"Color Night Vision"™ is a Trademark not a Technology

Nearly every professional IP camera has a setting to force color mode at night and disable infrared night vision, but that doesn't mean you should use it.

surveillance industry shortchange

The Remarkable Story of How Lorex Named Something that They, Themselves, Rated as Not Working at Night: "Color Night Vision."

You may also be interested in these related articles federal ban of Hanzhoa Hikvision and Shenzhen Dahua Technologies (the parent company of Lorex) and the 1 Million Dahua / Lorex devices infected with the BASHLITE malware virus.

Is this "Feature" Unique?

Here are the feature settings from the company with the trademark:

color night vision trademarked

Here are the same features from a company without the trademark:

color night vision not trademarked but still present 1

Here are some more companies without the trademark:

color night vision not trademarked but still present 2 color night vision not trademarked but still present 3
color night vision not trademarked but still present 4
color night vision not trademarked but still present 5

As you can see, the option to turn off infrared night vision is pretty ubiquitous across the industry. One of these is even made in the same factory and uses a highly similar codebase and components as the trademark holder.

Almost every camera can be forced into color mode at night

Here's an example of some footage from about 9 PM at night, but this isn't the whole story.

This video only looks great because nothing is happening.

If tons of manufacturers have this, why don't they mention it?

The don't mention it because it isn't any good. "Color Night Vision" causes motion blur.

Let's talk about how a camera works.

adjustable shutter speed

Shutter Speed and the Absorption of Light

Every camera (including security, movie, and regular cameras) operates the same way: a shutter opens which allows light to be absorbed by the image sensor. Then the shutter closes allowing it to take the next picture. When recording video, these pictures are taken so quickly that your brain perceives them as fluid, but a movie camera, camcorder, or security camera are all just taking rapid pictures.

The shutter in a camera controls how long the camera takes to take a picture, but faster doesn't mean better. The faster that a camera shutter opens and closes, the more likely that you will get a clear, blur-free image. The longer that the shutter is open, the more light you let in, and the better your image will be in low light. Shutters that are open for an extremely long time allow you to take color pictures at night/twilight without having to switch to infrared mode, but will cause motion blur for moving objects.

The most effective way that cameras have to get better low light imagery, which is letting more light in by leaving the shutter open longer, can cause motion blur.

Here's an example of a camera with a 0.02 lux rating that is being forced into color mode at night

You can see very clearly in this video how the shutter speed and frame rate has been slowed to allow enough light to enter the lens, resulting in motion blur.

image sensor size

Image Sensor Pixel Size and the Absorption of Light

When the shutter opens, the light is absorbed by the image sensor. Resolution aside, the larger the image sensor size, the more light that can be absorbed by the sensor. In other words, with everything else being equal (resolution, shutter speed, aperture), a one-inch image sensor is going to let in WAY more light than a smaller half-inch image sensor.

The total image size also isn't as important as the image sensor size to pixel ratio. In other words, if you have a 4K image sensor that is 4 inches wide (not a real size), it is absorbing the same amount of light as a one-inch 1080P sensor, since 4K has roughly 4x the number of pixels as 1080P. Now, a four-inch image sensor doesn't yet exist, which is why all cameras that specialize in low light imagery have lower resolutions.

There's really only one drawback with a larger sensor size: price. Sensors are typically the most expensive part of a camera to manufacture, and the larger you go the pricier the camera gets.

You get what you pay for. We have all our image sensor sizes listed on our website and we're happy that we tend to have larger sensors than our competitors (at similar levels of product).

How do those "Color Night Vision" Cameras Really Compare?

Don't call it "Color Night Vision"™ and Also Claim it Doesn't Work at Night

Lux is the measurement of light in an atmosphere. Twilight is about 3.4 lux. A full moon is somewhere between 0.05 and 0.36 lux. A moonless night is somewhere around 0.001 to 0.002 depending on cloud cover.

With "Night" in the name, one would think that it would be rated to work from between 0.001 to 0.36 lux - the lux ratings of nighttime. It really isn't surprising, then, that it is rather easy to find complaints online about how the color night views are "worthless." They claim that "If the lighting conditions ever drop below 1 lux (which they call "total darkness" but is really about late sunset), the full-color video will typically switch to black-and-white infrared night vision to ensure optimal low-light image quality."

The lux rating range where this works isn't at night.

Don't call it "Color Night Vision"™ and Claim it Only Works if you Install Exterior Lights

If you have to install custom lighting to make it work, you have to ask what this technology does at all. Considering that almost every other professional level camera can turn off night-vision and install-lighting, what, exactly, has been invented here?

Here's a video of an IP camera with a porch light mounted behind it

This video is taken without forcing color mode at night at all. The camera just recognizes that it has sufficient lighting to record in color. The average porch light projects around 300-800 lumens of light (1 lux equals 1 Lumen divided by the distance from the light source in meters and then squared: lux=lumens/meters^2). So, at ten feet from the light, you are talking about 3-8 lux and at about fifteen feet, 1.5-3.5 lux. As the subject moves further away from the light, the lux rating decreases all the way to 1 lux (there's a sight light on the road adding some lighting in this scene).

Don't call it "Color Night Vision"™ and also give it a 1.0 Lux Rating

Lux is a pretty bad stat to use to judge cameras, to be totally honest. Because there's no industry standard way to measure what constitutes a "good enough" image, manufacturers tend to overestimate how low their lux ratings are. We cover this problem in-depth in this article: Don't choose a camera just on the lux rating, but the bottom line is that lux ratings just tells you the subjective opinion of what the manufacturer thinks is an acceptable image.

Even acknowledging that there's some inconsistency in comparing these numbers across different manufacturers, especially on the more extreme low light claims, this company is expressing tremendously low confidence in the quality of their image sensor.

Even without taking into account that manufacturers tend to overestimate how low their lux ratings are, a 1 lux camera is trash tier quality. Most lux ratings for professional camera manufacturers are in the 0.1 to 0.001 range. SCW's cheapest camera has a lux rating of 0.02.

To make a claim that your color night camera works well up to 1 lux is as incoherent as saying your sports car is the fastest - in the "under 25 miles an hour" category.

In Short, Magic Terminology Hurts the Industry

The surveillance camera industry is harmed by these sort of over-promises.

In our technical analysis, we believe there is no way that this product can live up to the misleading expectations created by its name. We predict that this is going to result in is a bunch of unhappy consumers looking to return products and shoppers who have unrealistic expectations about what the product does.

But, what if I want color video at night?

You have three solutions.

1. You can force color night vision with nearly any brand camera, but you will probably be disappointed in the results

Although comparing lux ratings from brand to brand can be pretty useless as there is no consistent method of measuring success, most manufacturers do tend to be consistent within their own brands. You can generally trust that a manufacturer's product A with a lower lux rating performs better in low light than their model B with a worse rating.

Let's look at that camera with the 0.02 lux rating that is being forced into color mode at night, again

Allowing the camera to switch to infrared video would actually have made a better video:

2. Install a porch light behind the camera

For the best results, you should make sure that the camera is just in front of the porch light (never face the light toward the camera). For more tips and tricks on recording video at night, please see our Buying Guide and Best Practices: Surveillance Footage at Night article.

3. Buy a camera with an integrated white, natural light

Our Knight and Spotlight cameras, for example, have white, natural, full-spectrum spotlights. This will guarantee that you get a full-color photo with optimal lighting, but won't require you to install separate outdoor lighting that is on all the time.

Below are our cameras with full spectrum motion lights

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