night vision

Quality Night Vision Cameras: Many Offer But Not All Deliver

You may have to ask your parents about this…Before night vision cameras existed, the safety of our homes depended on how much caffeine the security guard had on his last break. Fast forward 20+ years and they are now the most sought after cameras on the market.

A security camera is only as good as the image or video it captures. If your camera is unable to capture clear videos of people and objects when night falls, your safety is in jeopardy. To address this problem, many manufactures today are producing cameras with Infrared (IR) Illumination. Though invisible to the human eye, infrared light is used by many cameras to record videos at night or in poorly lit areas of the home. Cameras designed with Infrared Illumination are said to have “night vision”.

Camera Night Vision - What To Look For

Night vision technology is not just another luxury feature meant to lure you into paying more money. It’s what makes it possible for you to see what’s going on around you even in pitch-blackness. But not all cameras are created equally – even if they support night vision. So let’s make a list of all the features you should look out for when you go to purchase a night vision camera.

  • Infrared cut filter
  • Powerful illumination
  • Infrared illuminators that match the Field of View (FOV) of the camera lens.

The difference between the quality of one camera’s night vision and another’s boils down to the three factors above.

Mechanical IR-Cut filters

IR cut filters allow night vision cameras to perform at optimum level during daylight. Camera sensors are sensitive to both the visible and the Near Infra-Red portion (the part closest to visible light) of the light spectrum. The IR cut filter prevents full spectrum light, which would result in distorted colors during daylight illumination, from entering the camera sensors and makes them sensitive to the IR Infrared spectrum of visible light. Cameras that do not have an IR cut filter usually produce grey or pink images that lack color depth. Manufactures such as Honeywell, Lorex, Swann, Sharx Security create cameras with IR cut filters.

Here is how it works. The IR cut filter is placed in the optical path to bar infrared light from entering the camera sensor. This way the camera can capture rich color videos consistently in bright light. When night falls, the camera sensor actively monitors light levels and removes the IR cut filters from the optical path, activating the IR illuminators to deliver the best videos. Whether it’s dark or bright out, it will help the camera to deliver quality videos. So let’s check this off our list and move on.

IR LEDs

Secondly, you’ll want to purchase a camera with infrared LEDs surrounding the lens. These cameras are ideal for areas where lighting is minimal. The LEDS emit a light to illuminate the area to give you clearer video footage. If you’re not convinced, try placing one of these cameras in a completely blacked out area and the end result will still be great video coverage.

During the daytime the camera will operate in color and as the sensor detects darkness it will switch to night vision. Normally, if you stand in front of a camera at night with IR LEDs you will see it giving off a faint red glow.

When purchasing these cameras always look at the spec sheet to check the range of the IR LED beam, which brings us to the next point on our checklist.

Powerful Illumination

Come on…let’s admit it…we’re all afraid of the dark. It’s been tainted by scary stories from our childhood, so it’s a natural instinct to avoid the whole eerie experience. However, when it comes to protecting your home, your surveillance camera should not be afraid of the dark. Most of the time the limiting factor in most surveillance coverage occurs at night. This is why you need a camera with powerful illumination. It’s what makes it possible for you to identify people and objects on video footage that is taken when it’s dark.

Infrared illumination, while visible to most cameras, is invisible to the human eye. So if your aim is to catch a culprit in the act – should they come out to ‘play” at night – then this feature can be an invaluable tool to help you obtain irrefutable evidence. Night vision cameras with high quality technology from world leaders in LED lighting, such as Phillips, GE Lighting Solutions and Osram; can generally produce up to 100 ft. of infrared illumination and are worth every dime you’ll pay.

Infrared illuminators that match the Field of View (FOV) of the camera lens

One major problem with surveillance systems today is that the illuminator does not have an effective field of view (FOV) since in most cases they are not the same. Most of the infrared illuminators used in cameras today are are “off-the-shelf” devices whose criteria are based on economics rather than performance. In addition, because most IR illuminators are designed for other purposes, in most cases they are not optimized to match the cameras they are used in.

Infrared illumination leaves the camera as a beam of invisible light when used in security cameras; it’s like shining a spotlight into a tiny space. The illumination beam produced by the IR illuminator in most cameras is generally narrower than the field of view of the camera used. The end product is a “spotlight” formed in the center of the image. This makes the image appear brighter near the center but becomes noticeably darker as you reach to the outer region the camera’s field of view, making it hard for you to pinpoint objects.

To avoid this, select a camera with an integrated infrared illuminator that matches the FOV of the camera lens. With this, you’ll get consistently sharp video across the complete image, minus the irritating spotlight, unlike most night vision cameras being sold today.

I know this article is technical but these are some of the things we consider for YOU when reviewing different cameras who claim to have night vision. On our site having night vision isn't enough, you have to have night vision that works.

Featured Image: Some Noir Scene by Jim Miller/Flickr Under a CC by 2.0 Licence