Night Photo Quality

What makes a good quality night photo with Infrared cameras? By far if you are seeking only quality at night and have no concerns about the infrared camera being spotted by trespassers, then you should be asking about the “Red Glow” infrared. The red glow infrared has the most available “flash” but is also very easily spotted from just about any distance. WE do offer these for our X series cameras but most want the no glow infrared. So if you are wanting to stay with the “No Glow” infrared then you should know that all are not created equally.

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There are quite a few factors that go into getting a good night image but mainly the list below covers the majority:

  • Image sensor
  • Lens
  • Infrared
  • Power
  • Shutter Speed
  • Gain

Image Sensor
The image sensor is what the camera uses to actually “capture” the image.  It is what the camera uses to actually scan the image if you will. Better quality sensors have fast scan rates and processing speeds. They are more sensitive to light changes and can cover wide bands of light differences. So the better the sensor the better capability your camera will have.

Lenses
The lens plays a surprising important role but probably not in the direct way you think. All sorts of engineering specs on lenses but to keep this simple the lens have a couple differences that can make big changes on your picture. Viewing width (or angle) – is exactly what it wounds like. The width of the field of view on the lens is what sets the field of view on the camera. Wider viewing angle lenses get “more” in the picture but they also make the targets appear further away and can trick your brain into thinking your flash range is much further than it actually is. Because the target in the picture will look smaller you immediately “feel” like the target is further away from the camera giving you the false impression that your flash range is reaching out further. A lot of camera companies out there prefer the wider angle lens because it gives the camera more time to trigger and still get the target in the picture plus it appears to give a better flash range because targets look smaller.
Using a more narrow lens limits the trigger time (less field of view) but they also tend to gather more light and bring the targets closer in the picture. Keeping the targets closer can give you more detail which is important to most. Lenses that gather more light allow you to use a faster shutter speed so you get less motion blur at night. We are able to use a more narrow lens because our systems are fast enough to trigger and still keep the targets in the field view of the picture. Plus we are able to use a fast shutter speed on top of that giving you less motion blur.

Infrared
Our X series cameras use over 70 no glow infrared LEDs per camera. Powering that many LEDs over a long period of time can take a lot of power (covering that next). The number of LEDs a camera has, is extremely important on a lot of fronts. Several different types of LEDs out there but for the most part (through hole LEDs vs SMT LEDs) are pretty comparable on a per unit same type basis. If you count the number of same type of LEDs a camera has and calculate the camera’s total power output capability (battery type and size they use) you will get a good idea of the Max LED output. So if you are looking at a camera that has 20 LEDs they just are not going to have the output of one that has over 70.

Power
Having enough power to be able to properly run your LEDs is important. When you see other cameras running on 6 or 8 AA batteries with 20 LEDs you’ll understand why. The more LEDs a camera has the more power is required to fire them. That is one of the reasons why we have always used the large SLA type batteries. They are extremely durable, reliable and can provide a lot of power over a long period of time. The biggest issue when firing LEDs is they have a tendency to “sink” the battery. Sinking the batteries with AAs will run them dead pretty quickly so cameras that run AA’s don’t run their LEDs to full capacity to avoid this which means they also have extremely dark pictures at night. It takes a lot of power (capacity) to avoid this if you want to run your LEDs at their upper end of power.

Shutter Speed
This is where most out there make up for their poor infrared performance at night. The way the camera works, technically there is no real mechanical shutter it’s just a term from the past that is still used today. Anyhow, shutter speed is basically the time you leave the shutter “open” to capture the picture – the longer (slower) the shutter is the more light you can capture. So if the camera requires a very long shutter speed at night to get acceptable night pictures they will be trading that for extremely blury pictures. Pretty simply put, the longer shutter a camera has the more motion blur you have. Since we have over 70 LEDs and plenty of power to drive them our cameras can use an extremely fast shutter which reduces the motion blur significantly. This coupled with a more narrow lens gives our system a big advantage over most out there.

Gain
Gain is a term used to essentially artificially increase the brightness of a night picture (or even day pictures). So if a camera needs to have a brighter night picture they will increase the gain. There is always a natural limit to the amount of gain you SHOULD use but that doesn’t seem to stop some from using too much. See when you use too much gain to brighten a picture you also introduce what in the industry is called “noise”.  I am sure you have seen the night pictures that looked all grainy and hard to actually make out what is in them. Well that is the noise from too much gain being used. Typically, when too much gain is being used they will have to post-process the picture to “smooth” or filter out the noise in an attempt to remove the graininess in the picture. This entire process ends up making the picture appear to be slightly blurry and modeled looking in the end.

