View Full Version : OT - What's a good low-light USB camera?

06-07-2013, 11:39 AM
I may need to set up nighttiime surveillance of a building site. Can anybody recommend a good low-light USB camera for that situation?

06-07-2013, 12:06 PM
Doberman pinscher? --- (heh-heh)

Ian B
06-07-2013, 12:45 PM

A lot depends on what kind of range you're looking for. There are lots of high resolution (full HD) IP cameras, that transmit wirelessly, or can also send signals down standard UTP network cable. For nighttime use, they mostly use infrared illuminators. You can greatly extend their range by installing infrared repeaters around the building site, especially at places of interest to the non-desirables.

Some of the IP cameras can be controlled remotely (pan / tilt), some have remote control zoom lenses. They can record continuously, or only when they detect movement, and sometimes movement in a particular zone. You can watch them remotely, either from the wireless signal or over the web.

Here's one: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Wireless-HD-Surveillance-IP-Camera-Pan-Tilt-Network-WiFi-Webcam-IR-Night-Version-/121105165719?pt=US_Surveillance_Monitors_Displays&hash=item1c326e2d97 It's for indoors use, but you could probably mount it under a roof, or go for a more expensive outdoors one. And here's a separate IR illuminator: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/80-meter-Infra-red-CCTV-illuminator-/390607464879?pt=UK_CCTV&hash=item5af204e9af

Lots of choice...


06-07-2013, 02:50 PM
I agree with Ian. USB is only good for about 15 feet. You can extend it some by adding a self powered hub but it's limited length is a drawback. There's plenty of other options if the camera needs to be anywhere else but in the same room as your PC. Not much security if it is.

06-07-2013, 03:44 PM
It very much depends on what you mean by "low light". Most USB cameras will work reasonably well with sufficient IR illumination. If you want a true low light camera that doesn't depend on aux illumination that is a very different story. True low light cameras are very expensive and are usually connected by a video cable. I have one on a corner of my property where it can observe the cul-de-sac which is not observable by anyone that lives on this hill. It is connected by about 300 ft of cable using video baluns that permit it to transmit video over twisted pair phone wire. That feeds a dedicated monitor. I also have an IR illuminator placed about 20 ft to one side since there is no such thing as a no-light camera. It is able to observe the entire area extending about 100 ft in front and to the sides of the field of view.

I have scared off at least three individuals that were clearly up to no good such as examining the gate locks at 01:00 am. The snow plow driver also thinks that nobody can see him when he takes a 1/2 hour piss and coffee break. Seen some pretty steamed up windows too.http://ixian.ca/pics10/biggrin.gif

06-07-2013, 04:54 PM
There are USB to cat-5 cable adapters that get some pretty long lengths going. There are some cheaper cameras for telescopes that have good low light characteristics. Add an IR led and really brighten things up. Even modifying web cams by taking out the IR-cut filter will probably work. Or take a web cam and strap it onto a cheap Russian night vision monocular, though the field of view might be pretty limited.

06-07-2013, 07:56 PM
The absolute maximum USB 2.0 transmission distance over wire is in theory about 95 feet without computer mediated protocol translation. It is strictly limited by the USB protocol timing and the speed of signals in a wire, about 50% speed of light. In practice, about half that is usually reliable, 45 - 50 ft. CAT-5 wire adapters will up it to around the 95 foot limit but no more since they do not change the software layer, only the hardware layer. Radio would boost it to about 150 feet since then it would be speed of light limited. I have a better solution which is a network USB hub that does CAT-5 Ethernet network to USB translation at the far end. That has a limit of about 300 feet which is an Ethernet timing limit unless an Ethernet hub is inserted which will extend it to 600 feet. The Network to USB hub runs client software and so far it works with every USB device I have tried. I have had it for several years.

06-07-2013, 08:12 PM
I have a Foscam wi-fi camera with built-in IR lamps. It is good for about 10' at night. Not nearly enough light. Inside that range you can count the whiskers on a raccoon. The camera does a mode shift when the light level gets very low - it stops recording color and provides only BW. The ISO goes up quite a bit and the image becomes noticeably noisy.

It is a pretty good daytime camera and with proper lighting it would also be a good nighttime camera. It is remote steerable to about 320 and about -45 to straight up for elevation. It can be mounted inverted and the image will invert. It has an SD slot and will record still images, and it will broadcast live video over the wireless network.

This is similar to my model. They're darn affordable for what you get:

06-08-2013, 05:15 AM
This setup won't be anything fancy. It will be looking at the construction site from the window of a building across the road. In fact, you can see the setup here: http://www.uubrunswick.org/pictures/uucb-construction.avi . For that I'm using a Logitech C510. The setup for that video takes a picture every half hour from about 6am to 6pm then uploads the day's results to the website so people can see the daily construction progress. (As of June 8 nothing has happened yet...we live in hope.)

The contractor has concerns about site security (every contractor does, I'm sure) so I thought I could do a similar sort of video recording at night. I can try using the C510 camera, but I was wondering if there was a USB camera known to work particularly well in low-light situations.

Obviously this is a fairly minimalist low-budget setup, but at least it would be something.

06-08-2013, 11:17 AM
Look for a cheap point and shoot from Canon that is programmable for time lapse images. Set the exposure time for whatever the maximum is which is generally 1 to 15 seconds. 15 seconds would be best. If there is any significant ambient light at all in the area, especially moon light, then the images will be like daylight.

This is taken by moonlight: