Simple facts everyone should know when choosing security cameras
We receive numerous calls every week from representatives of various companies, Home Owners Associations (HOAs), condominium and apartment communities regarding their desire to install security camera systems. Since most reps calling have the same questions, I’ve gathered this information to help with the decision-making process.
There are many things to consider when considering security cameras for your business, home or other entity and remember that Benson Systems’ security camera professionals can answer any questions you may have.
If you start looking for security cameras, you will see security cameras that cost $100 and security cameras that cost $3,500. In addition, all camera manufacturers will declare that their cameras produce the best image quality under all conditions. The truth is, like everything else in life, you get what you pay for.
Unfortunately, many people only look at price and don’t consider all aspects of the job or the different technologies available.
If you only look at the price, remember that the manufacturers of cheap cameras build their cameras with cheap components and processors. The imaging mechanisms in the cameras are very poor quality and with this in mind the pictures you take will be poor quality. Plus, low-end cameras can’t perform well in harsh conditions like we have here in Arizona.
We use cameras manufactured by well-known companies such as Pelco, Mobotix, Bosch and Panasonic to name a few. We never recommend using low-end cameras as we know our customers won’t be happy with the end result.
Camera manufacturers may claim that they use Sony image processors to make their cameras, and they can. Sony makes most of the image processors on the market today and most camera manufacturers use the Sony processors.
However, during the manufacturing process, Sony will have processors that come off the line that do not meet Sony standards. Like most manufacturers, Sony has several categories of their image processors – ranging from one rated ‘excellent’ to one that Sony knows will fail in a matter of weeks.
It is the processors that do not meet Sony standards that are sold to the manufacturers of cheap cameras. So remember that a Sony processor does not turn a camera into a Sony camera.
Cheaper cameras have fixed or non-adjustable lenses. With fixed-lens cameras, there’s no way to move your focal point in or out of a specific area. A fixed lens camera offers a ‘plug and play’ type of camera. Benson Systems proposes and installs cameras with variable focus lenses so that the correct focal point can be obtained. There are many variables to choose from for security camera lenses. Benson Systems can help you choose the right lens.
Adequate lighting is perhaps the most important point if you want good quality images.
Color cameras need a lot of light to see. Once the sun goes down and if you don’t have a camera that can compensate well for insufficient lighting, your images will be dark, if not non-existent. No matter how good the camera is, all cameras need sufficient lighting to see in dark situations.
Some cameras have low-light processors and can see in low-light situations. Infrared cameras can see in very dark conditions, but I recommend reading more about infrared cameras below.
Cameras must be installed in protective housings. Remember that cameras are mini computers. In fact, good quality cameras are manufactured with many of the same elements as our personal computers. Like our PCs, cameras need to be protected from dust, dirt, high temperatures, low temperatures and water, vandalism and theft. Environmental housings help protect the cameras from all elements and provide the cameras with a longer lifespan.
Infrared cameras are heat seeking cameras. If you try to see someone sitting in a car, you will never make out his or her image. The reason? A car’s engine radiates more heat than the heat our bodies generate in the car, so your infrared camera will never see beyond the hood (engine) of a car.
IR images are good up to about 50′ from the camera. In hot weather (like we have at night during Arizona summers), the ambient air temperature is too high for IR cameras to be of much use. Unlike considering IR cameras, install extra lights in a dark room and you will be much happier with the results.
Facial shots and license plate recognition
With facial shots and license plate recognition, megapixel cameras are the only cameras used.
We have found two ways to provide facial and license plate recognition to our customers. I’ll discuss license plate recognition first:
If you try to use one standard camera (without megapixels) to get a general picture of the environment and get a car’s license plate with that same standard camera, you will never be able to read the license plate. The reason? The image that the standard general view camera will put on your recording device is very small. When you go back to the capture device to view the saved video and then try to zoom in on the image to get the detail you need, the saved image will ‘pixelize’ (become very distorted and out of focus).
Megapixel cameras take large format photos and store them in your storage systems. The large image size allows you to digitally pan and zoom in on the captured image to get the information you want. The larger the recorded image size, the more information you can obtain.
To capture license plates, you must use megapixel cameras with special lenses that allow the camera to focus only on the area of a driveway where a license plate can be captured (such as the driveway of a parking lot). cameras should also be placed at an angle that looks directly into and level with the vehicle’s license plate area. If you try to capture a license plate while looking at the license plate from an angle, you will only be able to see the license plate about 50% of the time.
The same scenario works with facial recognition cameras. If you want to capture the face of a person entering your building, place the megapixel cameras in an area where you know people will walk closest to the camera. Following these principles will help you get the best face photos available.
The images captured by your new security cameras are worthless if they are not stored on some medium. The media storage devices available today are digital video recorders (DVR), network video recorders and video servers. Some of our new megapixel cameras also have built-in image editing software and use flash cards to store the captured video on the camera.
Alternatively, you can send captured images from the cameras to a remote computer location for storage using Internet Protocol (IP) cameras and a high-speed Internet connection, or send information back to a remote computer location via wireless technology. Each of these types of transmission devices is considerably more expensive than the other technologies mentioned.
DVR’s en NVR’s
If you plan to use a digital video recorder or network video recorder for IP-based systems, the DVR or NVR must be located in an environment that is protected and cooled. Remember that DVRs and NVRs are small computers and not out in the open or in an area that is not protected and cooled from the environment.
I’ve heard some of our competitors suggest our customers put a DVR outside in a protective enclosure, but not cool the enclosure. To explain why this is not a smart idea, consider the following as an example: If you place your laptop outside, but in an enclosure, and you leave the laptop on, how long do you think your laptop will last? Not long, I assure you.
Internet Protocol (IP) cameras are the latest camera technology. The IP cameras use a digital converter on the camera to convert the images the camera sees into a digital format. The digital format can be sent over the Internet via a high-speed connection to a designated computer. This computer must be ‘on’ all the time in order to receive the images.
Wireless transfer of video
Using wireless technology, we can send the images that the cameras see to a remote location. The wireless system transmits the digital information through an antenna to a wireless receiver at the specified location. We can transmit the signals wirelessly from the transmitting point up to a mile away. However, the camera must have a line of sight with no obstruction between the camera transmitting device and the receiving device. Other devices allow sending video more than 20 miles away, but understand that the further away you want to send the video, the more your checking account will feel the pain.
As you can see, there are many variables for a particular camera setup. As with most construction jobs, and depending on the cameras you select, you’ll need a significant amount of capital to work with. Don’t forget that we have leasing companies available that can help you with financing if you want to take advantage of them.
Peter Hudson is a Senior Systems Consultant for Benson Systems, based in Gilbert, Arizona. Peter has designed thousands of security camera systems for companies large and small, as well as for homeowners and associations. Peter has been working in the security industry since 1998.
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