New Video – Ring Doorbell & Camera Zoom: Is It Any Good?

Ring doorbells and cameras record in full HD (1080p), apart from the original Doorbell 1 (which is 720p). Whilst this captures a good level of detail, they don’t contain a telephoto ‘zoom’ lens, however, so you’re always going to be a bit limited in terms of what detail you can pull out of small, far away objects – such as parked-up vehicles on the other side of the road, and plate numbers of passing vehicles.

Hence I wanted to shoot this video to explore the exact level of detail you can expect from your Ring devices when zooming in – and whether you can improve this at all:

Video Transcript

Hey YouTube, I’m Tristan from Smart Home Point. Ring cameras and Ring doorbells tend to film in full HD (apart from one or two exceptions that film in 720p). Now this is fairly good and it captures a fairly good level of quality, however if you’re watching a recording back and you want to zoom in on a particular bit of footage, you can pinch the screen to zoom in. However this doesn’t use any sort of optical zoom lens, it’s literally just a digital zoom. As a result the quality and the information you get by zooming isn’t always that good. So I wanted to film this video and just show you a few examples of what happens when you zoom in on the Ring app, and also what happens if you download the video and you zoom in on a computer instead, just to show you the level of detail you can expect if you do zoom in. And as a result you can decide whether a Ring device is a good choice for you or not. Let’s take a look!

Okay so to test out the zoom, I’m going to go into a couple of recordings: one taken from the daytime and one taken at night time, and i’m going to see what level of detail I can get. Let’s go to this one… quarter to seven in the morning. Hello Mr Cat! Right so this is a fairly basic scene, um you can see everything’s fairly static here, apart from that cat, so if I try and scroll in – scroll in on my neighbor’s reg number – you can’t actually make anything out, even though that’s completely static. Uh, I’ll do the same with another neighbor. Again – you know – you can’t make out anything up there. Finally there’s a van parked down there, let’s try and see what they are. Um so maybe it’s a window company… maybe… there’s a ‘w’ and a ‘d’ ‘and an ‘o’ and ‘ws’. Yeah it looks like some kind of window company. So I can’t make out completely who they are. I can tell that they probably are some kind of window company. Um yeah, and that’s about it really so for this recording. Obviously – you know – if there’s a person going past or like that cat that went past, I could probably see… make out… some information about them, but I certainly wouldn’t be able to make out information about a car reg number or anything like that. But obviously I would be able to make out – you know – a type of car, not necessarily based on any sort of logo, but just based on how they look. So that’s still useful information for the police, for example, if you needed to give this video to the police, but it’s not like you can just instantly look up the reg number.

Okay next up let’s look at something taken at night, see if we can make anything out there. So obviously because of the headlights – you know – you see a car going past. I’ll zoom in in a second but that’s the clip. Let’s zoom in a bit and see if we can actually make out any information. [mumbles] let’s go back. No, so I mean – you know – because of all the lights in night vision mode, you can’t actually make anything out here. The only thing you can really make out is the type of car, and then it is kind of difficult, in fact even then you can’t really see the car, you can just see it’s more of a saloon type car – uhm, it’s more of a family car. But other than that you can’t really make anything out either.

Okay so to test things out on a computer instead, I’ll just look at a single clip which would be the one at quarter to seven, just because that had slightly better… you could see more. Okay so we’re going to full screen. Obviously you can see the cat going past… [mumbles] let me just turn that down… yes you can see the cat going past there, and obviously there’s a decent level of detail there. Um, certainly if it’s a person as well you’ll be able to make out who the person is, that’s fine, but then anything beyond that is slightly worse. Obviously from here you can’t see the reg number, you can’t – well you can sort of see – there’s a window company there. Um in terms of zoom, as you can see there’s no real options down here for zoom. There’s no option there and if I was to hold CTRL and try and zoom in, or ALTand try and zoom in, I can’t do that like you can do with some apps. What you got to do instead – if you wanted to try and zoom – is download the video, and to do that you might click share and not see an option, but what you actually have to do instead on the computer is right click, go to ‘save video as’ and just download it. So i’ll just do… [mumbles] 6:45 a.m clip doesn’t matter too much… Okay so now let’s open that up.

