PTZ IP Dome Camera Review and Modification

Pan Tilt and Zoom(PTZ) Dome cameras don't normally come cheap.  But take a look round ebay and you'll think otherwise.  The specifications always look good, but are they worth the money?  

ebay ptz zoom camera with Big Brother zoom camera upgrade

The only way to find out was to buy one or two and find out! Surely, you only get what you pay for and after many hours reading forums and talking to CCTV experts and shops I pretty much had to see for myself.  I bought an ebay non networked ptz dome camera about 5 years ago for under £200 and it's still working.  For the price image quality isn' great, but it's been outside for 5 years and still does what it should.  But CCTV times have moved on and now many PTZ cameras are controlled using IP over an ethernet network.  

IP Networked PTZ dome for under £200?

I kept my eye on ebay and the exchange rate and managed to buy an IP 27x Zoom PTZ 7" Dome camera from SmartIndustry via ebay for about £175.  I was prepared to waste this money purely out of curiosity as sending it back to China is going to cost a quarter of it's worth.  I did my research though and contacted different sellers with a specific set of questions.  My main priority was the software.  I didn't care about the fancy interface or free DVR/NVR software.  I just needed an image feed via snapshot.jpg and rtsp, and the ability to control the pan, tilt and zoom via HTTP commands.  Using HTTP commands over IP means I can control my ptz dome using VBscript in Homeseer. 

SmartIndustry was one of 2 ebay sellers offering an IP PTZ dome camera which could provide an image feed and be controlled via HTTP commands.  It's hard to tell from the descriptions on ebay, but they looked like similar products re-branded.  Because I thought I'd be wasting my money I opted for the cheaper one from SmartyIndustry.  I was also tempted by the H.264 video compression.  It seemed the difference in the product was the camera quality.

Setting up my PTZ dome camera

After 14 days it was delivered and although the packaging wasn't exactly Samsung standards nothing was damaged.  I've read loads of reviews about people complaining about setup, but this was easy.  Instructions are ok, but not brilliant, but if you have any network skills or have dealt with IP cameras before it's fairly self explanatory.  I had mine setup and working in less than 10 minutes.  It would have been quicker if I was on 192.168.0.x subnet, so most of the time was spent re-configuring my router and changing the IP settings on the ptz camera.  It's not big brand easy, but with a bit of common sense you'll get there.  There are a few quirks and feels like a beta version!  But what do you expect for under £200?!?!

ebay ptz IP networked dome camera resprayed in black

Once I'd got the PTZ dome up and running I decided to spray the dome black.  Originally it was a cream colour, but that didn't match my house.  I used car spray paint with a metal primer first.  I masked the lens and other areas with masking tape.  In the picture above the tinted clear plastic dome isn't screwed in properly.  This is just for testing purposes until i'm happy it's ready to be mounted up high.

My first impressions testing inside where good.  The pan tilt mechanism works well. It's smooth and quiet.  It's not super fast, but I don't want or need it to be.  It responds to commands from the IE and DVR interfaces very well. It's responsive and accurate.  Initially HTTP commands didn't work as expected, but SmartIndustry were quick to direct me a newer version of firmware.  Updating is a rather random approach as you're given 3 pk2 packages with no idea of what to install/update first.  It seems one won't install unless you've installed another first, but this is why it's cheap - it just requires common sense.  The image feed snapshot to feed into Icatcher worked first time.

After a few emails to and from SmartIndustry I had the HTTP commands working for left, right, up and down.  But no zoom.  SmartIndustry are currently in the process of releasing an upgrade to support this, so you can see how dedicated their support is.   

Picture Quality

The cctv zoom camera supplied with the PTZ dome camera is an unbranded auto focus 27x zoom (3.2mm-86.4mm) 420TVL CCD CCTV camera capable of about 0.5 lux.  It's NSTC, but the firmware gives you an option to select PAL if need be.  At under £200 you can't really buy a decent zoom box camera let alone the entire PTZ and IP video server, so I wasn't expecting much.  It has no mechanical IR filter but it is IR sensitive.  Without a good IR cut filter greens always seem washed out. OSD is fairly straightforward and it seems it's setup for sunny conditions.  Lucky it was sunny when i set it up!

ebay_ptz_box_camera_rearebay ptz box 27x zoom camera front

The picture below is a snapshot taken through the IE interface using the camera supplied as standard with the SmartIndustry PTZ dome. 

original_ebay_zoom_camera

Zoomed in at 27x optical with the standard camera supplied with the PTZ dome.

ebay_ptz_zoom_27_standard

Not brilliant compared to my £250 Kocom box zoom camera or the rest of my fixed CCTV, but not bad for a 420TVL unbranded cheap camera with auto focus and auto zoom.  It doesn't focus very well in high zoom, but can be manually adjusted.  SmartIndustry do provide a higher resolution camera and higher zoom as an option.  I should have taken it!  Also note that the tinted plastic dome reduces the quality of the picture, but only slightly.  

