Security cameras with night vision are incredibly useful for surveillance during night and in dark areas in general.
But sometimes poor video quality can get in the way of their usefulness. The picture can be too messy, with not enough contrast between the objects, making it difficult to spot on an intruder at nighttime. Or the contrast can be too severe, if an external light is getting in the way
Unfortunately most break ins and burglaries happen when its dark since its easier to sneak around undetected. If the picture is too dark or blurry, your camera will inevitably provide only a small viewing range when night vision is turned on, which makes it pretty much useless for monitoring even smaller areas.
Sometimes it’s not the cameras fault at all. Perhaps you installed it in the wrong location, the camera lens is dirty, or you’re using it to view through a glass window or another reflective surface.
So instead of replacing your camera altogether, you might be able to improve its night vision by making a few tweaks. Here are 10 simple DIY ideas that can help.
1. Add more light to the monitored area
Adding more light to the area will improve the video quality. There might be some light present already, but if it’s not evenly spread out it could do more harm than good. Let’s say there’s a small porch light on the other side of a parking lot. It could produce shadows since the lighting is uneven, and ruin the quality of video.
Instead, if there were more similar lights or one light that can illuminate a larger area from a high spot like a pole, that would certainly help. If bright and large enough, it could perhaps allow your camera to record on color mode instead of infrared throughout the night, which would certainly improve the video quality as well.
Another solid and even cheaper alternative is to install one or more motion sensor floodlights and point them at the monitored area. These LED security floodlights will illuminate the area with a bright light when someone steps into it, and will stay on for the amount of time you set beforehand. It could be anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. This would allow your camera to record with high quality and capture all the important details when it actually matters.
Since motion sensor floodlights turn on and off automatically, they would certainly cut down on your electric bill. Compare that to keeping the lights on throughout the night and it’s definitely a better investment from a financial perspective.
2. External infrared illuminator
If you want to monitor an area with a security camera without adding any visible light, use one or more external infrared illuminators.
The difference between actual light from for example a light bulb, and infrared illuminators is that the IR illuminators don’t produce any really noticeable light. They only help your camera to produce a better image.
In fact, almost every night vision security camera already has small LED lights surrounding the lens, but these are usually not large enough to illuminate at any significant distance. By using external infrared illuminators your camera can produce amazingly clear image in an otherwise completely dark environment.
There are many external IR illuminators on the market. The one that I recommend is CMVision’s LED IR Illuminator (link to Amazon). There are many reasons why I find it to be the best, and it also happens to be the most popular product of this kind on the market:
- Can be used indoors and outdoors
- 360 degree tilt makes it very easy to adjust
- 300-400 feet range
- Low operating costs, since it can auto-switch to ON when available light is under 10 lux
- Includes a free 2 prong power adaptor
Many people are using it specifically for improving the night vision of their security cameras. I highly recommend checking the customer reviews on Amazon, where people have actually shared before and after images from their cameras, so you can see the difference it makes.
3. Keep bright lights away from the camera
What I mean by this is to keep away lights from directly shining on the camera. If it’s directly in the camera lens’ field of view it will prevent it from seeing anything behind the light.
It could also prevent the day / night light sensor from functioning, thus reducing the video quality. The same will happen if a light is being reflected off of a nearby surface, so keep that in mind when installing the camera.
So what if you have a bright light in that location? Well, try to install the camera so that the light is to the side or at the back of the camera. Avoid it hitting the front of the camera.
This is what some criminals will actually do if they’re able to reach the camera. Another reason why you should install a camera to a spot where it’s out of reach.
4. Reduce or eliminate nearby reflected IR
Just as regular light facing the front of your camera will ruin the image quality, so will extra, reflected infrared light. This could happen without you even realizing it.
So how does it happen? Well, it can happen with in-built infrared lights on the camera or external infrared illuminator. A surrounding surface like the wall could reflect the light back unto the camera lens. The problem is that the surface that’s reflecting the IR light doesn’t even have to be directly in the view of the camera.
So definitely check this out, especially if the night vision on your camera is pretty bright but there isn’t as much detail as you’d expect.
5. Turn off the IR lights on your camera
If you can’t figure why your camera’s night vision suck, it could easily be due to the built-in infrared LED lights. Especially if you have a cheap camera. That’s because these lights which go in a circle around the lens can sometimes be placed too close to the lens itself.
If this is the case due to poor camera design or a manufacturing mistake, the light will definitely mess with the camera’s night vision. Just like if you placed a light in front of the camera. Dome cameras are especially prone to this problem. Especially if the camera is covered by a protective layer of plastic.
