Long Range Camera Systems – Custom Vs. Off-the-Shelf

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Review of Long-Range Day-Night IP Camera Systems

Very-long-range-custom-PTZDo you want to detect objects many miles away?  While custom-made cameras are best for very long-range applications, the latest off-the-shelf cameras provide some of the same capability for less money. These long-range PTZ cameras are very cost-effective, and allow you to detect a person almost 4-miles away. They have built-in IR-illumination or an additional thermal imaging camera that allows you to see an object over ½ mile away.  Prices range from less than $3,000 to about $18,000.


The basic difference between the off-the-shelf and custom cameras is the operational distance, especially at night.  Custom-made systems can view objects at night that are over 3 miles away. They include very long distance lenses, specialized laser illuminators, special thermal cameras, and very high-performance pan tilt mechanisms.  Custom cameras range in price from $20,000 to well over $150,000. Here is a summary of the systems available:


Off-the-Shelf PTZ Camera System

There are different configurations available. The following PTZ system contains an optical camera plus an IR-illuminator for night viewing. We used our modified Detection, Recognition, Identification (DRI) definitions to compare the camera’s performance. For more details about DRI definitions take a look at our article Detection, Recognition, Identification: The New Criteria.


XNP-6370RH PTZ Camera With IR

XNP-6370RH-PTZ-CameraThis high-resolution 2-Megapixel PTZ camera includes an IR-illuminator that has a range of over 1100 ft. (350m).  At a selling price of less than $3,000, it is the lowest price long-range camera system.


During the daytime, the 220 mm zoom lens has the capability of detecting a person at a distance of over 4 miles. “Detection” means that something is seen, but there isn’t enough resolution to determine what it is.  It could be a person or a large dog.


The camera can “recognize” if it is a person or dog at a distance of about 1.2 miles (1950 m).


We can “identify” if the person we see is a man or women (based on how they are dressed), at a distance of about half a mile (977 m). All this is during the day.


At night, the IR-illuminator restricts all the distances to less than a quarter of a mile (350m).


Y9188-LIR PTZ Optical Camera With IR

Long-range-with-IR-laserThis PTZ camera includes a very long-range IR illuminator. The IR has a range of 1000 m.  The 2-Megapixel camera has very good low light sensitivity. The 0.002 lux color low light sensitivity is better than many other cameras. When it switches to gray-scale (or BW mode), it can see things at an amazing 0.0002 lux. It can operate in partial moonlight.


During the daytime, the cameras 5.7 mm to 205 mm (2.0-degrees) zoom lens can detect a person that’s 7000 m (over 4 miles away).  If the field of view is partially illuminated by the moon or standard lights, it can recognize a person at over 1900 m (over 1.1 miles) away.


At night, the built-in IR illuminator has a range of 1000 m. This camera has the longest range of all the off-the-shelf PTZ cameras.  It sells for under $4,000


D6166-75/100 PTZ Thermal-Optical Camera

Dual-Thermal-Optical-PTZ-cameraThis camera system includes an optical camera with IR illuminator and thermal camera in one unit. A thermal camera provides different viewing characteristics than an optical camera. It does not require any light, but rather detects the thermal radiation from the target. The more the target temperature differs from the surrounding area, the brighter the object will appear.  For example, it is excellent for detecting a warm human in a cold snowfield. You may miss the person in an all-white outfit on a snowfield, but you will not miss them with the thermal camera. The “hotter” the object the further away it can be detected.


The thermal camera has a resolution of 640 x 512, and there is a choice of 75 mm or 100 mm thermal lens. Using the 100 mm thermal lens, you can usually detect a person about 2445 ft (745 m) away but the distance can be greater (over 1000 m) depending on the temperature difference of the object you are viewing. The optical 250 mm zoom lens provides daytime detection at about 4.5 miles (7300 m) away.


When there is enough light, the camera can “recognize” if it is a person or dog at a distance of about 1.2 miles (1950 m).


We can “identify” if the person we see is a man or women (based on how they are dressed), at a distance of about half a mile (977 m). All this is during the day. At night the IR-illuminator has a range of 500 m.


A very nice feature of this camera is that the IP video for both the thermal and optical camera is on a single network connection, with two separate streams. This thermal-optical camera system sells for about $18,000.

Custom Long Range PTZ Cameras

Do you need a camera that can identify an object that is 5000 m away in total darkness, then you probably require a custom camera. As the name implies, these cameras are built from the ground up to meet the exact requirements of an application. You can select the optical camera, the IR illumination, the thermal camera, the optical and thermal lens, and the pan-tilt mechanism. They can be designed to operate in difficult environments including high vibration situations.



Optical lenses: You can select an optical lens with a very long telephoto capability. The lenses are defined by the widest to the narrowest angle (or telephoto) For example, a camera with a focal length of 6 mm to 222 mm has a zoom ratio of 37X.  There are extremely long-range lenses that go up to 9000 mm. The quality of the lens can be selected to support the highest resolution camera.  These special lenses are designed to gather the maximum amount of light.  Yes, these can be quite expensive, with costs exceeding $65,000.


Thermal lenses: There are also special lenses for thermal imaging cameras. Thermal wavelengths are longer than the optical wavelengths. The lenses are usually made from germanium which is more expensive than the standard lenses.  There are fixed lenses and variable zoom thermal lenses.

Thermal Imager

The thermal imager can be cooled or uncooled. You can select thermal imagers with 380 x 250 resolution or 640 x 512 resolution. The cooled version provides greater detection but costs quite a lot more than the uncooled version.


Special Laser Illumination

You can add very long range IR illumination by using a special laser.  The high-performance illumination systems include active focusing that provides even illumination that adjusts to the zoom lens magnification. The longest laser systems have a maximum range of 5000 m. However, be careful. If you direct the laser at someone who is closer, you can damage their eyes. Some of the advanced systems include range-finding that shuts off the laser if something gets too close.

Pan-Tilt Mechanism

When you are viewing objects many miles away, the pan-tilt mechanism needs to be very precise. The Pan-Tilt mechanism requires a positioning resolution of better than 0.003-degrees. If you need to track a fast moving object, the pan-tilt mechanism needs to move fast. The challenge is to move a camera that has a heavy lens quickly and precisely. The more precise and faster pan-tilt speeds add to the cost of the system.


Examples of Custom-Made PTZ Camera Systems

The special systems have been designed with very long range lenses, with an IR laser illuminator, as well as an additional thermal camera.  The lens for the optical camera and the thermal camera are selected for the specific application


For example, One of our custom systems was designed for a military application. It includes a 16 to 2050 mm zoom lens with autofocus that is corrected for IR lighting. The long-range IR-laser illuminator has a range of over 4000 m. The system is mounted on a two-axis gyro controlled mount for added stability.  It operates in rugged conditions (IP67) and at temperature ranges that are between -40C° C and +60 °C. This special unit sold for over $175,000.


For more information about how long-range PTZ camera systems are designed, take a look at our article, “Comparison of Long Range IP Camera Systems.” You can also see a video that shows how various PTZ long range IP camera systems actually perform.


If you would like some help selecting the right long-range night-vision PTZ camera, contact us 1-800-431-1658 in the USA, or at 914-944-3425 everywhere else, or use our contact form.