Sunday, January 27, 2013

What Cameras Do You Use?

We get this question a lot - on facebook, via email, in person, and in chat. Unfortunately, the answer is fairly complicated since we've used different cameras at different times and locations. I can't recommend any one camera model, but I can provide some general information about cameras and streaming technology to aid research. In general, we use a PTZ camera and controller, microphone, and computer to capture, process, and unicast video stream to a service provider, who broadcasts it across the internet. To do this, you need to consider...
  • Do you have all necessary permits and do you understand the animal you are camming? Permit issues regarding wildlife and cabling may differ from state to state. Make sure you understand your state's process so you aren't inadvertently breaking the law. Make sure you understand your subject so you know when it is and isn't safe to install camera equipment. What will your subject tolerate in terms of camera size and placement? When can you go to the nest, burrow, or what have you without scaring your subject away? 
  • Does your installation have electricity and internet connectivity? If you need wireless and/or solar, talk to this company: http://www.sunsurveillance.com/. We've done one wireless installation so far, but most of our installations are wired. 
  • What challenges will your camera face? Ice, rain, cold, bugs, poop, and entrails can all damage cameras and impact the view. Depending on the time of the year, you may not be able to access and fix your cameras, so they better be up to the environment and placed where your subjects can't damage them through picking at them, pooping on them, or hitting them with prey. We use weather-hardy PTZ and bullet cams certified to below-zero temperatures. We are also very careful about protecting cables and interfaces from weather, ice, insects, squirrels, and mechanical damage. 
  • You've got the camera. How are you going to get your stream to the internet? We use a standard PC, capture card, and encoder to unicast our stream to Ustream, who broadcasts the stream across the internet. Research streaming-video providers and see what they recommend - some of them, like Ustream, provide lists of certified equipment and offer their own encoders. Not all video cards work with all encoders (especially older cards) so research this carefully before buying equipment. This page (from Ustream) provides some information on their platform: http://www.ustream.tv/platform. You should also consider PC versus streaming appliance if you don't already have a PC waiting in the wings. 
  • How fast is your internet access? You need to know the speed of the internet connection you can get prior to making some of your decisions. If you have a fast line - say, a T1 - you have different (better) streaming options than you will with a slower line.  
As much as we love watching birds, the health and safety of our subjects is always our primary concern. That's why we decided not to cam the Yonder nest in Decorah - however we might feel about the new nest, the eagles are doing a very natural thing and we don't want to risk frightening them away. Bob has been a falconer for 46 years and has a great deal of experience with birds of prey. I think it is wonderful that so many people are interested in watching and sharing wildlife, but I can't stress the important of knowing and respecting your subjects enough. A few links to aid research:
  • Ustream: our streaming video provider
  • 2MCCTV: our camera provider
  • Sun Surveillance: wireless and solar cameras
  • Xsplit: our software encoder
  • Trying to migrate an analog system to IP (network) video? Check out the EVE hardware encoder. In addition to encoding it also upscales 525 very nicely.

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