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Saturday, September 23 2017 @ 02:25 AM CDT

Specific Cameras

Previous: IP Camera Control - Next: Camera Housings

We've talked about cameras in general and the basics of controlling IP cameras. Now we'll get into some more specifics:

  • Composite Video
  • Axis IP Cameras/encoders
  • Bosch IP Cameras
  • USB Cameras
  • Firewire Cameras
  • Wireless (non IP) cameras
  • Wireless "Nanny" cameras

Composite Video Cameras

There is no reason to identify any particular composite video camera – there are thousands of such cameras available, and it is the encoder that will make more difference than the camera in most cases. The only real differences between them will be their “native” resolution and their low-light (and infrared) sensitivity.

Composite video is not very useful for resolutions above 720x560 due to inherent frequency limitations in the way the signal runs on the cable. It was designed for 512 line television analog signals originally and adapted to 640x480 mostly since then. Most cameras that have resolutions higher than 720 pixels will not put out anything above that on their composite video output, if they have one at all. Note that some composite video cameras come with a S-Video output. This is similar to composite video but designed for the higher resolutions (than 640x480). It still usually tops out at the 720x560 resolution.

Low-light ability is a function of both the sensitivity of the video chip and the f-stop of the lens. The lower the f-stop, the larger the lens and the more light it will gather. This typically only affects cameras that have interchangeable lenses, however it may be a factor in choosing cameras with fixed lenses. 

Low-light statistics on cameras should include some information on noise, but mostly don’t. Many cameras can give you some picture with what appears to be no light – but the noise (speckles that change each frame due to imperfections in the light-gathering chip) may be objectionable. Try before you buy, or rely upon asking questions in various forums that can be found on the net.

Some cameras have an infrared filter that either must be manually removed, or that can’t be removed. Test your camera with infrared if you are going to be using it that way. In one installation, the IR camera (has built-in IR lights) does not have an automatic filter, so is set for best IR – which means no filter. This causes the daylight image to be very washed out as the IR sensitivity is shown as a difference in light/dark, not in color. The color sensors are overwhelmed by the brightness. We have a second, daylight-only, camera in the nest that shows the correct colors.

The two images here are taken at the same time, in daylight, from the two different cameras at the HWF Sidney nest. The wide-angle camera (left) is the IR camera - and its colors are washed out in daylight. The close-up camera is a normal color camera, and does not "see" the IR lights on the nest at night.

Contrast this with the Axis cameras at the White Rock #1 site which have a mechanical facility to put the IR filter in for the day, and remove it at night.

Axis IP cameras/encoders

We like Axis because they are “open source” friendly. Their cameras and encoders run Linux as the embedded operating system, and they publish the details of how things work so we can create utilities for remote control far more easily than with other, proprietary cameras.

The underlying cameras come from companies such as Sony, and in general are of very high quality. The most recent units include some that are in the “high definition” range of pixel and frame rates. Their recent line of encoders will take a composite video in from any camera, and also can include control ports to allow remote control of older security camera PTZ setups (RS-422 and RS-232 serial interfaces) so you may be able to purchase older used security cameras and make them work with complete remote control.

Bosch IP cameras

One of our recent installations was done by a security company prior to our getting involved. They used a Bosch PTZ camera looking down at a nest in the port of Vancouver’s waterfront area. It took some time to get the information we needed to get a pure H.264 stream from this camera and to date we still don’t have information on how to control it other than through its Windows-centric web control software, but it is streaming just fine.

This (lack of information) is unfortunately typical of manufacturers that cater exclusively to the security industry. In many cases you must sign non-disclosure agreements (and/or prove you are a licensed security person) to get the information you need.

USB Cameras General

Today you can purchase any number of different types and form-factors of USB camera – from those that look like a small still camera, to those that clip onto your laptop or desktop LCD screen and include a microphone, to the still ubiquitous “golf-ball” cameras that started it all. Many of the newer consumer video camcorders also have a USB output as well as or instead of Firewire.
The first major problem with using a USB camera is that the USB lead can’t be much over about 20 feet. I’ve run them to 40 feet but at other times have had problems even with 20 feet. It really depends upon the cable, the camera and the USB interface chip in the computer.

