FLIR ELARA DX PTZ Multispectral Camera Review
Elara DX is a nice looking camera - the line across the big thermal image is a high tension wire. First roofline 40 metres, second roofline, 300 metres-plus.
FLIR Elara DX is a multispectral PTZ camera designed to provide 24 hour situational awareness in rugged environments. This IP66, IK10-rated camera combines a DX thermal sensor with 640 x 480 resolutions with a 12-degree fixed lens (36mm focal length) and a 4K sensor supported by a 31x optical zoom and 200 metres of IR. The result is a camera purpose-built for larger sites and tougher applications.
FLIR Elara DX arrives at the SEN office in a big Pelican-style carry case – pulling it out and setting up on the compact display mount it’s impossible not to notice the camera’s weight and build quality. Elara DX current draw is too high for standard PoE – the options include uPoE or 24V AC. I opt for the latter, with an adjacent Cat-6 cable carrying data back to the Opteplex 9020 through SEN’s same-old Netgear 108SP switch.
FLIR Elara DX has an interesting set of specifications and we’ll look at them before we go further with our test. There are 2 distinct components to this surveillance camera – optical and thermal – let’s do optical first. Handling light input is a 1/1.8-inch CMOS sensor with auto iris control, 3840 x 2160 pixels of resolution (4K) and an optical zoom lens delivering 6.6-202mm (31x) with an aperture of F1.6.
The optical camera is day/night and has an IR cut filter, a minimum resolution in colour of 0.25 lux and 0.10 lux in black and white, there’s 130dB of wide dynamic range, white balance, 3D noise reduction and auto gain control. The high efficiency SMD IR array has a range of 200 metres and a spread of 6, 30 and 90 degrees. This camera has 4 alarm inputs and 2 alarm outputs, full duplex audio with G.711 compression.
On the recording side there’s M-JPEG and H.264 options both at 30ips available as separate channels. I move between both when viewing, tending towards H.264, but there are applications in which thoughtful surveillance technicians would favour the superior handling of rapid movement offered by M-JPEG. Frame rate control options are CBR/VBR with VGA-4K resolution scale options.
Elara’s PTZ functionality is a strength – it’s such a strength that between PT and the big zoom I find myself getting lost to the point of having to go outside and check which direction the camera is facing. These sorts of entanglements would not be an issue when viewing via a well-integrated VMS. In terms of specifications, there’s mechanical auto-flip, a horizontal viewing angle of 3-64 degrees, pan and tilt of 90 degrees per second in manual and up to 280 degrees per second as a preset, with tilt of -10-190 degrees.
Other features of Elara DX include firmware upgrade via network, cyber security via user credentials, protection from brute force attack and TLS, ONVIF compliance to Profile S, NEMA 4X rating, support for a wide range of network protocols, remote config via browser or VMS, excellent operating temperature of -40C to 60C, and a power draw of 61W 24VAC or 43W uPOE with heater and IR on.
The thermal sensor of the model 427-0300-40-00 SEN is testing is an uncooled Vox microbolometer with 640 x 480 pixels of resolution, a thermal spectral range of 7.5-13.5um, and a fixed lens offering the equivalent of 36mm at the wide end. Because it’s integrated into the camera head, panning and tilting the thermal camera head is a snap and that capability, combined with the focus-free fixed lens and continuous digital E-Zoom, takes thermal surveillance to a whole new level. It’s a compact field of view at 6 x 5 degrees and thermal streaming resolution options are QVGA and VGA. Meanwhile the automatic flat field correction (FFC) has thermal and temporal (time schedule) triggers.
Test Driving FLIR Elara DX
Once Elara DX is powered up, the camera comes to life and starts going through its activation processes with no help from me. With the camera happily on-screen, it’s time to select a location for the test drive. The FLIR team has pointed out that this camera is long range and should be tested with that in mind, but my first look at the image stream is in the office with the camera mounted on a table looking away from natural light.
It’s in this application that I first started to wrestle with slight softness that I can’t dial out with manual focus. I also notice strong colour rendition, excellent skin tones, as well as some chromatic aberrations. The other noticeable thing in the office is focal length at the wide end – it’s much longer than usual and this gives a hint of the nature of Elara DX.
