An Inexpensive, Easy to Use, All Seeing, Security Camera

There has long been a Ring doorbell keeping watch over the front door of our home. The tireless sentry has become an indispensable part of our lives. Being able to see who, or what is on our porch from wherever we might be is a superpower we won’t be giving up, ever. I’ve written before that door cameras should be standard equipment for any residence and I still feel that way.

No matter if you choose Ring, Nest, or some other brand, all doorbell cameras suffer from a similar issue. Seeing a small section of your front porch 24/7, is the gateway drug for a full fledged security camera addiction. In “Knock, Knock, Anybody Home” you can watch a strange man ring our doorbell. When we don’t answer, he grabs a ladder out of the back of a truck and heads up our driveway, out of the Ring’s view! It’s incidents like these that drive the urge to survey your property at all hours of the day or night.

Searching the Internet for security cameras is like going to a restaurant who’s menu is too long. Do you want NVR, ONVIF, IP, or BNC? What do all of the acronyms even mean? More or less, the major choice boils down to those that stream to your phone, or the multi-camera systems that you see in businesses. Most of us are going to be more comfortable with the kind that work with our home network and stream to our mobile devices.

Once you’ve chosen streaming cameras, you will be very tempted to install the version that matches your doorbell. There’s nothing wrong with that decision, they will work well together. I wanted some features that didn’t seem to be available from Ring’s security cameras. Specifically, I wanted to be able to pan, tilt, and zoom the camera remotely. I needed to be able to track someone, or something anywhere on our section of the street, not just the front yard.

One might think that deciding on a PTZ IP Cam rated for outdoor use would limit the choices to a handful of options, that isn’t the case. The market for these things is huge. You end up left on the ole, “Most bang for the buck” quest. You’ll be choosing between options like: wired or Wi-Fi, optical or digital zoom, flood lights or night vision, recording or streaming, and on and on, forever.

I was lucky and stumbled across a unit that has all of the options in one device. The Zosi ZPTZ-B220W-W has a 5X optical zoom, digital zoom, pans 355°, tilts 90°, infra-red night vision, flood lights, two-way audio, SD card recording, motion detection, and will connect to a wired or Wi-Fi network. It’s all in a weather proof case that screw mounts to any flat surface in almost any orientation. The list price on Zosi’s site is $129.00, but I purchased mine on Amazon for $99.00.

Installing the camera was pretty straight forward. I marked and drilled four pilot holes into the siding under the garage’s eve. Then drove the included screws through the mounting bracket’s holes. I plugged the power supply into the same ceiling outlet that my garage door opener uses. All-in it took about two and a half hours to finish the project. Amazon offered the camera with professional installation for $179.00, but I’m a full member of the ISECDISCI clan (If Someone Else Can Do It So Can I).

The camera’s configuration is handled by the app that you install on your phone, tablet, or PC. To setup the connection, I just needed to scan the QR code on the back of the unit. If only I had known that before I climbed down the ladder and put it up! Once you get the app connected to the camera, the rest of the configuration is down to your personal choices.

My family and friends have all been very impressed with how well this thing works. The 1080P video is clear, the zoom allows me to see details of far away objects; I.E. read the license plates of passing cars. The night vision reaches all the way across the street and the flood lights illuminate the entire driveway. Day or night, I can see what is going on all the way to the end of my block.

Adjustable motion detection sensitivity and intelligent lighting allows the camera to pickup and record moving objects with precision. If you program the unit to record 24/7 and enable motion detection, it will flag motion events in the playback timeline by coloring them red. This makes finding a specific event incredibly easy. There’s also an alarm function, if the camera detects motion it will play one of several alarm tones through its built-in speaker.

Cloud storage is available for a small fee from the app, but an SD card has been working well for us so far. Our testing shows around 0.33 GB per hour is consumed. A 32 GB card will record around 3.5 days worth of continuous video. For those of you who don’t like multiple trips up ladders, put the card in before you mount the camera.

My wife has installed the app on an old iPad and leaves it running on a stand next to her seat in our living-room. She calls it her window and really enjoys being able to glance at the screen to get an unobstructed view of the neighborhood, sunset, and weather. Every once and a while we screen cast the iPad to our big screen TV to watch the snow or rain. We also use it from bed to keep an eye out for our departing and arriving teenagers. More than once I’ve pulled it up to see what that noise in the middle of the night was.

Whether you go with the cameras that match your video doorbell, or purchase a standalone solution you’ll almost undoubtedly enjoy the benefits of remote surveillance. Now if someone would just write an app to coordinate my security cameras with my drone. Imagine if motion detection triggered my drone to go inspect interesting items, hmm.

About Kevin Trent

IT professional with almost 30 years of experience in Infrastructure, Architecting, Administration, Development, and Communications.

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