Cameras

Paddy has spent quite a bit of time getting a series of of cameras set up to monitor his garden. If you haven’t seen the videos, check out Paddy’s daily video blog.

Gardening and security are two rapidly changing environments and we’ve been through a few different seasons of each so this document really only documents our current home security cameras setup. If you want more detail on home security cameras and digital video recorders, head on over to Paddy’s Space Ship.

Cameras

Currently we use a combination of Panasonic IP cameras, SONY CCD cameras and a couple of pesky USB cameras to monitor movement around the house and garden for the security system.

Panasonic BL-C101A Fixed MPEG-4 Network Camera (White)

The Panasonic BL-C1a is a run-of-the-mill IP Camera in a flat square chassis. The “a” model is often overlooked because it is not wireless, but it is our preference because we’re not a fan of Wifi when it comes to security cameras.

Panasonic have been making these cameras for some years now and its fair to say they are a “mature” product. We have been running some of our BL-C1a’s for over 3 years without any problems. It is fair to say that this level of reliability does not stretch over the entire Panasonic IP camera range as we did have a BL-C131a which failed almost a year after purchase.

The BL-C1a is well suited to a DIY installation because it has a flat square chassis. This means you can stick the camera on the inside of a window and get all the benefits of an outdoor security camera without the messy wiring and power supply issues.


We use several layers of 3M Magic tape, this clear tape is awesome for sticking virtually anything to anything else and is a staple in our IT toolkit.

Where the Panasonic BL-C1a really takes off is in low-light conditions. The BL-C1a gives an excellent colour image in overcast and semi-dark conditions. This is rare as many low quality security cameras will switch to Infrared (and therefore black and white imagery) long before the BL-C1a has gone dark. We have one Panasonic camera mounted in an area that is permanently lit by a street light and it does a better job than an infrared camera in the same situation.

We have also used these cameras in conjunction with a motion sensitive PIR flood light. The idea being that the flood light will switch on when there was movement and this would provide illumination for the Panasonic IP camera. This is actually a gem of an idea in situations where infrared is not suitable.

Cheap Power Over Ethernet

6 inch Power Over Ethernet (PoE) Cable 2 pcs/set (2 Pair Power and 2 Pair Data)

If you know about POE devices you’ll know how expensive they are, these cables give you all the neatness of a POE setup without the expensive hardware.

These devices are great for getting power to cameras in strange places. The injectors take the 12 volt power supply and piggy-back it onto the network cable. It works because the 100-BASE-T doesn’t use those pins in the cable. At the other end of the cable you have another piggy-back adapter that converts those pins back to a normal DC power adapter plug to go in the normal socket in the back of the IP Camera.

These devices don’t just work with IP cameras – you can use them to supply power to your home router or modem. Now you can move your wireless router to that signal sweet-spot in your house or even your roof-space without separate power and data cables running across the floors and walls.

If you are running power around for your CCTV cameras or infrared lights your spare network cables can become power cables with these adapters.

It should be said that modern gigabit networking does use the extra 2 pins in the cable so your gigabit switch will automatically reduce the link speed to 100 megabit for that cable – which is still in excess of the speed of the camera anyway.

CCD and CMOS Cameras


LYD CM208CA Mini Spy Camera with Audio

We rave about IP cameras but sometimes you need something different. Simple charged coupled device (CCD) and complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) cameras provide an easy choice for CCTV (closed circuit television) security systems balancing light sensitivity and power consumption – with CCD performing better in low-light and CMOS cameras being very power efficient. Simple CCD and CMOS cameras usually have a BNC or RCA output and a 12 volt (1 amp) power supply input.

There are many different types CCTV cameras available, with some great features such as auto focus, night vision, waterproofing, vandal resistance and built in microphones (like the one pictured above).

Quality CCTV cameras can be had for as little as $20 and are the classic choice for security cameras. If there is a chance your cameras may get broken or stolen then at least you can replace them cheaply. If you’re using CCTV cameras you will need cables to transmit the image as well as 12volt power, We recommend dual cables that have wires for the picture and power molded together as they are much easier to lay out in cramped roof spaces *bump* * ouch*

VideoSecu 100ft Video Audio Power Cable BNC RCA CCTV Security Surveillance DVR Camera Cable Wire A27

Check which types of plugs you have on your Camera and monitoring equipment as there are two common types available, BNC and RCA. Adapter plugs to convert between the two are commonly available for a dollar and many kits come with the adapters so there are no mistakes.

Just remember to take the right end of the cable into the roof cavity when laying out the cable, you don’t want to finish your nice ducting work only to find out you’ve got the wrong end of the cable. There are more adapter plugs available if you’ve done this by accident and can’t be bothered relaying the cable 🙂

If you’re deploying a few cameras, you can get a four-pack of BNC security camera cable very cheaply…

It can be a risky experience placing expensive IP cameras within reach of the public as they have a high resale value and are so readily reusable.

A $20-$40 CCTV camera is a far less interesting target because it requires a video server or DVR for use and has a low re-sale value.

From a network security viewpoint CCD and CMOS cameras are much *much* safer choice in situations where the public may be able to access the camera or its cable. Because the CCD security camera’s cable only carries 12volt and a video signal back to the video server, there is no network or WiFi signal to hack and so it is much safer than Ethernet or WiFi IP cameras.