The second is that consumer video cameras that “support” USB may not support it as a streaming video facility. USB has many different aspects and live video is the one that is least supported. We’ve run into cameras that support it but only at the expense of turning off the zoom and viewfinder and lobotomizing the camera into a “web cam” as if it was a single-purpose dumb camera. We’ve also found other cameras that simply don’t offer live video via USB at all. Check before you buy. Don’t just assume that since the camera has a USB port that you’ll be able to view live video on your PC from it.

If your camera does do live video via USB and you can put an encoder computer near the camera location then this is not an issue – but otherwise you should try to stick to other types of cameras.

Firewire Cameras General

Firewire is electrically almost identical to USB – both are distance limited by the fact that they encode very high frequency signals on twisted pair cable. Firewire too is pretty much limited to something less than 30 feet total length.

As noted above with USB, I’ve run across several different levels of Firewire functionality in consumer video cameras:
Camera sends video out the Firewire port exactly as it is seen on the camera’s monitor. All functions such as zoom and record/playback work and show via the Firewire port.

  • Camera, when connected to Firewire, acts like a “web-cam” with limited or no zoom or other control functionality
  • Camera, when connected to Firewire, has no video function at all – only “file transfer” of recorded video to the PC

Sometimes this can be “fixed” by installing specific drivers for the camera – but some of these drivers only work for the vendor’s own monitoring program (Windows-centric again) so are effectively useless for live streaming without using some strange facilities (see the section on production). Just because it has a Firewire port does not mean it will act as a live video camera. The only live video you might get from it may be via a composite video out, if it has one.

Wireless (non IP) Camera Systems

There are a number (and growing) of consumer security systems sold at places like Costco and your favourite electronics retailer that can be used in some manner for a critter-cam. The main thing to know about them is whether or not you can use a separate TV set to view their output, rather than being locked in to just using the monitor that comes with the system. If the system has a video-out, preferably either composite/S-video (with separate audio jack) or on a specific channel via coaxial cable, then you can use a TV capture card in a PC to pull in the video and feed it to the rest of the world. Again, as with some IP cameras, some of these systems say they are “remote viewable via the internet” but that does not necessarily mean you can use them to push out flash video to a redistributor. You may be limited to only yourself viewing the output via a proprietary Windows program.

These systems typically do not use IP to hook the cameras together, rather they simply encode the video on a carrier signal like a typical TV station, but they use the same “unlicensed” frequencies that WiFi uses (so they can interfere with your computer WiFi if not set up correctly) and then capture and display the signals from around your home at the central console.

The range that a camera will work at is typically limited by the fact that they use a “rubber duck” straight antenna which sends in all directions. If you can, unscrew this antenna, take it to a store that sells separate antennas for WiFi gear and get a directional antenna to replace it. There are online stores that sell such products too. Note that you need to know what frequencies the cameras operate at – some are in bands that are not compatible with WiFi gear like external antennas.

In a pinch you can make a “coffee can” antenna – look it up on your favorite search engine. Note that in some places this may be slightly less than legal.

You may be able do the same at the receiving end. Install a directional antenna and point it at the camera location. This will limit the distance you can see other cameras that are not in the same direction, but depending on the antenna and camera locations this may not be an issue.

Wireless Nanny Cams and Other Consumer Wireless Camera Systems

Similar to the security cameras above, you may be able to get a camera designed for sending to your PC via wireless. The catch here is whether the video coming in is presented to the operating system as a true video signal that can be seen by the various encoding software packages, or is proprietary in nature and only viewable from the software that came with the camera.

These cameras do use WiFi, so they’ll either be picked up by your own WiFi access point or come with one you can use not only for the camera but for other WiFi uses.

Again, you can extend the range of these if you can replace the antenna with a directional one.

The major difference between these and “real” industrial IP cameras is that the setup usually is included as a separate application and has minimal controls, mostly to do with the WiFi setup.

Tag: composite video axis ip cameras bosche ip cameras usb cameras firewire cameras wireless cameras nanny cameras firewire usb composite axis bosche

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