Varifocal vs Fixed Focal Lens

By: John Honovich, Published on May 29, 2014

Choosing between varifocal and fixed focal lens is one of the most fundamental decisions in video surveillance.

With a fixed focal lens, the Field of View (FoV) of the camera can not be changed unless the lens is changed. By contrast, varifocal lenses allow for immediate adjustment of the FoV simply by adjusting a control of the lens / camera.

But which one is used more and why?

Inside, our exclusive integrator survey results answer these questions.

Integrators use varifocal lenses by a 2:1 margin over fixed focal lenses:

 Indeed, the majority of integrators almost always use varifocal lenses as this chart demonstrates:

However, a handful of integrators rarely use varifocal lenses as shown above in the small bump on the 10 to 30% range.

Indeed, for non-integrators, such as the home and DIY market, fixed focal lenses are generally the only lens type offered. As such, including those segments (home / DIY), the percentage of all cameras using fixed focal lenses is likely ~50%.

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

Why Varifocal vs Fixed Focal

Flexibility

The most common reason to use varifocal lenses, cited by integrators, was to optimize the FoV for the end user's preference:

  • "Varifocal is 90+% of our deployments due to the lens allowing the camera to have the view the client wants"
  • "We have found that customers will often take advantage of the varifocal to increase ppf for certain situations and/or increase area of view and sacrifice ppf depending on their perceived need."
  • "This adds flexibility to the end user who often think they want to see a particular field of view, but then after seeing the live image often want to either widen or tighten the field of view."
  • "We use primarily varifocal to allow our installers more freedom to adjust the fov/focal length to meet the customer preference"
  • "To accommodate the field requirements in support of installation changes made due to project manager, field technician, and/or customer."
  • "We want the flexibility for the technicians onsite to be able to change the parameters of the view if the customer changes their mind about what they deem to be important to them."

Since many end users change their mind after about how wide a FoV they want, after the camera is installed, varifocal enables integrators to quickly meet this.

However, one integrator offered a different approach to meet this, without using varifocal lenses, explaining that, "We stock different focal length cameras and just use whichever one is required." To the contrary, as another integrator noted, varifocal "speeds in service and installation when we dont need to stock a series of lenses."

Cost

For fixed focal lenses, the clear number #1 reason was lower cost, not simply for the lens itself, but because fixed focal lens cameras are typically less expensive, less powerful cameras overall. Integrated noted:

  • "The only reason we go fixed is because of cost."
  • "We use fixed focal lenses when we need more cost effective solution."
  • "Customers love adjustments. Fixed when cost is involved."
  • "if cost is a factor and you know it just a relatively wide view, then we are more likely to select fixed."

However, they do come with limitations, as one integrator explained, "I would use higher percentage of fixed but they typically have worse quality video, for example we like to install WDR & the fixed aren't always WDR you have to go to higher end model (varifocal) to also get WDR." Note, this is not because fixed cameras cannot technically support WDR (indeed WDR is a sensor / encoder functionality, not lens) but typically fixed cameras are optimized for lowest cost, stripping features like true WDR.

Fixed focal lenses are not lower quality than varifocal lenses. Indeed, fixed focal lenses reduce the risk of cameras being out of focus (but generally do not eliminate it as fixed focal lenses typically come with a fine focus that can be out of focus). However, manufacturers typically package fixed focal lenses with simple cameras, often with smaller imagers and less features.

Specialized Applications

Integrators noted a number of specialized applications where fixed lenses are the norm - such as fisheye / panoramics, thermal and super high resolution cameras.

