Wi-Fi cameras rely on infrared (IR) for night vision. But IR bounces off the glass — so if you’re using the camera outside a window, you’ll only see a blurry reflection at night. Here’s how to get a clear image.
Night vision and window panes don’t mix
Night vision on most Wi-Fi cameras uses a relatively simple physical trick. One or more IR LEDs emit as much light as possible, acting as a spotlight. Since infrared light is not visible to the human eye, you don’t even notice it and your camera can use this infrared light to record video at night.
If you’ve ever tried pointing a Wi-Fi camera out a window, you’ve probably found it works great during the day. But at night, it’s a blurry video, showing mostly only your camera’s reflection and patches of light.
It completely defeats the purpose of even having a security camera. If your camera saw someone outside, you would never know what they looked like or what they did.
If you want your camera’s night vision to work through glass, you’ll need to provide outdoor lighting. You can use either traditional outdoor lighting or infrared lighting. You must also either turn off or cover the camera’s built-in infrared illumination. Finally, you will either have to move the camera as close to the window as possible, or tilt it slightly instead of using a right angle.
Of course, it is best to use an outdoor camera. An outdoor camera will bypass glass issues and still benefit from most of these offerings. But if for some reason you can’t use an outdoor camera, consider these options to improve the video quality of your indoor camera.
Consider leaving a light on the porch
The first goal in getting the best image is to take built-in infrared lights out of the equation. Traditional lights are the easiest way to achieve this goal. If you have a porch, leave it on. You can then turn off night mode on your camera.
The options here vary from camera to camera. Some cameras, like the Wyze Cam, let you turn everything off. When night mode is off, the IR LED will not turn on. Depending on the camera, your video may be in color. As you can see above, the picture is clear enough that you can see the face of anyone who comes to your door at night.
But this has an obvious downside: you use electricity all night and potentially annoy your neighbors. Moving lights are the best solution. You can find battery powered lights that are easy to attach to a door or wall, like the Overlight. Or you can consider a powerful spotlight solution. A spotlight on its own can be more effective than a porch light. Combined, they can make for crystal clear video.
Turn off or cover the IR LEDs
In the example above, the camera video is still in color, providing less detail. If you want less noise and more clarity, you want your video in black and white. Some cameras allow you to turn off the IR while remaining in monochrome, but others like the Wyze Cam are all or nothing. If so, a little electrical tape will help.
Your outdoor lighting is still useful with covered infrared lights, but you’ll get slightly sharper detail in monochrome video, especially if you use multiple outdoor lights. Too much light will also drown out your camera’s reflection.
Either rotate the camera slightly or move it closer
Reflection of your camera in the window is a problem that you will still face. Darker cameras like the SimplifSafe camera are better than the bright white Wyze camera. Turning off the lights in the room will help, but you should move the camera as close to a window as possible for the best improvement.
The image above shows the worst case scenario with the IR lights still active even though the porch lights are on, but you can see enough detail to get by. Turning off the IR illumination improves the image even more.
If you can’t push the camera against the glass, try tilting it to shift the reflection. Even a five degree angle will help. Moving the reflection out of line of sight will clear up the picture enough for you to get around.
Instead of traditional light bulbs, use IR illumination
Traditional lights are not always the best option. Depending on where you want your camera to record, your neighbors may not notice that spotlights are illuminating their house at night, or they may even be beaming light into your house.
And while traditional spotlights will work, an IR illuminator is an even more effective solution. Think of it like a spotlight, but instead of using visible light, it emits infrared light. The picture above shows the IR illuminator turned on. But, when you look at the device in person, all you see is dim purple lights.
The idea here is to replace the built-in IR lights on your security camera. Turn them off or close them (you want to be in monochrome) and mount the light fixture on the outside of your house. As far as your camera is concerned, you have effectively installed an extremely powerful spotlight. To the human eye, a strange set of dim purple lights may appear. Noticeable but easily ignored.
In the image above, the IR illuminator is pointing at the pavement, making that point the brightest. You must check the exact placement and positioning before permanently installing the device in your home.
IR illuminators can work in tandem with traditional light sources and if you want to get a completely clear picture of this route. The above photo uses all the methods discussed above. The Wyze cameras are positioned as close to the glass as possible with covered infrared LEDs. The IR spotlight is aimed at the sidewalk, and something triggered the motion-detecting spotlight above the garage.
Check your camera for pixel motion detection
Day or night, not all Wi-Fi cameras support window motion detection alerts. Wi-Fi cameras rely on one of two methods of detecting motion: either they use their IR sensors to detect changes in temperature, like a nearby person, or they measure pixel changes in video.
If your camera uses IR sensors to detect motion, you won’t get any alerts behind the glass. As with your night video, the IR bounces off your window before it can reach the potential person. Your camera cannot detect movement.
Pixel motion detection does not have this problem and can work through windows. You will need a camera that uses this motion detection method if you plan to keep the camera indoors and point to the outside world.
The rule of thumb is that most battery powered cameras (such as the Arlo Ultra) use IR detection and most plug-in cameras use pixel detection. But there are exceptions. For example, the Simplisafe camera is a plug-in camera that uses IR motion detection and is not a good choice for window protection.
Not every option may work for your scenario, but if you experiment you will find the right set of conditions that will allow your camera to perform well behind glass at night.