Infrared Illumination: Supplement Your Night Vision Equipments IR Source |
When dealing with night vision style technology like security cameras or portable night vision scopes, it is all too possible to find yourself disappointed. Manufacturers always put their best face forward and of course, this is only natural and not in itself a bad thing. Much of the night vision equipment sold today is based in technology that has been in development and use for over 40 years and is in truth quite effective. The problem arises when consumers view representative images and sample videos taken with the equipment that show incredible detail and resolution and then eagerly purchase such equipment, only to find that their own results fall well short. This is not due to any shortcomings of the equipment itself or failure on the part of the user to operate it properly, but is rather a simple matter of providing enough light to produce the best images possible.
Right now you are probably thinking, “But this stuff is supposed to work without light!”, and really you’re only sort of right. The key concept here is that they work with little or no visible light, not in the complete absence of light. All night vision equipment that works through light amplification and sensitivity to light in the infrared end of the light spectrum still requires light to operate. Everything from Generation 1 devices to Generation 4 still need some amount of light to work, only this light does not need to be visible. Night vision devices rely heavily on the invisible light produced in the infrared end of the light spectrum, and it is the presence of this light that makes all the difference in how well these devices perform.
In the very early days of night vision technology, active infrared systems were the only devices available and were used by the military in WW2. These systems used a receiver or specially constructed lenses that essentially made infrared light visible to the observer. A separate infrared light source was necessary to provide the needed illumination and these systems quickly lost the advantages they provided as the ability to see the infrared light produced was gained by those they were used against. The next generation of night vision devices created what became known as passive infrared technology because they did not need an independent source of infrared light to operate. These systems were able to amplify existing light across the entire light spectrum, including the infrared, and became known as starlight devices because they literally used the ambient light from stars and the moon and amplified it to allow users to see in the dark.
The third generation of devices had further improvements that allowed these devices to operate in even lower light conditions and produce even higher levels of resolution and detail. The final and current 4th generation of devices produces the highest resolution and detail yet and can operate in very low light conditions due to their extreme sensitivity and high power. Of important note however is that all of these devices require some amount of light to operate whether it is in the visible spectrum or the invisible infrared. Because of this, all of these devices can benefit from an external infrared light source. The resolution and range of older devices can be greatly improved through the addition of a strong infrared light source, while newer versions can produce images approaching those of daylight quality.
Because this type of technology is limited by both the access to equipment allowing others to see the infrared light used in active systems, and the inability of these systems to operate in the complete absence of any light, these devices have seen their use limited somewhat in military applications. In the civilian sector, however, this technology has proliferated and spawned an entire niche’ unto itself in the law enforcement and security industry. It is here that night vision technology is becoming quite popular as everyone from police officers, to private security personnel, to business owners realize the huge advantages to be had from night vision technology. Because these industries do not have a critical reliance on stealth, although that is a big benefit in most instances, even older generation equipment can be used with great effectiveness.
This brings us full circle to the effectiveness of commercial night vision systems in use today within these industries and why their full potential is sometimes not realized to the disappointment of enthusiastic users. As noted earlier, all of these systems rely on some amount of infrared light. Most of the security devices and night vision equipment produced for civilian use include integrated infrared light sources. These systems use a receiver or camera that is combined with a small infrared emitter, which gives these devices the ability to operate regardless of ambient light levels. The problem, however, is that the infrared emitters included with these systems are generally low powered, and are limited in their effective range. While these systems may work adequately at short distances, they cannot produce enough infrared light to produce truly detailed images or capture images at long ranges. They may work well for monitoring a walkway or loading area, but larger areas show distinct lack of detail at longer ranges, and darkness once the range of the infrared emitter is exceeded. Worse still, the images produced may be adequate, but are not indicative of the devices true potential.
This is where an independent infrared emitter like Larson Electronics’s Infrared LED Light Bar can make all the difference. Although infrared light is invisible, it still behaves the same as visible light, and night vision cameras do not make any distinction. Just like with regular lighting, if you increase the amount of infrared light and how much area it covers, you increase contrast and detail as well as visible range. By including an independent infrared light emitter, you effectively allow the camera to see more, which translates into more effective coverage and monitoring. Images are sharper and more detailed and the cut off point for the cameras effective range is greatly increased.
Simply by adding an external infrared emitter, the true potential of a night vision monitoring system can be realized. Even better, this is true regardless of whether the system being used is a portable device like those used in law enforcement, or a permanently mounted video camera system installed at a commercial business. If you’ve installed or used one of these systems and have found yourself disappointed, the problem is likely not with the device. Try adding an additional infrared light source and you may find your disappointment quickly changing to approval.