Testing the Smallest HD Cameras

By: Derek Ward, Published on Jul 09, 2014

Miniature HD IP cameras are a growing trend. It started with cameras that had small 'heads' but large 'base' units. Increasingly, though, the bases are shrinking. Recently, we even found one without any base at all, just a small head, like the one displayed in the middle:

We bought three (super low cost) models from Chinese manufacturer Censee:

Here are our key findings from this test:

  • Censee camera image quality at close range (up to ~10') was acceptable, though noticeably noisier than both Axis P12 cameras.
  • Beyond 10', the Censee cameras shallow depth of field degraded image quality compared to the P12s, with fewer details of the subject and test chart, despite the NPP640CM/NP640CM's higher 1080p resolution.
  • The NPL640CH delivered more details than other cameras at close ranges in low light due to its built in IR illuminators. Below 2 lux, no other cameras provided usable images. Beyond 10', details of the subject were obscured by increased noise.
  • WDR performance of all cameras was poor, with the subject's face barely visible against strong backlighting, and the subject difficult to detect in dark areas next to open doors.
  • The non-PoE NP640CM displayed noise patterns not present in the PoE version. This was true using multiple 12VDC adapaters.
  • ONVIF implementation was buggy, requiring non-standard ports, and causing errors in Exacq when added to the VMS, never streaming video. RTSP streaming worked without issue.
  • The Chinese pinhole cameras ran hot after being turned on after ~1 hour, and continued to run hot.

Price Comparison

Pricing compares as follows for the cameras used in our test.

For less than half the cost of an Axis P12, you could buy all 3 Censee cameras. For users deploying multiple cameras in an ATM, for example, this could significantly reduce cost.

Camera Size Shrinking

There has been a definite trend in IP cameras getting smaller and smaller, with models such as the Avigilon MicroDome, KT&C miniature bullet, and Vivotek FD8168. These Censee models continue this downward trend, indeed smaller than other available options, at just about 1.25" square.

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Though their size and low cost are very attractive, the Censee covert models come with some major caveats. Users should expect RTSP streaming only, with increased visible noise compared to competitive models, poor WDR performance, limited tech support, and no bells or whistles. Further, users looking for longer range images would be better served by the P12 or similar cameras. 

However, users prepared to accept these drawbacks may find the Censee line a very cost effective option.

Physical Overview

This video covers the physical construction of the cameras and compares to the Axis P12 series:

Configuration/Integration

This video reviews the web interface of the Censee cameras, with notably few configuration options:

Subject ~2' Away from Cameras

Testing begins with our subject standing ~2' away from the cameras at various light levels, emulating a subject using an ATM machine. The image below shows the FOV.

Full Light

In full light (~160 lux), all cameras are able to clearly identify our subject.

Low Light

Dimmed to ~2 lux, the Censee CS-NP640CM begins to show heavy amount of artifacting, and the Axis P1204's poor low light performance darkens our subject's face.

Dark

In the dark (< 1 lux), the IR illumination of the CS-NPL640CH helps identify our subject, albeit with large amounts of noise. The Axis P1214 shows some details of our subject's face, but the other cameras fail to capture any useful details at this light level.

Subject ~10' Away from Cameras

Our subject moves back to ~10' away from the cameras, which allows us to see more of our subject's body as well as include the test chart as seen in the image.

Full Light

Our subject, test chart and license plate are all fully visible and identifiable in full light from this distance.

Low Light

Lowering the lights, the heavy artifacting from the Censee CS-NP640CM diminished details in our subject's fact and test chart, and the CS-NPL640CH's IR illumination washes out our test chart past line 5.

Dark

At less than 1 lux, the CS-NPL640CH and Axis P1214 provide the most usable images of our subject.

Subject ~20' Away from Cameras

Our subject moves to the back of the conference room, ~20' away from the cameras.

Full Light

At this distance, the shallower depth of field of the Censee cameras, combined with lower PPF, results in less clear images of our subject and chart. The Axis P12s show our subject clearly, with line 5 of the test chart legible.

Low Light

Details becoming increasingly hard to discern in low light due to increased noise.

Dark

With our subject ~20' away from the cameras at this lux level, no details can be derived from the cameras tested. Only the Axis P1214 is able to detect the subject and test chart.

WDR

Finally, we set up the cameras in a scene with strong backlighting, against an open overhead door on a sunny day, in order to test their WDR performance.

In the bright portion of the scene, details of the subject are slightly more visible in the Censee cameras compared to the Axis P1214. In the dark area next to the door, the Censee cameras provide slightly more legibility of the test chart, while the P1214 provides slightly brighter images of our subject.

WDR Facial Capture

Against strong backlighting, similar to outdoor ATMs, our subject's face at ~2' is hard to distinguish in all cameras.

Test Parameters

All cameras were run using the latest firmware, resolution was set to the camera's maximum, at 30 FPS, and shutter speed normalized to 1/30s maximum.

  • Axis P1204: 720p, 3.7mm 1/4" CMOS sensor
  • Axis P1214: 720p, 3.7mm 1/4" CMOS sensor
  • Censee CS-NPL640CH: 1.3MP, 3.6mm 1/3" CMOS sensor
  • Censee CS-NPP640CM: 2MP, 3.7mm 1/2.7" Sony IMX122 sensor
  • Censee CS-NP640CM: 2MP, 3.7mm 1/2.7" Sony IMX122 sensor

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