I would rather blow them up, but I'll settle for catching them on camera
August 29, 2016 8:27 AM   Subscribe

A spate of burglaries and prowlers on my block has me outraged and concerned about the safety of my family and property. My attorney and my wife have convinced me that booby-trapping the perimeter of the property is not wise. Let's design a security camera setup!

I've found this 7 year old question, this 8 year old unanswered question, this disturbing one from 6 years ago, and a couple even older ones. I'm sure there is more current advice from the community, and I'd love to hear everything.

The conditions:
- 4 areas need coverage:
- Front porch/door
- Back deck including large sliding glass door into living room
- Driveway leading to garage
- Back door

The cameras must be wireless, motion activated and night vision enabled. Live monitoring is not strictly necessary, but recording is. I have a ton of digital storage space on a Drobo connected to a Mac mini.

We will be pairing this system with some additional motion activated flood lights (more as a deterrent than to aid the cameras). Price is not a huge concern at this point.
posted by bluejayway to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'll let more knowledgeable people discuss the camera set up, but I see you haven't mentioned anything about alarms.

Simple door/window alarms can be very effective for scaring burglars off. They aren't connected to a system so they can't be bypassed and it may be difficult to see them from outside. An alarm could also potentially alert vigilant neighbors for visual identification. (depending on volume and proximity of neighbors)
posted by FallowKing at 9:21 AM on August 29, 2016

Response by poster: I did forget to mention that we do have a whole-home alarm system with a very good local security company. We are very happy with the system but their integration with cameras isn't that great. This solution would be incremental to that.
posted by bluejayway at 9:33 AM on August 29, 2016

You might be interested in AT&T's offerings, which include contact sensors and cameras, and their automation packages have remote door controls.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:34 AM on August 29, 2016

I know you said wireless, but those cameras are going to need wires for power. You can get a multi-channel wired system like mom and pop stores use from CostCo.
posted by zippy at 9:40 AM on August 29, 2016

Best answer: I struggled with this myself and read all the Mefi questions for years and finally last year I bought an Amcrest camera from Amazon that I found just by searching Amazon. I love it. Once you buy a camera ($99) and you set it up through your wifi you can monitor it through your computer or smartphone. I find the camera very sturdy and the software bug free. I pay Amcrest $6 a month to save one week's worth of motion activated video. If you know how, you can save it yourself. I installed a camera at my parent's house and I can check in with them at my computer or smartphone. If they get sick or have an injury it would be very easy to unplug their porch camera and bring it into their kitchen or living room and I could monitor them while I am at work. It has a microphone and I can also speak through the speaker on the camera to my parents from my smartphone. It has night vision.

The only thing not on your list is it has to plug into an electrical outlet. But I actually like that because before I had a game camera set up which was always running low on battery and I didn't know it because I hated to check it all the time.

Setting it up was a little fiddly - I had to get a magnifying glass to read the code on the bottom of the camera, I had to get a $30 dollar wifi extender - things like that. I called customer service twice along the way and they were really friendly and helpful.

I have a back up camera in my barn that is too far from wifi and it has a storage card in it that when it fills up it just over-writes the last footage. This way I don't have to pull the card out and download the footage which is what you have to do with a game camera and it is a pain in the ass.

I also have a couple fake cameras. My strategy being that if a criminal sees the fake camera he may break it and maybe not notice the real camera. It may save me money.

But the beauty of the real camera is that it uploads to the cloud instantly so if a criminal knocks it down I will have footage of him doing it.
posted by cda at 10:00 AM on August 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

I know you said wireless, but those cameras are going to need wires for power.
We have an Arlo system and the cameras use batteries. They last for months and give you a warning when they start to get low.
posted by soelo at 10:35 AM on August 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No more thread sitting after this. Either wall powered or battery powered cameras are OK. I am good on outlets.
posted by bluejayway at 10:50 AM on August 29, 2016

Another thing you might consider is motion activated lights. They work remarkably well to deter folks after dark. And a dog, I had a prowler scared away by my dog once, and I've never had a place broken into when we owned a dog. You can always volunteer to foster a dog to see if it fits your lifestyle, you don't need a trained dog just one that will bark.
posted by fshgrl at 10:59 AM on August 29, 2016

There's a whole host of motion activated, wireless IP Cameras out there.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:00 PM on August 29, 2016

Best answer: +1 for amcrest. Recently outfitted my house after a similar neighborhood scare. Both are wireless, (but plug into outlets in and out) and record to NAS, and reasonably easy to set up if you are comfortable with fiddling with networking.
posted by Karaage at 2:54 PM on August 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I hesitated to post this because it is bordering on FUD, but there has been a lot of press lately about how poorly designed (from a software security standpoint) wireless web cameras are. This is one of the top results when searching for "the IoT of insecure things".

