Low light advice

kwall

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Hi all, I was hoping to get some input on which are the best compact (dash cameras or action cameras) for extremely low light applications.

I'm a marine scientist and we deploy small cameras in underwater housing to survey fish populations. Our new project is working in ~500ft of water (aka super dark). I am interested in the following cameras, and I was wondering if anyone had one or multiple of these models and have done low-light bench tests on them. Or if anyone has suggestions of other cameras to look into.

FDR x3000
Gitup Duo3
Blueskysea Mini 0906

My understanding is that I need the largest sensor I can find which I can also set at a low resolution. I can sacrifice resolution, (we will likely be identifying based on silhouettes at those depths anyways) in exchange for enough light to have increased horizontal range so we can count the fishes at a distance. We aren't using the videos for any type of production, so noise isn't an issue as long as its not so grainy that I can't get relatively clean edges on the features.

They need to be compact because we deploy them by hand (need to be able to fit them in underwater housings). They need enough battery life to last a minimum of 30 minutes in cold conditions. They also need to be relatively inexpensive (we need to buy ~a dozen because we will have simultaneous trips and need multiple cameras on each deployment to get a 360 degree view).

Basically I need a camera that is small, cheap, and good in low light (aka impossible).

All the newer GoPro models do not handle these conditions very well (Hero 3 was actually the best for this type of work).

Ideally, someone with multiple action cameras would be gracious enough to conduct a simultaneous bench test (like this:
). In a dark room light on for 1 second and off for 30 seconds.

Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated! There are so many options out there its hard to know where to start.
 
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kwall

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Sorry that is on for 1 second, off for a half a second on the bench test
 

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I'm not quite sure that any standard action camera will accomplish what you need at the depths you are talking about without artificial lighting. Perhaps that is a factor you should clarify. In all likelihood you will need a more suitable, higher end, customizable camera such as the Black Magic Micro which can accommodate fast interchangeable lenses, has a larger, more sensitive sensor and that has a wide array of ancillary hardware available.

https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/blackmagicmicrocinemacamera

blackmagicmicro.jpg

There are also cameras like the Sony UMCS3C/P 4K Extreme Low Light Ultra High Sensitivity Interchangeable Lens Digital Video Camera which is quite costly but is designed specifically for the exact type of task you are describing. (I believe there may be a newer model available.)

https://www.adorama.com/soumcs3cp.html

sony-UMCS3C.jpg

Another option might be a dedicated high definition, ultra low light CCTV camera inside an appropriate housing tethered via CAT5 cable to a recording device on your vessel.

There are other similar options available at different price points but all of them that I am aware of are more costly than any of the consumer level action cameras and dash camera you've listed.

You don't explain much about the nature of the work you do but I've known a few marine biologists over the years and all of them have worked for one organization or another that has the funding for the kind of equipment they require. It may be that you will have to reevaluate the budget priorities for a camera that truly meets your requirements. The Black Magic is more expensive but still fairly reasonable considering it's professional capabilities.

As for using an action camera (or small CCTV camera) the best option would be one that uses the Sony Starvis line of sensors which offer the best performance in low light conditions. Also, there are many members here who are far more familiar with the currently available action cameras on the market than I am, so someone may correct me but of the Gitup line of "Git" actions cameras, I beileve the Git1 has the best low light performance compared to the Git 2 or Git 3.
 
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kwall

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I'm not quite sure that any standard action camera will accomplish what you need at the depths you are talking about without artificial lighting. Perhaps that is a factor you should clarify. In all likelihood you will need a more suitable, higher end, customizable camera such as the Black Magic Micro which can accommodate fast interchangeable lenses, has a larger, more sensitive sensor and that has a wide array of ancillary hardware available.

https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/blackmagicmicrocinemacamera

View attachment 42792

There are also cameras like the Sony UMCS3C/P 4K Extreme Low Light Ultra High Sensitivity Interchangeable Lens Digital Video Camera which is quite costly but is designed specifically for the exact type of task you are describing. (I believe there may be a newer model available.)

https://www.adorama.com/soumcs3cp.html

View attachment 42793

Another option might be a dedicated high definition, ultra low light CCTV camera inside an appropriate housing tethered via CAT5 cable to a recording device on your vessel.

There are other similar options available at different price points but all of them that I am aware of are more costly than any of the consumer level action cameras and dash camera you've listed.

You don't explain much about the nature of the work you do but I've known a few marine biologists over the years and all of them have worked for one organization or another that has the funding for the kind of equipment they require. It may be that you will have to reevaluate the budget priorities for a camera that truly meets your requirements. The Black Magic is more expensive but still fairly reasonable considering it's professional capabilities.

As for using an action camera (or small CCTV camera) the best option would be one that uses the Sony Starvis line of sensors which offer the best performance in low light conditions. Also, there are many members here who are far more familiar with the currently available action cameras on the market than I am, so someone may correct me but of the Gitup line of "Git" actions cameras, I beileve the Git1 has the best low light performance compared to the Git 2 or Git 3.
 

