Should You Use Cameras With SD Storage?

Nearly 5 years ago, I wrote an article "Should You Use Cameras With SD Storage?" Not surprisingly, at that time, I argued it was a niche due to high storage costs for limited amounts of storage (32GB cards were ~$100 then) and very limited VMS support.

Both certainly have changed since then.

  • 64GB cards are available for half the price of a 32GB card then - a 400% increase in price / storage ratio.
  • A number of mainstream 'open' VMSes support on board storage.
  • A number of camera manufacturers are offering it for 'free' with their own cameras.

Background posts - Edge Storage / Recording Tutorial, SD Card For Surveillance Tutorial

So what do you think? Should you use cameras with SD storage? When? Where?

Much is made of the importance of the video storage process by manufacturers of video-specific storage appliances and video NVRs. With the increasing prevalence of cameras with on-board SD storage for video, I feel there are questions that need to be asked about SD storage:

  • Is SD storage reliable?
  • Which SD cards are better and more reliable for video?
  • What is the lifetime expectancy for the cards?
  • What is the storage capacity of SD cards as megapixel cameras become the norm?
  • Which VMSes can read and use the stored video on SD cards?

I would like to hear from users on their favorite IP cameras with storage and their various uses.


Which VMSes can read and use the stored video on SD cards?

Genetec 'trickling' appears to have the broadest support both in terms of functionality and range of camera manufacturers. Exacq is also notable for a number of third party cameras. Milestone, I believe, only has for redundancy and only the top two high end versions.

What is the storage capacity of SD cards as megapixel cameras become the norm?

Today, let's call it 64GB, but some cameras are only 32GB (SDHC only) while sometime in the future 128GB will be formally supported. At 64GB, that's the equivalent of a 1TB recorder for 16 cameras, so that's not a lot of storage (maybe 720p at 10fps for a few weeks).

What is the lifetime expectancy for the cards? and Is SD storage reliable?

For video surveillance, hard to answer. Why is Axis Camera Companion having all those problems?

Which SD cards are better and more reliable for video?

I know the cheap / giveaway / gift shop ones tend to be very bad. I am not sure who is the best for video surveillance.

Sure, with the understanding that nothings perfect, and with the declining costs of MLC and SLC memory we'll soon see cameras with faster and more robust msata and cfast slots too, and certainly built-in mini pcie for 3g,4g radios, further reducing power consumption....

For the relatively minimal cost of storage, it's not a big deal these days to use edge storage in addition to standard VMS storage. We did this one one site where they'd had some old analog cameras vandalized, and then discovered the DVR hadn't been running for about two months (insert facepalm). When we replaced DVR, and replaced the cameras with 2MP models, we added SD cards as a "backup".

Of course, Murphy is a mother, and the next time someone decided to hit the site, they actually managed to steal the DVR, AND several cameras... and the ones they didn't get weren't recording to SD anyway (as it turned out, they had a know problem with internal recording that had been fixed in a subsequent firmware update... *sigh*).

Caveat Emptor - We tell our clients we sell and support "Restore Systems" that includes a "free" backup system - Spilling coffee is easy, putting it back in the cup is a tad harder.

I tried to make a case for using a camera with on-board storage in a parking lot where the operator arms were being vandalized as there was no infrastructure. Also, I wanted to install one temporarily in an elevator that was being vandalized. Both times our Campus Safety director shot it down because did not want his officers removing and re-inserting SD cards. He was pretty adamant about it, and there really was no one else to do it. I don't really know what was his issue with it: evidence tampering? Incompetence?

My guess: the security officers are probably understaffed (because every campus security department always is), and he didn't want to add yet another duty/responsibility. At least, I've suggested similiar several times and that was the reason cited.

Cynthia, if I understand correctly, the issue appears to be the time, cost and hassle of getting the SDs from each camera, every time they need to take a look at the video. Yes/no?

