8 Tips to Improve a Security Camera’s Night Vision
Are your security cameras dark and blurry at night? Unfortunately, most security cameras have terrible night vision.
Today’s high-definition cameras have an amazingly sharp image during the day, but most people are surprised that they can barely see anything at night.
How can you improve a security camera’s night vision? The best way to improve a security camera’s night vision is to provide additional lighting to brighten up the area.
- Provide additional lighting to brighten up the area.
- Clean the camera’s lens or glass dome regularly to prevent light reflections.
- Choose the right camera for the area being viewed.
- Try not to view a large area with just one camera.
- Don’t install the security camera too close to tall shrubs.
- Don’t install the camera too close to a light.
- Make sure your camera is switching to night mode.
- Add external infrared lighting.
How does night vision work on a security camera?
Security cameras have infrared bulbs around the lens that shine light in the camera’s field of view. The human eye cannot see infrared light, but the camera’s lens sees it.
A Camera’s night vision capability is measured by the distance the infrared light can shine into the field of view.
A typical security camera has a night vision distance of about 50-65 feet, while other cameras can view up to 300 feet at night.
Important note: Even though a camera’s night vision is rated for 50-65 feet, it doesn’t mean you can clearly see an object 50 to 65 feet away.
Example: If you’re viewing a very dark area, you’ll notice that the cameras’ infrared lights will light up the first 20-30 feet in front of the camera, but the image will get darker the further you get from the camera.
Most security cameras do not perform well at night. Almost all cameras need additional lighting to provide a clear image in the dark.
1. Provide additional lighting to brighten up the area.
Even though I am providing you with several ways to improve the night vision of your security cameras, the most effective and easiest way for improving night vision is to provide additional lighting to make the area as bright as possible.
There are different ways to supplement the lighting based on the existing lighting available around your house without installing new light fixtures.
Leave the lights on all night.
If you have outdoor lighting in the area, leave the lights on all night. I installed a timer to turn my backyard lights on at dusk and turn them off at dawn.
Not only does this help the cameras see better at night, but I feel that having the lights on improves the overall security.
I replaced the two 90 watt light bulbs in the floodlight with two high efficient 15 watt LED bulbs. The new LED bulbs use very little electricity, so I don’t mind paying a few more dollars a month to keep the lights on all night to have added security.
Use motion-activated lights
You can either leave lights on all night to brighten up the area or install motion-activated lights to come on whenever there is movement.
Some homes might already have motion-activated lights, but if you don’t, there is an inexpensive way of turning your existing lights into motion-activated lights.
Using an attachment that screws into the existing light socket, you can turn a regular light fixture into a motion-activated light. These devices have settings that will keep the lights on for a selected time whenever motion is detected, usually from 30 seconds to five minutes.
One of the benefits of using a motion-activated light is that you can use a high wattage bulb to brighten up the area without worrying about your electric bill.
Install solar lights
One of my favorite things about solar lights is that you don’t need to hire an electrician to install them. There is no wiring involved for most of them.
Solar lights are not as bright as regular electric lights, but sometimes you only need a little bit of extra lighting to improve your camera’s night vision.
There are a couple of different types of solar lights:
You can install solar lights around your walkways, and all you have to do is stick them in the ground, and you’re done.
Solar lights that you can mount on a wall. These lights get attached to the wall with only a couple of screws.
2. Clean the camera’s lens or glass dome regularly to prevent light reflections.
Spider webs, dust, and water stains can cause a huge problem for all outdoor cameras. Some are worst than others, depending on where the camera is mounted and the camera’s angle.
Spiders love hanging out in front of security cameras for some reason, maybe it’s the heat emitted from the camera that keeps them warm and cozy at night, but they are a big pain in the neck because the spider webs block the cameras lens.
Dust and water drops on the lens cause the camera’s infrared lights to reflect into the lens to create a blurry image.
Cameras that are pointed to look downward are not affected by dust and water drops sitting on the lens as much as cameras that are pointed straight or level.
Over the years, I have had to clean thousands of security cameras, so I created an easy way to save a lot of time. This method works great for homeowners who don’t have tall ladders or uncomfortable climbing tall ladders.
You will need a paintbrush, a small towel, a bottle of glass cleaner, and a broomstick or an extension pole.
- I tape the paintbrush on one end of the stick and roll up the towel into a ball and tape it to the other end of the stick.
- First I wipe the lens clean of any spider webs and dust with the paintbrush.
- I then use the towel to wipe the camera and lens clean. If the camera is not too dirty, then you’re done. Just check the video from the camera to see if it cleared up.
- If the lens is filthy I spray some glass cleaner on the towel and clean the lens again.
3. Choose the right camera for the area being viewed.
If the night vision on your security cameras is dark and grainy, the most likely problem is that the camera’s night vision capability is not sufficient for the area being viewed.
You can easily solve this problem by providing additional outdoor lighting, as explained a little further in this article.
But if additional lighting is not available, the only remedy is to replace the camera with one appropriately designed for the area being viewed.
The average security camera has an IR distance of about 50-65 feet. This means that the infrared bulbs built into the camera can shine up to 50-65 feet away from the camera.
