Low Cost Professional IP Cameras Comparison

Author: Ethan Ace, Published on Oct 23, 2011

"Too expensive" is probably the most frequent complaint about IP cameras. While IP cameras have clearly come down in price in the last few years, they are still, on average, notably more expensive than analog cameras. Though it is becoming easier to justify MP cameras, price remains a barrier for many. Add in economic problems around the globe and real pressure exists to minimize spending on surveillance.

You can get really cheap IP cameras for about $100 but these are typically consumer level products that are rarely acceptable for professional deployments. We did a series of tests on these cameras last year and while some were impressive for their price, none of them were truly a professional option.

Professional Features at Lower Prices

We wanted to focus on finding IP cameras that provided professional features at lower prices than available from the big brands (e.g., Axis, Sony, Panasonic, Pelco, etc.).

To qualify these cameras, would need to meet a number of fundamental criteria:

  • Box cameras that supported varifocal or exchangeable lenses. While cube cameras are cheap, they generally do not provide sufficient deployment flexibility to be used professionally.
  • Dome cameras: Professional users like domes for their aesthetic low profile.
  • Outdoor use option: If the cameras can only be used indoors, it is a big constraint.
  • H.264: MPEG-4 and especially MJPEG have fallen out of favor among professionals. 
  • Megapixel: SD only is no longer acceptable for professionals.
  • Day/Night support: Low light imaging is important and color only cameras are generally not enough.

Our Comparison

In this report, we review low-cost or lesser-known manufacturers. Over the past few months, we have reviewed in detail the pricing and key feature sets of a dozen suppliers.

Manufacturers Included

Here are the dozen manufacturers included with a link to our detailed review of each one:

There are many lower cost, less well known Asian manufacturers. We selected the ones we did based on integrator feedback and availability for direct branded sale in the US. We only analyzed manufacturers whose products were available for sale under their own brand and therefore excluded pure OEM providers.

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We have included common low-cost manufacturers ACTi, Arecont, and Vivotek in the comparison as a comparison against other less known manufacturers can be judged. We have also included pricing comparisons to market giant Axis as a reference for mainstream pricing.

Inside the Pro section, we provide recommendations for interesting products in these lines and overall low-cost leaders.

Overall Recommendations

As stated in our individual reviews of some of these cameras, when prices drop to low levels, quality can be a justifiable concern. Note: we have not tested the image quality of the lesser known camera manufacturers recommended herein. We believe, that a few of the lesser-known lines here are worth checking out. 

  • Pixord: On price alone, Pixord stands out. However, users should beware that their models are supplied with CS-mount fixed lenses, as opposed to most others in this comparison. If the lens supplied is not sufficient, their pricing advantage is greatly lessened. Also, as we see below, their third party integrations are not as strong as others, and they lack ONVIF support.
  • CNB, D-Link, Grandstream: While no single one of these companies stands out as clearly superior, we group them together for two reasons. First, their pricing, while not as low as Pixord, tends to be lower than average in the industry for similarly spec'd cameras, and much lower than major manufacturers. Second, we have never heard compaints about quality in these lines from end users, and some, CNB especially, have fans who swear by them.

Having recommended these providers on the positive side, two entrants stand out as lines that users should most likely stay away from. These manufacturers are Edimax and Foscam. For commercial surveillance, we don't believe they are practical, with the possible exception of extremely small projects requiring 1-2 cameras. Their lack of third party or ONVIF support, mostly cube form factors, and small image sensor sizes do not add up to being a good choice for professional use. 

