When customers are considering which thermal security camera or system to buy, one of the first questions asked of thermal imager manufacturers is usually: “At what distance can the IR camera detect a target?”. In other words, what is the camera’s ability to capture very small details at great distances? When thinking about effective surveillance, it is indeed a good criterion to differentiate one sensor from another.
No matter which manufacturer you are buying from, the answer given to this question will almost always include the “DRI ranges” expression. DRI refers to the distance at which a target can be Detected, Recognized, or Identified, based on certain universally accepted parameters. In order to select the right sensor for your defense, security, or surveillance needs, these DRI ranges have to be, first, perfectly defined, but also assessed with regards to globally adopted industrial standards. Enter Johnson’s criteria.
The Origin of Johnson’s Criteria
In 1958, at the first ever “Night Vision Image Intensifier Symposium”, John Johnson, a night vision scientist at the U.S. Army’s “Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate” (NVESD), presented a paper named the “Analysis of Image Forming Systems”. Johnson’s paper defined a clear system with criteria and methodology for predicting an observer’s ability to find and assess targets using image intensifying equipment (such as thermal cameras), under various conditions. It worked well, and it was the first of its kind.
Johnson’s Criteria Definitions
Johnson’s model provided definitive criteria for calculating the maximum range at which “Detection, Recognition, and Identification (D, R, I)” could take place, with a 50% probability of success. (Orientation was also discussed, but this parameter is not used or recognized today). Although newer methodologies for D,R,I exist today, such as NVESD’s “Night Vision Image Performance Model” (NV-IPM), the “Johnson’s Criteria” system was groundbreaking for its time, was the accepted standard in the defense industry for many years, and is still widely used in the security industry today.
Johnson defined “Detection” as the ability to subtend 1 TV line pair (+/- 0.25 line pairs) across the critical dimension of the subject (this translates to 2 pixels when using an LCD monitor). At the range that this occurs, regardless of target type, the observer could detect that a subject was in the field of view, 50% of the time. Today, many security camera companies loosely follow Johnson’s Criteria and define their camera’s “Detection” performance range as the ability to subtend either 1.5 or 2 pixels on the target, using various target sizes.
Johnson defined “Recognition” as the ability to subtend 4 TV line pairs (+/- 0.8 line pairs) across the critical dimension of the subject (this translates to 8 +/- 1 pixels when using an LCD monitor). At the range that this occurs, regardless of target type, the observer determines the type of subject, a human or a car for example, 50% of the time. Today many security camera companies typically define their cameras “Recognition” performance range as the ability to subtend 6 pixels on the target, using various target sizes.
Johnson defined “Identification” as the ability to subtend 6.4 TV line pairs (+/- 1.5 line pairs) across the critical dimension of the subject (this translates to 12 +/- 3 pixels when using an LCD monitor). At the range that this occurs, regardless of target type, the observer could detect the subject. Today many security camera companies loosely follow Johnson’s Criteria and define their cameras “Identification” performance range as the ability to subtend 12 pixels on the target, using various target sizes.
Johnson’s Criteria in the Security Industry
DRI ranges, expressed in kilometers (or miles), can usually be found in the specification table of infrared camera brochures, or in a description of the cameras features. While a very helpful jumping off point for narrowing down the options and homing in on the best systems, customers would be doing themselves a disservice to only look at DRI. This is because today the application of Johnson’s criteria varies somewhat across the security industry. In most instances, documentation uses simplified or modified versions of the criteria, but they do all generally follow similar rules.
Typically, most companies use twelve pixels on the target for identification, six for recognition, and two for detection (sometimes 1.5). However, the target size can vary greatly. Normally the defense industry “NATO” target size (2.3×2.3 meters) is used for calculating the performance range for detecting vehicles, but for a human target, various target sizes can be found. It is important when selecting your thermal camera to keep in mind that in any given document, the target size for a human can range from 1.7-1.83 meters tall and from 0.3- 0.75 meters wide, and factor this into your decision-making process.
The Need to look at the Bigger Picture
Because end-users often place a high value on the written specifications of the camera, marketing departments are under pressure to use performance calculations that make their cameras look better than the competitors. However, since these calculations typically do not take environmental factors into account, customers should ask their thermal camera providers to explain the other elements and benefits of each camera they are offering, and how they will perform in a variety of conditions. A modified approach that considers parameters such as these can better help in choosing the right thermal camera or system for your needs.