Varifocal vs. Fixed Lens Integrator Preference 2011

By: Ethan Ace, Published on Dec 26, 2011

UPDATE: See newer results from 2017 here.

When selecting lenses for surveillance cameras, there are two fundamental options: varifocal and fixed focal length. Varifocal lenses allow the field of view to be adjusted within a range (e.g. 3-8mm, 9-20mm, etc.) after the camera is installed, without changing lenses. Fixed focal length lenses are just that, offering only one focal length. As part of our Fall 2011 integrator survey, we aimed to find out which of these two options integrators were most often installing.

We asked the following question of 84 integrators:

vari vs fixed focal

The Responses

The vast majority of integrators (88%) preferred varifocal lenses to fixed focal length. Most commonly, flexibility and simplicity were cited as the reasons for this preference.

Flexibility of FOV

This was overwhelmingly cited as the number one reason for choosing varifocal lenses. Unlike fixed focal length lenses, varifocal lenses allow the field of view to be changed after the camera is installed, without changing the lens. This is often critical. If conditions on site differ even slightly from how they were when a pre-installation site survey was performed, it may affect lens selection drastically. Varifocal lenses allow fine-tuning to account for these differences, as well as customers simply changing their mind.

Here are some comments from integrators on the topic:

  • "We prefer the varifocal lens b/c it allows our customers to 'change their minds' of what they want to look at vs. have them pre-determine their shot before we complete the install. This gives everybody more lee-way."
  • "Allows flexibility to change view based on changes made at locations after the initial installation."
  • "This type of lenses minimizes the time of site survey and also in the future we are able to change the camera view according to any modifications to the site or the request from the client."
  • "Varifocal is easier to use as well as it doesn't lock you into a specific field of view. Customers change their mind and sales people don't always calculate the angles correctly."
  • "Flexibility. If you can move a camera to another position when needed, that makes the equipment selection process less final. They know they can change their mind later, or respond to an unexpected situation."

Ordering Simplicity

Integrators also cited simplicity in ordering and stocking as a reason for choosing varifocal. Instead of stocking simply a 3-8mm varifocal lens, an integrator may instead need to stock 3mm, 4mm, 6mm, and 8mm fixed lenses. This is obviously more work in ordering and maintaining inventory. In the same amount of space, an integrator may stock one or two varifocal lenses which cover nearly all applications.

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

Integrators had the following to say:

  • "Easier to use to get the field-of-view that the customer is expecting. It also reduces the complications associated with ordering cameras."
  • "Gives our customers the option to zoom in or out after later without replacing lenses. Standardized purchase orders from manufacturers translates into less for work sales staff and less equipment on our shelves and vehicles."

Proponents of Fixed Lenses

Of the integrators who preferred fixed focal length lenses (12%), most commonly they cited better performance as their reason for selecting fixed lenses. 

Integrators preferring fixed focal length lenses had the following to say:

  • "It depends on the application. I prefer fixed lenses because they are less costly and usually optically better than vari focal. They also theoretically should take less time to adjust since there is no zoom adjustment to contecnd with. However, the vari focal option is very handy when a customer is indecisive about the scene they want to see or is prone to relocating cameras. WYSIWYG does not always sit well with customers when they are paying a premium for an IP system."
  • "These are much easier to focus while using manual-focus cameras. Varifocal are only used when no one can make up their mind ahead of time as to where the cameras should be located or what they should see."
  • "Fixed focal lenses offer a much clearer view and with HD cameras the limitations of vari-focal can show up"

Recommendations

In most cases, varifocal lenses are likely a better option. The flexibility and simplicity they offer will almost always outweigh the potential advantages of fixed focal length lenses. For one, few options exist for various focal lengths in fixed lenses, especially under 3MP. This greatly limits selection. Additionally, in preliminary tests of Tamron fixed and vari-focal lenses, we saw no clear optical advantages to using fixed focal length lenses. 

