Foscam is a Chinese company founded in 2007 for the sole purpose of designing and building IP cameras, which fall into three main groups – IP surveillance, network video recorders and baby monitors. Their first product, the FI8908W tilt and pan camera with an image resolution of 640 x 480 (300K) pixels, was launched the following year. Fast forward eight years and the image resolution has now increased to 1920 x 1080 pixels in full HD. Streaming this HD video is made possible by using the H.264 video compression – the same video encoding standard for Blu-ray discs. The FI9900P is Foscam’s latest IP camera to feature this technology.
I have been thinking about installing an IP Camera at my property since moving here a couple of years ago, but that’s as far as I got, so when I was given the opportunity to review one of these devices, I jumped at the chance to see how easy they are to set up and use.
Let’s see how I got on.
What’s in the Box?
The Foscam FI9900P’s box is made of fairly thin corrugated cardboard that gives it extra strength, as shown by one of the corners that had been compressed quite considerably in transit – none of the contents suffered any damage. On the side of the box is a QR code that downloads the Foscam App to your iOS or Android smartphone.
Let’s take a look inside.
On opening the box you’ll find:-
- IP Camera with pigtail
- Power adapter
- Wi-Fi Antenna
- Ethernet cable
- Bag containing mounting screws, wall plugs and hex key
- CD containing software and user manual
- Quick installation guide
- Warranty card
- Surveillance warning sticker
- 1080P (1920 x 1080 pixels) Full HD. Up to recently most IP cameras have featured fairly low resolution sensors, that give a rather grainy image. The higher resolution will give better definition of video and still images.
- 106° wide viewing angle fits more of the image onto the sensor.
- External RCA audio jacks allows two-way audio communication. This is limited to PC based usage using a cable plugged between the PC and the RCA audio cables on the end of the camera’s pigtail.
- An array of 30 high-powered Infra Red LEDs provide a night vision range of up to 65 feet (20 metres).
- Automatic motion detection can be set up to trigger various alarms. Alert emails can be sent or uploaded to a FTP server.
- Free Foscam iOS or Android App can be downloaded to a smartphone to provide alerts and remote camera viewing or via the web. Cloud storage of images and video is available by subscription.
- Wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi b/g/n 2.4 GHz only is supported
The camera itself is a “bullet” type, finished in a sturdy matt aluminium housing. Its overall length is 8″ (203mm) by 2.5″ (64mm) at its widest point – I have shown it next to my iPhone 5s for a comparison. Then lens is surrounded by 30 IR LEDs for night vision surveillance, which is quite impressive given the size of the camera. The pigtail provides power, a reset to factory defaults switch, a red RCA audio out jack, a yellow RCA audio in jack and an Ethernet socket for a wire LAN connection. The camera can be rotated by 360° by loosening one of the hex-screws as can the mount, both independently of each other and also up and down by 90°. Although its described as a weather proof camera, water could enter where the pigtail emerges from the rear, so careful consideration is needed while planning the fixing location. The cable from the power supply is only 5 feet (1.5m) in length, so an extension cord was needed during the tests. Foscam sell extension cables in 10 feet (3m) lengths that can be daisy chained together for $14.99 (£11.99).
Getting Up and Running
Option 1 – Foscam App
Once a suitable location to mount the camera has been found and which method to connect to the LAN has been decided – either wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi – simply run the Foscam App on a suitable smartphone. After registering a Foscam Cloud account and logging on, you are prompted to press the plus symbol to add the camera. Press the QR code symbol on the following screen and then scan the QR code which is found on the underside of the camera. The App then attempts to discover if the camera is on the LAN, which it would be in the case of a wired connection, and displays a message that the connection has succeeded. If no camera is discovered, the EZLink screen is displayed prompting for the corresponding Wi-Fi password to be entered. Once entered, it can take a couple of minutes for the connection to be established and the resulting image is then displayed. So far so good!
It’s worth noting that if you have originally connected the camera to the LAN using a wired Ethernet connection and want to change to Wi-Fi, you cannot use the Foscam App to do this. I tried many times, even resetting the camera to factory defaults, but the App still failed to connect the camera. The Quick User Guide does warn you not to connect the camera with the router via Ethernet cable if a Wi-Fi connection is required. I found that the only way to change from wired to Wi-Fi was by using the camera’s web based configuration.
