Regular readers will know that we're a big fan of Foscam IP Cameras and NVRs - they're almost always our "go-to" camera of choice when we're asked to make a recommendation on Smart Home Security.
That said, the Panasonic Nubo Cam that we reviewed recently really was an exceptional device and packed a hell of a punch in terms of hardware and software features! But gosh was it expensive - nearly £300 and you didn't even get a wall mount with it, plus it needed a monthly Subscription to really get the best out of it.
So roll forward a few weeks and our Foscam distributor kindly sent us the new Foscam FI9928P 1080P HD PTZ Wireless IP Outdoor Camera for testing and review. Well grab me a chair as I need to sit down, this bad boy will also launch an assault on your wallet - to the tune of £250!
Read on to find out why we very quickly came to the conclusion that actually, that price is a bit of a bargain for what you get and that the FI9928P has now taken the place of the Nubo Cam in our Smart Home setup - and we didn't even need to buy a separate mount for it ;-)
Before we dive in to the new camera we thought we'd give some insight into just why we like Foscam so much.
Foscam were one of the first brands we used ourselves in our own home when making the transition from hard-wired analog cameras and CCTV capture cards (using expensive DVRs or home-built solutions around software like ZoneMinder) to modern "IP cameras". We've been using their devices for years - right back when 640 x 480 was regarded as high resolution and MJPEG ("Motion JPEG") was the streaming format of choice! Back then you couldn't beat Foscam for price to performance / features ratio and the same is still true today in our experience.
A lot has changed since then, technology has moved on and prices have come down to almost commodity level. An HD Foscam camera can be bought for as little as £55, that's an absolute steal for an Ethernet / WiFi camera with night vision - we recall paying much, much more than that 5 or 6 years or so ago for a basic IP camera!
Of course that £55 is for the entry level (but even so it's still packed with features), but one of the things that's most impressive with Foscam is the sheer range of devices that they produce - there's literally something for every purpose and budget.
Just look at the difference between one of our old MJPEG cameras and a Foscam FI9853EP which cost a fraction of the price of the 5 year old device that it was replacing:
That's an incredible change, especially on the night-vision images!
Then there's the fact that differences in lens technologies now mean that one camera could potentially replace two or more, in the following images we can see how we swapped out two older black and white analog cameras with even lower resolution (PAL standard) for a full HD Foscam FI9900P with wide angle lens:
The new FI990OP in daytime:
The area that we were interested in covering was the front garden, path and drive - we couldn't do that with a single analog camera 10 years ago so ended up with two - now with a wide angle lens one camera is enough. Again we shudder when we recall the cost of those original analog cameras and the DVR capture card that turned their analog signals into something that could be digitally recorded!
We also like the fact that Foscam produce their own NVRs ("Network Video Recorders") which negates the need to build your own or buy something where you have no idea if it will work with your cameras or not. Having ourselves previously wrestled with a ZoneMinder based system for many years we can assure you that there's nothing more pleasing than powering up a camera and having it automatically detected and setup by the NVR!
Our own Smart Home CCTV setup currently consists of a 9-channel NVR and 9 cameras all working perfectly now for many years:
With flexible options such as POE ("Power over Ethernet") or WiFi connectivity and amazing "junction boxes" to help mount the cameras and hide all the wiring, our Foscam kit has probably been the easiest part of our Home Automation system to install and setup.
The junction boxes have masses of space in them and you can even just about squeeze in a passive POE splitter to allow POE on cameras that don't support it natively.
Enough already, get on with the review!
OK, so hopefully you get the point that we believe that Foscam are really great devices, but why should you part with your hard earned cash for the new FI9928P?
Well, starting with the traditional unboxing shots we can see straightaway the quality of the hardware on offer - a solid metal body will ensure many years of life. We won't bore you with all the specifications of the camera here, you can checkout the product page or manual for all the details.
But it's definitely worth mentioning the fact that this is a full PTZ ("Pan, Tilt, Zoom") camera with 4X optical and 6X digital zoom. Now, we've had PT ("Pan, Tilt") cameras before - we have a couple of the excellent Foscam R2 - but it's the first time we've had a camera featuring optical zoom and we were really looking forward to seeing it in action!
The FI9928P also features a new sensor from SONY called "Starvis" and that supposedly supports *really* low light color night vision, so again that's something that we were interested in checking out.
From box to installed in minutes
Did we mention before how easy Foscam devices are to install and configure?
OK, we have to confess that as soon as we knew that the FI9928P was on its way to us we made a start on an install plan - selection of a location, doing any preparatory wiring, etc. So when the parcel arrived it was literally a case of unpacking it, mounting it on the wall and plugging it in!
To be fair, we'd done some of this work already as we were originally planning on using the Panasonic Nubo Cam in this location - it's at the bottom of our garden on the Summer House and the Nubo Cam's wide angle lens was perfect for getting the whole of the garden in view. But various issues with that device (including the frankly extortionate Subscription costs) meant that we changed our plans once the FI9928P was released.
We chose to hardwire the Ethernet on the camera as we already had Ethernet out to the Summer House (although we could have used WiFi instead as we'd planned to with the Nubo Cam).
