- Review Price: £770.00
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.
From the live view you can choose Motion-JPEG playback which allows up to twenty users to access the camera simultaneously. Take care with the multicast MPEG-4 option as although there are no user limits, bear in mind each one will require a valid license. The camera comes with one decoder and encoder license included but beyond this and you’ll have to purchase more to stay on the right side of the law.
Bandwidth consumption can be a concern for administrators but a number of options are provided for limiting the impact these cameras can have on the network. Selecting a lower resolution helps but image compression can be increased and you can also determine the length of time the video stream is active and limit the frame rate for multiple viewers. However, selecting the top frame rate will hit bandwidth very hard. We tested this on a shared Fast Ethernet segment with two clients and used Sniffer Professional to measure consumption. At 60fps one client was drawing around 11 per cent of bandwidth while adding a second client saw this rise uncomfortably to nearly 21 per cent.
Motion detection is particularly good and up to ten custom areas can be specified within the image where motion is to be detected or ignored. You can decide on camera sensitivity and the length of the trigger once it has been activated. Actions extend to downloading images at specific frame rates to an HTTP or FTP server and these can be emailed to multiple clients as well. An infrared sensor is also provided and Axis offers optional IR illuminators as well for discrete monitoring in complete darkness. An IR-cut filter allows colour images to be displayed using IR lighting but you can physically remove this if you prefer higher quality mono images instead.
The price puts the 221 firmly in the professional surveillance bracket but it is offering a lot of sophisticated features for your money. Image quality is extremely good, it can handle any light level and, although bandwidth consumption can be excessive, is does offer some of the highest frame rates we’ve yet seen in a network camera.