Hikvision DarkFighterX 4MP PTZ Camera Review
Strong performance at long range day and night is the metier of this PTZ.
Hikvision’s DarkfighterX 4MP PTZ combines an excellent sensor engine offering solid low light performance and high resolution with a brilliant lens and long range IR to create a surveillance tool of unprecedented power.
HIKVISION’S Darkfighter X PTZ is among the best CCTV cameras in the industry, so when offered the chance to take a look at the latest 4MP IR DarkfighterX PTZ, we didn’t hesitate. The 4MP DarkfighterX PTZ (the model number is DS-2DF9C435IH-DLW) effectively doubles the resolution of the previous model, which had excellent performance in its own right.
The interesting thing about DarkfighterX technology is that it uses a lens and sensor to capture colour, while another lens and sensor captures light – and this takes place on the sensor board itself. The 2 data streams are combined by the camera engine to deliver optimum colour and clarity. We’ve never seen what the sensor of a DarkfighterX looks like – it’s probably hard to distinguish from the any other 1/18th of an inch CMOS.
DarkfighterX 4MP’s sensor is said to deliver colour images at 0.0005 lux, which is a big call for an image not enhanced by 250 metres of IR – starlight is .002 lux, remember. Given Hikvision engineers tend to chase the specification hard, it’s likely the delivery of this performance comes thanks to a lot of digital work in the background, as well as a slower shutter speed in low light.
DarkfighterX also offers deep learning technology to deliver greater accuracy with analytics such as intrusion detection and line crossing – video analytics works better the less pixel spread you have across a scene, which means this 4MP camera with 2688 x 1512 pixels should offer solid performance.
When I saw DarkfighterX PTZ at Security 2019, the first thing that struck me was its increased size. According to Hikvisions’s Cecil Nie, that size in part comes down to the need to accommodate a bigger 35x optical lens capable of identifying a 1m long object at 260 metres with a resolution of 250 pixels. If 35x optical isn’t enough, there’s 16x digital as well. You wouldn’t use all this digital zoom but being able to creep a little closer with the glass at full stretch can be beneficial in CCTV applications.
Hikvision’s high end cameras have sweet lenses – this one has an aperture range of F1.6 at the 5.9mm wide end and F4.4 at the 206.5mm long end. The wide end of a big PTZ like this tends to be longer than most other cameras – in this case the wide horizonal angle of view is 58.9 degrees, while the narrow end is 2.2 degrees. The beautiful looking lens is coated with Magnesium Fluoride.
Other features of the camera include day/night functionality, a suite of white balance options including auto/manual/auto-tracking white balance/indoor/outdoor/fluorescent lamp/sodium lamp, auto/manual AGC, backlight control, smart defog, WDR of 120dB, backlight compensation and HLC. There are also 24 programmable privacy masks, 360-degrees of endless tilt between -25 and 90 degrees, and a pre-set speed of 280 degrees per second with 300 pre-sets comprising 8 patrols with 32 pre-sets per patrol. Patrol functions include pre-set, 4 ten-minute pattern scans, patrol scan, auto scan, tilt scan, random scan, frame scan and panorama scan, and park. Smart tracking features include manual tracking, auto tracking (support tracking specified target types such as human and vehicle) and event tracking.
There are 7 alarm inputs, 2 alarm outputs and alarm actions can be undertaken on the basis of pre-set, pre-set, patrol scan, pattern scan, memory card video record, trigger recording, notify surveillance center, upload to FTP/memory card/NAS, send email, etc. There’s region of interest encoding with 8 fixed regions for each stream. The camera supports up to 32 users in 3 levels – administrator, operator and user, and there’s simultaneous live view for up to 20 channels.
This camera has triple streams, the main stream peaks at 2688 × 1512 pixels and 25fps, while the sub stream hits 704 x 576 at 25fps and the third stream is 1920 x 1080 at 25fps. Compression options are H.265+/H.265/H.264+/H.264 for the main, H.265/H.264/MJPEG for the sub and H.265/H.264/MJPEG for the third stream. Audio compression options include G.711alaw, G.711ulaw, G.722.1, G.726, MP2L2 and PCM. If you want to onboard recordings at the edge, a built-in memory card slot, supports 256GB Micro SD, SDHC and SDXC. Security measures are solid, as you’d expect with user authentication (user ID and password), host authentication (MAC address), HTTPS encryption, IEEE 802.1x port-based network access control, and IP address filtering.
The physical specifications of the camera are robust poly and cast alloy – setting up DarkfighterX PTZ on a tripod taxes the deltoids. The specified weight is 12kg but with the cap and power supply it was harder work to wrangle. Dimensions are 293 x 422mm and the camera uses a 36V DC supply drawing 4.17A and a maximum of 105 watts when the IR is operating at full power. Importantly, the operating temperature range is excellent – it’s -40C to 70C, which is the biggest range we’ve seen for a PTZ camera.
