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Physical Security Industry

Choosing the Right Security Camera: A Guide to 5MP, PTZ, 4K, and More

Ashesh Jain
Jul 8, 2024

Choosing the right security camera for video surveillance can be a daunting task. With numerous camera options available, each presenting a unique set of features and capabilities, it's crucial to understand their specific use cases, strengths, and weaknesses. In this blog, we will explore various categories of security cameras, their pros and cons, and how to select the best option for your specific needs.

We first break security cameras into the following categories:

  • Single-Sensor Cameras with Fixed Focal Length (e.g., 5MP, 4K, 12MP cameras)
  • Single-Sensor Cameras with Optical Zoom (e.g., 5MP 2.8mm - 12mm cameras)
  • Wide Field of View Cameras (e.g., 5MP or 12MP 360-degree cameras)
  • Multi-Sensor Cameras (e.g., 2-sensor or 4-sensor cameras)
  • PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) Cameras

The exact choice of cameras depends on budget and use cases. The use case further breaks down into:

  • Range of visibility required
  • Specific applications like license plate reading, face recognition, etc.
  • Night-time visibility requirements
  • Cabling cost and time required

Single Sensor Cameras with Fixed Focal Length

Let's start with the most basic type: single-sensor cameras with a fixed focal length. These cameras don't have optical zoom capabilities and rely solely on digital zoom. They come in various resolutions, typically ranging from 2 megapixels to 12 megapixels or even higher.

Resolution matters: Higher resolution cameras provide more pixels per frame, allowing for clearer images at greater distances. For instance, a 4K camera will offer better facial recognition at a slightly longer distance than a 5-megapixel camera, assuming they have the same focal length.

When to choose

  • 5MP cameras are generally sufficient for most indoor and outdoor use cases. They can capture clear images up to 50 feet and provide clear face recognition up to 15-20 feet away.
  • 4K cameras (8.3MP) are ideal for large spaces or warehouses where you need to view objects clearly at distances of 80-100 feet, and they can provide clear face recognition up to 25 feet.
  • 12MP cameras are excellent for fisheye lenses, offering a full 360-degree panoramic view with the ability to produce synthetic 180-degree or quadrant views.

Single-Sensor Cameras with Optical Zoom

The next category includes cameras that offer both optical and digital zoom. Optical zoom is a true zoom feature that involves the physical movement of the camera's lens, allowing it to focus on and gather information from objects much farther away. This is in contrast to digital zoom, which merely interpolates existing pixels without providing additional information.

These cameras, also known as varifocal cameras, come with adjustable focal lengths, typically ranging from 2.8mm to 12mm or even higher. The higher the focal length, the farther you can see, but also the narrower your field of view becomes.

When to choose

  • Ideal for situations where mounting options are limited, but you need to view objects at great distances (200 meters or more).
  • Perfect for specific use cases like license plate recognition, where you need to focus on a particular area of the road. By focusing them on the right place and utilizing optical zoom, you can capture license plates 50 meters away. If your use case requires capturing license plates at 100 meters or even more, choose a varifocal camera with higher optical zoom. Essentially, one needs at least 50 pixel-per-foot (PPF) for good face recognition and license plate reading.

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Pixel-per-foot (PPF) calculation for different camera types

Wide Field of View Cameras

This category includes cameras with extremely wide fields of view, such as fisheye cameras. These are particularly useful when you need to cover a large area with a single camera.

  • When to choose
    • Ideal for providing a complete overview of a large space.
    • Useful in situations where installing multiple cameras is impractical or cost-prohibitive.
    • Useful when general surveillance is the primary use case, and analytics like face recognition and license plate reading are not the main use case.

Multi-Sensor Cameras

A relatively new and increasingly popular category, multi-sensor cameras combine multiple lenses and sensors in a single unit. They come in various configurations, such as four-lens cameras covering 360 degrees or two-lens cameras covering 180 degrees.

When to choose

  • Perfect for corner installations or open spaces requiring 360-degree coverage.
  • Ideal when you want to reduce cabling and installation costs while maintaining comprehensive coverage. A single cable can power all the sensors, but a POE++ might be required depending on the camera.
  • Keep in mind these cameras are expensive, so they are worth it only when the installation cost is high enough to justify not installing multiple cameras but instead using a single multi-sensor camera.

PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) Cameras

PTZ cameras offer the ability to pan, tilt, and zoom, providing maximum flexibility in a single unit. They often come with powerful optical zoom capabilities, allowing you to see objects very far away.

When to choose

  • Ideal for large, open spaces where there isn't one specific asset to monitor, but general surveillance is needed. Also, depending on the scenario, the security officer may want to dynamically focus on different parts of a scene. PTZ cameras can offer very high optical zoom and even allow for the capture of clear images up to 0.5 miles away.
  • Perfect for security teams that need to quickly scan different areas of a large space, such as a parking lot.
  • Useful when you want to set up automatic scanning patterns to regularly monitor an entire environment.

Nighttime Performance and Infrared Capabilities

Regardless of the camera type, nighttime performance is a crucial factor to consider. The strength of a camera's infrared light determines how effectively it can capture images in low-light or no-light conditions. When selecting a camera for long-range viewing, ensure it has a sufficiently powerful IR sensor to illuminate distant objects at night. Typically, bullet cameras offer longer-range IR visibility than dome cameras, and PTZ cameras generally have very strong IR performance for long-range visibility.

Choosing the Right Camera: Factors to Consider

  • Resolution: Higher is generally better, but consider your specific needs and budget.
  • Field of view: Determine whether you need a wide-angle or more focused perspective.
  • Zoom capabilities: Consider whether optical zoom is necessary for your application. For maximum flexibility, a 5MP or 4K camera with optical zoom leaves plenty of room for experimentation. However, they are also more expensive.
  • Installation location: This can influence your choice between fixed, varifocal, or PTZ cameras.

The Importance of Flexible AI and Cloud-Based Solutions

As the camera landscape continues to evolve, it's crucial to work with vendors that can accommodate various camera types. At Coram AI, we offer solutions that work with virtually any camera, from multi-sensor to PTZ, dome to bullet, and with or without optical zoom.

This flexibility allows you to decouple your AI and cloud-based video security from the camera system itself. You can use cameras provided by Coram AI or source them from your preferred vendor, ensuring that you're not locked into a single ecosystem. Remember, the best camera is one that not only meets your current needs but also integrates seamlessly with advanced AI and cloud-based solutions, future-proofing your security investment.

Resolution

5MP

5MP

4K

4K

Camera Type

Fixed lens (2.8mm @ F1.6)

Optical zoom (2.8mm - 12mm)

Fixed lens (2.8mm @ F1.6)

Optical zoom (2.8mm - 12mm)

Horizontal FoV

113°

29.2° (at max zoom)

113°

29.2° (at max zoom)

Distance of 50 PPF

17 feet

98 feet

25 feet

147 feet

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