Can Security Cameras See in The Dark & How Far?

Planning to set up a security camera at home or in the workplace? Regardless of where you install it, it’s really important that the camera can see in the dark. So to answer your question immediately:

Can security cameras see in the dark?

SOME CAMERAS can see in the dark. Not all of them, but many modern CCTV cameras have infrared vision, also known as night vision. Some have thermal vision.

Infrared camera lens is surrounded by small LED lights which turn on when the environment gets dark and combine with the IR sensor to produce night vision. These lights are small enough to be barely noticeable to a passer-by.

Thermal cameras on the other hand are basically thermal sensors which create a visible contrast between small differences in heat. They are even better for spotting intruders immediately due to this more pronounced contrast. But the contrast can also impact face recognition and other details in a negative way.

So both infrared and thermal cameras produce night vision, and both have their ups and downs. I recommend checking this video to see the basic difference in video quality between infrared and thermal camera (skip to 0:14 for direct comparison):

The quality of the night vision is really important, as well as the maximum range possible until the video gets blurry.

If you use a short-range night vision camera you can’t expect to monitor anything more than an entrance door and the fairly limited surrounding area.

In comparison, there are high end security cameras that have the same or almost the same quality at night as they do during the day. They can capture excellent footage at night under 100 ft range or more.

3 Types of Night Vision Security Cameras

High end cameras:

High end, HD cameras have it all; excellent close and long range video quality, and the details are almost the same at night as they are during the day.

The quality of the video is not as affected as much by the elements (rain, wind etc) either. So they can be placed on higher positions where they’re more exposed to the elements but are more difficult to spot and are more protected from physical attacks.

Thanks to high resolution the clarity and detail they provide is high quality. These cameras make face recognition much easier, which spells trouble for any criminal who enters the monitored area.

Mid-range cameras:

Mid-range cameras can’t see as far but they can still be helpful at identifying faces and other details. These are the type of cameras used by business and home owners.

They usually cost around $50-$100 and provide decent video quality, but the IR sensors are somewhat more vulnerable to the elements.

While placing them on top of a high-rise building for example is not advised, they function just fine when placed on higher spots on houses, fences or trees. Preferably in a spot that is less exposed to elements so that the performance of the IR sensor and the range it provides is not affected.

Cheap low range cameras:

These cheap night vision cameras usually cost $50 or less and have a more limited range. Some dome cameras that are higher quality also fall into the short-range category simply because they’re designed for wide, not long-range monitoring.

Either way, low range cameras are used for monitoring small spaces like elevators and entrance doors. The night vision video quality can be pretty good with these cameras as long as they’re used correctly. But don’t expect to monitor a parking lot or a larger backyard at night with one of these.

Important: Keep in mind that the price will always be lower if you get a full CCTV security system that contains multiple cameras than if you were buying only one camera. So don’t focus solely on the price to determine which camera is better since it can vary significantly. Instead, compare the following features as well:

How far can a security camera see in the dark?

These are the most important features to consider:

1. Size of the security camera lens

Size of the lens is measured in millimeters (mm). Some security cameras have a fixed focal length and others have a variable focal length.

Variable length is preferable because it allows you to adjust a wider view with less distance or a narrower view with larger distance.

In short, smaller focal length provides a wider view, while a larger focal length provides narrow but longer distance view.

Based on experience of many security experts, you can cover a 40 ft range with a 4.0 fixed lens security camera. If you need longer distance than that, use a zoom security camera, which as the name suggests, allows you to zoom in and out more.

Bullet cameras usually have larger focal length while dome cameras have a shorter focal length. So bullet cameras are often better suited for outdoor surveillance, and dome cameras for smaller indoor areas.

2. Video quality

The resolution or the video quality are really important. If you can’t see the far away object, larger focal length itself won’t be of much use.

So don’t focus only on how far a camera can see in the dark. It’s just as important to know if the picture is a blurry mess or you’re able to see all the details, or it’s somewhere in between.

If you plan on monitoring a parking lot or a larger backyard for example, I suggest investing in a HD security camera. A resolution of 4MP, 5MP, or even better, a 4K resolution provide the best video quality.

3. Quality of the camera

Despite of what the resolution is, not every camera in the same category will produce the same video quality.

Other factors include the quality of the lens, how well it can maintain a signal (in case of wireless cameras) and many other factors.

In order to determine which camera is worth your money, check out the expert and customer reviews before buying.

4. Night vision specs

The night vision quality and distance that the camera is able to produce depends on multiple factors.

Mainly the type and amount of LED lights it has, the lux rating, if it has 3D-DNR function (noise reduction from digital images) and infrared technology.

Many manufacturers will specify the night vision quality and maximum distance in the product description.


So if you want to monitor a dark environment and from a specific distance, you’ll need to take these things into account:

  • resolution
  • camera lens size (focal length)
  • night vision specifications (if it has infrared vision or not and the distance)
  • overall quality of the camera

Before you go, check out our review article for the best night vision security cameras. We’ve specified the video quality and the maximum distance for each camera along with other important features.

But what if you have a night vision camera already but are experiencing poor image quality? In that case, check out how to improve night vision on a security camera.

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