Dealing with PoE Only Cameras

By Ethan Ace, Published on Jun 06, 2012

Increasingly, IP camera manufacturers are dropping low voltage support in favor of PoE power only. This can cause problems and unexpected expense unless this risk is recognized and dealt appropriately. In this note, we cover the reasons this change is occurring, applications it affects, means for handling it, and manufacturer support of low-voltage power.

Low Voltage Support

While once ubiquitous, low-voltage support has started to be replaced by PoE-only. This is most common in low end cameras, which do this to reduce cost. However, it has started to become more common in mid and high-end cameras, as well, even among mainstream manufacturers. In most systems, this is not an issue, since cameras are typically interior or exterior building-mounted, and may be powered via PoE switch or midspan, over the same UTP used for signal.

Applications Affected

However, issues arise with PoE-only cameras when distances are too great or it is undesirable to use UTP, such as parking lots, sports fields, holding tanks, and others. These locations are typically connected via fiber or wireless backhaul, with local high-voltage power used.

In these cases, there are three possible solutions to the PoE problem:

  • Midspan: If PoE-only cameras were chosen when the project was designed, a single channel midspan can be used. This may be either a hardened midspan in a weatherproof enclosure, or, less commonly, a weatherproof midspan. In many cases, an enclosure is required to house other equipment such as surge protectors, fiber transceivers, or wireless radios, making space and power available for the midspan. Midspans with either high or low-voltage [link no longer available] input can be found online for under $100 for a hardened version, or $150-200 for weatherproof models. Between the midspan and the time to setup, this can notably increase the cost per camera. This should be kept in mind up front when budgeting and planning. 
  • PoE-enabled wireless and fiber equipment: The second option is to use wireless radios or fiber media converters with PoE output. Support for this feature varies, though surveillance focused wireless manufacturers such as Firetide and Fluidmesh offer it. Some vendors offer PoE Fiber converters, including Transition Networks, Black Box [link no longer available], Moxa [link no longer available], ranging in price from about $250 for non-hardened models to $700 for hardened options. Prices vary depending on fiber type.
  • Low-voltage powered cameras: The simplest solution is often to use a low-voltage capable camera, especially if other components at the location require low-voltage power. For example, if wireless access points or media converters require 12VDC power, powering both camera and transmission equipment from the same supply reduces cost and components required. However, this may block you from using your preferred camera for image quality / general feature sets, etc.

If no local power is available, other options, such as PoE extension, coax, or fiber/PoE combination systems, must be considered.

Manufacturer Support

Low-voltage and PoE support varies widely between manufacturers, and even within a single product line. Users should confirm power requirements during the design phase to ensure compatibility.

Though by no means exhaustive, a brief survey of common manufacturers shows the following support:

  • ACTi: Most ACTi models support both low-voltage and PoE power, though low-cost models, such as the recent TCM series, only allow PoE.
  • Arecont: Arecont's support for low-voltage power varies from among their lines. Much of the line supports AC/DC power in addition to PoE, but some models, especially in the compact line, allow only PoE.
  • Avigilon: All Avigilon cameras, including H.264 and Pro series, support 12-24VDC/24VAC in addition to PoE.
  • Axis: Axis' PoE support is inconsistent and varies across their line. Many M series cameras support only PoE. Box P and Q16/17 cameras support DC power in addition to PoE, while P series domes support only PoE.
  • Bosch: Most of Bosch's line supports 12VDC/24VAC power in addition to PoE, while the Advantage line supports 12VDC and PoE, with no AC support.
  • Panasonic: Panasonic cameras generally all support 12VDC or PoE power.
  • Sony: Sony's X Series cameras (CH/DH 110/210) support PoE only, while the rest of the line supports low-voltage, as well.
  • Vivotek: Most Vivotek models support low-voltage in addition to PoE, but many low-cost or compact models are PoE-only.

Conclusion

Lacking low voltage power is not a deal breaker. However, it can up to a few dollars cost per camera for locations that PoE power is not readily available. Given that this trend is clearly growing, users should carefully check low voltage power support up front to mitigate any unpleasant and costly surprises.

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