I did encounter problems connecting the camera to my Cisco Aironet 1142 Access Point I use for my home’s Wi-Fi. The AP logged authentication errors from the camera even though I had entered the correct details. Foscam Technical Support suggest creating a separate SSID on the 2.4GHz spectrum which I would have attempted had I not already connected the camera to the Tenda AC15 wireless router I had reviewed earlier this month.
With the smartphone App, use of the Foscam cloud storage and alerts is free for a month, afterwards it then changes to a subscription based service. Current rates are:-
- 7 Days of storage – $7.99 (£5.99) per month or $79.99 (£59.99) per year
- 30 Days of storage – $19.99 (£15.99) per month or $199.99 (£159.99) per year
- Special offer of 7 Days of storage at $79.99 (£59.99) for 15 month
Option 2 – Web Based Configuration
An alternative to configuring the camera using the smartphone app is connecting the camera to the router using an Ethernet cable, and then running the Equipment Search Tool which is located on the accompanying Software & User Manual CD. This tool then searches for the camera on the LAN and displays its IP & MAC address once found. Clicking on the address launches the device web page and runs the set up wizard. This also requires a plugin to be installed that is incompatible with the Edge browser in Windows 10, so I downloaded and installed Light, a Firefox based browser which worked perfectly.
Here, the browser immediately requests that the default user ID and password is changed. Once entered, the Wizard then prompts if the device name needs to be changed from the default. The following page sets up the time zone, NTP server and date & time format. Next the wireless LAN settings can be configured simply by clicking on the scan button, selecting the SSID of the required network from the list and entering the password. The last page is where the IP configuration is modified if required. If the wireless networking settings had been configured and saved, disconnecting the Ethernet cable will cause the camera to restart in wireless network mode after a period of 30 seconds.
The camera’s web based configuration displays three tabs along the top of the screen, Live Video, Settings and Playback. Live Video and Playback display live and recorded video images and Settings is where the camera is configured. Selecting Settings displays the menu groups on the left of the screen and when selected, displays the corresponding items underneath. Selecting the item then brings up a window of the settings that can be changed. The layout is well presented and uncluttered.
The Status menu item is sub divided into four sections – Device information, Device Status which gives an over view of the camera’s various functions, Session Status of who is currently logged onto the camera and the system Log of previous alarms and log ins.
The Basic Settings menu are where the Camera Name, Camera Time, User Accounts and Multi Camera – the ability to add other IP cameras to the same web based viewer so they can be viewed at the same time, can be configured here.
Network is where the camera’s network settings can be managed. If it’s decided to change from wired Ethernet to wireless, this section is where the settings can be changed. DDNS, UPnP, web management Port, Mail settings for email alerts, FTP settings for recording alerts to a FTP server and P2P settings are available here.
The Video menu manages the options for the video side of the camera. Video Settings is where the image resolution, bit rate, frame rate can be tweaked if needed due to bandwidth constraints. The camera’s OSD or On Screen display options for displaying the timestamp and camera name, Privacy Zone – where an area of the camera’s image can be removed so that it is not shown in the resulting video, Snapshot Settings and IR LED schedule are found here. The IR LEDs are normally automatic – come on at dusk and off at dawn. This gives you the option of setting up a manual schedule.
The Detector maintains the image motion detector settings. Triggered interval, the time between two motion detections, or wait time before the next alert is triggered with a time interval of 2-15 seconds can be defined. The corresponding actions to take once the camera has detected motion are set here. Camera sound, PC Sound, Send E-mail, Take Snapshot with a time interval of 1-5 seconds, Recording of the detected motion and Push message to phone (cloud subscription required) settings are managed here. The image detection area of up to three areas can also be defined which is useful for selecting specific areas of the image to be monitored for motion or avoid areas of motion that are not needed to monitor, such as a road with vehicles frequently passing.
Record manages the recording side of the camera. This is sub-divided into Storage Location – none (cloud recording) or SD Card (which I shall explain at the end of this section) or FTP server, Alarm Recording – the time in seconds of the video recording when a motion alert is triggered, Local Alarm Recording – record to a PC, Schedule recording – useful if want to record everything the camera captures as well as motion alerts, and SD Card Management.
Firewall, if enabled, blocks or allows access to the camera as defined by the IP address.
System is the last available section on the list. Back-up & Restore the camera’s configuration to a local file that can be restored, System Upgrade to the latest firmware, Patch Installation, Factory Reset to system defaults and Reboot can be found here.
