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Range of a Security Camera: How Far Can They See?

December 13, 2023

Too busy to read? Here are the key takeaways:

  • A wide viewing range provides contextual awareness by catching more of a scene with less detail. Meanwhile, a narrow viewing range focuses on a particular part of the larger scene, often a distant object, to provide more detail.
  • A camera's depth of field (DoF) is the range of distance within a scene that appears acceptably sharp.
  • For smaller, confined spaces, a standard fixed lens might suffice. However, for larger areas requiring detailed monitoring both up close and at a distance, opt for varifocal lens cameras, such as PTZs.
  • Varifocal lens cameras have adjustable focal lengths to provide flexibility in the field of view and depth of field.

Reflecting a significant trend, the number of installed surveillance cameras in the United States grew by nearly 50% between 2015 and 2018, from 47 to 70 million. This growth highlights the escalating installation and reliance on security cameras across various sectors.

In the realm of business and organizational security, the effectiveness of a security camera system hinges not just on its ability to record but on the range it can record in high definition.

Keep on reading to explore the factors that influence a security camera’s range. By understanding different types of camera lenses and the components that influence their viewing range, businesses and organizations can select the right equipment and camera settings to capture clear footage of the areas they need.

How Far Can a Security Camera See?

The distance a camera can see depends a lot on the type.

For most fixed-lens bullet and turret cameras, you're looking at a clear shot for about 70 to 80 feet. They’re your go-to for keeping an eye on places like doorways, lobbies, and waiting rooms.

And then there are fisheye cameras. These peepers have a different type of fixed lens. They provide a super wide view and are great for clear, close-up footage. They can effectively cover a broad area within about 15 to 20 feet. Beyond this distance, the clarity of the footage is likely to decrease, especially for finer details.

PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) cameras are the big guns. Thanks to their varifocal lenses, most PTZs can focus on details hundreds of feet away—or up close. Varifocal lenses provide optical zoom, a feature that allows them the flexibility to focus in and out on objects up close and afar.

Security Camera Ranges at Night

When it comes to fixed-lens bullet and turret cameras, their night vision capabilities are generally robust but limited compared to their daytime range. Typically, these cameras maintain clear visibility for about 50 to 60 feet in low-light conditions. This range makes them suitable for monitoring smaller, more confined areas like office exteriors, parking lots, and alleyways during the night.

PTZ cameras stand out in their night vision capabilities. These cameras can maintain a clear view of objects at a distance, often up to 200 feet or more, depending on the model and IR strength. This extended range at night is particularly beneficial for surveilling large, open areas like parking lots, warehouses, and expansive outdoor facilities. The ability of PTZ cameras to zoom in and focus on specific areas or objects makes them incredibly versatile for night surveillance.

Field of View

A camera’s field of view (FoV) is the extent of the observable world that a camera can capture in a single shot. It's a critical concept in surveillance because it defines how much of a scene is included in each frame. The field of view is usually measured in degrees.

Bullet camera with narrow field of view at entrance vestibule.

Large Field of View: A large field of view, often achieved with a shorter focal length or a wider lens, captures more of a scene, thereby making it ideal for monitoring expansive areas.

Small Field of View: Conversely, a small field of view is associated with longer focal lengths used to focus on specific subjects, such as entry doors and suspicious subjects.

Depth of Field

Depth of field (DoF) refers to the range of distance at which a camera captures its clearest footage.

Large Depth of Field: A large depth of field means that a large distance range is in focus.

Shallow Depth of Field: A shallow depth of field means only a small range of distance is in focus, with the background and foreground being more blurry.

What determines a camera’s depth of field?

A security camera’s depth of field is determined by factors like lens focal length, sensor size, and lens design.

Focal Length

The focal length of a camera lens directly impacts its range.

A longer focal length narrows the field of view and allows for detailed viewing of distant objects.

A shorter focal length widens the field of view, allowing for more of the scene to be captured.

Aperture

The aperture influences how much light enters a camera’s lens. A wider aperture allows more light into the lens, which enhances the camera's ability to capture clearer images at greater distances and in low-light conditions.

Image Sensor

Cameras with larger image sensors generally produce a shallower depth of field compared to those with smaller sensors (like crop sensors) at the same aperture and framing. This is due to the difference in the angle of view required to achieve the same framing on different sensor sizes.

Lens Design

The optical design of a lens can also influence the depth of field. Some lenses, such as those for fisheye cameras, are specifically designed to provide a shallower depth of field.

Background Distance

The distance between the subject and the background also plays a role. A greater distance between a subject that’s focused on and the background will result in more background blur.

Understanding Camera Types and Their Ranges

Standard Fixed Lens Cameras

Fixed lens cameras provide a predetermined field of view. They're ideal for covering specific areas like entrances or reception desks.

Fixed lens ranges vary, but they typically span 70 to 80 feet, meaning they create their clearest images at this distance.

Camera types that commonly use fixed lenses include bullets, domes, and turrets, although these camera types are also available with varifocal lenses that leverage zoom capabilities for greater range flexibility.

Multi-sensor cameras stand out for featuring multiple camera lenses in a single housing. Their lenses can be either fixed or varifocal.

Fisheye cameras always use fixed lenses to capture shallow fields of view, meaning they provide their clearest footage when objects are at close range.

Varifocal Lens Cameras

Varifocal lens cameras provide versatility because varifocal focal lengths are adjustable.

Varifocal lenses provide both shallow depths of field and large depths of field as needed because they can zoom in on objects in different viewing ranges without compromising image quality, covering ranges upwards of 120 feet, making them suitable for monitoring large spaces like warehouses, dance halls, and parking lots where clear, close-up footage may be needed at any point.

PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) cameras are a great example of cameras that put their varifocal lenses to work. They offer the greatest range and flexibility of all camera types. They pan across wide areas, tilt to adjust angles, and use varifocal lenses to zoom in and out on distant objects.

The most high-end PTZs can effectively monitor areas several hundred feet in the distance, making them perfect for large-scale surveillance applications.

Tailoring Your Security Camera Setup

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We hope this article has shed light on the critical aspects of security camera ranges and helps you make informed decisions for your security needs. If you're looking to enhance your organization's security with the right camera setup, don't hesitate to reach out to Mammoth Security for expert advice and solutions.

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FAQ

The night vision range of security cameras varies by type. Fixed-lens bullet and turret cameras generally have a night vision range of about 50-60 feet. PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) cameras, with their advanced varifocal lenses and IR illumination, can often see clearly up to 200 feet or more. Factors like additional lighting and camera placement can also influence their night vision effectiveness.

In business surveillance, the best focal length for security cameras depends on the area size and specific needs. For larger areas, a wider focal length is ideal as it covers more ground, while a longer focal length is better for detailed views of specific zones.

The field of view in security cameras significantly affects performance by determining how much of the scene is captured. A wider field of view captures more area, making it suitable for monitoring large spaces, whereas a narrower field of view is better for focusing on specific targets.

In security cameras, depth of field plays a crucial role in clarity. A larger depth of field keeps a wider range of distance in focus, ideal for general surveillance, while a shallow depth of field focuses on a smaller area, enhancing detail on specific subjects.

Yes, adjusting the aperture can improve security camera images in low light. A wider aperture allows more light into the lens, enhancing the camera's ability to capture clearer images in dim conditions.

Sensor size is important in choosing a security camera because larger sensors generally produce better image quality, especially in low-light conditions. They also affect the depth of field, with larger sensors providing a shallower depth of field.

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