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Finding a Webcam for your Weather Station
Recently one of my old web cams died - well to be honest the webcam was fine, but the plastic connection that held the web camera in place, broke and the old sellotape it to the glass window trick, just wasn't going to cut it!
I replaced it with an alternative camera I had, but that had actually broken! They were both D-link cameras and had served me well, being around 5 years old. They were cheap and cheerful at the time, without alot of features. However things have changed significantly since I was last in the market!
I've a bit of history with weather webcams. The two D-Links being the first wireless ones I used, and previously up to that using USB connections incl extenders to push the signal back to the computer.
Most cameras now are targeted towards security, and therefore most have features that weather enthusiasts don't need. Additionally some can only work on specific security video recorders, while others will only work on a cloud subscription. All that makes it difficult to figure out what you need for your Weather Web Cam. This article will help you figure out what type of webcam suits your purpose and provide some considerations to take into account when figuring out where to put your webcam. The second part of this article talks about features that are must haves for weather web cams, and what are optional features.
One of the first things you will need to look at is where you want to put your webcam. Here's my selection of features that you should consider carefully.
|Facing Sun||Avoid where possible. This can burn out the webcam sensor fairly quickly. You can get a camera that will manage this for you, but make sure you check for this feature first|
|Exposed to sun||If your webcam is exposed to sun for a large period of the day you might want to purchase a model that has a metal casing, rather than plastic, as the plastic may degrade over time due to UV exposure (especially in New Zealand)|
|Exposed to Rain||Look for a camera with an IP67 rating. This will ensure dust and water resistance, and avoid your new camera being fried the next time it rains|
|Exposed to heat||Make sure you check the operating range for your new webcam, and that fits within the environment you are going to place it. Sitting close to a metal roof on a summers day may push the camera outside the operating range|
|Exposed to lightning||Fairly obvious, but do not put your webcam high enough that it will make it a lightning target. Not only will it fry your webcam, a lightning strike may also fry many of your network components. If you do want to stick it on a flagpole then make sure the pole is earthed properly|
|Exposed to hail||You might want to look at purchasing a webcam with a metal body if you want to avoid the damaging effects of hail|
Webcams now largely come in 3 types
- Dome Camera - Not recommended for weather web cams. They often have a plastic covering over the device that collects dirt and therefore makes it difficult to see out of, and they are designed for looking down and around, rather than across into the distance. It's the one on the right in the picture,
- Bullet Cameras - Recommended for weather webcams. Most flexible in terms of postioning. It's the one on the left in the picture
- USB cameras - Can be used as weather webcams, but most are not waterproof and will need an enclosure if outside
Somewhere along the way you will need to connect your webcam to the internet. Of the webcam types above, all come with different connectivity options
There are still a few good USB web cams around. Their main job is to connect directly to a computer, and be used for Skype type applications. It's not impossible to use a USB camera as a weather web cam. You can extend the reach of your cable up to around 5m without a repeater, or you can add "Active repeaters" to extend it further. The problem with this is that if you have one active repeater fail in a chain, then the connection is lost. As I found out each device also has it's own operating temperature range, so stringing a chain of these in your roof on a hot day may be problematic, and you will end up having to reset them, or climbing through the roof to replace repeaters should they fail permanently.
As USB cameras are designed for use indoors, you will also need to put them in some type of enclosure. More on that in a separate post.
Wireless, separate power supply.
Wireless seems to be a solution to many of the problems above, and indeed it is a much better solution. It's not perfect though. The wireless webcam still needs a power supply, but for the most part the solution works well if you position your web cam on the inside of a window facing out. Watch out for reflections from the glass, and recheck that again at night where you can get significantly more reflections when the inside lights are on.
Wireless connections are subject to dropping out as well, and if you have noticed this is happening with say your phone in the place that you want your webcam to go, then a wired solution would be better for you, or put aside some additional money to extend your WiFi network (which may help other devices you use around the house as well).
If you are wanting to get your camera outside you will need to bring the power supply inside - maybe through a window. There are options around solar charging, that are more recently available.
Wired, separate power supply
A wired webcam refers to an Ethernet cable being attached to a wired network within your house, which is then connected to your internet. With the right cable these are pretty easy to set up and involves plugging one end of the cable into the web cam and the other into the network / router where your internet connection is. There are different types of cable you can use. CAT 5e or CAT6 is best for this application as buying anything that enables a faster connection will cost you more than you need to pay, for no benefit.
Again, a power supply needs to be provided to the webcam, and in this case it is provided through a separate wall socket. So if your camera goes outside, you need to allow for a way to safely bring your network cable and power supply back into the house.
A wired solution with the Power provided over the Ethernet cable (PoE) may be the best solution. In effect the power is supplied using two spare connections within the ethernet cable itself ie the cable contains both the power and the webcam data. All you need to do is run one cable to the web cam. You do need to "inject" the power into the cable at some point, but this doesn't need to be done where the webcam is. It's an ideal solution for Webcams that are positioned outside.
Now that you have an idea of the types of webcams available and have put some further thoughts into where is the best place to position your webcam, don't forget to check out part 2 of this post, which covers off protocols, features and resolution of your webcam.
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