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My understanding is that I need the largest sensor I can find which I can also set at a low resolution. I can sacrifice resolution, (we will likely be identifying based on silhouettes at those depths anyways) in exchange for enough light to have increased horizontal range so we can count the fishes at a distance. We aren't using the videos for any type of production, so noise isn't an issue as long as its not so grainy that I can't get relatively clean edges on the features.
I have a Gitup G3 Duo, it has the same sensor as the GoPro Hero 4 and Hero3 Black so will give similar low light performance. It's not going to be good for 500ft.

As said above, the Gitup Git1 has the best low light performance of that range, only real disadvantage is only having a 1080 sensor, but I guess that is not an issue for you. The Gitup F1 is also interesting, and better than the G3 at low light. As for other cheap action cameras, they are not designed for low light and normally not tested/developed for low light either, the Gitup range is the best.

I also have a Mini 0906, but I recommend the Viofo A129, or maybe Viofo A119S. They all use the same sensor except for the rear camera of the 0906 which has a sensor that has significantly less sensitivity, actually the same one in the Gitup Git1.

The Viofo cameras are better built, easier to mount securely and give better image quality. They need to be supplied with power, but a very small USB powerbank will be fine for 30 minutes, 20,000mAh will last more than 1 day. There is also some customised firmware about for the Viofo cameras, you may be able to get the sensitivity turned up a bit if you don't mind some noise.

I sometimes use my Viofo A129 as an action camera: https://dashcamtalk.com/forum/threads/viofo-a129-and-the-flying-scotsman.36510/

My understanding is that I need the largest sensor I can find which I can also set at a low resolution. I can sacrifice resolution,
The 0906 and A129 use a 1080 resolution sensor and you can use full resolution, lower resolutions will not improve sensitivity.
 
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kwall

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Thank you for the reply!

I work for a government agency, so our budget is not tiny, but having to purchase a dozen cameras plus housings restricts us to <~$400. (Contrary to popular belief, most ecological research runs off of duct tape, dreams. hahaha. Budgets are universally very low for this type of work).

I have work in other programs that use CCTV lenses. However for this you have to make custom computers and machine their own housings, but that is too expensive for this project. Running a cable from the surface is not an option.

External lighting is not an option as it will influence the fish behavior. Also, unless they are deployed apart from the camera they tend to just illuminate backscatter and actually make the image worse.



Using a MUVI K2-x camera, this is screen grab of the post-process imagery we can get at ~450 ft (below).We need something that works just a bit better than this. We are able to identify these fish, but only because it they are off the bottom or close to the camera, any fishes that are in front of the habitat (dark region in the bottom left) are essentially invisible. Obviously in these low lights the fast fishes are also quite blurry, but that isn't really too big of an issue.

1540833964051.png1540834330541.png

So action cameras work surprisingly well, but I am seeing a general trend of older model cameras being better in low light than newer ones. Anything with 4K is basically trash. I am not sure if that is something that can be fixed by lowering the resolution, or if its the actual sensor.
rr
 

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None of the IMX291 cameras listed have their own power source. I don't see how you can deploy a few cameras simultaneously in underwater housings for 360degree observation and power them from USB powerbanks, unless the housing is big enough to fit everything inside all at once?

The Warrior G1S was an action camera with IMX291 and an internal battery, but seems to be discontinued. There is one for sale on eBay right now. Is there anything else comparable on the market now?
 
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kwall

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We build own housings with BlueRobtics materials. You can purchase a cylinder have enough room for a camera and a power bank (or 2 cameras if they're small, just with domes on either end). And then place multiple cameras on a weighted mount so they face in each direction to get 360 coverage. They then just sit on the seafloor for 30 minutes until you pull them up.

https://www.bluerobotics.com/store/watertight-enclosures/3-series/wte3-asm-r1/#configuration

I just need to find the best option for a cheap compact camera in low light (Hence your knowledge!). As you can imagine, if you start having bulky cameras, plus heavy batteries, they get cumbersome fast. We pull them form 500 ft by hand, so SLRs are not an option. Plus, there is an unnervingly high likelihood of the gear getting snagged and left on the seafloor, so investing 10 grand in one setup is irresponsible. We have break away systems, but nothing is perfect.
 

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Nigel

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If cheapness and thus more cameras is more important than best low light performance, maybe the Blueskysea B1W would be a good choice, it is very small and cheap and has a Sony IMX323 which is second best to the IMX291 in the currently available cheap action/dashcams. It also does really well in low light for the sensor it has.

I still recommend the Viofo A119S (the 'S' version has the Sony IMX291 sensor), or Viofo A129 though. And maybe the positioning of the lens in those cameras is more convenient for dome mounting.
 
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kwall

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My only concern about the dash cameras is how they hold up in almost zero light conditions. All of the example videos have headlights in them (which makes sense). Does anyone have examples from their cameras with no headlights at night?
 

