Economies of Scale: Switching on to Low-Light Surveillance Cameras

According to a recent report produced by IHS Markit, which specialises in providing insight on the areas which are shaping the business landscape, the number of video surveillance cameras equipped with advanced low-light functionality is set to soar over the next four years, writes Uri Guterman. While it’s estimated that, in 2015, there were approximately 4.75 million of these types of cameras delivered to the market, come 2022 this number is projected to increase to something around 51 million.

The good news for system integrators and their end user clients is that, through economies of scale and increased competition, the price of these cameras is likely to gradually reduce. This will make them affordable for virtually any video surveillance project and thus fuel the growth in the number of them being deployed.

Conversely, it;s bad news for intruders who would normally use the cloak of darkness to break into a site as end users are now able to deploy HD cameras which are able to capture identification-grade images in very low-light conditions.

What do we mean by ‘advanced low-light camera capability? Well, as an example, a bullet camera which has recently come to market is being supplied with the world’s first 0.94 f-stop lens which, when combined with sens-i technology built into the camera’s new sensor, delivers noiseless, clear colour images when the light levels are as low as 0.004 lux. The low-light performance of this particular camera means there are unlikely to be many situations where the camera’s built-in IR illumination will be required.

Nice or necessary?

Human beings are able to observe objects and activity in relatively low-light conditions thanks to the complex processing which goes on between the eye and the brain. Until recently, video surveillance cameras haven’t shared anything close to this phenomenal processing power and have therefore struggled to deliver quality images in challenging lighting conditions.

Green issues such as light pollution and energy costs, as well as the capital and installation costs associated with the provision of supplementary lighting, have significantly increased the demand for the latest generation of video surveillance cameras which are able to generate evidence-grade images in very low-light conditions.

Although many of these cameras feature built-in IR LED illumination, this alone will not satisfy the requirements for all video surveillance application requirements. Where, for example, cameras have been installed for covert surveillance purposes, the red light emanating from the LEDs is likely to give the game away to unwanted intruders well before a Control Room operator can alert security officers on site or the police. For safety reasons, railway operators will not deploy cameras which have red IR illumination.

Nevertheless, they’re increasing in popularity and understandably so, as the built-in IR LEDs which consume low amounts of energy are automatically activated and, depending on the camera model, can provide effective lighting up to a distance of 100 metres.

On some of the latest generation cameras, the IR intensity is automatically adjusted to provide the appropriate level of IR light depending on the zoom ratio, while some ‘Flateye’ cameras have a flat surface cover which is applied to the front of the lens instead of the dome cover. This reduces IR diffused reflection which is caused by moisture and, in the absence of a normal transparent dome cover, also removes the effect scratches can have on image clarity.

Specification issues

There isn’t a single answer to the difficulties presented by low-light environments, but with the right advice, designing a video surveillance solution to cope with the challenge should not be a difficult task.

Uri Guterman

Uri Guterman

A combination of high resolution and low sensitivity is vital, but it’s also important that the cameras have performance-enhancing features and functions, such as Wide Dynamic Range, Automatic Gain Control and Sense-Up. The lenses used must also be able to match the performance of the cameras, thereby imparting as much light as possible to the image sensor.

Obviously, it makes sense for end users and their installers/integrators to work with a manufacturer that’s prepared to back its confidence in its own low-light cameras by being prepared to carry out a live on-site demonstration.

It’s certainly worth taking the time to research various options so that you don’t suffer from ‘buyers’ remorse’ by making a hasty decision.

There’s no shortage of cameras to choose from in this day and age, but those available can be ‘filtered’ by seeking advice from a systems integrator or the technical department of the distributor from whom they source the cameras.

Uri Guterman is Head of Product and Marketing at Hanwha Techwin Europe

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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