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Network IP cameras come in all shapes and sizes but the rule of thumb is that good image quality comes at a price. Take Panasonic’s diminutive BL-C10 for example. Costing around £200 it offers an impressive range of features including remote pan and tilt functions and thermal motion detection but picture quality and frame rates are comparatively poor. The latest 221 Day & Night camera from experts Axis Communications may cost a lot more but it aims to deliver professional quality imaging and performance.
Since it introduced its first network camera way back in 1996, Axis has consistently delivered a host of innovative designs to the market. The 221 certainly packs in the features as it can operate in any lighting condition, provides simultaneous Motion-JPEG and MPEG-4 playback, support for PoE (Power over Ethernet), has full motion detection and one of the fastest frame rates we’ve yet seen from a network camera.
The camera is beautifully built as well, with its sleek aluminium body exuding class. A Pentax lens is at the business end and features manual focus and zoom controls and is linked to the camera’s power source with a small external cable allowing the iris to be automatically adjusted as lighting conditions change. For the 221, Axis has increased the size of the Sony RGB CCD sensor to 1/3in. for improved light gathering - earlier models use a 1/4in. sensor.
There’s also plenty to play with at the rear as the 221 incorporates an I/O connector block that can be used to link the camera to external security devices such as door sensors or alarms allowing them to trigger video capture if activated. AC and DC power output connectors are also provided so if motion detection is triggered it can set off a relay for actions such as closing a door or setting an alarm off.
Installation doesn’t get any easier as you use the bundled IP Utility to search the network for Axis cameras and display them ready for initial configuration. Once it has an IP address assigned you can access the camera via Internet Explorer over HTTP or secure HTTPS sessions. This is a minor drawback as no other browsers are supported.
As soon as the browser opens with the live view home page you know this camera is something special. Overall picture quality is extremely good and as long as your manual settings were correct then focus is also very sharp. The frame rates offered by the 221 are also unbeatable for a camera in this price range as it defaults to 45fps at all supported resolutions. Drop down to 480 x 360 pixels and the camera can run at an amazing 60fps. Both the top frame rates translate to a very smooth video feed with none of the jerkiness inherent in standard 30fps network cameras. Another advantage is that the higher frame rates allow the motion detection to pick up fast moving objects as well.