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.
So runs my introduction to the Foscam FI8918W but that proved unsuitable for my needs being an indoor camera and operation through the windows gave unsatisfactory results. This camera is my second attempt. There are weatherproof IP cameras manufactured but I was struck by a dome camera I saw on eBay which looked less unsightly and I felt I could waterproof myself and use instead.
The BuyItNow prices were high but the seller was offering one with no warranty through an auction. I won the auction at a considerably lower price. I almost immediately noticed that the camera was out of focus for distant objects and the lens was apparently fixed. Out came my trusty miniature screwdrivers…..
With the cover removed the moveable part holding the camera and LEDs can be seen. The small board below it is for WiFi. There are wires coupling the LEDs and the camera board to a main board in the base of the unit. These just pull out then undoing the two screws which the LED/camera assembly pivot on gives easy access to the camera assembly itself
Undoing the four screws holding it to the LED mounting allows the camera board to be removed revealing the focus thread and locking screw.
The focus had obviously been factory set and locked with the small screw. By reconnecting the connection to the camera it was possible to simply hold the camera unit, undo the lock screw, and re-adjust the focus while watching the video output. Getting it correct was tricky as only the tiniest adjustment made a huge difference and it was easy to see how this was done incorrectly at the factory.
Preparing for use
Attempting to weatherproof to casing would be doomed to fail so I took an alternate approach. How successful that approach was will only be apparent later if the camera is atill working. All I decided to do was cover both sides of each
of the boards with clear silicone sealant. This was less messy than I had feared it would be and with luck will keep water off the electronics. As I would not be connecting or using the LEDs and covering the side with the LEDs sticking out would have been very difficult I just left that. I did cover the WiFi Board though to protect it should I later move the camera. As the camera was to be screwed to the wall underneath the eaves and was originally designed for ceiling mounting I replaced the camera board in its mounting turned through 90 degrees from the original position. Finally I drilled a hole in the bottom of the mounting so if/when water gets in it can just run out again.
A still frame from the camera after installation
Annoyingly it wasn’t quite upright and needed some slight adjustment. At the time I was glad enough to get the thing working at all though for reasons given below.
My wife has her DAB kitchen radio just below the camera. Initially I had decided to use WiFi but when I gave the unit a quick test her radio did what DAB radios do best and warbled away like a good ‘un. Assuming this was front-end overload caused by the WiFi I next ran a Cat5e cable instead but not wanting to run two cables I decided to try some homebrew power over ethernet. 100Mbps ethernet only uses 2 of the 4 pairs in a Cat5e cable (1-2 and 3-6) so I disconnected the 7-8 pair at each end and used it for power instead. The lights all lit but it wouldn’t connect. Guessing the problem was voltage drop I changed the wiring to use 7-8 for one leg and 4-5 for the other. Still no go – there was 4.5 v available instead of the 5.1v the adapter produces and it wasn’t quite enough. So I drilled through the kitchen wall and connect up. Worked a treat. Unfortunately the DAB radio didn’t – the problem hadn’t been the WiFi after all but the cheap switch mode power supply. I tried 2 others which I happened to have and they all blew out the DAB radio so I then had to run yet another cable alongside the CAT5e to the upstairs back bedroom where the radio and computer kit lives. Believe it or not these shenanigans stretched over 3 weekends due to necessary interruptions for other things and rain which seemed to start up just about every time I needed to do anything outside.
The final calamity
This camera was jinxed from the outset. I wasn’t happy with the picture quality produced as it didn’t seem to get the exposure correct and for much of the time the pictures were either washed out or too dark. I decided to take a gamble and flash it with the Foscam firmware which was a big mistake – I bricked the wretched thing!!
Some you win…