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What is a SWIR camera for infrared imaging?

SWIR (Short Wave InfraRed) radiation extends from the far edge of the visible spectrum to the beginning of the MWIR (Middle Wave InfraRed) range, from 800 nm to 2500 nm. SWIR cameras can be based on different detector technologies, like InGaAs or HgCdTe, also refered to as MCT.

Like the visible spectral band, SWIR imaging relies on the reflectance properties of materials. And like the MWIR/LWIR spectral bands, SWIR enables detection of thermal radiation. Images from SWIR cameras are comparable to visible ones in sensitivity and detail, as they include shadows, high contrast ratios.

One of the major advantages of imaging with SWIR cameras is the atmospheric penetration offered by SWIR wavelengths, where visible or NIR cameras are blind. For example, imaging through fog, steam water or dense smoke is possible with SWIR icameras. Seeing through some materials like silicon or glass is also possible with SWIR imaging. This opens a realm of applications in many sectors.

This chart: Find-your-wavelength-2022.pdf represents all of First Light Imaging’s high performance cameras on the wavelength spectrum, letting you easily compare one camera’s range to another.
Discover our range of Short Wave Infrared cameras in our C-RED product line brochure

What is an Extended Range SWIR (ER-SWIR) sensor?

SWIR (Short Wave InfraRed) sensors based on InGaAs technology are typically sensitive to wavelength spanning from 0.9 to 1.7µm. Extended range SWIR sensors can overcome this 1.7µm limitation by varying the fraction of indium in the material. This way the sensitivity range can be tuned to create “Extended Range” InGaAs sensors.

Imaging with Extended SWIR (e-SWIR) cameras opens new perspectives for various applications such as life science and medical imaging, defense, surveillance and security, free space optics, thermography, hyperspectral imaging, inspection (agriculture, food…) or laser applications.

First Light Imaging has designed a high-speed low noise scientific eSWIR camera based on Extended Range SWIR sensors, called C-RED 2 ER. The camera comes in two versions: C-RED 2 ER 1.9µm, whose sensitivity ranges from 1.1µm to 1.9µm, and C-RED 2 ER 2.2µm which goes from 1.2µm to 2.2µm.  They operate with a double-stacked TEC for both air and water cooling.  The camera’s sensor can thus be cooled down to -40°C for C-RED 2 ER 1.9µm, and down to -55°C for C-RED 2 ER 2.2µm.

For more information, you can download the datasheet and our Focus On… about C-RED 2 Extended Range

Why choosing an ER-SWIR sensor and not an MCT sensor ?

Extended Range Short Wave InfraRed (ER-SWIR) InGaAs-based sensors  are an alternative solution to MCT sensor technology. Cameras based on MCT sensors offer a sensitivity range spanning from 0.8 to 2.5 µm. However, their mass production is complex: poor material uniformity low yield, high costs,…  Furthermore, because of their large dark current, MCT detectors need to be cooled, often down to temperatures requiring the use of cryogenics solutions. This is a major constraint on the set-up complexity and limits the relevance of this solution for applications which do not require ultra-high performance.

First Light Imaging C-RED 2 ER cameras offer a sensitivity range spanning from 1.1µm to 1.9µm (for C-RED 2 ER 1.9µm), and from 1.2µm to 2.2µm (for C-RED 2 ER 2.2µm).  They operate with a double-stacked TEC coupled for air and water cooling. The camera’s sensor can thus be cooled down to -40°C for C-RED 2 ER 1.9µm, and down to -55°C for C-RED 2 ER 2.2µm.

Additional information can be found in this paper : C-RED 2 ER: high speed extended range InGaAs cameras, and in the Focus On… white paper.

What is a CMOS camera?

CMOS stands for Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor. It is a technology used in microprocessors, microcontrollers, and image sensors for example. They were used for a long time in consumer-grade devices. Now, with the advent of scientific CMOS, they are much more sensitive and suitable for scientific imaging.
A CMOS sensor can be sensitive from 300-400 to 1000 nm, covering both visible and NIR (Near InfraRed) wavelengths. Major advantages of CMOS cameras are their high speed, their large field of view, and their attractive prices. Furthermore, they keep getting more and more sensitive and tend to replace EMCCD cameras for less-demanding applications.

First Light Imaging offers a full line of scientific high speed low light global shutter CMOS cameras, called C-BLUE. It is composed of C-BLUE One (coming in 0.5MP, 1.7MP and 7.1MP versions), C-BLUE One UV (a UV-optimized version of C-BLUE One) and soon, C-BLUE 2.

Additional information about our high speed low light visible C-BLUE cameras can be found here

What is an EMCCD camera?

EMCCD stands for Electron Multiplying Charge Coupled Device. EMCCD sensors and cameras operate in the visible range from 400 to 900 nm.
EMCCD is a very high-end technology. EMCCD cameras are able to detect single photon events, enabling advanced ultra low light applications. The typical readout noise for an EMCCD camera is below 1 electron.

First Light Imaging’s visible EMCCD camera OCAM² is the fastest photon counting EMCCD camera on the market. The camera comes in two versions: OCAM²K, and OCAM²S, which embeds an electronic shutter in its detector.