These built-in lights could also reflect unto the lens from a different part of the camera. Since they have the potential to downgrade the video quality, you’ll notice that high end cameras typically don’t have them at all. They’re mostly found on cheaper models. However, some newer and more high end cameras have IR LEDs further away from the lens and they tend to be more powerful as well.
Having said that, many security cameras allow you to turn off the IR lights if you want. So definitely give it a shot and see if the image will become better. If these lights turn out to be the problem, you can solve the problem completely by keeping them turned off and using an external IR illuminator instead.
6. Avoid dome cameras
As I mentioned before, dome cameras are absolutely the worst when it comes to built-in LED lights getting in the way.
The housing is too weirdly constructed around the lens. Problems are not guaranteed, but they’re far more likely to happen with domes than with bullet or turret cameras.
7. Get a lower resolution camera
This might seem strange; why would you pick a low resolution instead of high resolution video quality?
Well if you’re monitoring a really dark place like an off-grid cabin or a basement that doesn’t have any lighting and ways for you to introduce it, it’s better to use lower resolution.
Lower resolution provides larger pixels, and they can gather more light, thus lighting up the image better. Of course, other factors to keep in mind is the image sensor.
It’s also important that the image sensor is high quality so that the image is still decent enough despite of the lack of surrounding lighting.
8. Get a camera with a mechanical infrared filter
Cameras that have a mechanical IR filter are the ones that have day and night mode. The filter blocks the infrared light from reaching the image sensor during daytime.
Thanks to the filter, the sensor can more accurately reproduce colors in the environment during the day. At night time it will physically move away from the image sensor. Then it allows the camera to switch from color reproduction to black and white mode.
This clear separation of functions thanks to the filter allows for better visual quality both during the day and at night.
9. Clean the lens and infrared lights
I clean my outdoor security camera every few months. If you’ve ever turned the lights on during summer, I’m sure you had some bugs come into the area. The infrared light attracts bugs and even spiders at nighttime.
The debris and spider webs can accumulate over time and reduce the quality of the visuals. The worst are the silky spider webs strands which are hardly noticeable at daytime but they can affect the infrared lights because they light up.
How to clean a security camera:
- Use a can of compressed air like Dust-Off to blow air at the lens. This is an effective way to remove dirt and debris. You can do this while the camera is mounted. But you might have to turn off the power first if your camera is automatically moving in different directions to cover an area.
- Wipe the lens with a soft cloth. I recommend getting one of those microfiber cloths which are used for cleaning eyeglasses. They’re very smooth and won’t cause any damage to the lens, as long as you do it gently of course. Breathe onto the lens to get some moisture on it beforehand.
- If you want even better cleaning results, apply a bit of CCTV cleaner on the microfiber cloth before wiping. C-Clear has been the best lens cleaner that I’ve tried. I’ve been using it for the last two years and it makes a big difference. On top of cleaning the lens more effectively, it also fills in minor scratches and prevents fog from accumulating on the lens because it leaves a small layer of protective coating.
10. Don’t place the camera behind window glass
It can be tempting to install the camera behind a window, so that it monitors the outdoor area from the safety of your home.
While it’s safer since no one can mess with the camera, it’s definitely less effective. The infrared lights on the camera will reflect back from the glass surface which will severely weaken the image quality. Often to a point where you can’t really see anything.
Having said that, a security camera can be used in this way during day time, but not if you plan on using night vision.
Summary: How to Improve CCTV Night Vision
I’m sure you’ll find at least a few of these tips helpful. Here’s a small summary:
- Add more light to the monitored area. You can do this with visible lights (motion sensor floodlights are a great option) or external IR illuminators.
- Use an external IR illuminator instead of built-in IR lights for better image quality.
- Remove or reduce any direct or reflected lights facing the front of the camera. Either directly from the front or from the sides. I’m obviously referring to lights that are fairly close to the camera lens.
- Use bullet or turret cameras instead of dome cameras for night vision
- Try turning the IR lights off if you can to see if the image quality improves. If it does, you’re probably dealing with a faulty camera design which is sometimes the case with built-in IR lights that go in circle around the lens.
- Get a camera with a mechanical IR filter.
- Clean the camera lens and the built-in IR lights thoroughly and at least every few months
The quality of the camera itself plays a huge role when it comes to night vision quality. But if your camera is getting great reviews but you seem to be one of the few unfortunate owners who aren’t getting those great results, perhaps you will find the answer in these 10 tips. Hope this helps!