Perhaps a more helpful answer is to ignore any suggestions that show up in the shodan search results.
posted by phil at 3:11 PM on August 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another Amcrest user here, and I have no qualms about recommending this approach for what you want to do. I set one up for my parents a few months ago and was impressed enough to buy a couple of my own for our house, along with the $6 per camera per month cloud storage option. Super easy to configure, and now my wife, our teen son, and I can each enable the "away" schedule via the Amcrest iOS app whenever the last one of us leaves the house. BTW, Amcrest recently revved their iOS app, making it significantly easier to enable/disable the cameras remotely - you used to have to wade through five or six sub-menus, but they recently brought the "all cameras on/off" toggle to the front page of their app. Huzzah!

I wish Amcrest had an IFTTT channel or exposed their scheduling API, as I'd love to further customize the way I interact with it, but overall I cannot complain. The ability to look into our living room from across the country and see with my own eyes that everything is OK (or that the most recent motion detection event was just a very large moth flying in front of the sensor, as recently happened), is awesome!
posted by mosk at 5:18 PM on August 29, 2016

We have as many zones as you do, and had similar requirements, and we went with an Arlo setup. It's pretty fantastic. The out of the box software is, sufficient. You can easily check up on things with your phone, or any computer. It also has IFTTT options if you want more flexibility. I've set ours up with some pretty basic parameters scheduling by night and day schedules, with the night schedules being a bit more sensitive, and call my phone when tripped, so if I'm asleep my phone will wake me up. Daytime schedules just text me, and I can review as things happen.

Since they're wireless, and you can get pretty creative in mounting them. We had trouble with traffic tripping ours constantly, so we actually placed one in a tree looking at our house. I'm on month 4 of use, and our batteries still all read at over 50%.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:58 PM on August 29, 2016

Best answer: We use a number of these dlink cameras in various flavors. We can monitor them by computer or tablet, at home or online. Motion-activated, can record video or stills. We have one set up that sends us email with a series of stills every time it's set off, one we had set on continuous recording for a while but changed to motion-activated video. They have different fields of view, night vision, one has a two-way microphone and speaker, one with just the microphone. You can adjust the motion-detecting areas and, to a degree, the sensitivity, to for example minimize cat videos. The interface is easy to use and ok though not necessarily the slickest. The older and cheaper cameras are very clearly poorer quality but the newer models are good and they seem to keep coming out with new models and then the previous one goes on sale. Overall we're happy with them.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 6:00 PM on August 29, 2016

Best answer: A lot of the inexpensive WiFi cameras are woefully insecure. At least if you allow them to be accessible from the Internet. If you get one of the cheap ones (e.g. Foscam, any other Chinese manufacturer), I would not enable any sort of cloud service or remote access capabilities. The more expensive systems (Nest, Dropcam) are probably somewhat safer, although I haven't seen any really rigorous audits.

I have a bunch of cheap Foscam wireless cameras (the ones that sell for about a hundred bucks) and they work fine... although they are somewhat unpleasant to set up, requiring an old version of IE and an ActiveX plugin to initially configure. (New versions may have fixed this, or maybe not -- pay attention to Amazon reviews to be sure since it changes all the time.) I have them sending their output to an always-on computer, which then saves them to Dropbox so that they're stored offsite and viewable remotely. This way, the cameras themselves never have access to the Internet, so their terribly vulnerable software isn't an issue. It was not particularly hard to set up, but it was not trivial either.

Also, IP cameras and motion sensitive lights can compliment each other, since the cameras work much better when there's an external light source. The light going on would also trigger the motion-activated recording feature. You might get a few frames of pure white while the camera adjusts, but it might get better images than the IR "night mode" on most of them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:54 AM on August 30, 2016

Techmoan just released a YouTube video review of the Arlo system. Looks like exactly what you need. If you are concerned about the cost of batteries, you could get rechargeable cells instead of the single use ones. Since they last for 3-4 months, you'd only need a couple extra to make sure you always had a set ready to go.

If you're concerned about tampering, just use the tripod mount rather than the magnetic mount.

IIRC, there is no MRC as long as you keep it to no more than four cameras and you don't need more than two weeks of cloud storage. (You can pull videos off to long term local/Dropbox/whatever storage any time in those two weeks)
posted by wierdo at 7:57 AM on August 31, 2016

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