Okay so I’ve opened this video clip up in VLC media player, and again – you know – you’re going to see the same thing as the web app in general, which is that there’s only limited detail on anything you want to zoom in on. Equally there doesn’t seem to be any zoom options down here, and holding ALT or CTRL, it doesn’t allow me to zoom. It just does subtitle text scale, which is not what. What you can do is – if I just pause this video – is at the top here, you can go to ‘Tools’, ‘Effects and Filters’, and a lot of different options here, which is nice. Obviously this depends… this option – any options – will depend on your video player, but VLC media player is completely free, and it’s a quite cool tool to check out because there’s a lot of different options. Uhm, so up here under ‘Tools’, ‘Adjustments and effects’, we’ll go to ‘Video effects’ and ‘Geometry’, we’ll enable ‘Interactive zoom’. So let’s click ‘save’… [mumbles] save… and go out to that. What you’ve basically got up here is you’ve got this little box up in the top left here that will determine where you’re zooming in on, which is quite a nice feature because you actually get more control over things than you’d assume. Right so let’s have a look now at more detailed zooming in on different parts of the clip. Okay so there you have the cat. Obviously you can get a decent level of detail there, having zoomed in, but obviously previously you already had quite a lot of detail anyway. So really any detail you can see in zoom mode is just because you can see it in normal mode as well, and that’s kind of key here. Let’s try and make out other detail in this zoom mode. Okay here we got that reg number, which again you can’t make out – or the plate number. Similarly with the cars over there, you’re not going to make anything out. If we go over here, you still can’t make out exactly what window company it is. Uhm, one final thing we’ll try is to actually enhance the image so to speak, like you sometimes see in the films. So let’s do a print screen of that, I’ll go to Photopea, is it ‘Photo-pea’? – however you pronounce that, and then we just open up that. Right, so let me just take that one clip and let’s… or just that one bit of the… yeah that one clip, the van, I just want to see if iIm actually able to see anything. So trim, I’ll zoom in a bit, I’m certainly not gonna see much there. ‘Something’ of ‘something’ windows!

Let’s try and apply a filter. So let’s sharpen up! That’s not really going to help, it’s just going to keep getting grannier. If I sharpen up really… um I still can see this… as ‘something of something windows’, but I’m more guessing – you know – as opposed to knowing for sure what they’re saying. Let me try smart sharpen – will that do anything useful? That’s kind of a cool thing, you can preview. You can try different options out as well. No that’s not very useful. It’s really… you’d want a sort of a low radius, I think, it’s one by default. But certainly… yeah – you know – even with the sharpen you’re not going to get too much detail out of anything. As you can see, you know the wide-angle lens here captures a lot of detail about your street which is good because if somebody’s coming – you know – down the street, you’ll be able to capture them so that’s good to know. But the downside of that is if you’ve got – if you want to zoom in on a particular level of detail which isn’t a person’s face that’s just gone past – then you are going to struggle to get any information. And you know unlike the films where they enhance and get really good levels of detail, there’s a limit how much you’re going to get, especially with Ring.

Now Nest Hello – which is owned by Google – does actually have slightly better zoom functionality. It still doesn’t have a zoom lens, but you do get slightly more information when you zoom in because it’s using Google’s AI, and obviously Google are super smart. They’re going to have much better algorithms than what I’m doing here. And actually in Nest Hello you can do something called ‘enhance’, so you can – like I did here – I focus on a particular area, Nest Hello can actually focus on that particular area and then get an extra good quality level of detail from that one particular area. Uhm, and that’s using Google’s photo AI and all of its smartness to actually enhance that clip and give you better information, just like a Google Pixel phone does so, even on the Google Pixel 3, it only has a single phone lens. But when you take a photo, you can zoom in absolutely loads, because Google’s photo AI is actually pulling extra information out of it, and enhancing the image. So if zooming in on video clips is important to you, something like the Nest Hello might be more useful to you than the Ring cameras and the Ring doorbells. But if zooming in isn’t as important to you, then obviously Ring’s devices are pretty useful.

So that wraps up today’s video. I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, please click the thumbs up button and don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you!

About Tristan Perry

Tristan Perry is a software developer who is passionate about tech gadgets, DIY and housing. He has therefore loved seeing smart homes hit the mainstream. Tristan also has an academic background (in Math & Computer Science), and so he enjoys digging into the technical ways that smart home devices work.

Tristan owns close to a dozen Amazon Echo devices, way too many Philips Hue bulbs and lightstrips, a boat-load of Ring Cameras and Doorbells... and a bunch of other smart home devices too (from Reolink, Google Nest, GLEDOPTO and others).

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!

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