I’ve been pleased so far with my in-house internet cameras and decided I’d like to be able to keep tabs on the outside of the house as well. TRENDnet sells weatherproof enclosures for their cameras but they won’t work with the night-vision models because the IR just reflects off of the glass. I started looking at other models of outdoor cameras and chose the Foscam FI8904W.
Ideally I wanted the (supposedly) cheaper FI8903W (which is the same camera as the FI8904W except it has fewer IR emitters for a shorter night-vision range) but was unable to find it anywhere domestically. Apparently purchasing Foscam cameras is fraught with peril due to the high occurrence of unauthorized clones. The firmwares aren’t compatible, the interfaces are different, and Foscam won’t support any hardware not purchased from them. So I ended up getting a 2-pack of the FI8904W cameras from one of their authorized resellers (Foscam.us).
The camera is very well-constructed and seems pretty sturdy thanks to its metal body and glass enclosed lens and IR emitters. The rear of the unit has the brass connector for the rubberized WiFi antenna and a single cable (also rubberized) that splits into three ends: a wired network jack, a connector for the power supply, and a reset button. A metal mounting bracket and arm are also included. Here’s a good post about the FI8904W that has some photos of the internals (and tips on replacing the lens with a wide-angle version if you prefer).
Setup is straightforward: connect the camera to your wired network, power it up, then use the included utility to “find” the camera’s DHCP address so you can connect to it via your browser. The web interface, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Like my TRENDnet cameras, some of the features require you to use Internet Explorer and ActiveX controls, but other browsers like Firefox, Chrome, or even Safari (including the iPhone) will work via a separate login link (called, inexplicably, Server Push Mode). The basic options are all present: e-mail alerts, FTP storage of images, multiple user security setups, etc.
Configuring the schedule for motion detection is tedious! Rather than typing in to/from times, you have to click 672 individual boxes that represent 15 minute intervals. You can’t shift-click to enable a whole range at once, you have to click each one individually! I accidentally stumbled on the fact that if you double-click, a whole hour is selected. Still, to enable motion detection 24/7, I had to double-click 168 times!! This is a terrible user-interface design and not described with any detail in the user manual (which, incidentally, is sparse and filled with bad English due to poor translation). Missing from motion detection is the ability to only watch certain areas of the image for motion (so you can exclude, for example, an outdoor ceiling fan) and also the function to record video to a network share when an alert is triggered (you can’t record the video at all, actually, since the camera uses only MJPEG compression). Yes, I could use the FTP function but a) that would require me to set up FTP on my Linux server and b) would only get me still images, which I can get via the e-mail alerts anyway.
Other missing features: the camera has no microphone, so you can’t listen to any audio in the vicinity and there’s also no date/time stamp added to the video stream (unless you’re viewing it through IE with the ActiveX control). Thus, the overlay doesn’t appear when viewing the camera through eyeCam on my iPhone or on the custom web page I wrote that shows me just the video window. Other settings you think would be on the administration pages, like video resolution, color balance, framerate, etc. are all on the “live video” page where an “operator” can change them (there are three user access levels: Administrator, Operator, and Visitor).
Ok, so the interface and setup options are lacking, but how does the camera itself perform? The video is decent (30fps at QVGA or 15fps at VGA), although like my TRENDnet cameras, the lack of an infrared filter means some colors are off, especially in bright daylight. The night-vision is pretty good, though, due to all of those IR emitters. The IR LEDs do glow red at night, though, so the camera looks a little like the eye of Sauron. The wireless link seems pretty stable even though it has to go through several concrete block walls (since it’s outside) to connect to my wireless router.
Physical installation is a bit more involved. The camera is obviously meant to be used outdoors which means you need a nearby power outlet. Ideally you don’t want the outlet to be easily accessible otherwise someone could just unplug it. Also, since the factory reset button is on the split cable end, you’ll want to make sure that is hidden away as well. The camera is supposedly waterproof, but my selected placement areas are under cover so the unit won’t be exposed to full-on Florida rainstorms. For my front porch installation, I drilled a hole in the ceiling above where I mounted the camera up into the roof/attic area and then used fish tape to run a heavy-duty extension cord from the outlet in my garage ceiling (for the garage door opener) to the camera. Not exactly the most professional installation, but the best I could come up with for now (and all of the connections are up in the ceiling where nobody can mess with them). I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to wire up the second camera out on the lanai in the backyard.
Bottom line: the camera seems to be well-constructed and up to the task of withstanding the elements (although only time will tell that for sure). The video (both daytime and nighttime) is decent enough for basic surveillance, but the lack of audio/video recording is an unfortunate oversight. The firmware and web-based interface can be frustrating and annoying to use but do get the basic job done. If you’re looking for an outdoor webcam, the Foscam FI8904W is worth considering.