Weather Webcams - Protocols, Features and Resolution
If not set up correctly, webcams can be hacked, which can then allow a person to remotely control your camera (eg switch the microphone on, change the angle or zoom if it is a PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom type), or even remotely talk to you, if your camera has 2-way audio). It's also a point where a hacker can get into your network. Here's a list of things you need to do to secure your webcam:
- Change any default passwords. These are published on the internet, so if you don't change the password to your camera, it's really an open invitation
- If you have the option, change the admin user name, or create a separate admin user and clock the old admin user
- If you have the option, create a user profile with less permissions than an admin user and only use that for accessing the webcam
- Turn off any feature you don't need. This includes any audio.
Cloud vs IP Security Cameras
Watch out for security cameras that connect to propriety systems. There are several examples of these - Arlo, Ring and other similar systems make excellent security cameras, but only work with a cloud solution. Typically also they may only be triggered by motion in front of the camera, which of course is not that useful for a weather webcam.
The difficulty with the closed systems is that it's almost impossible to extract an image from the system. For example the Arlo system essentially runs on a separate network, reporting back to it's own "router" which then stores images into the cloud. Those images are generally only accessible via the Arlo apps, and you can't retrieve them directly. If you did want to go down that track, then you may have some luck with software like Blue Iris to extract the image for you.
However if you are going to purchase from new, look for a camera that has the ability to access the image, or at least can store an image somewhere you can get to it (eg a local disk or your weather website). IP cameras are generally great at this, allowing you to store and access the image on your own network.
The best way to check if a certain camera can do this is to do a bit of hunting. First check the specifications. If it says that it can do any of the following Network Protocols then you should be ok.
HTTP or HTTPS. - This indicates that you can login to the camera via a browser. Most security cameras of this type have a page that you can bring up in your browser that shows what the camera sees. HTTPS is preferred, meaning that the connection is secured
FTP or SFTP- This indicates that the camera can be instructed to place a file somewhere on an FTP server (the setting up is outside the scope of this article)
If a camera has one of these protocols then dig through the support questions on the vendors site and see if they provide a direct url to the image. If they do, then that should be sufficient to get the image you need.
Resolution is generally related to price, but there is no need to go full out 4K for a weather cam. Most cameras fit into the following categories (or in between)
720p or less - this in my experience would be minimum spec. You get a useable picture, but may find it's grainy or blury, straight out of the camera
1080p or FullHD - for a weather cam, this would be a typical spec. You should get a good image from cameras wtih this spec, but may still notice a grainy image should you wish to display a larger version of the image.
4K to 6k or Super HD - These generally make excellent weather cams. You should get a nice crisp image from the front of the image to the back.
Higher than 6K or Ultra HD (8K) - These are minimum if you want to peek at someones number plate, and while you'll get a great image as a webcam, it's overkill. You would be better off saving your money!
Number of Pixels and Sensor size
These are both important, but variations in either can mean the difference between a good camera and a bad camera. As a guideline, most security cams fall into one of the following groups:
- 1/3 inch is ok. It's likely that you will notice some blurring, especially when enlarging the image
- 1/2.8" is better and usually fine for Weather Webcams
- 1/1.8" is best
Angle of View (Field of View)
This is normally expressed in vertical degrees and horizontal degrees. Horizontal is how wide the camera can see. Web Cams go from around 70 degrees to up to nearly 180 degrees! The wider they go, the more chance of distortion. For weather webcams this is problematic, since the view you are using the camera for is usually a long distance, which means that your horizon will have a hump in the middle. At shorter distances (like those typically used for security cameras, this isn't such a major problem. So this is again something you should check for when reviewing samples.
Vertical angle of view describes the vertical height the camera can see. A too narrow vertical angle might mean that you get more foreground than sky.
If you aren't sure what angle of view you need, then you might want to purchase a camera that has a zoom function (optical), where you can make adjustments (eg you have a view of the sky in the distance, but alot of roofs in the foreground). Remember though that as well as reducing vertical angle of view, zooming in reduces horizontal field of view as well, so you get a narrower view, with the same lens.
Digital vs Optical zoom
Digital zoom takes the original image and zooms or enlarges it with software only. It's impossible to add extra pixels to the original images, so it doesn't take long before the original image is pixelated and blurry. Optical zoom uses physical lenses in the camera to zoom in. No information is destroyed in the process so the image remains clear throughout the process. For this reason Optical zoom is far superior. Keep in mid though that if you zoom into an image, the horizontal and vertical angles of view are reduced.
Things you don't need to worry about for a weather webcam
Infra red lighting and it's distance - In most cases you are going to be looking at clouds, or maybe lightning, neither of which are usually within range if the infrared lights that come with your camera. Look for an option to turn these off
Microphone or 2-way speaker system - again this won't be required. Look for a way to switch this feature off
That about sums it up. You should have enough information now to choose a webcam that suits your needs. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to add them in the comments section below. Don't forget to check out our samples section in our forum, or contribute your own.