SD Card Recording
The camera has the ability to record to a microSD card. To insert the card into the camera, the two screws that hold the lens in place are removed by using the hex tool, one of which is underneath the warranty sticker. I had checked with Foscam before attempting this and I was assured by a sales agent that performing this procedure will NOT invalidate the warranty. After carefully removing the lens housing and seal, the four small cross headed screws that surround the IR LED array are then removed. Place the camera so that the serial number/bar code label is facing up and carefully pull the camera assembly out of the housing until the small microSD slot comes into view. Insert the microSD card into the slot and re-assemble the camera. This is a useful security feature as it allows direct recording to the camera instead of using the Cloud based subscription service, a FTP server or local recording to a PC as recording to these services are susceptible to outages. I found a 16 GB mircoSD card from Walmart for only $10!
Using the Foscam FI9900P Camera
When the camera detects motion, a pop-up notification is sent to the smartphone and the image can them be viewed from within the Foscam App. Here it caught our Newfoundland dog, Lizzie, sniffing around the front garden. I would have expected to be able to view the accompanying 15 second video, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in the app. I suspect that it would have been available had I taken the subscription option.
Screen capture of a live view featuring day and night vision:-
From the app you can enable 2 way audio conversation (if configured), take a still image, take a video recording, zoom the image in and out, set day or night vision, rotate the image horizontally or vertically, set the image resolution and set up the cloud based subscription. The gear wheel icon takes you to the cameras settings, one of which is where you can change the default user ID and password of the camera. I would strongly recommend changing from the default as it has been known for IP cameras to come under attack from hackers. Alerts and the Night Vision setting can also be configured from the app.
Subscribers can also use Foscam’s cloud based service to view live or recorded images and video over the internet using a browser by visiting http://myfoscam.com and entering the registered user ID and password. Windows 10 users will need to use Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome as it requires a plugin that is incompatible with the Edge browser.
Web based viewer
The web based viewer displays the live video stream once you have logged onto the camera from a browser or by clicking on the Live Video tab. From there adjustments to the image can be made – change the Mode to indoors 50Hz 0r 60 Hz depending on country location or Outdoors, Stream from HD to other pre-defined resolutions, enable/disable the Wide Dynamic Range, Mirror, Flip, Zoom In, Zoom Out, change the IR LED Lights settings and Colour Adjustments. The buttons displayed at the bottom of the image allow you to Play, Pause, Open Talk, Open Audio, Open Volume Control, Take Snapshot, Record and maximize the displayed video image to full screen.
To view previously recorded alerts, click on the Playback tab. This displays a calendar on the left of the screen and to view the recording, simply click on the date the recording was made and select the magnify button which then lists all the recordings made on that date. The image files are named MDalarm_YYYYMMDD_HHMMSS.avi so it’s relatively easy to select the correct recording.
At present there is no easy way to download the recordings from the SD card apart from removing it from the camera and inserting it into a PC card reader, which is not very convenient and may damage the camera in the process.
I was able to position the camera at around 30-40 feet (10-12m) from the wireless router before I started to see dropped frames. The type of house construction will have a major impact on range as the camera is intended to be mounted on the outside of the house where the signal has to penetrate the most dense material, especially if brick and concrete is used. My house is made of timber, so the signal was able to penetrate fairly easily.
The resulting HD video image from the camera is extremely clear as are the stills from the alert emails and the night vision mode illuminated a very dark front door area.
Unfortunately, I did find the motion detection very hit and miss. Every morning and evening, I receive three alert emails (and Foscam App notifications) when the IR LEDs are switched on at dusk and off at dawn. Changing the sensitivity doesn’t make any difference. The other week there was a snow shower and the alerts went berserk! I was getting alerts every 15 seconds until I disabled the motion detector setting.
I did also find that moving objects had to be considerably close, at around 10-15 feet from the camera, before an alert was triggered in night vision mode. In the day, the range was a lot further at around 20-30 feet.
The Foscam FI9900P Outdoor HD 1080P Wireless IP Camera retails for $149.99 (£99.99). It is a sturdy, well made device with a wide range of features, but is let down by the very temperamental motion detector which is one of its major selling points. The daily dawn/dusk false alarms are very annoying and is a bug that needs to be fixed by the manufacture. Until the issues with the motion detector are resolved, I would consider that this IP camera is not ready for prime time.