1 report cite this report:

Surveillance Statistics Survey Directory Vol 1 on Jan 03, 2012
In this report, we aggregate and present dozens of statistics about how surveillance is being used in the real world. Recently, we conducted an in...
Comments : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

Last Chance - Camera Course Winter 2020 on Jan 30, 2020
This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth product and technology testing. Lots of manufacturer training exists...
IPVM Camera Calculator User Manual / Guide on Oct 16, 2019
Learn how to use the IPVM Camera Calculator (updated for Version 3.1). The guide below includes instructions, images, gifs, and videos...
Camera Focusing Tutorial on Oct 14, 2019
Camera focus is fundamental to quality imaging. Mistakes can significantly reduce details, making cameras less effective. In this guide, we...
PlateSmart LPR Profile on Jan 31, 2019
PlateSmart Technologies claims to "turn any conventional surveillance camera into a license plate recognition camera" We spoke with PlateSmart to...
Vivotek Favorability Report 2019 on Jan 29, 2019
Taiwanese video surveillance manufacturers, even relatively large ones like Vivotek, have lost ground in the PRC-China-driven race to the bottom....
Hanwha Techwin Favorability Results 2019 on Jan 31, 2019
Hanwha Techwin's favorability results surged, in IPVM's 2019 study, going from barely neutral in 2016 to strongly net positive, as the results...
Arecont Favorability Results 2019 on Apr 22, 2019
Arecont's net negativity remained the same in IPVM's 2019 integrator study, though integrator's feeling became relatively more neutral compared to...
Lens Focal Length Tutorial on Jul 10, 2019
3mm, 6mm, 2.8 - 9mm, 5 - 50mm, etc. Camera specifications often list lens lengths but what do they mean? These metrics are important in...
Camera Field of View (FoV) Guide on Nov 13, 2019
Field of View (FoV) and Angle of View (AoV), are deceptively complex. At their most basic, they simply describe what the camera can "see" and seem...
Integrated IR Camera Usage Statistics 2019 on Oct 21, 2019
Virtually every IP camera now comes with integrated IR but how many actually make use of IR or choose 'super' low light cameras without IR? In...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Every VMS Will Become a VSaaS on Feb 21, 2020
VMS is ending. Soon every VMS will be a VSaaS. Competitive dynamics will be redrawn. What does this mean? VMS Historically...
Video Surveillance 101 Course - Last Chance on Feb 20, 2020
This is the last chance to join IPVM's first Video Surveillance 101 course, designed to help those new to the industry to quickly understand the...
Vulnerability Directory For Access Credentials on Feb 20, 2020
Knowing which access credentials are insecure can be difficult to see, especially because most look and feel the same. Even insecure 125 kHz...
AI/Smart Camera Tutorial on Feb 20, 2020
Cameras with video analytics, sometimes called 'Smart' camera or 'AI' cameras, etc. are one of the most promising growth areas of video...
China Manufacturer Suffers Coronavirus Scare on Feb 20, 2020
Uniview suffered a significant health scare last week after one of its employees reported a fever and initially tested positive for coronavirus....
Cheap Camera Problems at Night on Feb 19, 2020
Cheap cameras generally have problems at night, despite the common perception that integrated IR makes cameras mostly the same, according to new...
Milestone Launches Multiple Cloud Solutions on Feb 18, 2020
Milestone is going to the cloud, becoming one of the last prominent VMSes to do so. Milestone is clearly late but how competitive do these new...
Video Surveillance Architecture 101 on Feb 18, 2020
Video surveillance can be designed and deployed in a number of ways. This 101 examines the most common options and architectures used in...
UK Stands Behind Hikvision But Controversy Continues on Feb 18, 2020
Hikvision is exhibiting at a UK government conference for law enforcement, provoking controversy from the press, politicians, and activists due to...
IronYun AI Analytics Tested on Feb 17, 2020
Taiwan startup IronYun has raised tens of millions for its "mission to be the leading Artificial Intelligence, big data video software as a service...