1 report cite this report:

Varifocal Vs Fixed Lens Statistics 2017 on May 04, 2017
Varifocal camera lenses provide more flexibility at installation time, but...
Comments (13) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Video Surveillance Cameras 101 on Feb 25, 2020
Cameras come in many shapes, sizes and specifications. This 101 examines the...
FDA Defines Correct Operation of "Fever Cameras" on May 26, 2020
The US FDA has now defined the correct operation of "Thermal Imaging...
Multi-Imagers Added to IPVM Camera Calculator on Jun 15, 2020
IPVM has added multi-imager cameras to the Camera Calculator, supporting this...
Camera Field of View (FoV) Guide on Nov 13, 2019
Field of View (FoV) and Angle of View (AoV), are deceptively complex. At...
Uniview Color Low Light Camera Tested Vs Hikvision ColorVu on Jan 07, 2020
Hikvision has been marketing ColorVu aggressively. Now, Hikvision domestic...
Directory of 206 "Fever" Camera Suppliers on Aug 04, 2020
This directory provides a list of "Fever" scanning thermal camera providers...
Lens Focal Length Tutorial on Jul 10, 2019
3mm, 6mm, 2.8 - 9mm, 5 - 50mm, etc. Camera specifications often list lens...
Camera Course Summer 2020 - Last Chance on Jul 18, 2020
This is your last chance to register for the Summer 2020 Camera Course. This...
Quantum Dots Potential for Surveillance Cameras Explained on Sep 08, 2020
Quantum dots are starting to be used in TVs for better images, but how will...
The Future of Metalens For Video Surveillance Cameras - MIT / UMass / Immervision on Sep 25, 2020
Panoramic cameras using 'fisheye' lens have become commonplace in video...
BriefCam Video Analytics Tested on Jan 06, 2020
BriefCam, acquired by Canon in 2018, is one of the most commonly used video...
Video Analytics 101 on Mar 16, 2020
This guide teaches the fundamentals of video surveillance...
IR Surveillance Camera Guide on Feb 06, 2020
Integrated infrared (IR) cameras are everywhere in 2020, but not all IR is...
Camera Analytics Shootout 2020 - Avigilon, Axis, Bosch, Dahua, Hanwha, Hikvision, Uniview, Vivotek on Jan 22, 2020
Analytics are hot again, thanks to a slew of AI-powered cameras, but whose...
VMS 101 on Mar 03, 2020
This guide teaches the fundamentals about video management...

Recent Reports

OnTech Smart Services Partners With Google and Amazon To Compete With Integrators on Sep 25, 2020
A pain point for many homeowners to use consumer security and surveillance is...
The Future of Metalens For Video Surveillance Cameras - MIT / UMass / Immervision on Sep 25, 2020
Panoramic cameras using 'fisheye' lens have become commonplace in video...
Hikvision Sues Over Brazilian Airport Loss on Sep 24, 2020
Hikvision was excluded from a Brazilian airport project because it is owned...
China General Chamber of Commerce Calls Out US Politics on Sep 24, 2020
While US-China relations are at an all-time low, optimism about relations...
IP Networking Course Fall 2020 - Last Chance - Register Now on Sep 23, 2020
Today is the last chance to register for the only IP networking course...
Drain Wire For Access Control Reader Tutorial on Sep 23, 2020
An easy-to-miss cabling specification plays a key role in access control, yet...
Norway Council of Ethics Finds Hikvision Human Rights Abuses "Ongoing" on Sep 23, 2020
Hikvision's involvement in "serious human rights abuse" in Xinjiang is...
IPVM Camera Calculator User Manual / Guide on Sep 23, 2020
Learn how to use the IPVM Camera Calculator (updated for Version 3.1). The...
Installation Course Fall 2020 - Save $50 - Last Chance on Sep 22, 2020
This is a unique installation course in a market where little practical...
SimpliSafe Business Security Launched Examined on Sep 22, 2020
SimpliSafe has launched "SimpliSafe Business Security" that the company...
FLIR CEO: Many New Fever Entrants "Making Claims That The Science Just Won't Support" on Sep 22, 2020
FLIR's CEO joins a growing number calling out risks with fever / screening...
China Bems Temperature Measurement Terminal Tested on Sep 22, 2020
Guangzhou Bems (brand Benshi) is the manufacturer behind temperature...
Axis Exports To China Police Criticized By Amnesty International on Sep 21, 2020
Axis Communications and other EU surveillance providers are under fire from...
Milestone XProtect on AWS Tested on Sep 21, 2020
Milestone finally launched multiple cloud solutions in 2020, taking a...