Military Applications for Infrared Zoom
In-field surveillance and targeting require precision optics that hold up under the most extreme conditions.
Our infrared zoom lenses and integrated camera systems allow quick, uninterrupted transition from situational awareness to high detail – and the ability to zoom in without loss of target. We offer lenses that are boresighted and provide clear infrared vision up to several kilometers away, on sea, land or marine platforms.
The ability to see at night has long been a coveted talent for our military forces. It not only extends the useful operational time for missions, but also allows for continuous tracking of enemy movement through all lighting and weather conditions.
The addition of zoom within the infrared spectrum allows for rapid situational combat awareness while still providing high resolution, detailed analysis when needed. Our zoom lenses and integrated camera systems are designed to provide multiple fields of view without requiring time-critical lens changes in the field.
SWIR, MWIR or LWIR? Which Do You Need?
Within infrared, there are three bands of interest for military applications.
The first is the SWIR, or Short-Wave infrared. In this band, ambient light is generally used as the source, and gain is introduced to increase the contrast of the scene to the end user.
Most lenses in the mid-wave feature cooled technology, which offers very high sensitivity. As a result, anything that has a heat signature can be detected. This makes MWIR lenses perfect for critical military applications, where they will detect people or IEDs (even if concealed) or determine if vehicles engines are turned on. Since people emit heat, MWIR is also very useful for search & rescue operations, or for police and firefighting work, to detect heat loss in home inspections, and in many manufacturing applications.
In the LWIR, or long-wave infrared, systems are typically UNCOOLED and hence have less sensitivity. However, long-wave infrared lenses allow for vision through dust or smoke, making them particularly valuable in certain environments. LWIR lenses are also less expensive. The lower price point allows far greater volumes of these devices to be fielded for day/night operation.
The Importance of Optical vs. Digital Zoom
In the field, our infrared lenses are typically used in the wide angle to gain situational awareness, and then rapidly moved to the telephoto position to gain detail about a particular feature of interest.
This zoom action is similar to a Scan and then Track radar function. The battlefield is scanned to locate potential targets and then the selected area is magnified to examine the target in detail, allowing the soldier to decide what the best action he or she should take.
Is that a person or something else? With infrared, a soldier can quickly determine the difference.
Now, is that person carrying a gun or a broom? Details matter.
Based on our experience, we know that high resolution is a premium for the Soldier in the field, as is the ability to move quickly from scanning a broad area to zooming in for more information. For this reason, we strongly recommend the use of optical zoom for all military applications.
The big advantage of optical zoom is that it offers the best of both worlds: large field of view in the wide angle, coupled with high resolution, even at maximum zoom.
Infrared allows the soldier in the field to quickly scan and locate potential enemies such as snipers (both the urban type hiding in buildings, as well those in camouflage in the field), fortifications, vehicles, check points, targets of interest, etc. day or night. In the event an enemy is located, optical zoom allows the image to be rapidly magnified, so the target can be examined in detail with excellent resolution – without the pixelization and image loss associated with digital zoom.
The image above demonstrates the difference between optical and digital zoom. In the wide field of view, each pixel may represent many feet in the object side. Note that optical zoom detail – the middle image – is significantly enhanced as you zoom in. Now compare that to the image on right, which was zoomed in an equal amount, but using digital zoom instead.
With digital zoom, the actual amount of information remains the same as you zoom in, with the result being an increasingly blocky or “pixelized” image. In microscopy, we call this “empty magnification.” It is due to the space bandwidth product, referring to the fact that there is a limited amount of space on the intensifier tube and the size of the array determines the field of view. What it means in practical terms is that the amount of additional information you can get upon zooming in on the target is severely limited, and important detail may be lost.
With optical zoom, this is not an issue. Since the field of view is reduced, each pixel will collect object information over the zoom ratio (i.e. a 10:1 zoom will increase the resolution by a factor of 10). The new information is presented to the user, as in the center photo. The end result is that the sharpest image is presented to the user at all magnifications.
IRZoom.com has specialized in the optical generation of lenses from a range of special materials. Modern lens design and manufacture also allows for less expensive Aspheres or lenses of non-radial shape – reducing the number of lens elements in a given system.
Buying from IRZoom.com
As any buyer will tell you, the lens selection process is typically bogged down in details and complexity. At IRZoom.com, it’s our goal to simplify the process.
With stock or custom choices, we can either provide a lens, a lens already integrated to a sensor, or a variety of payload options given the CONOPS of the mission. We can work directly with a camera supplier to ensure a match, then have you purchase the lens from us and the camera from the supplier. If you have any questions about whether one of our lenses can be integrated with a particular camera, or need us to provide the integration, just ask.
Stock Lenses & Camera Systems
We recommend you begin the process by visiting the Products section of our website, where you can scroll through our stock selection or narrow your search by function using our guided search engine. We are also happy to work with you directly. We’ll simply need to gather some details on the CONOPS. Although a detailed specification is preferred, a simple phone call or one paragraph description will do to get things moving along.
Click HERE to view our full line of stock infrared zoom lenses.
Custom Lenses & Camera Systems
If you feel that you may need custom lenses or camera systems, we’re also happy to help.
IRZoom.com has specialized in the optical generation of lenses from a range of special materials. Modern lens design and manufacture also allows for less expensive Aspheres, or lenses of non-radial shape, that can reduce the number of lens elements in a given system. As a division of Computer Optics Inc., IRZoom.com is one of the few US based small businesses that has the ability to design AND manufacture zoom lenses all within the same building.
Please feel free to call us at 603-889-2116 or use our contact form to send an email.