Installing an alternative zoom camera

The connections on the PTZ to the zoom camera are  power(+ and -) 12V dc and 3 wires - zoom, focus and com.  The board on the PTZ controller also has connectors for RS485, but I'm not sure if they are active as they are not connected.  Knowing any warranty I had with the camera would be void, I decided to replace the standard camera with a Big Brother Systems 600TVL PAL 27x zoom camera.  Although only a 27x zoom, the focal length is greater at 105mm so objects will appear closer. 

ebay_ptz_zoom_camera_control

Above is a picture of the rear of the Big Brother Systems 600TVL zoom camera mounted in the SmartIndustry PTZ.  The Big Brother zoom camera is used by police in Sheffield for reading number plates on board patrol cars, although the body is very similar to cameras seen on ebay.  Big Brother tell me they assemble them in the UK for PAL only using high quality lenses from Japan. It has no mechanical IR filter and isn't IR sensitive, but does perform better under low light at 0.1lux or less. That means it will work with normal outside lights, but not IR flood lights. Luckily the area I'm using this for is covered in PIR triggered lights. It's only £99 compared to the ebay look a like at £80 so I gave it a try. Below is the Big Brother Systems 600TVL zoom camera installed in the SmartIndustry PTZ dome.

ebay_ptz_camera_side

From 420TVL NSTC to 600TVL PAL

Unfortunately it wasn't sunny when i took this snap shot, but the resolution is higher and the firmware on the PTZ works fine with it.  The image below shows the Big Brother 600TVL zoom camera in action.  I'm not really that impressed, but it is an improvement. Better resolution, more detail and better greens, but it's still nothing near some of my fix cams.  The focus speed is much quicker and better than the original camera.  I can see why its good for reading number plates because the DSP seems to outline objects in a dark/black outline to make them easier to read.  Also remember the camera is a zoom camera meaning it has to auto focus on specific objects which creates areas out of focus.

bigbrother_zoom_camera

Although the Big Brother Systems zoom camera is an improvement, it's not up to the quality I would like. The picture is in far better proportion than the orginal zoom camera.  The picture above(click to see full size snapshot) doesn't do it justice and it's hard to tell until I have it up in position. I would like to wire in my Kocom zoom camera.  Even though it's only 480TVL the image quality is better because it has a higher quality lens and true day/night mechanical IR filter.  I'm also thinking about trying a Samsung techwin zoom camera.  They offer 37x and 43x zooms starting at about £200.  Although a Samsung zoom camera costs more than the price of the entire PTZ camera and dome from ebay, I think it might possibly give me the solution I'm looking for.  A high quality picture with low cost running gear!

The Cheap PTZ Conclusion

It's worth just under £200, but don't expect the picture quality to perform like a £1k+ branded PTZ dome and don't expect shiny branded software either.  But it does the job, and I was impressed with what i got for my money.  It's all depends what you want to use your PTZ camera for. I mainly use mine for spotting things in the garden or people at the gate whilst I'm sitting at my PC, and of course for security whilst I'm away.  For that purpose the pan tilt mechanism and software does a great job and is very reliable.  The dome is solid enough to resist any weather and I'd imagine it would take a few large rocks thrown at it to stop it working!  I chose this specific ptz camera because it integrated with my existing CCTV setup, so I can't really comment on using the DVR software supplied.

The camera quality isn't great, but it's only worth £40-50 so I wasn't expecting much, but I was actually impressed when i first turned it on.  The camera performs quite well indoors, but focus isn't always spot on.

Support is good. It's taken time, but I always get an answer and solution.  Doesn't always work first time, but we get there in the end.

Cost wise, with the addition of the Big Brother Systems zoom camera at £99 comes to £275.  If I installed a Samsung zoom camera instead I'd be at the £400 mark which still makes it cheaper than buying a big brand ptz dome.  But is it worth the hassle?  Now I've done my research, yes, I think it is.

  • Diego

    Posted at 2012-01-05 09:06:52

    Hi!

    After reading your review, I bought the smartindustry camera like yours....

    All OK, but I want to ask you if you has been able to set patrol points un a cruise, but with differents zooming points....

    I haven't...Is this possible?

    Thanks in advance and congratulations fot your great review!!!!

    Diego

    Reply to comment

    • Admin

      Posted at 2012-03-15 13:01:50

      In short, no. I can set patrol points fine, but it doesn't seem to remember the zoom level. Might be worth contacting smart industry as they might add it to an update.

      To get round it I use VB script with homeseer to control the zoom. ie goto patrol point, zoom all the way out to reset it(coz i don't know the zoom state) and then zoom back in.

      Sorry for the late reply - the system didn't alert me!! Blame the tools!

      Congratulations back for being my first comment!!!!!!

      Hi!



      After reading your review, I bought the smartindustry camera like yours....



      All OK, but I want to ask you if you has been able to set patrol points un a cruise, but with differents zooming points....



      I haven't...Is this possible?



      Thanks in advance and congratulations fot your great review!!!!



      Diego

      Reply to comment

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