Foscam Low Cost SD PTZ Tested

By Derek Ward, Published on Dec 23, 2013

$68 for an IP PTZ?

That's what the Foscam FI8910W goes for on Amazon where it is the #2 overall selling surveillance camera. We bought one to try it out.

Obviously, at $68, it's no enterprise speeddome. Indeed, there is no optical zoom, and it's SD resolution only. On the other hand, it has built in IR, a true mechanical cut filter and pans 300° and tilts 120°.

While no one is going to seriously use this for professional surveillance, the potential for home and SMB use is clear but how well does it perform?

Key Strengths and Weaknesses

From our test, here are the key strengths we found:

  • Pan/tilt controls perform well, with low latency and smooth operation without jitter or bounce.
  • IR illumination range is well beyond specification (8m/~25'), reaching at least ~50'. However, severe overexposure occurs in the center of the image, with no automatic or manual adjustment of IR power.

Compared to the key weaknesses found:

  • Even in daylight, just 10 feet away from the camera, it was hard to make out details of a face, while lower cost HD cameras could do so far farther.
  • In low light scenes, quality issues are compounded by artifacting and IR overexposure, obscuring details at even very close range.
  • MJPEG only, with no settings other than frames per second and resolution available. No support for RTSP or ONVIF. Not surprisingly, high bandwidth consumption for its limited image quality.
  • Remote access is via UPnP or manual port forwarding only, with no "phone home" connection to the internet available.

Recommendations

If low product cost and ability to remotely pan/tilt are your two key drivers, this is the camera for you. Otherwise, for just $50 to $100 more, you can get many higher quality, lower storage cost, easier to access cameras.

Physical Overview

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In this video we review the camera's form factor and physical construction:

Web Interface Overview

This video reviews key features of the Foscam web interface, which are quite simplistic:

Remote Access

Remote access will be hard and manual unless UPnP works with one's router (which often it does not). There is no true 'phone home' capability like Dropcam that makes it automatic and immediate. As such, users may get frustrated and spend a lot of time unless they have strong technical skills (opening holes in firewalls, port forwarding, etc.).

Wireless Performance

Though the camera support 802.11b/g/n, we were unable to connect it to our office network (Cisco Aironet, using no security key for testing). We were able to connect it to a consumer wireless router, however. Most problematic, no feedback is given to the user as to why connection fails, either, leaving users with limited information for troubleshooting.

IR Performance

We tested the FI8910W's IR illumination range at various distances, starting with Foscam's specified range of 8 meters (~25-26'). Illumination at this range was strong, with the subject and FOV well lit.

Surprisingly, moving all the way to ~50', double Foscam's specification, the subject is still well illuminated.

However, this high illumination power works against the camera at close range. Details of our subject are almost completely obscured with him at ~10' from the camera. This is especially problematic considering the FI8910W is most likely to be used in smaller home and office areas, considering its low cost and SD resolution.

Image Comparisons

We compared the FI8910W to two low cost HD cameras, the ACTi D11 and Dahua HDW2100 (both ~$130 online), to see the tradeoffs in resolution when using a camera this inexpensive. We tested at two ranges, ~12' and ~22', to best illustrate performance differences.

Note that since all of these cameras use fixed lenses, they were staggered at different distances from our subject in this test, so some differences in angle are seen in the comparisons below.

Full Light

At even close range (~12'), the FI8910W has difficulty identifying our subject and producing any notable features (such as eye color, facial features, etc.). Both 720p cameras easily produce details of subject and chart.

Performance worsens drastically at longer range, with the FI8910W unable to resolve even the first line of our eye chart, let alone any features of our test subject. The ACTi and Dahua cameras are able to distinguish more lines of our test chart (roughly line 3-4), as well as identifying features of our human subject.

In low light, with IR on, the FI8910W cannot produce even the basic details it could in full light, due to artifcating and IR hotspotting. The HDW2100 is able to provide details of both subject and chart because of its higher resolution and more even IR illumination. The color only ACTi D11 is unable to produce any image at this lux level.

At longer range, the FI8910W provides no details whatsoever, with our subject barely recognizable as human.

Bandwidth Consumption

The FI8910W is MJPEG only, with no options for H.264 or MPEG-4. Further, there are no CODEC controls other than resolution (VGA or QVGA only) and frame rate (1/5 FPS through 30 FPS), such as compression or maximum frame size typically seen in professional cameras.

Because of this, bandwidth consumption was relatively high, especially considering it is SD resolution.

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