Subscriber Discussion

My Bike Was Stolen But My Cameras Were Not Good Enough

First, I have to apologize; I am doing my best to become knowledgeable in the area of surveillance cameras as quickly as I can... but I am noob for sure. I greatly appreciate any help or guidance any of you can give while I am concurrently combing the rest of the articles on this site.

Here is a humorously edited version of what just happened at my house. I put this together to make my wife feel better:

This was recorded using the Logitech Alert system. If you’re not familiar, it's a Big Box Store DIY product; but with a reasonably robust feature set and decent cameras (by my standards). I've been using them for years--both for security and baby monitoring-- and I've been pretty happy until now. Below is the best face shot I was able to extract from the 5 or so minutes of video of this guy in my alley and back yard. There are other portions of video where the angle is better but he's further away and the there are just no facial details.

Somewhat surprisingly, the police here in Chicago actually seem pretty interested in catching the dude; but the detail the video provides might not be sufficient to arrest him--that's very disappointing.

So now I'm thinking of upgrading but that quickly takes me into unfamiliar territory and a reliance on installers (BTW if you are an installer in the Chicago area, please feel free to let me know).

So without knowing the full range of things available to me, here are my primary objectives:

  • I always want to be able to get a clear face shot of people in my Alley/Yard from 5 to 40 feet away under day or night conditions.
  • I already have Ethernet running to the desired location so POE cameras would be best.
  • We are a MAC household so software that runs on MACs would be best... but if I have to buy a dedicated PC and RDP into it from the MAC, that's ok as long as the video is acceptable over RDP.
  • Although my wife was actually home with our newborn when this happened, we generally are most concerned with remote viewing. Some of the things that the Logitech system does that we like:
    • We get emails with a picture whenever the camera detects motion in one of the motion zones
    • The emails have links to the web portal where I can see to whole video clip
    • The iphone apps allow me to view live streams or all recorded clips organized by motion incident.
  • A few 'want to haves' that the Logitech system doesn't do.
    • Continuous stream to mobile device. The Logitech give you about 10 minutes then you have to restart it. At night, I'd like to sit my phone on my nightstand and have it chirp at me if there's someone in the yard etc.
    • Two way audio???? One of the things that occurred to me during this last episode was that even a recorded message "You are being recorded. The police have been notified" coming out of the camera or triggered by the camera probably would have spooked him.

Of course, once again, the most important thing is picture quality to the extent that it creates usable identifiable evidence. And second, usability... my wife needs to find it as easy to use as the logitech system.

As for the budget. I have 2 cameras that I'm most concerned about; but a total of 4 for which I would ultimately want improved quality video meeting the above objectives. I'd love to keep it under $2,500 including 4 cameras and additional hardware. However, I could be convinced to spend more (which is part of the problem).

Once again, my thanks in advance.

The good news is that today, $2,500 is a lot of money for a 4 camera system. 2 common choices are:

  • Dropcam: $150 for an IP camera, records online, no software, $8 to record, very good on mobile, super small form factor, wireless, etc. Main downside is that while it claims to be HD, it's not really HD quality
  • Q-See Kit: 4 camera and NVR kit for $699, simple to setup, true HD, built in IR for night, harder to setup for remote viewing than Dropcam

Thanks John! I'll look into these.

One concern however is that the system I have is advertised as 720P as well. I'm quickly realizing that there's a lot of other factors (read your free PDF), but I want LOT's of room for error.

If I'm going to rip and replace it, I have to sure that I'm not let down... and I'm willing to pay for the peice of mind. I read, for example, some of you Avigilon reviews which seem enticing--just to give you an ideo of where my head is at. It seems like 3MP would do it, yes? Or am I going way overboard?

If you want greater details, there are 2 common options - increase resolution or decrease FoV width. Going to 3MP is not going to provide a huge difference but decreasing the FoV or using 2 cameras to cover an area instead of 1 will.

For you, the problem with Avigilon is that you now need to find and buy through an installer. That's fine if you want 40 cameras and want to spend tens of thousands but not as good for a homeowner who wants 4 for $2,500 or less.