Static plates at 80m top, Moving plates around 35m. Note spherochromatism impacting on the sign in the foreground of the top image – it’s the long focal length.
Though my initial look at the camera is downstairs, it’s the 100-metre street view that really gives me my first clear ideas about the capability of Elara. That slight softness in the image is also apparent with the camera mounted on the balcony viewing a shallow scene with a depth of field from a couple of metres to about 25 metres.
Again, I spend time messing around with auto and manual focus, switching between resolutions, as well as checking out H.264 and M.JPEG streams. It’s only once I tilt and zoom the camera up the street and start winding in the big optical zoom that this softness irons out and I realise Peter De Ieso was right. This camera is all about reach.
Out front in my busy scene the camera’s huge reach delivers compression, a quality that’s always useful to experienced operators on the street. Being able to view multiple targets in a scene between 60-100 metres deep is very appealing, though at the long end there’s near bokeh in the near foreground with Elara. From 80 metres out in strong backlight I have plates and faces deep into this scene. There’s a sweet spot for plates at the long end in this application, though I notice that with aperture closed down a bit, fast moving plates are impacted by slight blur. When I back out, moving plates return.
Next, I have a look at the camera’s thermal view, which is a click away using the camera browser. I opt for red-hot a lot of the time in my test. It’s not going to be the choice for security operators keeping an eye out for warm-blooded intruders – they’ll be happier with the white-hot option. Even in daylight, there’s plenty to see using Elara thermal. There’s good tonal variation and it’s very easy to get a sense of the warmest surfaces, as well as making out pedestrians in surprisingly high levels of detail at around 50-100 metres from the lens.
Pedestrians are 40m plus from lens in top image – around 10m from the lens in bottom image, where a face mask is easy to see.
I can establish differences like gender, attire (untucked business shirt vs T shirt), general details about shoes and hairstyle, presence of face masks. Thermal works well at closer ranges, too, and it gives plenty of detail when it comes to situational awareness. You can clearly see what people are doing, place subjects in context and get a concrete sense of their physical interactions. When it comes to vehicles, you can also tell which have recently been driven thanks to heat radiating from bonnets, brakes and other areas.
It doesn’t take me a huge length of time – a couple of hours – to decide that more interesting times are going to be had out the back in the district view, which offers 70-80 metres of lane with buildings out past 1000 metres. Before going any further, it’s worth pointing out that my mount for the camera out back is not optimal – it uses the compact table mount supplied placed on top of another stand that is not completely flat – and it’s very windy out here. I’ve got image stablisation on but there’s no doubt conditions are having an impact on image quality. My first look at the wide end highlights the lack of barrel distortion from Elara’s slightly longer zoom lens.
Subjects are around 80m from lens in top image and there’s no trouble with plates or faces. Distance is closer to 90 metres in thermal image.
First up I look up the lane from 70 to about 85 metres, where some neighbours are unloading their car after a shopping trip. Elara is dishing up face recognition and high levels of adjacent detail in this application. There’s full detail of clothing, footwear, even the bands of wristwatches, which at this distance is solid performance, indeed. The presence of reusable cloth shopping bags is pleasing to see. While this is taking place, people and vehicles are moving up and down Albion Lane and Bellevue Lane and I’m not missing anything around that action close to my focal point, though closer to the lens subjects move out of focus and into bokeh.
Thermal isn’t getting through glass here, as you’d expect. Face recognition at around 100 metres with optical.
Next, I swing Elara through 180 degrees to view neighbours at the other end of the lane – they are at around 100 metres from the lens. I have face recognition and loads of detail of their environment. It’s during this panning operation that I first get lost in the zoom – from here out I reverse to full wide instead of trying to pan the long end. Because my subjects are behind a glass screen, they aren’t visible using thermal imaging, but I can get a good sense of the scene.
Going back to visible imaging – yes, it’s a just click away in the camera browser – I look at the top of the buildings along Oxford St, which are at least 1000 metres from the lens. There are no human subjects in my scene, but I have good situational awareness of communications infrastructure. Switching back to thermal the view alters thanks to the focal length of the thermal lens, but it would be possible to observe a person moving along the roof line, even from this distance. The digital E-Zoom helps.
There’d be no problem getting intruders day or night at 1000 metres with Elara, whether on rooftops, or ridgelines.