When you start really digging in to the entire process of what all goes on to take an infrared picture at night you start realizing the differences in systems. You should look for a camera that utilizes a quality image sensor, lenses, plenty of power to back the IR and operate with faster shutter and little gain. This will ultimately give you the best night images possible….

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Wireless Feeder Controllers

The X Series Wireless Feeder Controller was something we came out with a couple years ago. Basically, it gives the BuckEye Cam users the ability to connect all their feeders wirelessly to their X Series Network Manager Software.

The Wireless feeder controller can easily be wired up to most spin type feeders and added to the wireless network within minutes. The wireless feeder controller can operate on either 6V or 12V systems.

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Wiring up the Wireless Feeder Controller

The X80 Wireless Feeder Controller can replace the standard timer on most commonly available deer feeder kits.
This will allow the feeder to be controlled and monitored wirelessly from several miles away using the Buckeye Cam X-Series Network Manager software application and a base receiver connected to a computer. Using X-Series Network Manager, the daily feed schedule may be modified at any time and wirelessly transmitted to the feeder. The feeder can also send you status alerts for low battery, blown fuse, jammed motor, or empty feeder.
Up to 254 feeders can be controlled and monitored from a single base.

The wireless feeders are one of the more popular wireless option as it can literally save you money in feed as well as time. They also give you piece of mind with positive feedback. And lastly they can be used as repeaters for other X series devices in the field as well.

 

No Glow vs Red Glow LEDs

So you probably hear this all the time, red glow vs no glow…. but do you really know what the difference is?

Technically speaking, true red glow LEDs are right on the edge of the visible light spectrum and no glows are outside of the visible light spectrum. Usually the red glow LEDs are in or around the 850nm (nanometer) range and the no glow LEDs are in or past the 940nm.  Some will manufacturers will incorporate a filter technique in conjunction with red glow LEDs to achieve similar performance as the no glow LED by filtering out the “visible light”.

It’s important to know the difference when comparing night images because the red glow LEDs are brighter and most image sensors are more sensitive to the 850nm LED. Obviously, the advantage of the no glow LED is they are less likely to be detected by the human target.
There is almost always a trade off between the two as you sacrifice brightness for “stealthyness”. Shutter speed, gain and flash distance are greatly influenced by which IR LED are being used. Since the no glows have less light typically you end up with longer shutter speeds which can make moving targets more blurry than the red glows would.

So it really comes down to a choice and selection to meet the needs.

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No Glow Infrared

Differences in Wireless Systems

So lets break down wireless camera systems…..

First let’s just separate wireless into a couple of groups: Wireless, Cellular and Hybrid

Wireless:
Wireless group are the ones that truly work anywhere because they form their own wireless network as deployed. They do not require any cellular service at all as they typically use an embedded radio and work on their own frequencies.
BuckEye Cam first came out with the first wireless system of this type in 2004.  The advantage of this type of system is they work literally everywhere. Since they are not reliant on any data service or cellular carrier they are considered free transmission. If you use the PC Base you can control everything from your computer and the software has loads of features to keep you connected when you are not there.

Cellular:
Cellular group are the ones that require a cellular service to function wirelessly. They will only work (wirelessly) in areas that have cellular service. Most (if not all) of these types of systems do not send the full size image directly to you but rather to a server then gets rerouted to you or you have to log in to view. The added requirement of server (where your actual images and videos are stored) means you need to log into a “website” in order to view your actual images and videos. I won’t get into the many different ways wireless (cellular) cameras operate but for the most part these systems are inherently unreliable and deceiving as to what you actually receive to your phone and/or your email etc. Typically, it is a thumbnail version (to save on data rates) and limited communications to the camera in the field. Most still save to the SD card so you still have to visit and get the card etc.

