How Full Color Night Vision works on a Security Camera

Improving the clarity of the footage captured by a security camera during low-light conditions has always been a challenge. Fortunately, Infrared Red waves and Starlight technology have helped provide better hardware-based alternatives to remedy this.

  • Full-Color Night Vision captures clearer, color footage in low light, whereas IR (Infrared) only captures in black and white.
  • Cameras with integrated spotlights/floodlights offer better lighting; those with motion sensors are energy-efficient but may lack range.
  • Starlight Image Sensors capture color in extremely dim settings.
  • Ambient light level affects camera’s mode (color vs. IR).
  • The “minimum illumination for color value” metric indicates how much light is needed for a camera to produce full-color footage.
  • For optimal results: ensure ample ambient lighting and maintain camera cleanliness.

In this article, we will cover the basics of full-color night vision, how it differs from IR and how you can use this technology to improve security.

What is Full-Color Night Vision on a Security Camera?

Conventional cameras (whether they are security cameras or not) always rely on visible white light – termed as ambient light in the security camera industry to avoid confusion with IR – to capture/approximate a real-life scene. (take a photo of the real world.)

This is why photos taken outdoors during the day are clearer and free of noise compared to ones taken in dimly-lit conditions. 

To remedy this, security cameras have been developed with night vision technologies such as IR (Infrared) and Full-Color night vision. The difference between the two is that IR can only capture footage in black and white while Full Color Night vision technology, which uses hypersensitive light sensors, can reproduce colors while delivering more information and clarity to the footage. 

Although IR technology is more versatile since it can capture footage at pitch-black conditions (0 Lux) the footage lacks color and contrast resulting in a lack of important information. This is where full-color night vision comes into play. With a tiny amount of ambient lighting, cameras with this technology can reproduce images at full color with better details.

Cameras with Motion-Triggered Integrated Spotlights/Floodlights

One of the most important aspects of any security camera system is ambient lighting. Although daylight is good enough for most outdoor cameras (and some indoor cameras) artificial ambient light sources such as spotlights and floodlights are necessary to supplement low-lit environments at night.

Fortunately, you have the option of installing these artificial light sources separately or installing a security camera that comes with built-in integrated spotlights/floodlights. Even though these cameras might be more expensive they provide better lighting as they prepare the scene for the camera itself. 

If you are hoping to use integrated lights instead of external light sources, another more important feature that you want to look out for is motion sensors. You have the option to pick cameras with built-in motion sensors that will start recording or triggering the lights when motion is detected. Motion-triggered cameras such as these are more energy conscious and can surprise intruders more effectively. However, these motion sensors are not 100% accurate and they are not very effective at covering larger distances.

Cameras with Always-On Integrated Spotlights / Floodlights

If you feel that the motion detection sensors are not that reliable, you can always keep the lights on with a security camera that has an “Always-on” integrated spotlight/floodlight. Fortunately, you can adjust the settings for these and schedule when the lights will stay on. 

One thing to note, however, is when selecting these security cameras you are limited to hardwired cameras (AC / DC or PoE) as running a spotlight or floodlight constantly requires constant power. Cameras with a backup battery power supply are also good, to cover situations where the power fails.

Some specs you want to look out for are the brightness of the spotlight/floodlight and the light control options that it provides. 2,000 to 3,000 Lumens are always recommended and always go for a system where you can schedule lights, adjust brightness, toggle motion control settings, etc… These systems might be a tad bit expensive, but the customization features make them a future-proof choice. 

Cameras That Rely on Ambient Lighting

If you already have external lights set up in your desired location, you won’t need to use security cameras with in-built spotlights.

However, you need to make sure that the ambient lighting is intensive enough for the cameras to produce clear enough footage and you also have to prepare backup power in the case of an emergency. Therefore, cameras that rely on ambient lighting are a solid choice if you manage to provide the necessary ambient lighting via external sources such as porchlights, streetlights, floodlights, etc…

What is a Starlight Image Sensor?

So far, we’ve discussed how night vision in security cameras can be obtained via two methods, the first one being Infrared Radiation (IR) – which can deliver black and white footage even when there is no ambient lighting (0 Lux) – and the other being full-color night vision which uses hypersensitive light sensors such as advanced starlight sensors. 

These starlight image sensors can reproduce color images/footage in very dimly lit environments. (some as low as 0.0005 Lux!) Even though they are a relatively recent technology, they are quite promising and have a couple of advantages over IR.

For starters, the image reproduced using full-color vision, has (as you guessed it) full-color. Depending on the ambient lighting, the cameras will be able to capture color footage with better contrast and more detail than IR black and white footage. On top of that, they don’t have limited range issues since they rely on ambient lighting.

How important is the minimum illumination for color value?

This spec for the minimum illumination for color value determines the “environmental sensitivity” of the camera for ambient light. It is measured in Lux where 0 Lux implies complete darkness, 0.25 Lux indicates the light spread out by a full moon on a clear night. 

The lower the value for “minimum illumination for color” the less ambient light is required by the sensor to produce full-color night-vision footage. Therefore, the better the starlight sensor, the lower its minimum illumination value is going to be and the less you have to worry about supplementing the environment with external light sources. 

This value acts as a threshold to determine when the cameras should stop recording in full-color night vision and switch over to Infrared. So if the light level goes below this minimum amount, the cameras will start using Infrared Radiation instead. So depending on your requirements, you might have to consider this spec as well.

Tips To Improve Color Night Vision Surveillance

A quality color night vision camera is generally better than an infrared camera at producing clear footage. However, to take full advantage of these cameras you need to provide adequate ambient light in the environment. Here are some tips on how to maintain and improve your full-color night vision surveillance system.

Set Up Ambient Light Sources

The advanced starlight sensors on your camera might be good enough to illuminate a scene using the small amount of light given out by a porchlight or streetlight far away. However, it’s always best to supplement the scene with external ambient light sources. These can be outdoor lights such as garden lights, solar lights, wall lights, etc…

Hardwire your Security Camera

If you are thinking about using the camera’s in-built spotlights/floodlights instead of external sources, we recommend getting cameras that can be hardwired. It’s best to stay away from battery-only security cameras as the spotlight will drain the battery faster. If possible, you should always go for security cameras that can be hardwired, but also support an in-built backup battery. Another option is to have a solar panel trickle charge a battery camera.

Keep the Camera Lens Clean Regularly

It’s also recommended that you clean the camera lens regularly, this will help keep the lens clean from dust, cobwebs, and water stains that can affect the night vision performance of the camera. Also, make sure that light sources are not too close to the camera, and also check the footage regularly, to see if there’s enough ambient light for capturing clear footage. 


Full-Color Night vision technology is taking over IR as the go-to technology for capturing footage in low-light environments. This technology is very promising because it can reproduce footage with full color and better details. However, to avoid the camera from switching over to IR, users should ensure the environment is not too dark by providing enough ambient lighting. Fortunately, there are tons of options for external light sources or in-built spotlight systems to solve this issue.


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