By Eddie Reynolds
Whether it’s identifying an intruder, tracking the movements of a fleeing suspect, distinguishing moving objects, or recognizing high-risk areas, video surveillance and video analytics have proven to be valuable tools for utility personnel. The truth is, however, that without adequate lighting none of this video capture would be possible. Let’s look at why lighting plays such an instrumental role in video monitoring and the types of lighting solutions that are most effective for surveillance systems.
The concept that light is needed for video is simple. If a security guard reports a late night break-in at the power station and there is no light source by the perimeter zone, the video recording will be completely dark. The footage will be unusable, and first responders will have to start their investigation from scratch.
In the past, lighting has often been overlooked as camera lux rates and HD capabilities took more of the limelight. However, security practitioners have begun to embrace the importance of lighting, using two primary ways of increasing it for the camera.
The first method is to deploy a camera with a built-in light source. This is commonly known as an infrared (IR) camera, consisting of several light-emitting diode (LED) lights surrounding the camera’s lens in a circular fashion. As many security managers have found, however, these infrared cameras have limitations. While integrated lighting can provide decent results for close range monitoring, they are not ideal for long expanses.
Side effects such as “hot spots” are a common occurrence with IR cameras. Hot spots occur when a camera’s lens angle is wider than the LED field of view provided. Think of shining a flashlight on an individual in the dark and using that light to take his or her picture. While one specific area will be fully visible in your image (the small circle provided by your flashlight), all elements outside that narrow field will remain indistinguishable. Needless to say, this is not a desirable outcome when looking to increase security with video surveillance.
Other issues that can occur when using a camera with built-in lighting are damage caused by excessive heat buildup and the accumulation of insects in or around the camera. LEDs that are fixed inside a camera can accrue heat, attracting insects. This can trigger motion detection sensors, set off false alarms, and cause spiders to spin webs around the camera’s lens, obstructing overall vision and analytic accuracy. Heat buildup can also cause erosion of LED lights within the camera, creating irreversible damage and shortening the lifespan of the bulbs. Once these LEDs burn out, there is no way to replace them, which usually means the utility must completely replace the camera to fix the problem.
In addition to infrared cameras, security managers can also deploy external illuminators to increase lighting for their surveillance applications. One of the benefits of using an independent IR illuminator is the absence of excessive heat build-up. Each panel is intelligently designed with PCB rows that allow heat to dissipate in all directions, maintaining a desirable internal temperature at all times. Using this kind of strategic structure layout not only deters insects, but also preserves the life of the LED.
Independent illuminators are the ideal option when it comes to coverage, flexibility and bandwidth. Where fixed lights possess only one narrow angle, independent illuminators present a variety of angles that supply higher quality coverage. When working with a panoramic or PTZ camera that has a wide field of view, for example, an integrator could install a mounting bracket that holds three, 120-degree illuminators. As a result, there would be 360 degrees of light emission, providing adequate illumination regardless of the angle where the camera would point.
Regarding camera storage, external lights deployed alongside video cameras provide more benefits than infrared cameras. We are living in an era of security where cameras are capturing more data than ever, so maximizing storage capacity has become a top priority. When images become too gritty, bitrates can rapidly rise, increasing required bandwidth. Using an external illuminator frees up bandwidth by reducing the amount of image noise, minimizing the required bits transmitted per second and overall data storage needed.
Stand-alone illuminators offer an advantage in their ability to project and provide light at longer distances. In a facility where infrared cameras with integrated lighting provide 10 degrees of coverage, an object or person can be recorded up to 100 feet. An independent infrared light emitting 10 degrees of illumination can cover more than 900 feet, producing more than nine times the average scope of an integrated light.
Taking into consideration all of the aforementioned facts associated with using infrared cameras and cameras used with external illuminators, the choice when comparing the value of lighting is clear. You would not accept a grainy image because of poor lighting for your movies, family photo albums, or even social media photos. So why would you accept it to keep something as vital as a critical infrastructure facility secure? It’s time we stopped taking light for granted and realize its importance for quality video and images. Without proper lighting, there is no video or reliable analytics. UP
Eddie Reynolds is CEO of iluminar Inc.