Review: Foscam's pan-and-tilt R2 security camera fills the blind spots
Security cameras can provide homeowners with a certain peace of mind and plug-and-play technology has made them easier to install, but a static camera is often difficult to site and has frustrating blind spots. Foscam's R2 wireless interior camera provides more flexibility with a motorized pan-and-tilt mount that can swivel to take in an entire area. We got hold of one, along with the company's FI9900P outdoor camera, to see what we could see.
The Foscam R2 isn't exactly the most discreet of cameras. In fact, its spherical eye-shaped cowl and motorized mount pretty much shouts "security camera." That's no drawback if the R2 is being used in a shop or office, but it could be a bit off putting in a flat. That being said, that ability of the camera to pan and tilt on command means that it can be set in a less conspicuous area and still be able to cover blind spots. Alternatively, in areas where security is a priority or in the home of an elderly relative, the camera can be set in a central location or even on the ceiling to cover as wide an area as possible.
Out of the box, the R2 consists of the camera, power cable, Ethernet cable for direct network connections where desired, a software CD-ROM, and a screw-in mounting bracket with molly bolts. We found the setup to be very simple – largely a question of downloading the app, creating an account by entering email, creating password, and responding to a confirmation email. Then the WiFi antenna is attached to the camera, the shortish power cable attached, and then plugged in.
On start up, R2 carries out an internal systems check during which is pans and tilts itself before announcing verbally that it is online and ready to link. Linking it to the app only takes a quick scan of the QR code on the camera and keeping the phone or mobile device close by until the process is complete. It's all automatic and takes only about ten minutes.
The mount has a near 360° pan and near 180° tilt and in operation the motor is very quiet. The 1080P HD color camera has a glass lens with a 110° horizontal field of view. Night vision is courtesy of 11 x 5 mm infrared LEDs with a range of 24 ft (7 m). This produced very good images in both day and night conditions, though the field of view could have been larger and the lighting more even.
In addition, there's two-way audio from the built-in mic and speaker. We found the audio a bit thin, but the speaker is good enough to communicate with people in the room or freak out the dog.
The camera connects to the local network using IEEE802.11b/g/n WiFi, is capable of data rates of up to 150 Mbps, and is encrypted for privacy. To help speed things along, there's PCM/G.726 audio compression and H.264 image compression. Even so, we noticed a lag time of several seconds and when in operation the video stream can interfere with other traffic on the network.
The mobile app allows the user to control the R2 as well as to receive alerts. The camera has motion detection software and is programmed to send push alerts if it detects anything unusual. The algorithm is adjustable with several levels of video and audio sensitivity, so normal background activity is ignored. Generally, we found that the lower the sensitivity worked best for our situation.
The app lets the user watch live-streaming video and audio, and capture still or video sequence to local memory. However, we found that live streaming required the mobile device to be connected to a WiFi network because mobile networks had insufficient bandwidth. Foscam also has an assortment of cloud storage plans starting with a free plan for 30 videos or 100 images for one camera to the deluxe package for free to unlimited cameras, one month of video, and 100,000 images for US$50 per month.
In addition to live streaming, the app also allows the user to add and delete additional cameras and make individual settings, such as flipping images so a camera can be installed upside down if desired. Selecting a camera on the app screen brings up a live feed as well as controls for either maneuvering the camera or programming and selecting preset points and movements.
Full manual control lets you pan or tilt the camera as you like, but the lag makes this a bit tricky unless you're in the room with the camera. Much more practical are the preset controls. This allows the user to make the camera make horizontal or vertical full automatic scans, or to program the camera to look in a particular direction on command, so it can look at the door, then shift to cover the window on the opposite side of the room.
The outdoor F19900P is also wireless and plug-and-play, though it trades the bells and whistles of the R2 for compact ruggedness and simplicity. Setup is identical to that of the R2, though the F19900P doesn't do a little dance. It's an HD 1080P camera set in a hardened, weatherproof case that did very well on the splash test.
The camera is mounted on a built-in adjustable screw-in mount and stand that locks into position using an allen wrench. Like many outdoor cameras designed to screw to an outside wall, it would have been nice to have been able to wire it directly to a junction box rather than relying on a very vulnerable power cable and mains adaptor that is not designed for outside use. The camera connects to the local network using WiFi or Ethernet and the service flex also has a port for the mains plug and two external RCA jacks for two-way audio.
Like the R2, the F19900P has H.264 image compression and a resolution of 1080P. It has a glass lens with a 106° field of view, though a greater depth of field than the R2. For night vision there are 30 high-powered IR LEDs with a range of 65 ft (20 m). In testing, we found the fixed-focus camera had excellent day vision picture quality and was bright enough in infrared to cover a large grassy area at night. It was also very responsive to light changes, which meant setting the sensitivity to very low to avoid a barrage of alerts every time a car passed at night.
As far as the app is concerned, it made set up of both cameras very simple and the basic functions were easy. However, getting to the more advanced setting required some experimentation to figure out. The scanning controls required a lot of practice to use properly due to the video lag and made the presets a definite plus.
Along with each camera came a software CD-Rom install that allows for advanced setup or plug and play of cameras from a desktop computer. It provides direct link to cameras with enough screens to cover a small factory. It took some experimenting to get it set up and understand the controls and it seemed very promising, but every attempt to make the final connection to the video feeds crashed the software.
The R2 is available for US$195.99 and the F19900P for US$194.99, though Foscam is offering a special price of US$149.99 for each.
For more information, visit the Foscam site.