Common CCTV Concepts – Why Do Security Cameras Have Red Lights?

by Patricia Costello
Security Cameras Have Red Lights

Security cameras represent some of the most popular investments when it comes to security. They are not expensive, widely available and come with all kinds of features. The more you know about a security camera and the industry, the easier it is to make a more informed decision though. At the same time, a bit of insight on their features will help you understand the differences between one model and another.

Unless you are a tech person or you actually know what the industry is about, you probably have no idea what each part of the camera does. But then, pretty much everyone knows that seeing a red light means the camera works and records – unless it is a really well made fake camera. So, why do cameras have red lights and what do they actually mean?

Security camera

Why do security cameras have red lights?

Most cameras come with more red lights around their lenses. Some others have one light only – old models. Most units today come with plenty of red lights. They are referred to as LED lights or infrared lights. The more units a camera has, the more efficient it is. Most commonly, these red lights are automatic, meaning they turn on by themselves at night and go off at day.

Their main role is to support the night vision. Basically, if you get a camera and it has those lights, it means it has a decent night vision. Again, more lights underline more clarity and a better image. You can also tell whether or not someone’s security camera (such as your employer’s or your neighbor’s) can record anything at night by taking a look at it.

Most commonly, these red lights go around the lens, so they provide good night vision from all angles.

Understanding the concept of infrared light

Infrared light has one major purpose – to provide a discreet illumination for security cameras. However, infrared lights have been implemented in cameras for more roles. For instance, more lights will also minimize the light pollution. They can help the camera grab crisper images when something happens overnight.

On another note, infrared light is just as efficient at providing long distance illumination. Most people – and even some so called security experts – believe the infrared light is only useful at night. Indeed, most cameras turn it on automatically when the lighting conditions are low. But at the same time, it can be used during the day as well.

There are more standards when it comes to infrared light. Each of them has certain characteristics, but it will also influence the efficiency of the camera. Some of the most popular options include:

  • 940nm to 950nm – the infrared light is not visible by the human eye
  • 815nm to 850nm – the red glow from the lights is barely visible to the human eye
  • 715nm to 730nm – the light will glow and can be visible from a long distance

You will see different standards when shopping for cameras. Knowing how they work will make you make a good decision.

The infrared light between 940nm and 950nm is mostly used with sensitive cameras. Sure, you can find such lights on lower quality cameras too, but generally speaking, this standard is suitable for high sensitivity and ultra high quality lenses. Focusing can be a bit of a problem though, as the lens will lose some of its efficiency at this wavelength.

As a general rule of thumb, the benefits of infrared light are quite obvious – a longer distance when recording and no random light pollution. While used for other things, this type of light is mostly created for security cameras. Plus, as you may already know, LED lights have a low power consumption, so the expenses associated with such cameras are insignificant.

Related Topic: What Is A Bullet Security Camera

Benefits of infrared lights in cameras

The main benefit here is crystal clear – you want to be able to record things overnight. Most crimes occur overnight because of the low light – burglars find it easier to hide and get away unnoticed. Besides, most people sleep and most businesses are closed, so there are no major risks involved. For this reason, night vision is the main necessity. Fortunately, it is becoming a standard in this industry.

At the same time, the amount of LED lights is a good indicator of how good the camera is at night. The more lights you have, the better. The viewing distance will be impressive, while sharpness will not disappoint you. You can spot small details without even trying too hard.

For maximum efficiency and a balanced view, these LED lights are normally placed around the lens. They go on the outside. This type of arrangement ensures they will illuminate as much as possible. In an ideal case, they should cover the entire view of the camera.

It is important to know that while you can spot those red lights around the camera, it does not mean that you can see the infrared light. This type of light is invisible to the human eye. You cannot see it, but you can definitely feel it. It is perceived as heat.

This is practically how the light works. The LED Lights come up with a black and white image of the object in front of the camera based on the heat. Infrared will easily be detected through more conditions – dust, fog or smoke. Without this feature, your security camera would only work during the day.

Finally, you should know that while most CCTV cameras provide a red glow, this is no longer a general rule. Some smart cameras from reputable brands may have night vision, but the LED lights do not glow, so they cannot be spotted. They usually rely on a different wavelength. The light is invisible or barely visible to the human eye. But then, their lenses are also extremely sensitive, so the quality is much higher.

Dealing with confusing red lights on security cameras

The night vision is usually automatic. It goes on when the lighting conditions are poor and it turns off by itself when there is plenty of light around. However, there might be more lights around your camera. If you see a blinking red light, chances are the camera is trying to tell you that it has no connectivity.

It may sound confusing, but most of these indicating lights are located anywhere else apart from the lens. Therefore, they will never go round the lens, but on top of the camera or at the back. Check your connections – especially the Internet – when you see a blinking red light.



As a short final conclusion, you do not have to be a genius to understand why security cameras have red lights. They are extremely common these days, so pretty much everyone is familiar with this kind of concept. You look at a camera and you see some red lights around them. To most people, these lights indicate the fact that the camera works.

To someone with a bit of experience in this field, they indicate a fully operational camera with good night vision. You can still find cameras with no night vision out there, so make sure you double check upfront.

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