Testing Dahua Cameras 2013

By: Ethan Ace, Published on Jul 08, 2013

You may not know Dahua, but you should. They are the 'other' big Chinese surveillance manufacturer (besides Hikvision) that is aggressively expanding throughout the rest of the world. However, unlike Hikvision, Dahua is much more reluctant to use its own brand outside of China. Instead, North Americans more likely know Dahua from their resellers like Q-See, IC Realtime, EYESurv, Mace, and many, many others, which have become very popular among budget / DIY / entry level IP camera users.

We bought 3 Dahua IP cameras to shootout their performance against leading Western brands to better determine their competitive positioning. The 3 Dahua cameras are:

  • IPC-HF3101N [link no longer available] WDR HD box camera
  • IPC-HD2100N [link no longer available] 1.3MP minidome
  • IPC-HFW3200SN [link no longer available] IR bullet

We choose those 3 models to get a range of performance across price levels and form factors.

The cameras are pictured below side by side in our test rig:

This will be the first of our ongoing coverage of Dahua.

Updates:

  • Testing Dahua HDCVI
  • Dahua HDCVI 2.0 Tested
  • Hikvision HDTVI VS Dahua HDCVI Shootout
  • The cameras themselves all performed fairly solid, especially considering their very low pricing. However, since most of you will buy Dahua through a variety of OEMs, you should check their performance, their support and particular price levels.

    Though all Dahua cameras in this test share the same web interface, imaging performance varies from model to model. We have grouped our findings accordingly:

    General

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    • Simple web interface, with most common settings easily accessible on only two pages.
    • Default image quality settings do not use slow shutter, unlike many low cost cameras.
    • Cameras default to CBR. VBR with a cap is also available, but bitrates tend toward 80-90% of cap, on average.
    • Compression is typically lower than other cameras in well lit scenes. However, due to bitrates approaching the cap, quantization increases in low light scenes to on par or above competitors.
    • "WDR" is included as a setting on all models tested, but only the HF3101N box camera, marketed as WDR, included truly effective multi-exposure WDR.

    HF3101N Box Camera

    • Solid WDR performance, on par with top performers against strong backlight, but lagging in darker areas.
    • Low light performance with WDR on is below average, with nearly no images produced at 1 lux or lower.
    • Low light performance with WDR off and increased gain is above average, far better than Arecont, but lagging behind the Q1604. 

    HD2100N Minidome

    • Low light performance (2 lux and below) was superior to the Axis M3004-V, even using default gain settings.
    • Increasing gain widens performance gap considerably at <1 lux light levels. Effects are smaller at 2 lux and above.

    HFW3200SN IR Bullet

    • Maximum effective IR illumination range was found to be about 65% of specified, ~13m actual vs. 20m specified.
    • IR angle of illumination is not even across the scene. The center of the FOV is notably brighter than edges, obscuring subjects in far reaches of the FOV.
    • Some hotspotting is present in the center of the image, but subjects must be very close to camera, approximately 6-8' or closer.
    • Turning WDR on modestly reduces oversaturation in IR illuminated scenes modestly. 

     

    Other Factors

    Dahua cameras are not available under their own brand in North America. As such, users have two obstacles when looking to install and support these cameras:

    • Cameras must purchase them through one of their North American OEMs, such as Q-See, IC Realtime, or EYESurv, or purchase from unauthorized distributors online.
    • Dahua does not provide technical support directly to any users in North America. So, if purchasing through an OEM distributor, tech support is via the OEM. If purchased from an online reseller, no tech support is available.

    The lowest prices we found on the cameras in this test are as follows:

    • IPC-HD2100N 1.3MP minidome: $142.00 USD online [link no longer available]
    • IPC-HFW3200SN IR bullet: $250.00 online [link no longer available]
    • IPC-HF3101N 1080p box camera: This model was not for sale in North America from either OEMs or distributors at the time of the test, so no online pricing is available. However, other box cameras in Dahua's line sell for ~$275 [link no longer available]-375 online. One European distributor sells this model for ~$280 USD. We expect the HF3101N would likely be in this range, as well.

    These prices compare favorably with competitive models. The Axis M3004-V, a 720p indoor color only minidome, sells for ~$265 USD online versus $142 for the Dahua HD2100N minidome. The Arecont Vision AV2116DNv1, a competitive 1080p box camera, sells for ~$420 online, compared to ~$280 for the the HF3101N.