Hybrid:
Hybrid group are the ones that combine both technologies into a single working unit. In 2006 BuckEye Cam released it’s first hybrid system which combined the use of our Wireless and Cellular technologies into a single system. With this type of system typically the cameras in the field communicate to a base using their own proprietary wireless technology (not cellular) and the user can connect to the base via as cellular connection. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can deploy cameras anywhere (including in areas where you get poor or no cellular service), run as many cameras as you want, control the entire system from your computer and keep everything under a single data plan.  Since the CellBase can be mobile (run in the field or inside) and only needs to be located within a couple miles from one of the cameras you can locate the cellbase in the area that gets the best cell service.
The BuckEye Cam CellBase can handle as many cameras as you want to deploy in the area (literally hundreds), all under single data plan and you are in complete control of the entire wireless system. Full resolution images/videos sent directly to you, you are in complete control of your entire wireless network, directly.

Other things to consider:
The finer points to consider when selecting a system – whether it be wireless or just standard camera is the overall performance of the camera. Resolution is always a “big” deal but most people don’t realize that a lot of camera systems out there are completely misrepresenting their resolution. So much so in most cases it would be considered a blatant lie.
Basically, you have Native and Interpolated advertised resolutions. Native being the actual resolution capabilities of the imager in the camera. Interpolated (which is what most camera manufacturer advertise) is a fancy way of saying post processing the image to fit a need. Whether that need is to look better by smoothing the edges and removing pixalation or (in most cases) enlarging the image to appear that it is a higher resolution than it actually is. For example, if a camera states it is a 10meg resolution in MOST cases it is a 1meg native interpolated to 10meg. Think of it like when you take a picture on your computer and enlarge it 10 times that is what a lot of camera companies do to inflate their resolution.
In case you are curious, we have always listed our BuckEye Cam camera resolution in Native terms. We just figured there was no reason to call an apple an orange for the sake of trying to fool some people. I only know of maybe one other camera manufacturer that advertises their resolution in Native terms and since I have not asked them if I can say their name here I will only say their name starts with an R and ends with a Y.

Camera functions are also really important. Most of the time we find that cameras tend to have some serious gaps in performance. Sometimes it’s understandable – if you pay $300 for a camera expect it to function like a $300 camera. Don’t expect great things from a $300 camera. I mean if you think about it, most camera systems are in the “food chain” of the industry. By that I mean you buy them from a dealer or retailer and they purchased them from a wholesaler who purchased them from a “manufacturer” who typically had them made overseas. So every time that camera changes hands someone get a cut. Easily the cost of the $300 retail camera to the manufacturer has to be less than $100. So you can see that feeding the “food chain” is part of the cost of doing business. You might be surprised to find out that the retailer can make the lions share of the profit and NOT the manufacturer. I will cover that in a separate blog post. It’s interesting to learn from the inside how that industry works… You’ll be surprised for sure.
Anyhow camera functions like trigger speed, recovery time, all the different setting options and the hidden little “devil is in the details” aspect was well.
Most wireless cameras are inherently awful at this recovering process. So you get your new wireless camera (the cheaper one, you know) take it out and find out that recovery speed is completely reliant on the speed at which it handles the picture processing. I’ll explain, most have this issue where the camera takes the picture and then spends the next 30 seconds or so processing the picture and then another 30 seconds “sending” the picture wirelessly. So it’s recovery time is over 1 minute. This means that the camera has to wait 1 minute before it can even be ready to take another picture. In most cases this just awful if you are trying to use the camera in any location other than over bait.
Why don’t they do something about that? Well that is processing, much like your computer, if you want faster processing (processor) in your camera you have to pay more for a faster processor and they can be pricey. What does a faster processor get you? Sub-second recover times, continuously, plus all sorts of other capabilities and setting features. You get what you pay for essentially.
Batteries are one of the top things to consider (if not the top) with wireless cameras. Why? Because as you can imagine, wireless stuff consumes a lot more power than just saving to an SD card.
To my knowledge we are the only wireless camera in the industry that uses a SLA battery (9aH at that!). The irony is the BuckEye Cam’s use less power than most cameras out there and because of our “cutting teeth years in wireless” back in the early 2000’s we developed our own wireless communication protocol. Power consumption is a huge deal with wireless because in most cases it takes more power to transmit than it does to operate the camera, so buying alkalines and lithiums just won’t cut it for very long if you are taking very many pictures. (you can read more about batteries)
At the end of the day there is a lot to a wireless system and the best advice I can give you is understand that there many reasons why some systems are a lot more expensive than others..

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X Series Network Manager Software