Why the webcam?
Many people running weather stations also run web cams to provide an outside view. As wireless IP cameras are now reasonably cheap I decided to buy one and make it available to DigitalHam visitors.
As well as being reasonably priced (£55 delivered off eBay with almost £1 cashback for using TopCashBack) the Foscam FI8918W offers remote pan and tilt and for those interested in use as a security camera it has motion detection and can send alerts via email and/or individual jpeg frames to an FTP server. The motion detect suffers from the same problem I’ve found in other webcams and webcam programs – it is triggered by changes in brightness and the sun going in or coming out will result in an alert so be prepared for false ones. The motion detect sensitivity is adjustable in 10 steps.
The fly in the ointment
Unlike its predecessor the FI8918W allows the IR leds
to be controlled remotely – more importantly for operation indoors through a window they can be turned off as not doing so just results in a reflected white out. What I hadn’t realised was that other reflections can spoil the pictures too – from my intended location that was the net curtains which can clearly be seen below in the screen capture of a live web page produced by the camera.
The very first thing you must ensure if using the camera for outside views is to make sure that the mode is set to Outdoor or you will just get a whiteout. When set correctly the autoexposure copes well with changing brightness levels.
In the mornings with the sun shining the view became virtually useless. I have now mounted the camera in my cellar where it is of limited use other than for checking the occasional flooding which I’m hoping the pump I’ve installed will sort out and, of course, for the amusement of DigitalHam visitors.
My second attempt at a weather camera was an unbranded dome IP camera which I weatherproofed and mounted outside.
After that disaster I moved on to another Foscam – a FI8905W camera already weatherproofed for use outdoors. Here is my FI8905W review – the executive summary being that the 12mm lens it is fitted with is a disadvantage for a weather camera as the viewing angle is quite small at 22 degrees – something I didn’t research properly.
Next up is likely to be a cheap USB webcam waterproofed with silicone sealant and housed in the dead dome camera casing.
I suspect that most of the cost of the camera goes into the pan and tilt mechanism, IP capabilities, and WiFi. Certainly the camera capabilities are no great shakes and are only equivalent to a cheap USB webcam. The distortions produced by the lens can easily be seen in the pictures above – it wasn’t the wind bending that lamp post!! The same effect is evident with horizontals as can be seen in the live cellar cam.
None of these problems would prevent the camera being used very successfully as an indoor security camera or indeed for a weather camera provided there was nothing reflecting on the window glass. Avoiding a view into the sun would also be advisable as I don’t doubt that the auto exposure may have problems with that and it could possibly even cause damage.
This sequence was recorded from a standard fixed outside dome camera costing about £30 on a cheap H264 DVR. I run three such cameras, one looking at the parking spaces up the street, one looking down, and one covering my short front path. It was pure chance that caused me to notice there was some excitement outside and download the video from the DVR. I’ve no idea exactly what it was all about but clearly the police must have been watching the “jogger” to have been so close behind. In my opinion they were very lucky nobody else was crossing the road at the time because the way they drove around that blind corner was nothing short of reckless.
The Foscam website warns that there are a lot of fake Foscam cameras on sale so look carefully to check that the seller states they are selling a genuine Foscam IP camera and make sure you can return the product if dissatisfied.
My second warning is probably a one off. My camera arrived with no screws fixing the bottom to the housing. I was lucky as when my camera fell I was able to catch it easily enough but that was pure luck. There are security tabs and a Quality Control sticker (I kid you not) over the holes where the screws should be. I didn’t have any screws small enough to hand so the base on mine is fixed on with (you guessed it) gaffer tape.
Cellar cam – live demo
Normally the cellar is unlit although a limited amount of sunlight comes through the small window behind the webcam.
IR views are black and white. When daylight is available or the cellar lighting is on there will be a colour picture. Any colour may be rather washed out if the light level is too low to automatically turn off the IR LEDs.
As the video streaming uses a considerable portion of my home upstream bandwidth I have to limit visitor access time and the only way I can do that is by imbedding the camera stream in my own web page.
If you use a FireFox or Chrome browser feel free to have a play using Foscam FI8918W live demo which uses the camera video stream. I have also tried Safari (on Windows) and that worked too.
Other browsers may work using Foscam FI8918W live demo for IE which uses snapshots from the camera and refreshes at around 2 frames per second assuming you have a decent broadband link.
If you want more than one test that’s OK but I’m well aware it is easy enough to hack into the camera for unlimited access time or indeed to screw up the settings – I’ll just ask you nicely not to do that or I’ll have to block access to it entirely which would be a shame.
Here are some details on how you can embed video from a Foscam IP camera into your own web page