pole on our test rig, allowing us to adjust camera height from 17' to 5', as shown below:

We then positioned a subject at short, mid, and long ranges, in order to see the difference mounting height and resulting angle of incidence made in details captured.

Moreover, we did tests with a subject looking straight ahead as well as walking with their head tilted down, since many people naturally do so, or worse, try to avoid their face being captured on camera.

Questions Answered

The report answers the following questions:

  • For a subject 6', 24' and 48' from a camera, what is the maximum height a camera can be mounted while delivering clear facial details?
  • How much of a practical difference does a person looking downward have in selecting optimal camera height?
  • What is the maximum downtilt of a camera that allows a complete face to be captured?
  • What does a subject look like from different camera heights at the same position?

* ******** ****** ******* surveillance ****************** **** ****** ******* be *******. *** ****** the ****** ** *******, the **** ****** ** is ** ** **********,******** **********. *** *** higher ** ** *******, the **** ****** ***** quality ******* ** *** angle ** ******** ******** (as ***** ** *** right).

*** *************** **** ************. Many *** ***** ** mount ******* **** **** 12 ** **' *** the ****** (*+ ******). Others ***, *** ****** needs ** ** ** close ** ***** ****** as ******** ** *** full ****** *******.

The ****

** **** ******, ** put ***** *** ********* positions ** *** **** with * ****** ** experiments.

** ******* * ****** to ** ******** **** on *** **** ***, allowing ** ** ****** camera ****** **** **' to *', ** ***** below:

** **** ********** * subject ** *****, ***, and **** ******, ** order ** *** *** difference ******** ****** *** resulting ***** ** ********* made ** ******* ********.

********, ** *** ***** with * ******* ******* straight ***** ** **** as ******* **** ***** head ****** ****, ***** many ****** ********* ** so, ** *****, *** to ***** ***** **** being ******** ** ******.

Questions ********

*** ****** ******* *** following *********:

  • *** * ******* *', 24' *** **' **** a ******, **** ** the ******* ****** * camera *** ** ******* while ********** ***** ****** details?
  • *** **** ** * practical ********** **** * person ******* ******** **** in ********* ******* ****** height?
  • **** ** *** ***************** * ****** **** allows * ******** ****** **********?
  • **** **** * ******* look **** **** ********* camera ******* ** *** same ********?

[***************]

Key ********

**** *** *** *** findings **** **** ******:

  • ~**° ** *** ******* angle ** ********* ***** should ** **** ** capture ****** *******
  • ** ***** ******, ****** mounting ****** ** *******. Even ******* ** *-*', cameras ***** ** ******* decreased ****** ****** ** close ******** ******* ********, due ** *** ********* angle ** *********. ***** this, *** ***** ** worsened, **** *** ****** capturing *** **** ** heads.
  • *********** * ******* **-**° head **** ** * walking ******, ******* ****** be ******* **** ***** to **** **** *' high *** * **** face *******.
  • **** * **-**° **** of ****** **** ******** the ****** ** ** mounted *'-*' ***** ** get *** **** ****** details ** * ***** that ******* ******** **** walk **** ***** **** straight.
  • ** ****** ******, ******** height's ******* *** ******* lessened. ** **' **** the ******, ***** *** only ****** ********** ** image ******* *** ** angle ** *********, **** no ********* ******** ******.
  • ** **** ******, ********* mounting ****** *** ****** effect, ** *** ********** in ****** ***** ** minimal.

**** ***** ********** ***** the *********** ** * real **** **** ******** scenario:

***************

****** ******** ****** ********* says ******* ****** ** mounted "*** ** *****" of *******, ** ******* will **** ***** ** at ***** ******, **** practice **** ** ** huge ********* ** ******* delivered, ******* *** ********** between ********* *********** ****** details ** ***. ******* should ** ******* ** low ** ** ********* to ***** ****.

*** ****** ********* ** target, ******** ****** *** little ******, *** ******* may ** ******* ****** without ********* *** *******.

Recommended ******* ******** ******

***** ** *** ***** range ****, ~**° ** the ******* ***** ** incidence ***** ****** ** used ** ******* ****** details. ***** ****, ****** details *** ****, **** only *** *** ** the **** ***** ********.

***** **** ******** *****, the ********* ***** ***** the ******* ******** ******* recommended ** ************* ******* ** * 6' **** ****** ** varying *********. **** **** camera ****** ****** ** the ***** ** * maximum *****. ******* *** be ******* ***** ** well. **** **** **** the ************* ** * small **** ** ****** head ************* ******* *** maximum ****** ******. ** recommend *** *** ** a ****** ****** **** is ***** *** **** height ** **** **** the ****** ** *** object ** ******* **** facial ******* ** ** object **** **** ****** down.

