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‘Absolute position, always!’ G&H StingRay Optics NightCrawlIR™ lens series breaks new ground in performance vs. cost


The launch of G&H’s new EAR certified NightCrawlIRTM infrared zoom lenses, under the StingRay brand, marks a step change in accuracy, repeatability, and cost-effectiveness in the mid-wave infrared (MWIR) imaging space, in critical sectors including aerospace and defense (A&D), and border security.

This latest innovation from G&H delivers high-performance in the areas of high-speed tracking, zoom stability, image quality and resilience, overcoming the challenges our customers face.

With NightCrawlIRTM we’ve dispensed with clumsy extenders and doublers to adjust focal lengths and distances, replacing them with innovative, aperture-specific foreoptics compatible with commercial F4 HD cameras, and spanning the full spectrum of focal lengths, from 850mm down to 16.5mm.

Together with its StingWare controller, NightCrawlIR’s metric zoom and focus, and its athermal compensation, enable the lens to report back exact focal length and object distances to the user, never losing steps, with no temperature drift, no focus lag, and no added weight and bulk.

We have delivered all this in a series of self-contained lenses, ruggedized to withstand the toughest conditions, with a cost-performance ratio that takes optics ROI to a new level.

Absolute position, always.

The pain-points NightCrawlIRTM solves

For the defense and surveillance sectors, NightCrawlIRTM is a game-changer – and a life-saver.

In the heat of battle, target designation, rangefinding, and fire control functions have just milliseconds to provide accurate distance data.

Whether it be for helicopters, warships or armored fighting vehicles, the physical footprint and weight of optics must be considered.

A number of customer challenges arise from these and other scenarios, which NightCrawlIRTM comprehensively addresses.

High-speed tracking

When it comes to tracking high-speed ordnance, for example – e.g. missiles – customers often encounter issues with latency (lag) in the zoom and focus responses. Cumulatively, these can add up to substantial differences in the system’s calculation of precisely where a target is positioned, potentially resulting in catastrophe.

NightCrawlIR’s inbuilt metric focus and zoom both come into play here. Integrated hardware on the lens cells accurately and repeatedly reports back exact focal length and object distances, synchronizing this with the camera’s frame rates.

NightCrawlIR’s non-infinity focus tracking can locate where the subject is in relation to the current state of the focus, eliminating the defocusing associated with unnecessary correction.

Zoom stability

In the border security and surveillance sectors, there is a particular pain-point associated with ‘boresight retention’ – that is, stability through a zoom, in often complex configurations with mast-mounted, pan-tilt zoom systems, featuring a variety of sensors and cameras.

It is imperative that the images coming from these sensors and cameras can provide accurate coordinates, but often there is a ‘shift’ when zooming that causes these coordinates to become imprecise.

NightCrawlIRTM has been developed to typically deliver a less than 50 µm shift from the wide field of view to the narrow field, enabling a degree of image stability that facilitates reliable, actionable coordinates and positioning.

Image quality

Weather and atmospheric conditions, the focal distances involved, and the general operating exigencies of defense deployments can all impinge on image quality.

NightCrawlIRTM has been specifically developed to operate in the mid-wave (MWIR – 3µm to 5 µm) infrared spectrum, which permits higher sensitivity in vision and imaging applications than other bands.

NightCrawlIR’s MWIR lenses also provide superior sensitivity, thanks to greater thermal contrast in the MWIR band than the LWIR band, with up to 50% less thermal noise.

This results in sharper images, with support for HD image formats up to 16.7 mm, whilst the wider dynamic range also enables the lens to track and visualize fast-moving targets more clearly than LWIR.

Ruggedness and resilience

Defense environments are punishing, and resultant equipment failure is a serious and expensive pain-point for our customers.

The absence of lens doublers and other fragile accoutrements means NightCrawlIRTM is, of itself, fundamentally more robust. But additionally, it is also ruggedized for tactical application, certified to IP67 against the ingress of solid objects, dirt, dust, and water, and supports cold shields of 19 – 22mm.

Diamond-like coating (DLC) further protects the lens, and the unit can operate between temperatures of -25°C to + 80°C – and withstand storage in even lower and higher extremes.

Cost-effectiveness and ROI

We often see that a customer has invested significantly in a high-definition sensor or camera, but that the front end relies on existing or legacy optics, often let down by reliance on bulky, fragile doublers or optical extensions. These actually render the lenses unusable in many environments (space-restricted large-payload gimbals, for example) and may prove to be a false economy.

NightCrawlIRTM, on the other hand, provides an integrated front-end optical solution that requires no structural additions, is available in multiple modular variants to suit every likely deployment, and is compatible with a wide range of preferred communication protocols (RS-232, -422, -485) and voltages (12 – 24v).

NightCrawlIRTM delivers a degree of accuracy and repeatability that valorizes the existing back-end investment, maximising ROI across the entire assembly.

NightCrawlIR Group ShotNightCrawlIR Group Shot©️ G&H

GUI – a true differentiator

Of course, whilst ‘all-in-one’ benefits can be decisive, there still has to be scope to configure these benefits to meet customers’ (and indeed partners’) specific needs.

These processes have often involved significant software development on the part of the customer – but we are doing things differently, and removing this barrier, by developing a dedicated and flexible graphical user interface (GUI).

This enables the customer or partner themselves to easily set up, configure and customize the NightCrawlIRTM metric zoom and focus features that deliver such unique value – with no software development costs attached, or code development skills required.

Customization and consultancy: it’s in our DNA

On that note, however, it’s important to recognize that customers may also require custom solutions created and configured for them – and these, together with design consultancy, are anchored deep in our heritage.

This is because our core expertise, historically (as far back as 1948, in fact), is grounded in the fundamental, granular detail of scientific optical components manufacture – the very building blocks not only of the NightCrawlIRTM lens series, but all our innovations.

This level of specialist knowledge enables extensive scope for customisation and tailored development from the ground up.

Likewise, our acquisition of US-based StingRay Optics in 2017 enabled us to offer additional end-to-end design and manufacturing capabilities for IR optics, complex optomechanical assemblies, and finished IR imaging systems, but in a more vertically integrated form that would support the development of sector-specific, off-the-shelf solutions.

In short, we combine the ability to give our customers the lens solution they need in one ‘family’ of self-contained variants (NightCrawlIRTM), or build an entire lens or lens-camera solution to their specification.

Or, indeed, we can deliver something in between – e.g. lenses with associated sensor packages that are then installed by customers into an enclosure, or complete, integrated lens-cameras with the enclosure included.

What’s next for NightCrawlIR?

Many novel and emerging applications play directly to NightCrawlIR’s strengths.

Directed energy weapons (DEWs) – anti-missile lasers, for example – combine a fast-moving target with a pinpoint-focused weapon, creating a minuscule margin for tracking error. This calls strongly for NightCrawlIR’s position-precise, temperature-independent metric focus and zoom.

With G&H’s R&D centre based in the US – in Keene, New Hampshire – we’re constantly connecting with the buoyant aerospace and defense sectors in North America, anticipating and responding to those sectors’ evolving needs, and closely supporting the customers we already have there.

Through innovations like NightCrawlIRTM, photonics is changing the world – and making it a safer place.