There's a number of widely available low cost online IP 1080p/3MP cameras (including QSee who I mentioned above). That said, better to cut FoV width and use 2 cameras to get greater detail.

Thanks John. So you mention something at the heart of what I want to understand... Why would going from 720p to 3MP (or 5mp even?) not solve the problem? Aren't I achieve a similar thing as having two lower res cameras?

Also, is it the nature of my low end system that takes the pixels I DO have and garbles them so badly? Do the systems you mention have less artifacts? I read your review but most of subjects in the picture aren't moving. The video artifacts, obviously are much worse when the subject is moving... even slightly.

Thanks again!

Video artifacts should not be 'much worse' when the subject is moving. This happens when a manufacturer or system is configured with a low compression setting. For instance, this is a big problem with Dropcam 'HD'.

Going from 720p to 5MP 'only' doubles pixels per foot (see ppf guide). There's further constraints - lens quality, bright light / shadows tend to reduce the benefits, etc. Also, at 5MP, you have less vendor options.

There's lots of 1080p / 3MP cameras available (and their PPF is only 25% than 5MP). You should be fine with that, make sure the compression level is not set too low and make sure that the FoV is not too wide.

The biggest problem I see here is something no amount of money or pixels will fix: the cameras are simply too high, and/or the angles too steep, to get good face shots, even without a hat.

It has to be high or else the cameras will be vandalized!!! :)

I agree. See our camera height mounting test for examples.

Well if it MUST be high-up, the trick then is to minimize the angle by putting the camera farther away and tightening the shot.

Although I find a lot of the time, the final height is as much a function of convenience as it is security - a camera might be perfectly safe from vandalism at 10-12', but it's mounted at 20' or higher because that's where a convenient soffit is to mount it to; mounting it lower would require surface-run cable or conduit or something else that involves more effort than the installer is prepared to put into it.

I should mention that the stills I uploaded are crops. You can see the true FoV in the youtube link.

The camera's are at about 12 feet. The one in the Yard coould be lowered slightly but not the one in the alley.

However, I'm not sure I agree that that's the issue In the video, there are several shots where he's further away (walking from the fence towards the camera and leaving the scene on the bike) where more resolving power would have delivered a pretty clear face shot. Even the the angle I pasted in my post would have been usable for the cops if it had been clear.

Fair enough - I was going just by the stills you posted, where his face is largely obscured by his hat, but would give a bad angle anyway.

But you see, you've reinfornced my point: on the further shot, the angle is lower, and you do get a better view of the face... just without the necessary detail. Which is where HD/MP comes in handy.

Oh I totally agree with your point--don't get me wrong. There are just some practical issues in this case with either lowering or mounting further away.

Well to be honest those are not bad shots. You could probably use some WDR for the shadows but as mentioned above the only other thing is to lower the cameras. It's really bad when the perp is wearing a mask - then you need XRAY vision cameras.

On January 25th my daughter's new (from Christmas a month earlier) Yamaha 110cc dirtbike got stolen. I had cameras in our shop building where our 4 wheelers and dirt bike are located. However, even though our core business as a company is enterprise high definition video systems, I decided just converting over my analog cameras to Avigilon was good enough. Well it wasn't. Not only did I not have a clear picture of the little thieves the camera was also covered in dust so what I was able to view was 2 blobs which appeared to be kids. The good thing is using Avigilon software I was able to find the exact incident in less than a minute (and it was 2 weeks before we realized it was gone). As soon as I realized this I installed (3) 3MP WDR Avigilon IR cameras in my shop. The view is fantastic day & night. The only problem is the little turds have not returned. Oh well when they do I will have them... or they will be wearing masks!

As mentioned before, the video is not bad but the cameras are too high to get a face shot.

I typically mount impact resistant cameras just above the highest obstruction at five to seven feet. I also place my cameras near the exit point so that subject walks "into" the camera rather than under it. Also, the external light doesn't create a backlit situation but lights the face.

