There’s something to be said about low-light security cameras. Because lighting conditions in different environments are not always ideal for surveillance, low-light security cameras enable us to capture respectable footage in these situations. And with new technology, the quality of low-light camera images has vastly improved.
But before you invest in low-light security cameras for your home or business, here are some important facts and tips to know to make the most of your security systems.
Here’s some important information in order to make the most of your security systems.
First and foremost, you should know the related terms you may come across:
All of these terms refer to the same classification of surveillance cameras. And while some of these terms are trademarked by manufacturers, the most commonly used terms for these cameras are “low-light” and “day/night.”
How It Works
Despite the sometimes confusing terminology, the basic components remain the same for all low-light cameras: a lens and sensor and some level of image processing. And to be clear, low-light cameras are different than thermal cameras (which track heat rather than motion or images) or cameras with IR illuminators.
A majority of low-light cameras use an IR cut filter, which is a mechanical filter that sits between the lens and the sensor (CMOS chip). The name is derived from its ability to “cut out” or filter out IR illumination during the day to improve color quality. At night, as available light diminishes, it slides out of the way to allow more light to get the sensor, thus improving low-light video quality. In order to help the video quality, it is also captured in black and white. In most cameras the filter is mechanically driven by an algorithm, however, some cameras allow manual control.
Because nearly all the cameras contain IR cut filters, it comes down to the lens and the processing to set these items apart from one another. The lens transmits light to the sensor and then the data on the sensor is processed by a processor. The variance among cameras is often in the optics. You want to be sure that both the lens and the sensor are of great quality, otherwise the potential for stellar images will be wasted.
Aside from the optics, processing is an important factor in determining the best low-light camera for you. Most manufacturers employ the same OEM processor yet make their own adjustments to them. The ability to control the tuning of an image is crucial as the tuning of an image during daylight will likely not hold up at night or in complete darkness.
Pay close attention to image toning, noise suppression, and the ability to maintain color and contrast in low light as these often differentiate one camera from another.
Typical IR cameras will capture images between 1 lux and 0.1 lux, however, the latest technologies can allow .01 lux to 0.00001 lux. This means that what would have been a completely black image a few years ago now looks like a near-daytime picture thanks to new low- and ultralow-light sensors.
While this achievement is impressive, in reality, there will rarely be any situations where there is complete darkness. Some ambient light will likely be present, whether it is from street lamps, the moon, or even the stars.
Spec Sheets Vs. Live Demo
As discussed, the impressive low-light sensitivity and lux will likely be included in the spec sheets, along with other important features. However, these spec sheets often represent technical specifications as opposed to actual performance.
Instead of simply relying on spec sheets, try to find a manufacturer or company that will provide you with a live demo and comparisons. This will give you a better idea of the low-light camera’s performance and whether or not it lives up to your requirements. In addition, third party reviews can give you more insight as well.
Just because a camera boasts a high megapixel count does not necessarily mean it will produce a better low-light image. With higher resolution and higher megapixels, each pixel becomes a smaller percentage of that sensor. For example, image the sensor has a fixed size, yet the resolution is doubled. The pixels are smaller, thus, the sensor for each pixel is also smaller, increasing the amount of sensitivity needed to maintain the same level of quality.
The speed of the lens is important and investing in a fast lens and better optics is crucial. The lens determines what information reaches the sensor, and, because of this, you get what you pay for when it comes to lenses and optics.
Positioning & Distance
Proper positioning of your security cameras is critical. Focus on what you want to capture and the level of detail you need when choosing the location of your cameras.
Position surveillance cameras so that the common range of motion is moving across the field of view rather than having common movement coming toward the camera. Also, avoid bright light pointing directly at the lens – this can cause flare or “fog” on the image.
Consider the field of view in terms of distance. The level of detail from the camera is highly dictated by how close the camera is and how much it’s zoomed in.
And when it comes to distance, you want the right combination of lens and camera that factors in the distance from the area you are trying to monitor. If you need to detect motion from long distances, your best bet would be to switch to thermal cameras. Activity will be detected, however, it will be harder to determine whether it is a person or an animal.
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