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IR and low-lux camera (1-1): Understanding low lux and night vision security cameras

IR and low-lux camera (1-1): Understanding low lux and night vision security cameras
The first step in the selection process of low lux or night vision security camera is an understanding of the various applications that require low-light and night-vision features, in addition to the camera specifications. This ensures that the most appropriate cameras are selected for the environment of the project in question.

In the past few years night vision technology has greatly advanced and today color night vision security cameras or infrared security cameras are available even at relatively entry level models. 
Before choosing the best color night vision security camera that fits your needs, the first step in the selection process of a low lux or night camera is to understand of the various methods that make low light and night vision video recording possible. This will help ensures that the most appropriate cameras are selected.

What is night vision security camera?

Low lux surveillance generally refers to cameras that are able to capture images of viewable quality in low light conditions without the need for auxiliary lights. Factors affecting performance include the combined effects of the sensors, the image processing unit, ISP/DSP, and the lens optics, night vision camera setting, all of which play a part in determining the actual performance of cameras under low lux and night vision conditions.  This article details the technologies help power security cameras with color night vision or infrared.

Low light Mode

Cameras featuring this low light, high-sensing mode — also known as low light, full-color mode — utilize Super HAD, Ex-view/EXTRA-View CCD, or back-illuminated CMOS sensors.
These sensors perform well in low light conditions with good visibility and near-IR reactions. Cameras using this technology tend to perform well under various weather conditions and function as day/night cameras, as they are able to capture color images in both daytime and low lux conditions. Generally speaking, low lux can reach 0.1 lux in color mode and 0.01 lux in black/white mode. IR illuminators providing near-IR light can be used in conjunction in 0 lux conditions, but these are generally not listed as part of the low light, color-mode specifications.
Most of these type of cameras utilize Ex-view-HAD technology, which are capable of performing in conditions of up to 0.01 to 0.001 lux. Such cameras are not only able to capture clear images, but are also able to limit noise levels in color images taken under low lux conditions, without the need to reduce shutter speed or increase iris diameter. Hence, they are considered capable of achieving low lux surveillance.

Cameras with Day/Night Mode

Cameras featuring day/night modes use mechanical principals to switch between modes. Most day/night cameras are labeled as colored 0.1 lux and IRC on black/white 0.01 to 0.001lux. It should be noted that since 0 lux does not really mean anything in this context, therefore, no special explanation of it is needed for low light nighttime application. These cameras make use of near-IR light to deliver black and white images when light is reduced to a certain level. When this happens, the camera switches to IR cut or to black/white mode after sensing the lower IR levels through the IR filter, and the images are converted from color to black and white.
When the IR-cut filter is removed during the conversion, however, the focus of the image is shifted. Hence, IR lenses are generally used to prevent a shifting of focus or inaccurate color displays, and to maintain consistency between the images taken during the day and at night. The downside of this method is that IR lenses are more expensive and inevitably increase costs for the end user. In other words, they may not be the most ideal choice for low lux applications.

IR Illumination

This method involves the use of an IR illuminator to light up the areas of surveillance. Apart from day/night cameras, IR cameras, are one of the best applications for low lux settings. The IR illuminator can either be an add-on module to the camera or be integrated in the camera housing. Since CCD and CMOS sensors already boast incredible light-sensitivity and are able to capture the majority of visible light and IR spectrum, IR illuminators enhance images in nighttime environments by allowing the image sensors to capture sharper images.
Clearer images are also captured in dark conditions because light sensitivity under black/white mode is already higher than under color mode.
IR illumination makes it possible to set up surveillance systems under 0 lux conditions. Its automatic light detection feature also allows this application to be used with either black/white or day/night cameras to enhance low lux and night vision surveillance capabilities.

Digital Slow Shutter

Another way for low light recording is slowing down the camera's electronic shutter speed, thereby prolonging the sensor's exposure to light to capture brighter pictures. Sometimes known as frame-accumulation mode, it utilizes digital slow shutter technology to electronically “accumulate” frames captured in inadequate lighting to build a clearer image. For example, an aperture setting of f1.2 to 1.4 captures enough frames in low light conditions to reach 0.001lux. For some, this is a simple yet reliable way of achieving results in low light conditions. However, images may appear blurred or lagged, hence Digital Slow Shutter (DSS) technology is best used in low light conditions with fixed cameras and in environments with minimal light changes and movement and where use of IR or auxiliary lights is not possible.
IR and low lux camera (1-2): Rules for selecting IR and low lux products
How to choose the best night vision security camera for your needs

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