Home Network Surveillance Cameras

I have a great Synology DS415+ NAS box that I’m extremely happy with. Just plug in your drives and a few mins you’ve got a very capable NAS device without much work. All my music, photos, videos and files are now in a central RAID-5 system. Plus 100s of features I could go on about. And smartphone apps to control it all. But what got my attention was its inbuilt surveillance software that I just had to try. The Synology Surveillance software is really good – it supports a large number of cameras, the ability to configure those cameras, the ability to put all of the cameras together in a live view and a time recorder which shows which cameras are active at which time. And of course easy access to the individual recordings. My own personal requirements were as follows:

  • Not to be tied to a particular make/model Each camera can be the best “fit for purpose”.
  • All cameras hardwired with PoE. Wireless isn’t as secure and it was just easier from a cabling perspective to get it all in a single cable.
  • Significant control from a single software point – not fragmented across several layers.
  • HD resolution or better
  • Audio in on at least one of the cameras.
  • A cost that wouldn’t destroy the credit card

Initially I considered using indoor cameras as outdoor cameras as they were cheaper but the research show that apart from rain the main problem is if the sun directly shines on the lens it drastically shortens their life (most outdoor cameras have hoods). The other big issue is a small focal length designed for focusing objects around 2m away. A switch that supports PoE was required so I got the TP-LINK TL-SG1008P 8-port switch which has 4 of its ports dedicated PoE. The first camera I tried was an indoor D-Link DCS-6004L. It has a ton of features which I probably won’t use such as two way audio and an SD slot. The biggest problem was a partner who felt uncomfortable with a camera in the house (best to double check before you do this!). A few weeks later I had the other 3 cameras and two extra Synology licenses which were required. 4 cameras and 3 different brands. Here’s a quick summary:

Model Resolution Focal Length Audio Data Sheet
D-Link DCS-6004L 1200×800 f:2.8mm Yes specs
Foscam F19805E 1280×960 f:4mm Yes specs
Dahau IPC-HFW4300S-V2 2048×1536 f:8mm No specs

Here’s are some screenshots. You can click on image to see the full resolution. Firstly all four cameras in Synology’s live view: Synology2pm The following shots were taken from each of the manufacturers browser display. I believe I’m using default settings for most the cameras. I’ve put a book that says “Peppa’s Amazing Tales” in the shots to check the resolution. The book is 10m away in this shot on top of the car roof. Driveway-PeppaPigAway The front Foscam has some early afternoon shadows to deal with here. The book is about 6m away. Pool2pm The rear Foscam has heavy shadowing. The book is around 5m away.BackYard2pm I opened up the cabinet door to give the D-link a fair chance with the book around 4m away.Lounge2pm And a night-time shot via the Synology (the cabinet door is shut so you can see reflections): NighttimeSo my own opinions/observations with the experience:

  • I was probably asking too much to be able to read what was on the book cover. Looking at someone’s features in detail is difficult unless they are close (maybe ask the bad guys to step towards the camera for a close-up).
  • All these cameras are ridiculously powerful – full web servers with a complete TCP/IP stack as you would expect with embedded Linux.
  • The Dahua camera was the hardest to set up. It came with a fixed IP address of which was hidden from my PC. It came with no manual and a small page written in Chinese. After Googling I had to change my PC’s address to match the subnet, connect to the camera, and then change the IP address setting on the Dahua to use DHCP. It also had a bug in it where if I set the camera name the entire page went to Chinese (a reboot fixed it up) and caused a bit of stress at the time. For some reason my live feed to the Synology is using the low resolution feed I use for mobiles which is different to the other cameras (which means dropping the resolution of the live feed and increasing the resolution to the mobile).
  • The Foscam camera’s have an exposed rear cable which can be cut. However this makes them super easy to install as you don’t have to feed cables through bricks and narrow cavities. The cable just goes straight to the eaves and into the roof.
  • Each outdoor camera claims over 30m range at night but that is more like 10m or less.
  • I’ve got an annoying regular disconnection on the Dahua. I can’t yet blame the cable or the camera here. The CAT 6 cable is 20m long and it may be too long for the PoE.
  • I hate my roof. It has glass insulation bats which suck and is low pitch. And it’s bloody hot.
  • The Synology Surveillance software was brilliant and by far the best part of the experience.

So what have I learnt for the future:

  • The software is great at the moment. You get to show your friends the cool bits of your house by shoving your phone at them and saying “check this out!”.
  • You get what you pay for. The cheaper the camera, the more disappointed you’ll be.
  • I’d like to see what the professional $1000+ cameras are like but I think I’ll wait a few years and upgrade when the cameras have built in mechanical zoom and audio mics. And hopefully better lenses.