Hey Howard. Thanks.

I agree that the angle of the cameras needs to be better. However, there are several frames where had the resolution been higher and the compression artifacts been less--the face would have been very identifiable.

See below. The first shot is the full frame; the next two are crops. As he approaches from the fence, there are several frames where the angle would have been sufficient.

Benjamin, it's not just resolution/compression. That's a 30-40 wide FoV which is fairly wide so more resolution would likely help.

The bigger problem is the sunlight/shadow on the subject's face. That demands multi-exposure WDR to address (presuming you want to keep the camera at the same FoV). A 1080p WDR camera like Sony or Bosch would work well there. However, both are close to $1,000 each. Lower cost alternatives worth trying include the Arecont.

That said, the lowest cost solution is likely better positioning of the camera with a narrower FoV, like so:

Even if you added a camera right there, it could a regular low cost $200 HD IP camera but it's close positioning to the subject would deliver a lot more details than an expensive, super high res, super WDR overview camera.

Hey John. THAT camera I can lower...and I will. I agree on the dynamic range issue. That are and the Alley have harsh contrast during many parts of the day.

I actually had an installer here today. He's a big fan of Avigilon. I've read you piece on the somewhat misleading marketing materials so I'll keep a healthy skepticism as part of the process.

The Alley camera I cannot lower without putting it at serious risk. However, the angle I'm is better because people approach it from 50ft away.

I hear you on more cameras with narrower FoV's. My concern there is that it simply becomes to cumbersome to monitor. When I'm getting alerts at work, it's helpful to quickly see the context of what's happening at home. I suppose I could combine narrow and wide field cameras... I just wonder If I actually end up saving all that much over a 3MP camera that could effectively do both.

And while I'm reasonable price conscious, that's only to the extend that I don't want to wast money--of course. But a $1k camera doesn't scare me if it gets the job done with room for error.

As always, thanks for your insights.

If you can afford / justify the price of an Avigilon or a high end Axis / Sony / Bosch / etc, that's fine. Your needs though are relatively simple for that class of equipment. Also, they tend not to optimized for home viewing use (which typically can be done but take's more work / money).

Well positioned cameras from budget providers like QSee / Lorex / Dahua / etc are probably good enough at lower cost.

This should be food for thought for anyone else installing their own cameras. Get friends, neighbors, or whomever to walk through the FOV of any cameras you install so that you can see if the cameras will give you the information you need. Most people don't look at DVR footage until something has already happened. It's too late at that point.

I like your fantasy ending, but I actually prefer the Castle Doctrine in situations like these. The problem is that you need to be home at the time of the occurrence to envoke that, and most of us have to work during the day and can't be there when someone who prefers not to be employed and rip off others decides to break in.

Hi Jeff. Actually my wife was home on maternity leave about 30 feet away in the house while this was happening. Had she not been busy making breakfast, she might have seen this outside the back window. That's what made this all the more distrubing. I don't actually care about the bike that much.

Employing the castle doctrine in Chicago is challenging. Plus, I would not put my wife in the postion of having to shoot someone if it can be avoided--I realize you're being, at least partially facetious.

The number one issue most people make when installing cameras is hoping to cover large areas with one camera AND hoping to get an identifying shot at the same time. What I would say is you have to choose between two tradeoffs.

1) Wide shots will get lots of context info, but will miss the identifying info

2) Tight shots will get the identifying info, but without the context.

So, what to do? Saturate the area with a balanced mix of overview and detail cams. You have a great pinch point at the gate. He walked through that area multiple times. Unless he chooses to jump the fence at the other end, you will get him every time if you have a straight on shot, with a tight FOV on the gate area.

You can go about this two ways:

1) Vandal dome mounted on the wall right inside the gate opening. This will be a cheaper way because you can probably use a fixed lens. Make sure that you get one with IR built in so you can get the night shot. WDR may not be needed because your subject will most likely be the majority of your view.