Novel Offerings

For the most part, there is little revolutionary or unique about the lines in these comparisons. These are not manufacturers that are generally known for being market leaders in innovation. There are a handful of products which stand out as worth a look, however:

  • CNB Megapixel with IR: The CNB IBP-5030CR is a 1.3MP prepackaged outdoor camera with 5-50mm lens and dual IR illuminators. These illuminators are rated to throw up to 80m, though these specifications are generally overstated. Still, this model could be handy for users seeking a camera with greater range, along with IR.
  • Brickcom wireless capability: Users seeking cameras with built-in wireless capability may be interested in Brickcom's featureset. Many models of their line are available with built in 802.11 wireless capability. When coupled with their exterior access point, installation is intended to be simple, through the use of Wi-Fi Protected Setup buttons on WAP and camera. Brickcom also has multiple models with biult-in or add-on 3G capability, which may be useful for remote sites with a low camera counts or a single camera.
  • Grandstream SIP features: Every camera in the Grandstream line is capable of bi-directional SIP audio. This will be of limited interest to the industry in general. For users seeking a camera to integrate to a SIP phone system for use as an entry phone, it will be useful, however.

Product Line Overviews

Each of these manufacturers has certain nuances, advantages, and gaps in their line. In brief, our overview of each line:

  • ACTi: The ACTi IP camera line is broad, with all the normal form factors users would need and expect, in multiple resolutions, up to 4MP (an admittedly odd choice of resolution).
  • Arecont: Arecont has become known as the megapixel leader on cost alone, with one of the lowest dollar-per-pixel price ranges. Their line is fixed cameras only, with no PTZs, in resolutions up to 10MP. They have also found success with their SurroundView line of 180° and 360° cameras, which consist of four 2MP or 5MP imagers in a single housing.
  • Brickcom: Brickcom offers a broad line of IP cameras, including video servers and PTZs, with resolutions up to 5MP. The most notable feature of their line is built-in wireless capability in a number of models, both wireless Ethernet and 3G.
  • CNB: The CNB IP camera line covers all bases, with multiple models of each form factor. CNB is favored among users online as a reliable choice, with very few complaints.
  • Compro: Compro carries one of the smallest lines of all the manufacturers in this review, made up of only ten models, and lacking much variety. Outdoor PTZs are conspicuously absent. However, Compro has one of the least expensive megapixel cameras we have seen, the $160 1.3MP IP70 cube camera.
  • D-Link: After a revamp of their line in Fall 2011, D-Link's line is much more comparable to competitive options, and they have covered all bases, with multiple entries in each form factor, currently up to 1.3MP resolution.
  • Edimax: The Edimax line is very small, essentially four models with some options each, only in cube, indoor PTZ, and bullet form factors. Resolution tops out at 1.3MP.
  • Foscam: Also carrying a small line, Foscam also carries the dubious distinction of having the only line without a megapixel camera in this review. Most of the line is MJPEG-only, as well.
  • Grandstream: The Grandstream line is comprised only of fixed box cameras, a single cube model, and indoor and outdoor domes. Most of the line is standard definition, with a 1080p box camera and 2MP dome models.
  • Hikvision: Hikvision carries a full line of IP cameras, with multiple choices in all form factors, and resolutions up to 5MP. The line is occasionally confusing because of its breadth, since there are some models in the line with the same form factor, resolution, and other specs, with the only difference being the choice of CMOS or CCD imager.
  • Pixord: Pixord's line is relatively limited, with options in speed dome, fixed box, dome, and cube. They have also added panoramic cameras this year. Resolutions are currently available up to 2MP.
  • Vivotek: Known for being one of the low-cost leaders, Vivotek has perhaps the broadest line in this review, with many options for all form factors, in a variety of resolutions, as well as panoramic cameras.

Third Party Support Overview

The biggest challenge when using lesser-known brands of cameras is often how well they integrate with one's chosen VMS platform, if at all.  ONVIF has begun to ease this issue somewhat, but not all of these vendors support ONVIF, either. A brief overview of each manufacturer's third-party support:

