using outdoor IP cameras for home security and monitoring: PoE
tips on choosing cameras and using POE / passive POE and waterproofing the connection.
how do I record activity from cameras?
Buying a security camera system isn’t just for professionals. A way forward is to buy yourself a kit that comes with cameras and an NVR to record and display video. The cameras will likely be wired PoE cameras and you will need to chase wires round the house to feed them back to the NVR box. Wireless camera kits do exist but I’ll remind that wired systems work better when recording high resolution images from a 5 or 8 megapixel camera. They work better period – but if yours works it works. Be guided by the professional systems in use.
Another way forward is to buy into a consumer camera system. I have some of these and found myself liking Blink and Logi Circle and Eufy. Most are wireless and despite that I found them almost excellent. Some record onto a micro SD card or USB storage and some require a subscription to a service which will store events in the cloud. As a geek that prefers to make my own system they don’t suit me, but if I added up the cost to make my own service, they might even be good value.
My system uses an old PC, but an Intel NUC. The software is called Frigate and it can feed Home Assistant with the video ‘streams’ from the cameras discussed below. To learn about Frigate, my favorite camera software see this post which explains what Frigate can do for you.
choosing outdoor cameras for a NVR system
Outdoor cameras need to be both waterproof and offer better resolution than the camera you’d buy to watch your pets in your front room. The minimum resolution has increased as the cameras have improved over the years. In 2010 a top-end 2 megapixel camera gave you an image that was FHD (sometimes called 2K or 2 megapixel or 1920 x 1080). In 2022 higher resolutions became affordable so you might consider UHD (8 megapixel or 3840 × 2160). A 2MP image is really not bad at all but the ability to read car number plates or faces depends on the camera’s placement.
example one: wansview W5 / W6 outdoor IP camera with ONVIF and RTSP – 2MP
This is a very affordable 2MP metal bodied camera than comes with a decent phone app for effortless remote access. It works well wired or wireless and wired is the better way to connect it if that’s possible. You can record to an SD card and if you do please choose a microSD card that’s rated for ‘endurance’ – otherwise you’ll be climbing ladders to replace the card. In the wansview app a section labelled Local Application gives you the parameters to access the camera stream. You’ll put those details into Home Assistant or Frigate or Blue Iris which will do your object detection and recording outside the app. The camera includes an ethernet socket, a 5.5mm x 2.1mm power socket and a power supply. It’s a passive POE camera which means that you must feed both ethernet and power down an ethernet cable and unsplit them at the camera with the POE connections shown below. You can put the wiring in a simple electrical box to protect it. A PoE switch will not power a passive PoE camera – you can connect it but the switch will refuse to send power down the ethernet line.
On the downside I found no way to get the camera to fix its own IP address so I must go into the router and get it to assign an IP address when it sees the camera. As well as use the app to view the camera, I’m using Frigate to get better object detection and a fixed camera IP is necessary.
example two: Reolink RLC-810A outdoor IP camera with ONVIF and RTSP – 8MP
This is an 8MP metal bodied camera than also comes with a decent phone app for effortless remote access. The 4K resolution is the most obvious improvement over the budget wansview cameras I’ve been using. But the differences go deeper than a price 2-3 times higher. The RLC-810A is a semi-pro camera (so heavily promoted on Amazon it can’t be avoided). It doesn’t have wifi. It doesn’t come with a power supply as it needs a PoE switch (below). The camera’s web interface provides more control than on many cameras. You can self-assign an IP address in the network without going to the router. You can turn on RTSP, RMTP, ONVIF, use H264 or H265 and there’s great control over frame rates and sizes. You have full access to the camera stream and yet there is a brilliant app enabling remote access.
The Reolink is inexpensive compared with the pro-cameras from Amcrest; Dahua; Hikvision/Annke. The packaging is no frills cheap and not even a power supply is included. This isn’t a camera for the many: it’s a camera for a semi-pro setup with cable running all over the building.
about PoE, passive PoE and waterproofing
the Reolink camera (eg RLC-810A) is a PoE camera that doesn’t come with a power supply. It’s expected that you’ll run an ethernet cable from the camera back to a PoE switch (eg a TL-SG1008P wired to your router cost £50). A PoE switch is special: it negotiates the correct power for the camera which is delivered through unused wires in ethernet cables. If you want to go this route a PoE switch is the next thing to buy.
There are further options: you could buy a Reolink NVR + camera system. This offers the easiest ride. Do decide now how many cameras you’ll eventually need.
The second way to use this camera if you don’t have a PoE switch is to buy a pair of passive PoE connectors (< £10) and find a 12v 2a power supply with a 5.5mm / 2.1mm barrel.
how to waterproof the Reolink PoE connection
Many of the cameras with wired ethernet come with a short lead and three tails – one for ethernet, one is a reset button and one is a female socket for power. The socket is typically a 2.1mm x 5.5mm to take a 12V power supply and about 2 amps. Reolink supply a waterproof cap for the ethernet cable but they offer nothing to seal the remaining two tails. They suggest to use a waterproof electrical box which I’ll say is dumb.
To me it seems that the power socket and reset button were meant to be pushed together to make them waterproof – but they didn’t work out in real life as they fall apart too easily. As shown here, I’ve pushed mine together and sealed them with a 30mm length of 10mm heatshrink. Warm heatshrink with a cigarette lighter as it’ll be as good as shown. An alternative to heatshrink is to wrap the join with electrician’s amalgamating tape. In both cases aim to leave no pockets where water will sit and seep inwards.