Driving DarkfighterX 4MP PTZ
This test is being undertaken on SEN’s test network, which has recently been deconstructed and more or less isolated from everything but a PoE switch, a cabled internet uplink and the i7 Dell Optiplex 9020 server. In this test we’ve cabled local power to the camera and the network cable is going into the unpowered side of the Netgear S108P switch. I’m using the latest version of iVMS 4200 to manage the camera and throughout the test I notice that although my settings (full frame rate, full resolution, H.265) are targeting performance, bit rate remains comparatively low – around 5Mbps.
I’ve got the big PTZ set up out the back of the office – it’s the biggest view we have – with district views out to several thousand metres if your PTZ can tilt above the horizon, as this one can. As soon as the camera comes up, I can see it has typically strong Hikvision contrast in blues and reds when facing 70,000 lux. It’s a camera that exposes for the brighter part of the scene in default when challenged by WDR, so dark areas are shaded – you need to get into WDR settings to balance these characteristics. There’s barrel distortion at the wide end – it’s very mild at around 4-5 per cent. There aren’t any chromatic aberrations even when you are pixel peeping, the lens shows no discernible purple fringing throughout my test, which is rare in a big PTZ.
Of course, the first thing I do is zoom all the way into the World Tower, which is about 1000 metres from the lens on the corner of Goulburn and George Sts – that’s in Haymarket, not Surry Hills. Just as I’m trying to decide if this is the best view I’ve ever had of the WT, a person walks out onto the roof of the building and takes a look around. What can I identify at this range? Fair skin, medium build, near shoulder-length hair, beard, wearing backpack, wearing sunglasses, wearing a black or blue polo shirt with white stripes or tabs on the shirt sleeves.
After a few minutes the backpack is taken off. I’m able to discern gait, apparent mood (relaxed, probably waiting), using a smart phone, and a habit of pushing back hair. This isn’t the sort of detail we’d usually get into because this isn’t the sort of performance we usually get. While I’m watching the rest of the maintenance crew turns up and they start working on what appears to be a cable pull. At all times they are in view, I have no trouble with identifying details, though not faces at this distance.
These workers are 1000m from the lens – you can see the cable/hose/line they are pulling mid-left.
Now the camera is operating in a consistent light, the image stream is very balanced, colours are strong, perhaps slightly cool, there’s movement of the tripod and some swim in the image that might be noise or heat haze. This is a brilliant lens – there are no CAs to be seen anywhere at all and you’d expect them at the long end with bright sun behind a building. It’s outstanding work. While following this activity I fall foul of some tree branches in line of sight the camera wants to focus on and I’m pleased with how easy it is to tweak focus to stay with the rooftop action.
No sign of chromatic aberration whatever – outstanding.
This camera does something amazing during the process of backing out of this long view – it focuses on a power line around 8 metres from the lens and the detail is exquisite – I can see stippling in the cable jacket and I have a string of wee aperture stars from reflections, as well as zero chromatic aberrations. This capability highlights the quality of Hikvision’s glass and the camera’s strong resolution and it’s a thrill from the point of view of testing – this is going to be fun.
Next, I drill over the lane and check out the remains of a weekend party on a neighbouring balcony – the range is about 12 metres. Again, this is photographic quality from the DarkfighterX PTZ. Given my cluttered rear view, there’s going to be plenty to look at out here. Something I do notice at the long end is that the mild barrel distortion I saw when at the wide end has melted away – you expect this but it’s nice to see.
The performance above speaks for itself. Great colour rendition, huge detail, excellent optics – remember all these files are half native resolution. In image 3 note the spherochromatism introduced by the long optical solution – operators will have to take this near-bokeh into account with close and mid-range work.
My next target is chimney pots at about 40-50 metres from the lens. I’m expecting good things and I’m not disappointed. Getting little enamel details from the firing process, along with spider webs and paint flakes is very pleasing. There’s an office building about 250 metres away on Foveaux Street that we often use for target practise. The wide view is classic Hikvision – the image stream is balanced to avoid over exposure. The long view is excellent, too – in fact it’s so good, I examine the cabling of a wireless link.
Performance is so strong you could use DarkfighterX 4MP to assist maintenance crews. Again note, this is half resolution.
Next, I spin the camera around to get a look at Sydney Tower – I’m actually not expecting to be able to snare it – the PTZ form factor isn’t ideal for that sort of work. Lo and behold I can see Sydney Tower and it’s an excellent view. There’s some fizz in this image, probably heat haze and a little processing swim and some motion blur generated by the PTZ drifting around under the tripod. It’s getting quite windy, now and I’m feeling it at the long end. Regardless, this DarkfighterX PTZ is a precision instrument. This is the best view we’ve ever had of Sydney Tower – there’s no doubt about it.
