Cameras have come a long way, from the weird and wonderful early days to the digital revolution that represents the current state of the art. Modern cameras are rock-solid marvels of technology.
For the most part wireless digital security cameras don’t need much in the way of maintenance, but by understanding how your WiFi camera works you can extend its life and make sure it runs properly for years.
WiFi/IP cameras are an example of a smart “internet of things” device. Almost every aspect of our lives is now being made smarter. We even get smart food technology now, which is both awesome and sort of crazy.
WiFi/IP cameras can be pretty expensive pieces of equipment, so it’s not only worth making sure you always buy the best models, it’s well worth going to that extra effort to maintain and optimize them. Over on my blog Techisignals I’ve compiled a list of the best IP cameras, but here we’ll be looking at how to take care of them once you’ve got it all up and running.
What’s Inside an WiFi/IP Camera?
While you may think of your WiFi camera as just a camera, it’s actually an entire computer that has the sole job of acting as an internet camera device. This means that inside the system is a processor, memory and software that runs all the functions of the machine.
When the camera is connected to the network it shows up the same as a laptop, tablet or smartphone. It can communicate directly with the internet or can be accessed by a web-browser on the local network, where it acts as a small web-server.
In this way WiFi/IP cameras are more complex than traditional CCTV cameras, even though they share some of the same technology when it comes to the camera sensor.
Like any digital device, there is built-in software on your WiFi/IP camera that controls everything it does. Sometimes that software also has problems. Small (or large) bugs that can cause various issues.
Although manufacturers test their software well before releasing it on the market, there’s always a special case or some rare issue that’s missed. When a problem is identified the maker of your camera will issue an update.
Your job is to make sure that you camera is set to automatically update to the latest software version and then to periodically check that it has done so. This is not only important so that the camera works properly, often then issued fixes close security holes that can lead to breaches of your privacy!
A typical IP camera does not use a huge amount of power, generally they run from a low-voltage adapter that outputs milliwatts of energy. The components inside the camera are pretty sensitive to electrical surges.
The AC to DC adapter that usually serves as a power source does help to keep the such spikes at bay, but often at the cost of the adapter’s lifespan. So in general it’s better to have your cameras connected to a stable and clean power supply.
There are a few ways to do this. One method I favour is to have a UPS or uninterruptible power supply between the camera and the mains power source. The UPS will smooth out any electrical spikes and has the added benefit of keeping the camera on even if the power is out. Given that your internet router and connection are also on backup power it would mean your camera system stays up even when the power is out.
Alternatively you can opt for cameras that use POE or power over ethernet. You need to buy a router and cameras that support this technology, but it means sending power to each camera over a single cable from a unified source, where you can make sure everything is surge-protected.
Dust and Moisture Protection
Nothing kills an electronic device faster than dust and moisture. Dust can block cooling vents and moisture can cause short circuits or other shenanigans. Dust can also cause scratches to the lens or even just cover it in a layer of material that degrades the quality of the recording.
The answer is of course to dust the camera from time to time, make sure it’s not exposed to moisture and wipe the lens. Don’t just use your shirt to wipe the lens either, rather use a microfiber cloth.
Water damage can come from surprising places. Cameras near a bathroom or kitchen can suffer from condensation of steam. The same thing can happen in parts of the home where it gets very cold.
What you need to do is check on cameras that you suspect are too close to sources of steam or cold and see whether you can see condensation or other moisture buildup. If you can it may be a good idea to move them.
Even in the case of outside weatherproofed cameras it worth making sure that the seals are still good.
Change the Password
You shouldn’t think of your WiFi or IP cameras as a “fire and forget” solution when it comes to security. For one thing, you shouldn’t just leave the default password in place. Make a point of cycling your camera passwords on a regular basis.
That way, even if someone does compromise a camera the situation will be temporary.
Since your WiFi/IP camera is essentially a small, networked computer it’s also vulnerable to the same sorts of things any computer can be. For example, every now and then the camera is liable to freeze or hang. How often this happens depends on your specific camera, but no camera stays up 100% of the time.
So it’s a good idea to give your cameras a reboot every now and then to prevent them from freezing right when you need them most.
Keeping an Eye on Things
We can all feel a little safer with great security technologies like these WiFi/IP cameras around. Sure you have to put in a little effort to make sure they keep working, but in the end it’s totally worth it.
Still, after all this serious talk about serious camera equipment, maybe it’s time to take a break and check out some of the weirdest cameras in history.
Kostas Chiotis is a blogger with a real passion for technology. Read his blog Techisignals.com and if you like what you see why not follow him on Facebook and Twitter?
By Tekno electro solutions pvt ltd (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons