Photonis’ NOCTURN Camera for UAV/UAS Imaging

Recently, the technological advancements in communications have increased the applications of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). UAV/UAS are used for various support missions such as target identification, rescue, search, intelligence and surveillance.

E curve for Nocturn Camera using Lynx CMOS Sensor

Figure 1. QE curve for Nocturn Camera using Lynx CMOS Sensor

Image Credit: Photonis

High quality images and videos provide information on the precise target identification, topography, location and movement of assets. High resolution imaging is the key factor in UAV/UAS missions.

Most of the currently available high resolution imaging systems, however are not well suited for support missions owing to their poor light response. In order to address this technical concern, PHOTONIS has developed true day-through-night CMOS imaging camera – Nocturn for SWaP requirements of support missions. This camera is ideal for long-range identification of targets in both day and night conditions.

NOCTURN UAV comparison - Short version

Key Features of Nocturn

The key features of Nocturn CMOS imaging system include:

  • Ability to produce SXGA resolution (1280 x 1024) at <4e- read noise
  • Physical Dimensions: Weight of less than 85g, size of less than 37mm3,
  • Low power consumption i.e. below 1.8W
  • Compact size with wide range of connectivity options and video outputs
  • 8X digital zoom capabilities for detailed evaluation of targets
  • Rolling shutter capable of 100 frames per second
  • Large 9.7 x 9.7µm pixels deliver a QE of >60% at 600nm
  • Digital solid-state Lynx CMOS sensor technology offer good response for a wide spectral range

The Nocturn allows easy identification of NIR illuminators associated with security systems around the target. It is available in a number of models which enable custom system integration with digital technologies.

The users can therefore select the connectivity and configuration options suitable for any UAV/UAS application. High frame rate of Nocturn can minimize distortion that prevails in competitive technologies when operating at a high speed.

Analysis of Nocturn Performance

When compared with low light CCD and CMOS cameras, Nocturn displayed a long range with 70% probability of identification. Figure 2 shows the graph illustrating the incidence of identification of target.

The low light imaging characteristics of Nocturn further provides more detailed information on target than a thermal low light solution. It is impossible to detect a threat using thermal technology such as a truck carrying explosives.

Although it can detect small objects like car, it cannot provide sufficient data to identify specific features of the object such as the company name, a marker plate, or vehicle color. Figure 3 shows the comparison of actual UAV images and Nocturn images captured using thermal technology.

Incidence of identification of target

Figure 2. Incidence of identification of target

Image Credit: Photonis

Actual UAV images comparing Nocturn (Left Images) to Thermal technology

Figure 3. Actual UAV images comparing Nocturn (Left Images) to Thermal technology

Image Credit: Photonis

High signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is required to clearly evaluate the threats or targets. Therefore, it is difficult to achieve high quality images with cameras having low light vision.

Although SNR can be increased in many cameras by averaging multiple frames or increasing the integration time, poor imagery may be resulted while tracking moving objects.

This makes these cameras unsuitable for UAV/UAS applications. Unlike other cameras, Nocturn is optimized to achieve high SNR for superior quality long-range images at full frame rates. A long-range image from Nocturn is shown in the Figure 4.

Long-range image from Nocturn

Figure 4. Long-range image from Nocturn

Image Credit: Photonis


The Nocturn is a single-camera solution for a true low-light imaging of target. Nocturn’s low power consumption and compact size enable it a suitable choice for a wide range of applications such as rifle scopes, mobile imaging, long range surveillance, and so on. It is offered in a wide range of connectivity and video output options.

About PHOTONIS Technologies

PHOTONIS is a leader in the innovation and manufacture of ion, electron and photon detection and amplification components that are the critical enabling technology within many analytical instruments. PHOTONIS is a market leader in image intensifiers, digital low-light cameras, mass spectrometer detectors, nuclear safety, power tubes and custom detection components for physics and space research instruments. Their products are manufactured in several facilities globally, including PHOTONIS France, PHOTONIS Netherlands and our three facilities that comprise PHOTONIS USA.

Their products are award-winning for their innovation and quality. PHOTONIS products can be found on most space telescopes, in many high-energy physics research laboratories and in night vision goggles around the globe where highly sensitive low light amplification is required. We are also key suppliers to the nuclear industry with our gamma and neutron detectors and to defense industries globally with digital and portable solutions.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by PHOTONIS Technologies S.A.S.

For more information on this source, please visit PHOTONIS Technologies S.A.S.


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