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dashcam with a 2mp sensor such as the IMX291 will outperform a sport cam in a no light situation, most sport cams are never intended for that type of usage, only exception to that might be the Sionyx Aurora but at around $1100 each may not suit your budget
 

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My only concern about the dash cameras is how they hold up in almost zero light conditions. All of the example videos have headlights in them (which makes sense). Does anyone have examples from their cameras with no headlights at night?
They all go black eventually, so without knowing the exact darkness of the recording, an example video won't tell you much, even if you put a A129 next to a GoPro Hero 7, all it will tell you is that the A129 can see in darker conditions than the GoPro, not how much darker. If it is light enough for both then they will look very similar, if it's not then one goes black while the other can still see.

I find that the Viofo A129 is very close to what my eyes can see after my eyes have adapted to the dark for some time. If my eyes haven't adapted, or I've just turned the headlights off then I can see more on the A129 screen.
 
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kwall

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They all go black eventually, so without knowing the exact darkness of the recording, an example video won't tell you much, even if you put a A129 next to a GoPro Hero 7, all it will tell you is that the A129 can see in darker conditions than the GoPro, not how much darker. If it is light enough for both then they will look very similar, if it's not then one goes black while the other can still see.

I find that the Viofo A129 is very close to what my eyes can see after my eyes have adapted to the dark for some time. If my eyes haven't adapted, or I've just turned the headlights off then I can see more on the A129 screen.
Thanks Nigel,

Do you happen to know the dimensions of the Viofo without the GPS attachment. I can't seem to find that anywhere online.
 

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Thanks Nigel,

Do you happen to know the dimensions of the Viofo without the GPS attachment. I can't seem to find that anywhere online.
Width is 52mm, but without the GPS, or non-GPS mount, you will need to leave room for a right angle mini-USB power cable to go in the side. With the mount the cable goes in the top and uses very little space, maybe still leave a couple of mm either side since it has cooling vents on the sides designed so that air can circulate. You won't have any problem with cooling at that depth, but you should still allow the circulation. Power consumption is under 3 watts so there is only just enough heat to prevent the lens steaming up!

Height is 83mm, but when I use it as an action camera, I stick it in a GoPro Hero 4 frame mount which holds it diagonally, so the height as I use it is only 71mm.

Depth depends on the angle of the lens, but 40mm should be enough if mounted vertically, or if mounted at an angle like I use it then 69mm.
 

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Of dashcams, the A119S has the best low-light reputation so if there's a chance of a dashcam working that would be the one. A single 185650 LiIon cell with a boost converter should give you a half hour runtime easily, but I do not know if the pressure at that depth would be an issue with the LiIon cell. Water getting into the cell would be a major issue (venting with flames, hydrogen fluoride gasses) but you should have that well under control. Action cams are designed for clearest resolution and color rendition rather than good low-light functioning. Only the Git-1 might do OK with the action cams because of it's IMX323 sensor. Both of these come from the same manufacturer and are known for value, performance, and reliability.

I think your safest approach would be to try out one A119S with a borrowed powerbank in a larger existing housing to see what you see with it. If it's good we can assist with the LiIon cells and converters after that. Figure roughly $12-14 per cam to do those, and there may even be a cheaper option but I'd have to find out elsewhere for that. The Git-1 of course already has a battery sufficient for your purposes so will probably be cheaper, but won't be quite as good in the darkness.

Wondering aloud if anyone might see away to use a card-equipped IP cam like the Wyze or Nest? I know some of them run on 12VDC and also do well in low-light plus they are cheaper per unit. Perhaps a board cam compatible with the IMX291. Not my area of expertise so just thinking aloud with this.

Phil
 

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...but I do not know if the pressure at that depth would be an issue with the LiIon cell...
Only 237 PSI / 16 bar, but I think he intends to put it inside a pressure vessel, otherwise the battery will not be the only issue, super capacitors wont survive that either!
 

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Wondering aloud if anyone might see away to use a card-equipped IP cam like the Wyze or Nest? I know some of them run on 12VDC and also do well in low-light plus they are cheaper per unit. Perhaps a board cam compatible with the IMX291. Not my area of expertise so just thinking aloud with this.

Phil
The WyzeCam works great for it's intended purpose but it would not be up to this task. For one thing it shoots 15 fps during the day and 10 fps at night along with help from its IR illumination which I don't think can be disabled. It also had an ƒ/2.0 lens which is adequate for a household interior under IR illumination at night at relatively close range. A faster lens would certainly be preferable for deep dive underwater videography. I'm of the opinion that a repurposed dash cam or perhaps a Git 1 will be much better suited for this task.

BTW, the Git 1 is currently on sale for $59.99 for the standard package at the Gitup web site and $69.99 for the Pro package. It might be worth purchasing one for testing purposes which I think would be useful for establishing a frame of reference regarding what this class of camera is capable of.
 
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