2) Box cam with long lens (or a bullet if you can find a long enough lens built in) mounted across the yard from the gate. You will need the long lenses to zoom into the gate area. In addition to that, you also will need a light source to illuminate the gate area, because it is likely that a box cam won't have IR and integrated IR in a bullet will not reach that far. Don't forget that WDR will be very important here if you cannot get the FOV down to just the subject.

At this point, you now have both the overview and detail shot at the pinch point. Obviously, if you have other points of entry, you will need to cover those as well.

On to the recording side of things. I would highly recommend looking into some Dahua IP cams and an NVR. There are quite a few good dealers here in the US, but I recommend Sean at Nelly's Security. Dahua makes a plug and play NVR that will simplify the install. Sean also offers great tech support and manuals to help getting the web feeds going. You may not end up needing to pay someone labor, which you can spend on better cams.

I highly recommend the 3MP vandal dome for your detail cams. 3MP Link

For the overview, you can use the same 3MP, but this 1.3MP will do fine. 1.3MP Link

All that said, I don't work for Sean or Nelly's in any way. I have purchased from him on many occasions and find his company a very valuable asset. I wouldn't hesitate buying from him.

This is one of those installations where covert concealment of the camera is a must in order to get an image for identification. I deal with video every day where people are angry they cant get images to use for identification, but the cameras, regardless of the resolution or lighting, are in a location that unless the subject put his ID in front of the camera is going to be impossible to identify. I have been pretty excited about seeing more board type IP cameras coming onto the market because these will make covert installations much easier. AXIS's line of covert IP cameras, and Mobotix's dev kit, are both small and easy to incorporate into small places but they have big price tags. You have to find a place at a choke point that is at or near eye level that can get a good facial shot if you ever want identification of a subject. In order to do that without vandalism it has to be hidden. From a law enforcement perspective this is one of the areas a lot of security professionals really overlook in so many commercial and residencial installations. And dont even get me started about banks.

Hey Steve.

The last installer I spoke with is a big fan of mobotix... I'm not familiar but I'll look into them. I struggle with the overt/covert thing. Ideally, I want a perp to see a bunch of cameras and say "not worth it". They guy that broke into my garage... I really don't think he even saw the camera.

One of the accesories we discussed installing is a photobeam tied into a pre-recorded message that would simply state "you are being recorded and the police have been notified".

In a way, getting the face shot is the last resort once other deterants have failed.

Even if the perp were to destroy a camera that is in reach, he most likely would be recorded with identifying shots before the camera went down. The recordings should not be edge based in this scenario. Even if he destroys the camera, if you get the indentity of the perp, buying a replacement cam is the last of your worries. Also, having overt cams is a deterant to begin with.

Would you believe someone tried to get into my yard again?

I wanted to post a quick update. I decided to pursue two different cost categories and see how things fall out. I just got a quote from my local custom security vendor for a 5 camera 3MP Avigilon based system including all required servers, networking and labor. It came in at roughly 9,700.

Another local secuirty vendor uses Wirepath cameras. I didn't see any coverage of these camera on this site... which makes me nervous. I may try to price out some of the other low cost systems Jon mentioned but I'm not able to find a secuity installer that sells them yet.

I'm also considering a large dog.

That camera's too high as well :) (though video quality is solid)

5 Avigilon 3MP cameras + server + professional install for $9,700. That's about to be expected and far higher than your budget.

I have no idea who Wirepath is (even after looking at their website). It seems like a small OEM of Chinese products. Any company selling that is probably fairly low end and may not know what he is doing.

By contrast, a friend bought an 8 camera, 1080p, 2TB NVR kit for $1599 from Costco online recently (for a small residential complex). This gives you a sense of higher end, attractive price options. I am not sure what you are going to get from a professional installer for a job this size. But if you want some help, pay them by the hour and have the come for 4 hours to assist in finalizing the setup.

Well if you can do it yourself and you wanted to pickup say a core i3 or i5 machine from Best Buy for $500 you could get those (5) 3MP Avigilon cameras & (5) core licenses for under $4500... with the cost of the server of $500 and a POE switch for another $200 and $100 for cabling & connectors that brings your equipment total to $5300... it will save you $4400.00

Fair point. I actually aready have a spare box so I wouldn't need to buy the PC. But can one buy Avigilon camers directly?

