Thursday, June 25, 2020

Buying a camera is kind of like buying an outfit

I've tried to make the point so many times that you need to match the cam to the thing you want to monitor with posts like Getting cam specs the easy way and Answer to: I just want a decent system but I found myself thinking this morning this analogy might finally get through.

How is buying a camera is kind of like buying an outfit?

I'm definitely NOT into fashion 
But that is really my first point. The importance of how an outfit makes you look varies a lot between people. Some want to be dressed to the nines and others are good with thread bare and holes or even an birthday suit. In the same same way with cams some may want to ID passers by while others are cool to just know something is right outside the door. And just cause something is labeled one size fits all does not mean they actually fit all, much less that most would be happy with the fit. 

Also odds are no one has your same style requirements so when asking for advice, gather data not shopping lists. You do not want to find out something you assumed is actually not and have to toss it or make due till you can afford to replace it.

BTW Personally I'm the t-shirt and jeans type and I also tend to go for cams in $50 to $150 range. Nothing fancy but I expect a fair bit for my money too. I'll use a $25 Wyze cam to monitor a mouse trap, a gauge, a closet or maybe even a larger area like a storage room temporarily for example but not my yard.

Think of resolution like size. 
While most could probably wear a "large" size shirt, to get the look you want probably means getting a shirt size that matches your body size. As with clothes, the size might not be quite the same fit across brands but it is a good starting point. And if you do not know your size, guessing larger is usually the safer bet. Also one of the most important factors to consider. Though some of the below might alter what is the best fit. Especially view angle.

View angle is like length / type.
For instance will shorts, long pants or even a skirt / kilt / robe work best for the result you are looking for? The view angle too needs to fit what you want to cover (or not), may need to be changeable (zoom) and will probably be a compromise. See Focus options are kind of like feel / comfort. Resolution and view angle along with distance to target give you the pixels per inch at target which is the most important spec if you want to be able to pull a recognizable face or plate from your video. Can I get that in English you ask? I'll do you one better. Here are step be step instructions on how to use a web based tool to sort out what resolution and view angle you need to get detail you want at a distance. Even better the tool lets you stick cameras on a Google map of your site and drag the target and view width. Could it really get any simpler?

PTZ is like layers.
Layers give you weather options but may mean you are carrying a lot of extra clothes around all day or running back forth to storage. In a similar way Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) cams are great for looking around but generally not a good a way to reduce the number of cams you need or save money. Forget "smart tracking" unless you are talking a multicam linked system costing a TON and installed by pros. Even then you are talking coverage with fixed cams telling PTZs where to zoom in for close ups. And each PTZ can only track one object (hopefully a person) at a time. So you factor your ROI there.

That said I find getting an indoor cam to avert its eyes under certain conditions is kind of cool. From the number of people I've seen asking how to do it, a fair number must feel the same. Granted using a fixed cam with a smart plug might be simpler but I had the spare cam and like I said, it is kind of cool. I also have Wyze PTL sitting in my to-do pile with a remote control truck for doing things like inspecting the crawl space under the shop. Point is there are reasons for having one. Just make sure your reason will actually yield the results you want.

Lighting is like style.
Are you going camping, partying or to a meeting? In the same way the lighting required / options should match. If you have a bit of light on the target area to work with there are some incredible color at night options now. Seriously you will probably not believe the videos are real. But they only work to a point and have no IR (night vision) back up option so you might need to go with an IR camera instead or in parallel and possibly even IR floods to see what you want at night. Accent lights are an option to still go with the color at night cams if you are OK with that. Sometimes you will prefer no visible light and IR will do that for you. Note IR LEDs are going to show and will give away their location. One side note here is to think about glare. For instance a light bright enough to light up and area 100 feet away is also going to make a bug near the cam flare like the sun at the right angle. And will draw bugs as well which is another reason to think about not using a light or IR source near the cam much less built into one. And a good reason to pay a bit more for better low light performance to reduce the supplemental lighting needed.

You can go with the soft track suit (fixed focus). Or you can try and really look sharp at a high cost in time and money. Same is true with cams. You probably know enhance like in so many shows and movies is not a real thing no matter what rez your cams are. Though I am seeing a lot of people asking about 4K cams despite the fact that they often yield lower quality video with a larger resource hit for what the person is trying to monitor
What you might not know about is depth of field much less how narrow it can be on some cameras. Especially indoor models. Auto focus or manually focusable, especially coupled the exact amount of zoom you want, might make a huge diff in the detail you can see. But of course there are always trade offs like look vs feel of an outfit. Note too the speed a camera can focus can vary a lot. For instance a Dahua 6 MP OEM is often with $10 of a Reolink 5 MP 511. But not only does Dahua have higher resolution and better low light performance but the zoom and focus speeds blow the Reolink away.

Do you need say something?
Does your outfit need to make a statement? Rich, Goth, nerd ect.? Maybe even have an actual statement on it like many of my t-shirts? Or the ultimate, with scrolling and or audio responding full color LEDs? (Yes this a thing.)

In the same way you might want your camera to record audio or even have 2 way audio so you can talk back. Though in my experience you should keep your expectations low here. Especially outdoors where wind noise seems to be huge issue.

How durable do you need?
While you could wear a silk shirt camping for example it probably is not the best option. So to if you are looking to go outdoors, you probably want a cam made for outdoors. And if it is going to be exposed directly to rain you will want an IP67 rating. Granted you can probably get away with less. At least for a time. You have to decide if you are comfortable with the risk.

WiFi is like going barefoot and battery powered is like going commando.
Yes there might be times when you might want to but as a rule not the best options. 

FYI I always put a smart plug on WiFi cams so you can reboot them when they drop off line. Despite having better network equipment than a lot small businesses, WiFi cams always seem to drop out from time to time. They usually recover before too long but not always. Granted you might not notice if you were not watching them all the time or reviewing their footage. Sometimes they just go to really slow frame rates without timing out, so you might not notice till you are looking back through the video a frame at a time or just happen to notice something suddenly appear or disappear. As you might expect, Wyze cams seem to have the worst WiFi. Shortest range and the most drop outs.

Features are like pockets and such
You might want loads of pockets like cargo pants with a Scotty Vest. You might prefer none at all or buttons over zippers. Point is while some features like in cam plate recognition or auto focus to faces might not be total deal breakers, they probably will (or at least should) factor into your final choices, so make a note of them when gathering specs and comparing prices. A small diff in price might net a big diff in video. For instance the above mentioned 6 MP Dahua and the ~$10 cheaper 5 MP Reolink. Not only is the Dahua higher rez but you can set the exposure based on time of day to utilize its better low light performance while the Reolink has no option to change the exposure setting.

Brands are brands
After all that it is good to note brands are brands. The brand speaks to the quality / reliability of the item a lot more than the fit. Though one brand may have more options matching what you are looking for than another. Especially as price is usually a factor too. As with an outfit, the brand is probably the last thing to look at unless you are more into promoting and or getting prestige from a brand than anything else.

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