Recommendations for inexpensive still-image, auto-uploading webcam
April 17, 2014 10:00 AM   Subscribe

My organization is starting a major construction project, anticipated to take about 4 years. We'll be using a Nikon D5300's interval capability to capture high-resolution, high-quality images for archival and documentation purposes. We would also like to be able to monitor the progress remotely over the internet by using a webcam or other camera (under $200) that can take good-quality still images and upload them automatically to our server (or email them) via WiFi. More specifics after the click.

It's probably a pretty simple problem to solve, but my searches are either giving me information overload, or not enough specific information. So I'm looking for first (or second) - hand experience with specific cameras. The Wirecutter's recommended I.P. camera looks good, but I'm not clear on whether it can do what we need with still images. And we can't use their offered cloud storage for video for security reasons.

This previous question mentions some Canon Powershot models, but new ones are over the budget and I'm 99% sure my organization does not want to buy used.

So, specs:

- Interval setting - We want to have the camera shoot a still image every X number of minutes, not rely on motion detection.

- Images need NOT to be over a few megapixels - Our Nikon D5300 will be getting the high resolution images, so this camera needs to only capture 3 to 5 megapixel images; enough to view on a computer screen with reasonable detail.

- Need NOT be weatherproof - Project will take place indoors with adequate lighting

- Needs to run from AC power, if possible - Power and UPS will be available at location.

- Does not have to be a webcam - We could use a point-and-shoot or whatever will work, as long as it performs as needed. Many cameras advertise "WiFi" capability, but (like the Nikon D5300) it's only useful for connecting to a smart phone or tablet, or sending images on command, not automatically.

- Needs to do all of this with very little hands-on human intervention after initial setup - We'll be swapping the Nikon D5300's SD card every 2 or 3 weeks. We'd like to not have to mess with the "live" camera any more than that. Obviously, changing setting over the internet is fine, but do not want to have to make hands-on adjustments.
posted by The Deej to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you can put an always-on computer nearby (hell, even a Raspberry Pi would probably work), I would probably do this with an EyeFI card and a few cron jobs. Bonus: you don't have to clear out the SD card manually.
posted by supercres at 10:38 AM on April 17, 2014

Failing that, I have a few of these and they do exactly what you need. No need to use anyone's cloud storage. They can write to an FTP server. You just need a wireless or wired network. (You'd need that for just about any solution unless you wanted to use a 3G adapter or something.)
posted by supercres at 10:41 AM on April 17, 2014

Really more of a computer software question than webcam question. You need a good cam, but the choice of what image to save is made in the computer.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:00 AM on April 17, 2014

I'm currently using a Rasberry Pi with a Raspberry Pi camera module and a python script to capture an image every 15 minutes and upload it to a server. It's been running perfectly for a few weeks now with zero intervention since I first set it up. Total cost was a little under $100, including cases for both the Pi and the camera module.
posted by plantbot at 12:43 PM on April 17, 2014

Thanks for the input so far.

An Eye-Fi card in the Nikon D5300 is something I looked into. Still a possibility, but I'm not sure of its consistent reliability. The construction site is 2 hours away, so reliability is key.

The Linksys Wireless-N Internet Home Monitoring Camera looks good, but I can't find anything in the description or reviews that mention still-image capability. Are you using it for still images, supercres?

Aside: Streamed video is definitely an easier solution from a technical standpoint. This situation is complicated because we are a U.S. Government organization dealing with I.T. department rules, and dealing with a workers' union. (Don't ask me why the union would be against streaming video; people who get paid more than me have told me this is the case.)

We can certainly set up a dedicated (Windows) computer to assist the process. In fact, there was a glimmer of hope when I was able to shoot the Nikon D5300 while plugged into a computer via USB, and have the images immediately show up in Windows Explorer. Access to the camera-connected computer over our network would allow us to view images, download RAW files, and even clear the card remotely. Except... interval shooting is disabled when the camera is connected to a computer.

The Raspberry Pi solution, again, sounds great from a technical standpoint, but I'm sure our I.T. department would not support it.
posted by The Deej at 6:03 AM on April 18, 2014

Update for posterity:

We have devised a solution that is only hampered by technical and security issues inherent in our organization and the location involved. Mostly, that placing a computer on our network is a Very Big Deal. (Literally, it's a Federal case.)

This will hopefully be of help to future searchers who do not have our limitations.

We will be using NKRemote software on a PC to which the Nikon D5300 is connected via USB. This software allows us to shoot time lapse without the 999 image limitation of Nikon's in-camera "interval" setting. It also writes each image to the PC hard drive as it is taken, bypassing the capacity limitations of an SD card. The Nikon can be set to capture RAW+JPG. We want the RAW image for high-quality archival and documentary photographs, but the JPG image can be viewed and copied over a network connection for near-real-time monitoring of the project, with very low bandwidth overhead.

Thanks again for the input.
posted by The Deej at 11:36 AM on April 21, 2014

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