You still need to buy from an authorized dealer. You could ask that integrator what he would charge just for the licenses and the cameras.

But if you are going to go that route you can buy high end cameras from many professional brands (Axis, Bosch, Sony, Panasonic, whomever) for the same prices.

Getting a kit though will be a fraction of the price and fraction of the hassle.

As John mentioned I would ask the Avigilon dealer what they would charge you just for the cameras and licenses. If they are unwilling to work with you then you can find another Avigilon dealer that will.

John is correct it would be cheaper and possibly be less hassle up front with a kit but I can tell you from personal experience you will lose any savings in hassle and time in the long run through the usability of the system.

Also John is correct there are other cameras out there as well. If you value your time I would choose a solution that is going to be easy to use moving forward - especially with the issues you are having.

There will have to be a loooooot of usability issues because you can get a kit for under $1,000 vs the alternative proposed here of $5,3000 for equipment.

That's a $4,000 delta so unless Benjamin's time is incredibly valuable, it's going to be hard to justify the premium on ROI.

Avoid any "integrator" who sells Wirepath. They most likely are inexperienced in CCTV if that is the brand they have chosen. Wirepath is an OEM brand distributed by SnapAV. For those not aware of who SnapAV is, they are a common distributer of audio/video gear. Their AV line isn't usually a problem, other than maybe a little overpriced. However, their entry into the CCTV world is bad.

We had the misfortune of being hired to complete a project when another "integrator" walked off the job. The previous "integrator" was a home theater solutions company that was hired to install a multi-faceted electronics project that included wired and wireless networks, audio and video systems, including many flat panel TVs, a phone system, and CCTV cameras.

When we walked in, the building had already been wired and just needed the lines terminated and the equipment mounted. We realized rather quickly that the Wirepath brand was overpriced OEM gear. We could have saved the client at least $1000 on the cameras and DVR alone. AND it was only a 16 camera system!

I wouldn't say that the cameras themselves were of bad design or quality, just that the prices they charge could afford a name brand top tier product instead. What you get is a value based China product, which in itself isn't a bad thing as long as the price matches the product.

Hey John. I know, I know. The camers will get lowered :)

Avigilon is definetly over budget... but paranoia has a way of blurring budget caps. I really will try not to be an idiot about all this though. It's tough though... for thes second time in a month, a guy has tried to get into the property while my wife and kid were home.

I see your point on the Qsee setup. That's a lot of camera for the money--and something I could install myself. I'll look into that further.

As far as the value of an installer. I suppose some of the value is on the networking side--creating a segrgated network segment or Van to to not flood my home network yet keep the cameras operating smoothly is beyond my current skillset. Also, had a pro installed my current system, I'm sure they would be mounted lower :)

"Also, had a pro installed my current system, I'm sure they would be mounted lower :)"

Doubt it. Seriously, most professionals are obsessed with mounting cameras as high as possible. I am still not entirely sure why but typically when I recommend lowering them, I get shouted down as being an idiot (camera vandalism being the most common reason).

"some of the value is on the networking side--creating a segregated network segment or Van to to not flood my home network"

Not really an issue. Worst case, you buy a separate switch connect the cameras and recorders to it and you'll have no risk. Even better, those NVR kits typically have PoE switches built in, creating a natural wall to block any 'floods' on your home network as well as making set up simple. Go see our HD Kit test videos.

Thanks I read it. The cameras you linked to a few posts ago are of slight higher spec then the ones reviewed correct? You're assessment of the NVR usability is eye opening.

It makes me appreciate the system I have. In fact one option I'm starting to consider is juddt geting more camers for my current system (as I think someone else suggested). You've never reviewed the Logitech Alert platform correct? I wish I could see how it stacked up against other similarly priced systems. It definetly seems to have a rish feature set for the price.

