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Internal vs external IR lighting – which is best?

IP camera with inbuild IR and an external illuminatorRound-the-clock monitoring is required for most CCTV applications. You can achieve this by installing a day/night IP camera and some form of infrared (IR) lighting. This combination enables continuous video surveillance in all lighting conditions, including total darkness.

When it comes to infrared illumination, you generally have two choices: internal or external IR.

A day/night IP camera with integrated infrared LEDs is internal. Using a separate IR lighting unit alongside your network camera is external.

To help you decide which to use for your application – read this summary of the pros and cons of each.

Internal IR

green-tick Cost-effective

By purchasing an IR IP camera, the infrared illumination is built in, so there’s no need for additional hardware. This is also saves time as you will only need to install and configure a single unit.

green-tick Enhanced IR technology

Overexposure can be an issue when using infrared illumination and results in poor quality, low-light video.

To help deliver detail-packed footage in the dark, manufacturers have introduced advanced IR technologies into their product ranges.

For example, OptimizedIR technology allows Axis IP cameras to intelligently adapt the level of IR illumination to best suit the scene. This prevents overexposure and enables clear identification. Models with OptimizedIR and remote zoom are able to automatically adapt the angle of illumination to the zoom level set. This ensures an evenly illuminated scene at all times.

green-tick Easier to set up and configure

By receiving power and network connectivity via Power-over-Ethernet, the IP camera provides power to its built-in LEDs. This simplifies installation, as only one power supply is required.

Having integrated IR LEDs means you can manage IR illumination and your camera via its web browser interface. This makes set up and configuration a much more straightforward process.

green-tick Even illumination

IP cameras ‘should’ have an IR spread that matches its horizontal/vertical angle of view, out-of-the-box. This in turn, should ensure the entire scene is sufficiently illuminated when IR is on.

red-cross Replacement costs

When compared to an external IR solution, internal IR looks to be the more cost-effective choice. However, in the event of a faulty LED, the entire IP camera would need to be replaced. Therefore, costs can start to rack up if there are ever any hardware issues.

red-cross Spiders and insects

IP cameras that emit infrared light also produce heat. This can attract insects and spiders, which then reside on the lens cover and obstruct the camera’s view. IR rays reflecting off an insect and back onto the lens can also cause overexposed footage.

External IR

green-tick Flexibility

By separating your illuminator and your day/night IP camera, you have full flexibility when it comes to hardware placement. This flexibility enables you to tailor a solution to meet your specific requirements.

green-tick No obstructions

By placing your IR illuminator and network camera apart, insects attracted to infrared light reside away from the lens. Reducing the chance of your camera view being obstructed.

This also helps to reduce the number of false motion detection alarms – a common issue within security surveillance today.

green-tick Versatile illumination

Most IR illuminators on the market today will be supplied with a range of diverging lenses. These lenses are used to spread the infrared light and deliver alternative beam angles and illumination distances.

The wide choice of lenses allows you to select the best lens for your lighting requirements. Keep in mind always that the lens with the widest IR spread will have the shortest coverage distance.

Lens choice makes external IR a very versatile solution.

green-tick PoE support

The demand for networked IP devices has resulted in versatile IR illuminators that offer Power-over-Ethernet. This allows the units to be plugged directly into the network infrastructure and receive power via a standard Ethernet cable.

Manufacturers such as Raytec has introduced smarter network solutions – such as their Vario2 IP PoE models. Smart units are IP addressable and can be fully integrated into a security system and managed through software.

red-cross Cost implications

Buying a day/night IP camera and infrared illuminator separately typically cost more than a camera with IR capability. Also, purchasing multiple units, requires additional power supplies / switches, cabling and mounting accessories.

red-cross Longer installation

With multiple units, comes a longer installation and configuration time. Something to keep in mind when designing your surveillance system.

Kevin Bowyer – Technical Director at NW Security Group

Kevin Bowyer

“An extremely common problem we see in systems is insects causing view obstruction. This can be time-consuming and costly to remedy and vastly increases the amount of maintenance needed on cameras.

In our experience, cameras with built-in infrared illumination are useful indoors and in controlled environments only, and should not be used for general surveillance purposes.

To get the best illumination at night – use an external illuminator. It reduces your maintenance/cleaning burden. An external illuminator usually gives you better light and more choice, covering more distance with more intensity. In short they’re better at illuminating the subject you are monitoring.”


The choice between in-build IR and external lighting units comes down to your needs and budget.

To summarise, internal IR provides straightforward, affordable illumination that is an ideal choice for most small to medium-sized applications. Larger-scale or mission critical applications that require higher levels of flexibility and reliability should consider external IR solutions.

Published on February 12th, 2018 by Network Webcams

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