First image shows the mild barrel distortion. Next 3 images zooms of same scene. Second image a hint of CAs around leaves. Church is 150m. Worker is 200m. Tower is 2000m.
After this I take a look down the lane – it’s 70 metres down Bellevue Lane to the far side of Albion Lane and I sit around waiting for a subject – with a 36x zoom, the target area is small and catching any movement through the field of view demands attention. The long wait gives time to take a close look at an adjacent flower box – best ever view of it? No doubt. Subtle colour rendition, too. Watching insects moving I can see that in this shaded sliver of scene the camera has backed the shutter speed up a little.
This camera is equally at home looking up at the towers behind the office – there’s definitely been enhancements to the tilt function – I could never get this high above the horizon with the previous version. I get the wide shot and then zoom in to view a lamp inside an apartment.
Then I zoom in on the headlight reflectors of a car at 20 metres and I’m able to snare the number plate of a car emerging from a garage opposite in the reflections. I have no trouble with moving number plates and faces.
The light has shifted now – the sun has swung to the North West – all light-coloured surfaces are now much brighter than they were earlier in the day. The big Hik PTZ handles the stresses of changing light with no issues – brick walls turn golden and pockets of over exposure re-balance. We often see the loss of backlight enhancing depth of field and increasing sharpness and that’s what I see here.
Handles backlight well, solid compression.
At this point the application is limiting my testing. There’s nothing in this scene the DarkfighterX isn’t all over and all I’m waiting for is for the light to go. Performance as light falls is very consistent. Detail continues to increase. This camera disengages from reality as night sets in – when it looks dark outside to the naked eye, there’s no sign of gloom on the monitor. Something that still happens is the camera displays a bias to managing over exposure, so if you have too much comparatively bright sky in the scene, the buildings will be in shadow.
It’s when I start driving the zoom in failing light that things get interesting. The reach is incredible. I scope from wide angle all the way into some one’s office down on Elizabeth St – that’s at least 350m away – and get face recognition. When I point the camera at the World Tower, I get my best night view of this building – it’s so good I can see a bloke walk across his living room floor 1000m from the lens. By 8pm it’s sub-2 lux out the back but DarkfighterX is oblivious to any of that. The sky is blue, stars are visible. I have full colour and situational awareness across this scene with solid depth of field and more reach a mouse click away.
Incredible reach – again, these images are half resolution.
I spend some time seeking out dark corners to stress the camera and I definitely find the 1/25th of a sec shutter speed and get lost in the zoom a couple of times but end up having to force the camera into night mode, despite sub-2 lux at the lens.
You can see someone is at home bottom left of top image – motion blur of the scooter whizzing up Albion Lane is well controlled – so is noise.
IR – which you can’t disable in night mode via camera settings – has great reach and teamed up with the excellent zoom lens and low noise, you’re able to get fine details that would not be available with other cameras. I find I can bounce light off a glass window at the rear of a house onto the license plate of a car in the carport so it reflects back onto the window. However, in this jumbled application with the camera mounted on a tripod instead of a wall or railing, leaving the camera in auto mode would be the best option – there’s strong IR reflection from objects and structures that are closer to the lens. But it’s great to know the power is there for big sites. When I use IR to illuminate the Albion Lane, I get excellent detail of pedestrians.
This performance with IR is awe-inspiring. DarkfighterX 4MP is a photon monster.
Something I’ve not mentioned is the complete lack of noise or swim in this IR-enhanced monochrome image or in the colour video stream as light falls. There simply isn’t any noise or pulsing at all, though when in day mode reaching into dark holes in the scene around 100-150 metres from the lens I notice some appearance of image reconstruction and a very slow pulsing of the image stream – bear in mind, this is with sub-2 lux at the lens.
I find with this camera that the lens is so long you notice when it doesn’t focus where you want it to – the rest of the scene will be slightly out. This is evident at mid-ranges of 40-50 metres, especially at night, when the camera elects to focus on the leaves of a tree behind a row of chimney pots – I have to fill the scene with the pots to nail focus, or tweak manually.
NB: I took the protective stickers off the IR lenses prior to testing…
Throughout my test I can’t escape the realisation that this is too much camera for my busy application. This is a hugely powerful PTZ with excellent optics that offers serious performance for larger applications – ports, motorways, bridges, safe city applications demanding huge reach, airports. In more compact scenes DarkfighterX 4MP PTZ offers levels of detail that allow operators scope for considerable creativity. This is the best PTZ camera available today on a balance of performance and cost.
Features of DarkfighterX 4MP PTZ include:
* 35x optical zoom, 16x digital zoom.
* 120 dB WDR, 3D DNR, Chromatic Defog
* Supports H.265+/H.265 video compression
* Rapid focus
* Up to 250m IR distance with Smart IR
* IP67 weather rating
* Wiper with auto rain sensor.