And based on my experience, a 50 foot IR range will give a viewable image of only about 20-30 feet. After that, the picture starts getting dark, and you really can’t make out any details in the image.
The camera’s height also makes a big difference in how the view area will light up.
For example, the cameras in the front of my house are mounted nine feet off the ground, compared to 22 feet in my backyard.
The cameras’ image in my front yard is much brighter than the image of my backyard cameras because the camera’s lights are closer to the ground and the objects in the field of view.
Cameras mounted higher will lose some of the ability to brighten up the area being viewed because the light emitted from the camera is much higher off the ground.
Choose the camera’s IR range based on the area be viewed
Check out the article I wrote about where to install security cameras to get an idea of how many cameras you will need to install around your home for the best coverage.
Designing a security camera system doesn’t have to be complicated. I typically use only two types of cameras for residential installations.
I install cameras with a short IR range of about 50 feet to cover small spaces such as entrances and doorways and a medium-range camera of about 130 feet for all the other areas.
A camera with a short IR range is perfect to be positioned above your front door because it is intended to view a person standing just a few feet away from it.
If a homeowner has a large property, I might use a 175 to 300-foot IR range camera. These long-range cameras are good for getting a general view of the property.
Even though we can light up a more substantial area with these cameras, there is absolutely no detail when trying to view an object 150 feet away at night because the person or object will appear too dark and too small.
4. Don’t try to cover a large area with just one camera.
Before you go through the trouble of installing security cameras, you first need to decide what exactly you want to see. If all you need is to get a general view of the property, one camera might do the job.
For example, if you have a large property, you can install one camera on one corner of your house and get a general view of your entire backyard.
- With one camera, you will be able to see if someone is on your property, but you will not be able to identify them if they are more than 50 feet away from the camera.
- Keep in mind that what you can see during the day is not the same as what you can see at night.
- During the day, you might be able to see to the end of your property, but at night the viewable distance is limited to the camera’s night vision rating, which is about 50 feet for most cameras.
If your goal is to identify the people walking onto the property, you must install more cameras.
Generally, I don’t expect to identify a person’s face at night if they are more than 20 to 30 feet away from the camera.
5. Don’t install the security camera too close to tall shrubs.
Installing the camera too close to tall shrubs and bushes will create a bright spot in the foreground.
In the above picture, the camera’s infrared light is shining on the bush in front of the camera, causing the camera to adjust its lens based on the brightest part of the image and making the background very dark.
Some cameras have a wide dynamic range (WDR) setting that compensates for contrasting brightness but doesn’t always work if the object is too close.
I used the wide dynamic range setting on this camera, but it didn’t make much difference. This bush needs to be cut down a few feet, and then the camera will be able to view the entire front yard.
6. Do not install the camera too close to a light.
Installing a security camera too close to a light fixture can cause light to reflect into the lens at night and distort the image.
- Too much light in the camera’s field of view, especially if it’s very close to the camera, will cause the camera’s light sensor to overcompensate and close its iris, causing the background to be dark.
- The camera might not switch to night mode when a light is shining directly into the camera’s lens. The camera’s infrared lights do not come on if the camera is not switching to night mode resulting in a dark and blurry image.
A quick fix to this problem:
- Replace the light with a lower wattage bulb.
- Rotate the camera slightly so that the light fixture is not in the camera’s view.
- Turn on Wide Dynamic Range (WDR) in the camera’s settings. WDR setting automatically compensates for overexposure and balances the bright and dark areas to create a more balanced image.
- To turn on the WDR setting, you must go into the camera’s OSD (on-screen display). This setting can sometimes be accessed through the digital recorder.
7. Make sure your camera is switching to night mode
Inside the security camera, there is something called an IR cut filter, and this filter blocks infrared light waves from entering through the lens during the day.
During the day, IR filters are necessary for the camera to produce realistic colors, but at night the IR filter needs to be moved out of the way of the lens for the camera to see its built-in infrared lights for night vision.
When a camera switches to night mode, the image switches from color to black and white, and the IR filter is moved away from the lens. You will hear a clicking noise from inside the camera when this happens.
If the camera does not switch to night mode, there might be enough ambient lighting available for the camera to stay in color/day mode, or the camera is defective.
To test whether a camera is switching to night mode, you can place your finger over the light sensor. The light sensor is a small circle usually found below the lens.
If the camera switches to night mode, you will hear a click inside the camera and see a series of red infrared bulbs turn on around the lens.
If the camera does not switch to night mode when you place your finger over the light sensor, you can reboot the camera by powering it down for 10 seconds and then powering it back up.
To power down the camera, it’s best to find the power supply for the camera inside the house. The power supply will usually be located near the DVR (Digital Video Recorder).
It will be inside a box where all the other cameras are powered or a transformer plugged into an electrical outlet.
Sometimes this resets the camera, but you must replace the camera if that doesn’t work.
8. Add external infrared lighting.
Even though a security camera has its own built-in infrared light source, there might be times when you will need to supplement it with an external IR light.
These IR lights are small enough to be installed next to the camera or away from the camera to brighten up dark spots the camera’s internal lighting can’t reach.
These lights require power, so you can tap into the camera’s power source if you install them next to the camera or plug them into an available electrical outlet if they are installed away from the camera. Having an available power source will dictate where they are mounted.
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