PTZ Dome Cameras

If you are putting together a security camera solution then there are a wide range of cameras to choose from depending on your situation but the most commonly used type is the dome camera

DBM24VD CNB Super HIGH resolution of 600 TV Lines (DVD quality) Color Dome Video Surveillance Security Camera with 4~9mm Lens, Dual Voltage

A lot of marketing is involved in maintaining an effective security and dome cameras really look the part. We like clear (or light tint) domes that let you see that there is a real camera inside.

Pan Tilt Zoom cameras, so-named for their ability to remotely look around tend to have lots of internal capabilities like auto focus, auto back-light and an onscreen menu that you use to modify these settings. If access to the buttons that control the OSD is obtained by gaining access to the camera then the dome is only suited for high vantage points where the camera is not accessible to the public.

The combination of zoom and auto-focus means you get a crisp shot of what you are looking at without having to use fixed focus cameras. Something in the vicinity of 23x zoom is excellent for observation of details such as car number plates and people’s faces.

To remotely access PTZ functions on non-IP cameras you send commands to the camera via the RS-485 interface on the camera. RS-485 is a simple protocol using as little as two wires to communicate. Many Pan-Tilt-Zoom cameras support the Pelco-D protocol and we have been able to find some basic scripts that will allow Zoneminder to work with the cameras through a usb to RS-485 adapter connected to the host server.


HOTER USB 2.0 To RS485 RS-485 Converter Adapter Cable

We run Zoneminder in Centos 6 inside a KVM virtual machine (VM) and also a VMWare Server virtual machine.

We found that most VM environments will allow USB pass-through to the client VM so you can control the camera from the Zoneminder interface. Being able to do all this remotely means you can conduct your nightly rounds using the cameras for panning and zooming.

We were successful in getting the USB to serial adapter working in Windows 2008 R2, then presenting that to VMware server 2.1 which then presented it to the Centos Zoneminder server on /dev/ttyusb0 – the only remaining issues are to get the port speed set to 9600 and we should be good to go…

If you’re not into tinkering around there is this awesome control panel that can control multiple cameras on by switching between them.


Camera Zoom & OSD Controller

Good quality cameras seem to have very good back-light capabilities and you can usually get a pretty reasonable picture without infrared in low-light conditions. We placed this camera in a location that never gets completely dark because of a nearby street-light. The cameras great vision is low light, combined with auto back-lighting means we always get a nice quality image at night.

Infrared Vandal proof SONY 3.6″ CCD

We also chose two infrared cameras for use in the dark areas. Basically the cameras are normal camera that will switch into infrared mode when the light gets too low.

These cameras do get mildly warm in infrared mode and after two hours of operation the cameras lens was at 30 degrees. For those of you in a cold climate you may find that this is a useful feature as it will probably keep the camera from icing/fogging up.

Infrared has come some distance over the years, early infrared lighting was dull and would often only go a few meters, the LEDs used on modern cameras seem to have a lot more oomph these days.

Because these cameras are not IP cameras you need either a Capture card or an IP Video Server to get them to work with Zoneminder. Because we use Zoneminder in a Virtual Machine capture cards are out. I’m not sure if Xen support specific capture hardware but I know most other Virtual Environments do not.

IP Video Server

IP Video 9100A Plus Network Video Server (Black)

This IP Video 9100A unit will convert up to four different CCD or CMOS cameras into IP cameras. You can use these products directly via the web but we would recommend installing the freely available YOICS firmware and monitoring the device from Zoneminder.

If you are paranoid about network security I should note that the IP video server does present a possible security issue in that it could be the target of a wired Ethernet attack. You would need physical access to your network cable and a rogue computer connected to it and this could be countered by isolating the device using network segmentation features of a normal (broadband) router. We should mention the 9100a built in access control is only a basic username password combo – transmitted in plain text. Out of the box there is no password at all – and most people would never change that, so in a professional organisation you would want to isolate the device on a VLAN.

Using IP security cameras outside or in covered public places will always provide an excellent opportunity for a hacker to connect to the network. Commercial IP video networks encrypt connections on these ‘untrusted’ networks, but the potential for sloppy network admins and the associated ‘tampering’ is high.

We’ve tested quite a few security configurations for home security camera monitoring of Paddys Garden – from the early days of a single server and a USB camera right through to our current virtualised Centos servers running Zoneminder. We’ve tested quite a few security cameras along the way and even had to repair a security cameras too. The ingredients listed above will give you one of the most flexible DIY security monitoring solutions available anywhere and because it’s software based it has the capacity to do way more.

2 Comments

2 responses to “Cameras”

  1. Rob says:

    We’ve just made the switch over to a 8 channel BT848 capture card for 8 of our CCD cameras. I’d gotten so used to 4-5 frames per second that the 25 fps is such a luxury!

  2. Happy Paddy! says:

    Thanks for the link to the ‘action’ Rob. There sure is a lot of info here – good on you for taking the time to provide so much detail!
    And your lad, young Paddy, is a true movie star – and mighty handsome.
    Cheers!

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