    The HF3101N box camera is the standout performer among the three Dahua cameras tested. It is similar to Arecont's overall image quality / feature sets but likely at lower prices. Its low light performance, though, is not as good as the much more expensive Axis Lightfinder and Bosch Starlight cameras.

    Physical Overview

    In this video, we review the form factor and construction of each of the Dahua cameras. Users should note the following:

    • None of the cameras show any Dahua markings whatsoever, instead being labeled "iCamera", if anything.
    • Construction is typical, similar to competitive models, with no standout features or lack thereof.
    • No I/O or audio in bullet and minidome models. Box offers I/O, serial, audio, and analog output.

     

    Configuration Screencast

    This video reviews the web interface of Dahua cameras. All models tested shared a similar interface, with few differences depending on feature set (WDR, audio, etc.). Note the following:

    • Most common settings are contained on only two screens, "Conditions" and "Video". These two screens include exposure and image quality settings, as well as all CODEC settings, making it simple to find needed options.
    • Unlike many cameras, Dahua offers a simple "profile" system, allowing users to set up day and night profiles easily, and switch between the two on a schedule. This would allow WDR to be turned off at night, color settings tweaked during the day, exposure and gain settings to be changed, and more. 
    • We experienced some issues setting proper time in the web interface. Settings had to be applied multiple times before time was correct. Users should ensure time is correct after saving.

    Exposure/Gain Settings Screencast

    Dahua includes multiple exposure modes, with little explanation of what each actually does. This screencast reviews these modes.

    • Unlike many cameras, Dahua's default "auto" mode does not slow the shutter at night.
    • Low noise mode allows users to manually control gain range to either increase gain for brighter images (increasing noise) or decrease it to reduce noise, sacrificing light sensitivity. Exposure is controlled automatically in this mode.
    • Low motion blur allows users to manually set an exposure range while gain is automatically controlled.
    • Neither low noise nor low motion blur slow shutter beyond 1/30s.
    • Manual mode allows the shutter to be fixed to a specific value if necessary, or set to a range, including slow shutter modes. Note that this is the only way slow shutter may be activated. Manual also allows a gain range to be set, on a scale of 0-100.

    Box Camera Comparisons

    We compared the HF3101N against other leading low light and WDR cameras to test its performance. At full light, no major imaging issues are present. Colors are slightly desaturated, similar to the Bosch NBN-733V, but the subject may be clearly seen and identified.

    In our dark scene, below 1 lux, with WDR on the HF3101N produces practically no image, worst in this test. In this scene, the Q1604 was also set to WDR on, making its minimum exposure 1/44s instead of 1/30s.

    Turning WDR off and increasing gain to 100, its maximum value, our subject is easily seen, though without any details. The top line of the chart is readable, but others below are not. The Q1604, with WDR off, shows more details due to its brighter image, with the second line (FP) visible on the chart. The Bosch NBN-733V is least noisy of all cameras in this test, while the Arecont AV3116DNv1 shows very little detail, making it difficult to distinguish the subject.

    In our WDR scene, against strong backlight, the HF3101N performs well, showing more facial details than the Q1604, and better details of the area beyond the subject, as well. 

    However, in the dimly lit area next to the overhead door, Dahua lags behind all others but the NBN-733V, with background objects very difficult to make out.

    Minidome Comparisons

    In full light, the HD2100N performs moderately better than the M3004, with less noise an artifacting, making the chart easier to read.

    Lowering the light to 2 lux, the M3004 is clearly outperformed by Dahua. The chart is still readable to line 4 in the HD2100N, while only 2-3 lines may be read in the M3004. The subject is also nearly totally obscured by noise in the Axis camera.

    Below 1 lux, neither camera produces much image using default settings. The chart is just barely visible in the HD2100N.

    However, increasing gain in the HD2100N, the chart and subject are easily detectable, though no details are available.

    IR Camera Comparisons

    First, we located our subject at 20m, the maximum range cited by the HFW3200SN's specs. It is clear from this image that the illuminator drops off substantially before this range.

     

     Moving forward, ~13m is the furthest distance at which the subject is clearly illuminated.

    However, due to the illumination pattern being obviously stronger in the center of the image, our subject is much harder to detect at the edges of the image.

    We found that turning WDR on reduced overexposure issues somewhat, though not drastically. It resulted in at most another foot of approach before the subject became overexposed. Note that since this is not true WDR, but instead a digital contrast adjustment, the image was not darkened overall, which is common in low light scenes when using true multi-exposure WDR.

     

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