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SWIR Applications

What is SWIR?

SWIR is the acronym for Short Wave Infra-Red and refers to non-visible light falling roughly between 1400 and 3000 nanometers (nm) in wavelength. The visible spectrum ranges from 400nm to 700nm, therefore SWIR light is invisible to the human eye. In order to detect SWIR wavelengths, we need dedicated sensors made of In GaAs (Indium Gallium Arsenide) or MCT (mercury cadmium Telluride) as silicon detectors are no longer sensitive to wavelengths larger than 1100 nm. In GaAs sensors are the primary sensors used in typical SWIR range. MCT is also an option and can extend the SWIR range, but these sensors are usually more costly and application dependent.

SWIR light interacts with objects similarly to visible light as it is reflective, consequently it exhibits shadows and contrasts in its imagery. Images from a SWIR camera are comparable to visible images in terms of resolution and detail.

Objects that are almost the same color while imaging in visible region can be easily differentiated using SWIR light, making objects easily recognizable. This is one tactical advantage of imaging in SWIR compared to visible region. Some of the natural emitters of SWIR are ambient star light and background radiance, therefore SWIR is an excellent application for outdoor imaging. Conventional quartz/halogen bulbs also act as a SWIR light source. Depending on the application, some sensors in SWIR cameras can be adjusted to have linear or logarithmic response to avoid saturation.

There are many advantages of using SWIR over a conventional sensor. Some applications that are not possible to image in visible range can be imaged using SWIR range. One example, is silicon wafer inspection, which is only possible due to silicon being transparent in the SWIR range. Other examples of materials that are transparent in SWIR region are; Sodium Chloride (NaCl) and Quartz (SiO2). Water vapor is also transparent in SWIR, making SWIR cameras more desirable when imaging through haze or fog. Applications where using SWIR is crucial are detailed in the following section.


SWIR imaging is used for a variety of applications in different aspects of the industry and research, ranging from inspection, quality control, identification, detection, surveillance, and more. Here we summarize many applications where SWIR range is widely used. More applications are being discovered all the time.

Active/Range Imaging for Security and Defense

SWIR is considered one of the most versatile technologies for the defense & security sectors. SWIR cameras can provide valuable information such as the ability to identify or recognize a target compared to MWIR & LWIR band cameras. It also brings better vision through harsh weather conditions such as fog or smoke. With a low readout noise and a high dynamic range, SWIR cameras can cope with the challenging requirements of the defense and security industry.

Gated imaging provides the ability to image a specific depth of a scene (i.e 3D imaging). There are multiple applications for gated imaging, including; observation through severe weather conditions or other obscurants, estimation of distance and localization of obstacles (i.e. drone detection) with background suppression, and others. Imaging devices must be fast enough to cope with reflected light from a laser source. SWIR cameras offer precision with the shortest effective exposure time, the shortest rise time, and highest dynamic range on the market. For this reason, these cameras can cover a broad number of situations in the field.

We recommend following the products for this application: WiDy SenS Gated 

Small Animal Imaging

Small animal imaging is one of the main research areas for preclinical studies, including but not limited to; drug discovery, drug effectiveness, and early detection of cancer. Over time, imaging in the SWIR range became more profitable for scientists studying small animals. The short wave infrared (SWIR) range has several advantages compared to visible and infrared wavelengths in the domain of in vivo imaging. SWIR light provides higher depth of penetration while maintaining high resolution, low light absorption and reduced scattering within the tissue which makes it desirable to study living organisms. One of the biggest advantages of the SWIR range is that the auto fluorescence is negligible. This low level auto fluorescence increases the contrast and sensitivity compared to conventional imaging in NIR and visible ranges. Some of NIR fluorescence imaging contrast agents such as; ICG (indocyanine green), IRDye800CW and IR-12N3, has a non-negligible long tails passing 1500 nm region (NIR-II/SWIR) [1]. InGaAs (indium gallium arsenide) based SWIR cameras fill the gap for imaging in NIR-II/SWIR wavelength range (900-1700nm) where silicon detectors are no longer sensitive.

We recommend following the products for this application: C-RED2

Carbon Nanotubes Imaging

SWIR cameras can be used for detection of single-walled carbon nanotubes requiring fast frame rates. Single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT) have been established as remarkable fluorophores for probing the nanoscale organization of biological tissues [1,2]. They are stiff, quasi-one-dimensional nano structures, with a small diameter (~1nm) which enables excellent penetration into complex environments, and a large length (100nm to 1µm) which slows down their diffusion and thus allows the tracking of single fluorescent particles. Finally, their bright and stable near-infrared (NIR) fluorescence allows long-term tracking deep in biological tissues without suffering from biological autofluorescence. For example, single-walled carbon nanotubes could be detected in distant regions of the brain extracellular space (ECS) following their injection into the lateral ventricles of young rat brains, and the tracking of their diffusion. This yields novel and quantitative insights about the local morphology and viscosity variations within the brain ECS[1,2]. Such studies require a camera capable of tracking single-walled carbon nanotubes at high speed, making SWIR cameras desirable. One limiting factor for the spatial resolution of such diffusion analyses is the ability to observe displacements of SWCNTs over short time lags.

Visible and SWIR Comparisons

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