So half an hour after taking it out of the box and it was up and running!We used a small water-tight electrical box to house the cables and the power supply simply plugs into a dry-box extension lead that we'd previously installed. Luckily we tend to have this sort of stuff lying around and readily available to use so we had all the parts that we needed to hand. Subsequently Foscam released one of their excellent junction boxes (the FAB28) so we'd have probably used that if we weren't in such a rush to get the FI9928P installed :-)
Oh and a quick shoutout to Midsummer Energy for all their help over the years with our various renewable energy projects - you can see one of their Solar PV panels in the shot above that powers the off-grid electricity supply to our Summer House.
Zoom, Zoom, Zoom
We mentioned before that the FI9928P is the first camera we've used that features optical zoom and after a week of use we've really come to appreciate it. Being optical it means that you can zoom in up to 4x magnification while still maintaining the Full HD 1080P resolution.
Optical Zoomed in:
Digital Zoomed in:
We were also really pleased with the huge range of movement in the camera - 355° horizontal and 90° vertical - that's easily enough to sweep across our entire back garden and go from looking straight down to checking out the stars at night!
The Foscam Apps and web UI also allow you to set and save Presets and to generate and save Cruise Tracks which makes it easy to immediately send the camera to predefined points of interest. It moves fast too, which makes us wonder if we'll be able to set up some complex logic in our Smart Home system to make the camera move / zoom to specific spots in the garden in response to events like doors or windows opening. That's certainly something that we'll be looking into in the coming weeks.
Starvis to heaven
Another thing that really impressed us with the FI9928P is the new "Starvis" technology that we mentioned before. This really does make the best of any available light and still gives a pretty much full colour picture right down to the lowest light levels. It was pretty strange to see an almost "normal" picture in such low light and yet looking out the window it was almost too dark to see!
You'll have to see it for yourself to really appreciate how good it is, but in the meantime hopefully the following images will give you an idea.
So many options
Unlike rival devices such as Nest Cam or Nubo Cam, Foscam cameras come with multiple options on how you can use them - most have a web UI, there's official Apps as well as third party Apps and there's an official API to allow you to write your own integrations.
When it comes to recording and storing of video footage, again there's flexibility - some cameras come with SD Card slot so you can add your own storage, you can configure the cameras to upload via FTP, email you with snapshots, save to your PC or of course use a Foscam NVR. Most cameras are also ONVIF compatible which makes them work with other NVRs from the likes of DLink and Synology.
Foscam have also recently released their own Cloud service which is well worth checking out as it's really good value for money!
The bigger picture
One thing that we find ourselves and Customers being obsessed with is the concept of having all their Smart Home systems being integrated together and working under one App or Web UI. Over the years we've found that while this often sounds great, it's *very* difficult to achieve when using a mixture of Home Automation technologies. We mention this point in our "Device Compatibility" guide and explain that often it's best to not restrict yourself in that way because it allows you to choose the best system for the job.
So how does that apply to Foscam cameras & NVRs? Well most cameras nowadays have moved on from MJPEG to H.264 or other streaming video formats and this makes it difficult for them to be integrated into Home Automation controllers like Vera & Fibaro. It also doesn't really make sense to try and channel multiple streaming video cameras through a small embedded device as it can quickly become overloaded trying to keep up. And that then impacts on the core responsibility of that controller - running your home!
Similarly while you may think that you want to use the "motion capture" ability of a camera as an input into your Smart Home control logic, often this isn't possible or needs to use custom coding using unreliable methods of inspecting the state of the device such as polling.
Cameras also typically use image inspection to determine if there's been motion - so they will inspect each frame of the video and check what's changed. This can take time, so it doesn't lend itself particularly well to creating real-time alerts i.e. there's motion *now* - the camera works around this by having the video in a buffer so if it takes a few seconds to detect motion it doesn't matter because the captured event will contain the whole buffer so nothing will be missed. For security footage it works well but a delay in detecting motion and switching on your lights won't go down well for a Smart Home system!
With all the pro's and con's taken into account we've come to the conclusion that for core systems like CCTV, Security or even Heating (especially multi-zone) it makes more sense to use the best-in-class devices even if that means they run using separate Apps and central controllers.
That's not to say that they can't still have some integration with the rest of your Home Automation system - for example it should still be possible to use snapshots from most cameras within alerts generated in response to sensor inputs in your Smart Home logic. But even then, most cameras will allow you to do similar from their own web UI or App anyway, so it often makes more sense to just use the native functionality where possible.
At Vesternet we also thoroughly recommend the Foscam NVRs because they're simple to install and setup - just add a hard drive and that's pretty much it. There are even pre-configured kits available too but what we like about the standalone NVRs is the fact that they have configurable inputs and outputs so that you can hardwire them into other systems. We show the general principle of that in our guide here and we use this integration in our own systems to allow us to "ping" the NVR in response to an event such as a PIR detecting motion or a door sensor detecting a door opening. The NVR is then configured to stamp an "alarm" on a particular camera recording which makes it easy to review the footage at a later date.
We hope that you enjoyed reading this article and as always any thoughts or questions please contact us.
We've also teamed up with our Foscam distributor to secure an introductory discount offer on the new FI9928P - £25 OFF for this weekend only - it really is a cracking camera, so get yours on order NOW!
Bye for now