Testing: March CamPX Microdome 2011

By: Benros Emata, Published on Jan 22, 2011

In this report, we examine a new camera from March Networks that incorporates 2 new industry developments - the use of ONVIF and the incorporation of improved WDR performance. 

March Networks is historically known for recorders, not cameras. However, with their acquisition of Cieffe a few years, this increased their product portfolio to include cameras. Now, March is releasing a new generation of IP cameras.

We tested the March CamPX Microdome [link no longer available] to better understand its overall performance and especially to learn more about its use of ONVIF and the incorporation of Pixim's recently introduced Seawolf chip.

Historically, a new IP camera would have great difficulties gaining 3rd party VMS support as proprietary integrations would need to be executed. Now, with ONVIF, those barriers are decreasing. We tested this dome with two ONVIF enabled VMSes to understand how far removed those barriers have become.

Pixim is perhaps the most well known supplier of WDR chips - offerings to improve the ability of surveillance cameras to deal with lighting variations such as direct sunlights into buildings. A key concern historically with Pixim (and WDR in general) was degraded low light performance. We tested the March dome against a camera with the older generation of Pixim's chip.

The strongest fit for the CamPX is for challenging lighting conditions (e.g., combination of night time low light and daytime bright light). In addition to its lighting capabilities, The CamPX offers a number of premium features such as IP66 rating, auto-focus, remote zoom, on-board storage, i/o, and audio. However, as a standard definition D1 camera,  its use is best constrained to narrower FoVs (e.g. <30ft).  

While the CamPX is ONVIF compliant, our testing with ONVIF VMSes revealed some management, reliability, and control issues. Thus, for now, we would recommend the camera be used in VMS environments supporting the manufacturer's camera API. For example, March's own VMS will provide better overall integration of the CamPX than any VMSes using ONVIF to connect to CamPX.

The CamPX provides a highly robust SD dome option at a reasonable price point. Our camera finder shows an average online price of $636 for standard resolution IP66 domes. However, these domes generally do not offer all the 'bells and whistles' of the CamPX dome, such as, remote zoom, on-board storage, WDR etc. With the CamPX dome retailing at $915 and March offering a relative high security dealer discount structure, the street price is likely to be competitive.  As such, the CamPX is a good value given its wide ranging and advanced feature-set. An additional consideration should be given the CamPX dome in applications involving difficult lighting, as our testing revealed solid strengths in low-light performance.

Product Overview

The CamPX Microdome is unique in March's portfolio of IP cameras because it features the new Pixim Seawolf chip. The Pixim Seawolf is designed for improved low-light performance and WDR capability.

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The CamPX Microdome offers a maximum D1 (704x576) resolution at 30fps (H.264). Note that March offers up to 1080p/2MP IP cameras, but because the Pixim Seawolf supports only SD resolution, it is not available in megapixel models. The camera, also supports true day/night operation via mechanical cut-filter.

The CamPX Microdome features an integrated 2.9 to 8.5mm focal length lens. The focal length can be controlled remotely via supported VMS or via the web-interface.

The CamPX Microdome is also one of several March cameras now supporting ONVIF compatibility. In our tests we used ExacqVision and Milestone's Go VMSes to test ONVIF connectivity.

Physical Overview

In this video we provide a physical overview of the CamPX Microdome. The camera is available in either surface or flush mount versions - both IP66 outdoor rated. (Video shows surface mount version). Key to note is the PoE only powering option of the unit. Also, we experienced issues (e.g. unit discovery tool, VMS connectivity, etc.) using lower-end SMB type PoE switches. Using an enterprise class PoE switch appeared to mitigate these issues to some degree.

Administration, Configuration and ONVIF

The CamPX Microdome features an internal web-server for administration of the dome. It requires an IE browser and Active-X controls. The URL for the administration web-server is the camera's IP address followed by /setup. Note that if only the IP address is used, the user is brought to a live view of the camera with zoom controls, snapshot, SD/NAS archived video access, and other functions.

In this video we overview the key options in the configuration interface. One key finding was that connection to ONVIF VMSes required setting the time/date correctly and converting it to UTC format. Otherwise, we could not connect to ONVIF VMSes such as Exacqvision and Milestone GO. There is also a fair degree of nuance involved with optimizing exposure, day/night, and WDR camera settings.

Our testing of ONVIF connectivity with CamPX revealed issues and constraints. For example, the CamPX connected with an Exacqvision and Milestone Go VMS. However, the connection was unstable with Exacq and experienced frequent connection losses. Also the Exacqvision VMS provided no interface to camera settings (e.g., resolution, fps, bitrate, codec etc.) or the remote zoom function. Connection to Milestone Go proved stable, but again there was no remote zoom or access to settings. If 'tweaking' of camera settings were required, we had to access the camera's web-server directly. The VMSes appeared to honor these changes.

Video Samples and Analysis

The remainder of the report provides our analysis of March's video quality in various conditions/scenarios. You may view the exported samples yourselves by downloading the March CamPx Microdome samples ZIP folder [link no longer available].

Daytime Image Quality

This daytime video clip demonstrates the image quality of the March CamPx Microdome. Note that the resolution is only D1 or standard resolution. A highly detailed image is not attainable at such a modest resolution but the image appears crisp with decent color representation.

WDR Tests

Our tests of WDR indicate some level of improved performance under difficult lighting. However, the improvements are modest at best and appear to generally underperform against more well-proven WDR technologies such as Sony's View-DR, and Panasonic's MegaSuperDynamic. Note that in an upcoming future report we'll be comparing March's CamPX WDR (underlying Pixim SeaWolf chip) with WDR technologies from several different manufacturers.

In this short video we examine the WDR functionality in both an indoor and outdoor environment. All settings are at default. We notice in the indoor application the overall scene appears 'brighter' so that dark areas are better exposed. However, the 'bright' area causes subjects to become under-exposed when back-lighting the subjects.

Low-Light Tests

In this video we'll examine video clips of the March CamPX dome under low-light conditions (1.0 and 0.3 Lux). Interestingly, going from 1.0 to 0.3 lux did not produce a detectable drop in 'brightness' of the scene, but did produce a clear increase in noise level and overall reduction in video quality.

We also compared the new Pixim Seawolf (CamPx) to an earlier Pixim predecessor (ioicam wdc100dn). Our findings indicated the Pixim Seawolf provides modest but clear improvements in low-light performance.

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