** *********** *** * shorter ******, *** ******** a *** ****** ***** (~2' *** *** ******), users ****** ******** *** difference **** *** ******* camera ****** ** *** table *****. *** **** is **** ** ****** objects; ****** *** *** difference.

**** **** **** ***** should ** **** ** a ******** ***** ****, as ** **** *** consider ***** ******* ***** affect ***** *******, **** as ********, **********, *** performance, ***.

Angle ** *********

****** ****** ** ** test *******, ***** ** incidence ****** ** ******* mentioned. ** ** ** important ****** **** ******* the ******* ** ********* object ******* *** ** purely ********* ** *** object ********, ****** *** camera ******. ** ************ of ***** ** ********* is ***** *****. **** the ***** ** ********* is *****, *** ******* are **** **********. ** the ***** ******, **** become **** ********* ** see.

Close ***** (****** ** *')

** ***** ******, *' away **** *** ****** in *** ****, *** camera ****** *** *** most ******** **********. *** facial ******* ** *** object, *** ** ******* straight *****, **** ******* visible **** *** ****** was ******* ** * lower ********, **** *** minimum **** ****** ** 5' ** ***** *'-*' high. **** *** ****** was ***** ** ** 10'-11' ****, *** ****** details ****** ********* ** distinguish *** ** ********* angle ** *********. ******* above **** ******, **** the *** ** ******'* head *** *******, **** no ****** *********** ***********.

** ****** ******* *** differences *** ** ******* angles ** *********, *** this ********* *****.

* ****** ******** ****** for ****** *********** ** also ********* ** *** face ********* ** *** object. **** ****** *** walking, **** ********* **** to **** ***** **** downwards, ********* **** ** angle ** ****** **-**°, instead ** ******* ********. Even **** ***** **** has * *********** ****** on *** ***** ** incidence, ********** ** ***** ranges.

** ****** **** ****** with * ******* ********, but **** ****** ******* his **** ******** ****. This ****, ****** ** incidence **** ** **** higher *** *** **** mounting ******.

**** *** *** ******* at ******* ******** ******* and ** ********** **** the ****** ******* ******** ahead.

**** *** ****** **** is ******** *********, ****** details ******* ** ******** just ***** *** ******* mounting ****** ** *'. These ******* **** **** even * **-**° **** of ****** **** ******** the ****** ** ** mounted *'-*' *****. **** the *** ** ******'* head *** ******* *** this ****, **** *** camera *** ******* ** 8' ** ******.

***** ** * *' object, *' ****, ** can ********* *** ***** of ********** *** ******* height *** ****** **** directions, ** *******:

**** *** ****** ***** straight *****:

  • *** * ****** ****** of *', *** ***** of ********* ** *° (direct *********, **** ****** capture).
  • *** * ****** ****** of ~*'-*', *** ***** of ********* ** ****** 15°. (*** ****** ***** where ****** ******* *** still *******, *.*. ******** angle).
  • *** ****** ****** ** 10', *** ***** ** incidence ** ~**°. (***** critical *****, **** *** not **** ** *** but **** *** ** barely ****).
  • *** * ****** ****** of **', *** ***** of ********* ** ****** 61°. (**** **** *****, only *** ** ******'* head ** *******).

***** *** ****** ** very ***** ** *** camera, *** ***** ** incidence ** **** ********* to *** ****** ******. The ***** ** ****** between ****** ********* ** about **°, **** * height ********* **** *' to **'. *** ******** camera ******, ** *** maximum ******** ****** **** can ******* ****** *******, was ******** ** ** around *'-*' *** **** case.

**** *** ****** **** is ****** *********:

  • *** * ****** ****** of *', *** ***** of ********* ** ****** 10° (***** *** ******** angle, **** ******* *** be ********).
  • *** * ****** ****** of *', *** ***** of ********* ** ****** 20° (******** ***** *** critical *****, **** ******* start ** ********).
  • *** * ****** ****** of ~*'-*', *** ***** of ********* ** ****** 35°. (***** ******** *****, face ****** *******).
  • *** ****** ****** ** 10' *** ******, *** angle ** ********* ** ~55° *** ******. (**** wide *****, ** ****** details ** ***).

****** ******** **** ** the ****** **** ********* the ***** ** *********. Above *** ******* **** height ** *', ****** details ******* ** ** lost.

Mid-Range (****** ** **')

** **', ******** ****** has * **** **** pronounced ******. **** ***** a ******** ****** ** around **'-**', *** ***** of ********* ****** *** critical ***** ** **°. However, **** ** *** maximum ****** ** **', the ***** *** ***** not ****** **** **°. The ***** ******* ******** the ****** **** ***** different ******** *******.