The World Tower on Goulburn and George Sts is my next target – performance using the optical side is strong – there are some faint chromatic aberrations along high contrast edges, but the image gives me an excellent look at the rooflines, walkways, external staircases and more. The thermal view of World Tower is pleasing, too. It’s a different shape from the 16 x 9 optical view and the perspective is altered by the focal length, but again I have strong views of the roofline and access points. At night with higher contrast delivered by greater temperature variations, the levels of detail and the sharpness would be higher still.
Sticking with the thermal camera, I pan and tilt towards the offices down on Elizabeth St – these are around 350 metres from the lens. Again, I’m interested in the rooflines and again I have an excellent view. At this slightly shorter distance, with less hazy air between lens and target, the thermal scene is more detailed. It’s disappointing there are no workers on these roof tops but the ability to see thermally passive comms infrastructure underlines the capability you’d have to see people at these distances under virtually any circumstances, which for high security applications is exactly what you want.
World Tower is 1000 metres from the lens – optical and thermal performance are both very strong.
Something I find myself noticing is the cool areas where air conditioning is escaping, as well as ventilation points dispersing hotter air. The impact of shading on the temperature of external windows is an eye opener. Windows under verandah lines are cool blue, while exposed windows are red hot. It’s not something that would bother security operators, but facilities managers would find such imagery interesting, given its potential to reduce power consumption and wear and tear on building plants.
Going back to optical, I’m drawn back to the lane where there’s still plenty of activity from neighbours 70-80 metres from the lens. In this part of the test I’m interested in faces and plates, static and moving, but in fairness to Elara, this is not a challenge. Everything here is court admissible, even though I’m not wound in the full 31x on the optical zoom. Thermal is also rock solid out towards 100 metres – there’s zero chance you’d miss an event here – the fast pan and the huge tilt are enormous assets with thermal.
These images are 70-80 metres from the lens.
As the afternoon wears on, there’s a little more blur or noise pushing through on the optical side – it’s a measure of the camera’s capability that this never impacts on face recognition or the camera’s ability to hoover up little details, right down to the phone numbers on the sides of moving vehicles. I’m able to ascertain the presence of face masks worn in cars and to recognise people through on the other side of vehicles at 80m by peering through closed, tinted windows.
With the light fading, I find the camera’s performance in colour remains surprisingly good – it’s low on noise, shows good colour rendition and the tones are neutral, considering the low-pressure sodium along that back lane. Looking at moving foliage, I find blur is relatively low – leaves are distinct and pointing the camera towards a lighted terrace, it handles the work very well, with no blooming or smearing. I’m able to see layered detail in this application, all of which suggests power for longer ranges, too.
I waited an hour for some one to move up or down Albion Lane to no avail – fortunately the neighbours came to the rescue a second time.
The thermal image at night is also very complete – that’s the beauty of thermal – what it does well, you always get. For manned security teams with big sites to support – I’m thinking of ports, stadiums, major bridges, road infrastructure, high security perimeters, power utilities, defence installations and more – this capability is solid gold. You can see it’s a person, you can see it’s a fox, or a kangaroo. There’s serious efficiency in response to be found here without the risk imposed by guesswork.
Just to check this assertion, I swing the camera over to the World Tower again – it’s around midnight – the optical performance in colour is surprisingly good out here. I can almost read the words ‘World Tower’ on the side of the building. But the thermal is what really impresses. Thermal performance at night is even better than it was during the day. Teamed up with a watchful security operator and/or video analytics, there’s no chance a person could move in this field of view – from 40m out to 1000m – without being detected.
FLIR Elara DX is a powerful surveillance solution for serious applications. The combination of optical and thermal surveillance in a PTZ delivers performance unmatched by any other form factor and the camera’s specification plays to these strengths. Elara DX is not an inexpensive solution, but the cost needs to be thoughtfully considered. The combination of thermal and optical in a single flexible package saves money because it means fewer cameras, fewer camera points and fewer VMS licenses.
The capability of the camera also means you don’t need to install as many Elaras. The idea of a high-cadence thermal guard tour undertaken by a powerful speed dome supported by analytics is very appealing for high security applications. Mounted high, there’d be nothing detectable in its field of view that Elara would not see. For high security and high value applications, Elara DX comes highly recommended.