I looked at doing all-edge for a small apartment building once - there was no local power for most of the camera positions, so power would need to be run anyway, so my thought was to use PoE back to a switch in a central maintenance room. The idea then was that the operator (building manager, etc.) could just bring in a laptop, plug it into the switch, and access the cameras from the VMS. The plan was more to eliminate the added cost of a central NVR, but it would also have negated the need to remove the card for access to the video.

Now that I think of it, a colleague around here had a similar plan to install a camera with edge storage for a fruit stand, where the camera would be mounted high on a pole with solar/battery power, and because of the camera's inaccessible location, a wire would be run into the fruit stand where the owner could plug in his laptop with VMS. Whether this plan ever went ahead, I don't know; seems to me the customer was balking at the cost of the solar panels necessary to run the thing...

Anyway, point is, having an accessible network connection to the cameras removes the need to remove the cards for video export, even if it's just the camera's own cable tail tucked in an access panel.

I agree with Matt Ion - As an end user I prefer to have an SD card in cameras that support it just to have a backup in the event the VMS and camera aren't playing nice. One thing I have found with our cameras (I'm not sure if it's the same for all cameras) is that it's a pain to view video as individual files that need to be accessed on an individual basis.

Update: a day after being introduced, Amazon has already reduced the price of a 128GB micro SD card to $120 (from an MSRP of $200, which is what Best Buy is selling at).

I personally do not recommend SD recording as a sole recording method of a video surveillance system at all. SD card fails, and its life expectancy is way too short compared to HDDs. By the time you add the cost of finding sd card failures and repalcing them in an adhoc manner, it just does not make sense for a system with more than a handful number of cameras. In most cases, it involes a ladder and opening the camera to replace a sd card. And if the ip camera does not automatically recognize/format/use the new sd card, you have to configure them one by one. If you have a good service/maintenance contract, it might be a different story.

I would say more weight on the "hassle"; plus there was some dismantling of the camera involved, so I think there was a confidence issue in designating officers to do that in order to extract and re-insert the SD card.

What I can tell you definitively John is that I'm seeing A LOT more interest in SOTE than I was even a year ago. Some of the use cases, okay ALL of the use-cases so far, have been pretty niche, but there is a common thread to them which is that SI's and End-Users are now aware that SOTE is more-or-less a commoditized feature on IP Cameras, and they want to begin utilizing it.

But that epiphany in our industry comes at a cost as well. What I mean is, most manufacturers who have SOTE on their hardware today did little more than lip service to it. Specifically, yes their cameras have storage slots that can hold SD, SDHC or even SDXC cards, and yes they have something in their interface which deals with managing and retrieving said storage, but the robustness on it today is severely lacking. That's a temporary problem that's fairly easy to fix by getting the manufacturer to update the camera FW with some basic disk health features that are common on other systems, but just be aware that while the hardware is ready and the market is awakening to it, there are lots of gremlins in the machines today.

From the pedestrian stand-alone SOTE (where it's just a camera recording and no video is stored anywhere else) to some of the deeper integrations I'm starting to see for restoring archives on network outage and pre-alarm buffering, SOTE promises some cool new functionality to deliver even more TCO benefits over analog. I'm glad this evolution is finally occurring because I've been an advocate of it for a long time.

I think most of the good brand IP cameras with edge recording do support remote playback feature. So you don't have to take out SD / Micro-SD card/s from the camera/s in order to playback the footage, as long as they are on the network, you can just playback using their supported means I.e. web-browser / remote client software / smartphone app. Correct?

Yes of course its a hassle when the cameras are not on the network I.e. in standalone installation.

The problem is that many clients are very clunky and cumbersome to access video stored on-board cameras. Take a look at D-Link's as an example.

"I think most of the good brand IP cameras with edge recording do support remote playback feature." - undisclosed b distributor

In fact ALL cameras that support SOTE have a remote playback feature.

But as John said for most clients it's clunky and cumbersome. To do it right requires integration support into your back end.