Using an integrator, at this scale, depends on who you are. If get satisfaction from the installation or from saving money, I agree that an integrator will add little value at this scale. My wife and I are busy professionals and we don't have a wealth of experience in installations, drywall, trim, or surveillance. For our last two installations, we used a local installer who has been worth every penny: a win/win for us and (we expect) for him.

Any chance your installer is chicago based ? :)

Too bad you didn't have these issues a few weeks ago while the collective security world was at McCormick Center for ASIS. You could have had Avigilon do their show demo in your backyard for free! =)

Hah. I could have offered my garage at a fraction of the price of McCormack.

Sorry, he's in the DC metro area.

Sorry to drag this thread out foks... I really appreciate the feedback.

John has me drifting towards a kit like QSee. The value proposition there is a little hard to deny.

I've also been looking at Hikvision cameras. Specifically, I was looking at this one.

After looking at samples posted here.

Anyone have thoughts on these? I could buy quite a few of them for the Cost of the Avigilons + dealer install.

On the NVR side, I've been trying to learn about Milestone, exacqVision, and Synology: Synolgy mostly becasue I was thinking of getting one anyway. However, the reviews are less then enthusiastic. As always, any comments are much appreciated.

Hikvision and Dahua/QSee are the Chinese surveillance Pepsi and Coke (at least for your application). I don't think you'll huge differences between the two among consumer offerings.

No on Synology. Best bet is a kit, whether it's Hikvision, Dahua, QSee, whatever. It will be easier and it's not like there are some critical features you will be giving up.

I, actually, agree with John's advice, but for different reasons. If you don't buy a kit, you may miss out on fundamental features, like motion detection. I know that some of the HikVision cams we have installed didn't have built in motion detection, so they rely on their NVR/VMS to do server side detection. Our problem was that we were connecting the cams to an existing Dahua NVR, which incidentally, uses camera side motion detection only.

I also own and have installed a few Synology systems and I was not really impressed with the feature set. I have seen more features in a Dahua based NVR. Another issue with Synology is their AWS backup support has major flaws. It is a big reason why I bought mine, to backup to AWS S3. But my 100GB data set would take over a month to backup via the built in AWS app. Using their desktop app and the same net connection would take a mere fraction of the same time. We asked a rep at ASIS and he said they are working real hard at fixing that issue.

So, stick with one manufacturer and you should be fine.

Hi Benjamin. I'm a bit late but wanted to offer one additional software to consider that also does server-side motion detection with Dahua and Hikvision cameras (as well as all other Onvif Profile S cameras) DW Spectrum. You can download it at that link and try it free for thirty days on four cameras. If you'd like to try it on a few more, let me know and I'll add some licenses to that for you. You can see a quick and simple video about activating the free licenses here:

As an Aside... I caught the guy yesterday :) He is currently in custody and being charged with felony robbery.

Cool! How did you catch him?

Apparently he lives in my neighborhood. He's homeless. I saw him walking down the street in my car. I confronted him and showed him pictures of himself in my back yard. He didn't even deny it. I was sort of amazed that he hung around while I called the cops but he did.

What you need my friend is a good deterrent. Put a door contact on your fence door that triggers a self-amplified speaker to blare the sound of a viscious dog barking. Same effect as a real dog, but you don't have to feed, walk, or make trips to the vet. Better yet, put a motion sensor in the alley and if anyone or anything walks past it will trigger keeping people from ever wanting to investigate your door.

Hey Clint.

We are putting a few things like this in place (electric door strike in the gate in the gate). I'm also planning to rip out my ADT system in favor of ELK; and then add on these: AX-100TFR | OPTEX

They'll be set to trigger a voice recording: "You are being recorder, leave the property" etc etc. and correcponding voice warning inside the house that a perimeter has been breached (if armed).

It's tough to get too aggressive in the alley itself. We're in the city remember. My current camera picks upp nearly 200 legit motion events every day... cars, people walking their dogs, tras trucks.

I'm hoping that the cameras and corresponding signage will also serve as a deterrent to actually attempting to enter the property.

Life in the city...