Additional information about the OCAM cameras can be found here

I’m looking for a low light and low dark current infrared camera with high performances.

In the following table, you can compare the several key parameters of our scientific SWIR cameras, and choose what is most convenient to you.

  • You can find complete datasheets here : Datasheets
  • The minimum integration time can be reduced down to 165 ns at the cost the camera performance (increased noise, reduced dynamic)

I’m looking for a low light and low dark current visible camera with high performances.

In the following table, you can compare the several key parameters of our scientific cameras, and choose what is most convenient to you

You can find complete datasheets here : Datasheets

I need a SWIR camera for long exposure times applications, what do you recommend ?

Very weak signals can be detected and imaged using long exposure times with Short Wave InfraRed (SWIR) imaging.

For this application, we recommend using the scientific high speed low light SWIR camera C-RED 2. This camera can acquire high-quality frames at long (>1 second) and very long (>1 minute) exposure times. C-RED 2 can also be used at extremely short integration times (down to 165 ns) and extremely high framerates: up to 600 frames per seconds in full frame, and even more for smaller geometries. Thanks to this, C-RED 2 is very flexible and will fit all your applications, from night vision to neuroscience imaging.

The C-RED 2 SWIR camera optimizes your long exposure time acquisitions in 4 easy steps:

  1. Cool down your C-RED 2 camera to -40°C
  2. Let the on-the-fly dark optimization of the camera work for you
  3. Tune the dark current optimization parameter “darkoptim” to tune your Signal-to-Noise ratio
  4. Let our hardware optimization remove defective pixels for you. If necessary, edit your defective pixel map to correct any remaining defective pixel.

For more information, read our “FOCUS ON: Long exposure times with C-RED 2” document, giving you tips to optimize your acquisitions with C-RED 2.

Can I have an overview of all the applications covered by First Light Imaging's scientific visible and SWIR cameras ?

From astronomy to industry,  our visible and SWIR high speed low noise scientific cameras will help you make the invisible visible.
Please find below a list of the most common applications covered by our SWIR and visible cameras. Please note that this list is non-exhaustive, and only reflects the main applications where our cameras are used.


Where do I find the User Manual of my camera?

All User Manuals (Cameras, SDK…) are downloadable from the private “Your First Light” library.

To request an account, please click here.

Where do I find the CAD files or interface drawings of the First Light Imaging cameras?

Interface drawings for each camera are freely available on each product’s page, in the table with 3 tabs at the bottom of the page:

However, CAD files are only available in your private “Your First Light” library.

If you do not find what you are looking for, please feel free to contact us!

Why is it recommended to create a First Light Imaging account after acquiring a visible or an Infrared camera from First Light Imaging?

Your First Light Imaging visible or SWIR camera is delivered with a USB key. This key contains the latest versions of our SDK/GUI, technical notes and user manuals.

These products will inevitably evolve in the future as we develop new functionalities and maintain existing ones. Having an account on “Your First Light” will ensure you quick and easy access to your camera’s dedicated library, containing all up-to-date software and documentation: firmware, software, user manuals, technical notes and CAD files.

To request an account, please click here.

What is "Your First Light" and how can I create a First Light Imaging account ?

“Your First Light” is a dedicated space for camera users on First Light Imaging’s website. It allows them to access libraries related to our high speed low-light cameras, both visible (EMCCD, CMOS) and Short Wave InfraRed SWIR (InGaAs, e-APD MCT). Each library relates to one of our cameras, and gives access to user manuals, interface drawings, CAD files, software and related documents and firmware and related documents.

Customers in the process of buying or having already bought a First Light Imaging camera are invited to request opening an account. Customers interested in loaning one of our cameras are also invited to do so.

To create an account, please click here.

How can I download the last firmware/SDK/GUI version for my infrared or visible camera?

Latest versions of firmware/SDK/GUI can be downloaded directly in “Your First Light” library.

To request an account, please click here.

To log in, please click here.

Older versions of firmware, software and SDK can also be downloaded from “Your First Light” library, in the Legacy section.

I have an issue with my First Light Imaging infrared or visible camera. My camera is behaving oddly, what should I do?

You may contact First Light Imaging’s support team: support@first-light.fr

For a quicker/smoother troubleshooting process, please provide:

  • Camera serial number
  • Camera firmware Version
  • Version of the GUI/SDK used
  • Serial port used to connect to the camera (USB, Camera Link, CXP, GigE Vision)
  • Raw images if the issue is linked to them
  • Camera logs

Can I loan an Infrared (SWIR InGaAs) camera or a visible CMOS or EMCCD camera to run tests with my system prior to purchase?

Depending on the availability of a demo camera, it is possible to loan a camera upon request. Loan duration, type of materials and costs (if any) are defined by a loan agreement. For further information, please contact our support team : support@first-light.fr

It is possible to customize a scientific visible or SWIR camera, to better suit my application?

Customization for every camera is available on request. You may contact our team to discuss your application and your project.

Where can I find First Light Imaging's visible and infrared SWIR scientific cameras in my country?

First Light Imaging’s visible and infrared SWIR cameras are sold worldwide, either directly or through our distributors in more than 20 countries. Find your local distributor on our dedicated page, or contact our team