  • ACTi: ACTi has been widely supported by third parties for a few years, now. ACTi is a member of ONVIF and all new models are listed as ONVIF compliant.
  • Arecont: Arecont is also widely supported by VMS platforms. Typically their panoramic offerings, though they actually display as four cameras, only consume one VMS license. No Arecont models are currently ONVIF-compliant.
  • Brickcom: Brickcom has pretty broad third-party support, including majors Milestone and Exacq, as well as lesser-known and NAS NVR brands, such as NUUO and Synology. The entire line is ONVIF-compliant.
  • CNB: CNB has moderate support from third-party VMSs. Milestone and Genetec both have limited direct support for their cameras, along with a list of other VMS platforms. CNB is a strong supporter of ONVIF, and the entire line is ONVIF-compliant.
  • Compro: Compro has limited third-party integration, with Digifort and Synology being the only two partners of note. Currently, the line is not ONVIF-compliant, but Compro has claimed this would be added by the end of 2011.
  • D-Link: Support for D-Link cameras is offered by a modest number of VMS/NVR partners. Current and future models are ONVIF-compliant.
  • Edimax: Support for Edimax cameras by third parties is extremely limited, the only names of note being Synology and QNAP. Edimax claims an ONVIF-compliant model is coming by the end of 2011, but no current models support it.
  • Foscam: Foscam has limited third-party support, as well. Lesser-known or lower-cost VMSs such as Digifort, Blue Iris, and iCam support them, but integration to major players is lacking. ONVIF is currently not supported.
  • Grandstream: Grandstream has integrations with major VMS providers Genetec, Milestone, and Digifort, and the entirety of the line is ONVIF-compliant. 
  • Hikvision: Hikvision has wide third-party support from VMS players, both major and minor, though often times this is via custom firmware. All current and future models are ONVIF-compliant.
  • Pixord: The Pixord line has been integrated with a moderate number of VMSs, mostly minor, but including Milestone, NUUO, and Synology. ONVIF is currently not supported.
  • Vivotek: The Vivotek line is broadly supported by a long list of VMS integrations. ONVIF is also supported.

Box Camera Comparison

For the purposes comparison, we have selected a fixed box camera and an outdoor dome camera in 720p or 1.3MP resolution from each manufacturer, since we feel these are the most common cameras our users are interested in today. Fixed box cameras from each manufacturer compare as such:

  • ACTi TCM-5611: ~$500 online, including 4.2mm CS-mount lens
  • Arecont AV1115DN: ~$500 online, no lens included
  • Brickcom FB-100Ae: ~$345 estimated street pricing, no lens included
  • CNB IGC2050F: ~$400 estimated street pricing, no lens included
  • Compro NC150: ~350 estimated street pricing, no lens included
  • D-Link DCS-3112: ~$415 estimated street pricing, including 3.5-8mm CS-mount lens
  • Grandstream GXV3651_FHD: ~$450 online, 4.5-10mm CS-mount lens included
  • Hikvision DS-2CD853F-E: ~$400 estimated street price, no lens included
  • Pixord P600E: ~$330 estimated street price, 6mm fixed CS-mount lens included
  • Vivotek IP7161: ~$450 online, 4.5-10mm CS-mount lens included
  • Axis P1344: ~$759 online, including 3-8mm CS-mount lens

Assuming that a lens (for those which do not include one) will cost an additional, ~$100, based on the pricing above, the winner on price is Pixord, with nearly a 20% price advantage over D-Link, the next lowest competitor. We've included the Axis P1344 for comparison. Pixord comes in at less than half the price of Axis, with D-Link coming in at about 45% lower.

Note that Edimax and Foscam do not offer box cameras. Inclusion of cube cameras, the closest products in their line to a fixed box, would skew these numbers greatly as they both sell cameras for under $100.

Outdoor Camera Comparison

Most of these manufacturers produce a dome suitable for outdoor use, either IP66 or IP67 rated. In the cases where this was not offered, we have used an outdoor bullet camera, which generally is in the same price range, with a similar feature set in a different form factor.

Once again, we have left out Edimax and Foscam, as their entries are VGA-only, and substantially less expensive, not a fair comparison. Pixord dominates on pricing again, though Grandstream and Brickcom are definitely well-priced.

2 reports cite this report:

ACTi New Low Cost HD Cameras (TCM) on Feb 06, 2012
In the past two years, ACTi has struggled. As we saw last year, their growth has not kept pace with the overall IP camera market. Recent product...
PSA Security Market Metrics on Nov 15, 2011
PSA Security, a US based cooperative for security integrators, has released an interesting video that touches on market trends that they are seeing...
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