*** ********* ********* ***** these *********** ** *** camera ***** **** **** 5' ** **':

*** ***** ** ********* ranged **** *° ** 6' ** ***** **° at **' ****** ******. Since *** ****** *** much ******* **** ***** in *** ***** *****, image ******* **** *** change ** *************.

Far *****

** **', *** ****** of ******** ****** *** minimal. *** ****** ****** heights ********* ****** *** same *****, **** ****** details ******** *********. *** maximum ***** ** ********* at **' **** *** only **°, ***** ***** the ******** *****. ******* delivered ** **** **** are ******* *** ** much ***** *** **** in ***** ******, *** mounting *****.

**** ********* ***** *** difference ** ******* ** the ****** ** ***** from *' ** **':

*** ******* ***** ** incidence ******** ** **' is ****** **** **°, which ** ** ********** of *** ***** *** mounting ****** ******* *** image ******* *** ******* objects.

Walk ****

** **** * ******* real ***** ********, ** set ** *** ****** near ** ******** **** and ******** *** ******* walking **, ****** ************* to *** ******. *** image ***** *** ********** in ******* ******** ** several *******, **** *** subject's **** ****** ******** down. ** ** ***** in ***** *****, ****** details *** ************* **** with ****** ******* ***** 6'-7'.

***** *********** ***** ** **** scenario** *** *********** *** themselves.

Comments (17)

I find the lack of the metric system notations to make the article a tad harder to read, since I have to constantly recalculate the distances. It would be much appreciates if both notations (imperial/metric) in future articles.

I'll just leave this here in the meanwhile.

LOL Rogier! 3 feetsies in a yard! Your point is well taken, sir.

Thanks for the details John. ATV offers a 2MP Height Strip camera which is designed to address the issue of camera height. While it is designed for specific applications, ,mainly capturing facial detail at a door exit, it might be something interesting for you to review.

Stephen, all, we have a recent review that summarized nearly a dozen different form factors / mounts for getting face shots.

Great read. The only thing I would add is to mount the covert wall or door jam camera covering individuals entering the business. Generally, people enter slower than they exit (after a crime).

Great review as always. While 6 feet is a great mounting height, it becomes a problem as soon as multiple people are in the scene. All your tests are with a single person and I didn't pick up the issue of multiple people blocking the scene. I can't go below 7 feet or 21 feetsies without having a 6 foot person blocking the view. I would prefer 6 feet but it is not practical or realistic since most of my video involves multiple people. This could be an issue for others as well.

John, do you mean multiple people side by side or multiple people one after the other? I suspect you mean the later, e.g., a 6'4" person blocking a 5'5" person coming behind them? Yes?

We can test that at a few angles / postions as well.

John H

Yes the latter, but it isn't necessarily one stacked on the other, in waiting areas they can be in any configuration but yes one person blocking another, worse where there are counters employees can block the view at 6.

What a thorough review! I am a Law Enforcement officer and I often wish that folks would have this sort of knowledge before either A) installing their own cameras or B) hiring their local so called "security experts" to install cameras for them. Kudos on another great article!

Great Article and sure to be useful moving forward!

This is a nice tool for showing prospective purchasers the benefit/drawback at the various incidence angles.

Much better to "show me" than "tell me."

You would think using mirrors and having such at levels that are more in line with faces would result in obtaining what is needed. You could even have placement (mirrors) in covert locations with the camera's focus on the mirror from a far or at a higher level...to protect camera's from being vandalized. We are thinking about such placement for reading license plates of auto's that should not be in the area.

Victor Arias

You guys are awesome, I had taken several CCTV classes and training,but for far yours are the best ones, your explanations, test and examples are so graphic that make it easy to understand that in order to design a reliable CCTV system, there is a lot work to do but at the end of the day is easy with all your information avalaible. I just finished the readings for the API and SDK class and I was laughing when you refer to the sales guys assuring customers about "INTEGRATION" between diferent card access/CCTV/Intrusion/FIRE systems. Any time I participated on one of this nightmares we spend a lot money/time and the results never satisfied the customers completely. I would say integrators/customers should use "UNIFIED" card access/CCTV platforms rather than fight with INTEGRATIONS.

Thanks,

I know I am late responding to your initial post, but none the less I found it very informative. Currently researching methods to install cameras on my RV as I drive around the country.

May have to install 2 cameras; one for distance and one for close ups.

Here is a good example of low camera height helping to solve a crime: Solving Cold Cases: Police Use Facial Recognition Software To ID Suspect In Munster Business Robbery

Yes, angle of incidence is important for testing camera ht.

Great article, you guys spent a lot of time on this..WOW

Well reference explaining circumstances about height of camera to be mounted.

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