Barn Cameras

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Dec 19, 2002
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Since this is the time of year that people are starting to think about preparing for foaling season next year, and buying a barn camera is often part of the process, I thought Id give some info on what I have learned as there is really a lot more involved in getting good video than just buying a camera and putting it in the barn. But, some people may not be aware of what they need to know in order to get the best out of whatever system they use. I hope this helps some.

Lets start with the camera. Do you want color, black & white, IR (infrared), or low-light? Will you want wired or wireless? How wide of an area can it cover, or will you want multiple cameras?

It helps if you know the angle of the field of view that your camera covers. A narrow (smaller number) angle will have a more limited view. A 45 degree camera can see more (a wider area) than a 30 degree camera when placed at the same distance from an object. Depending on the camera, to see a whole stall, you may have to place it some distance away, but in a smaller barn/area, that may not be possible. It is usually best to try to find a camera with a wider field of view, but even with a wider view, it probably wont be able to watch more than one stall adequately, so you may need multiple cameras to see everything.

As far as night vision, many of the camera descriptions are misleading. Unless there is SOME form of light NO camera can give you an image. Some cameras claim to be night vision because they need very little visible light to create an image. These, to me, would be more accurately described as low light cameras. Visible light amounts are measured in lux, so a lower number indicates a lower amount of light. A low light camera will give an image with a low lux number. Low light cameras will only give a black and white picture when the light is low. Color cameras tend to need higher amounts of light to operate correctly. Some cameras will give you color when the light is strong, but only black and white when the light level is lower.

Some night vision cameras can actually give you images in the dark, without any visible light (0 lux). Often these cameras are color when there is enough visible light and then they switch automatically to infrared light (IR), in black and white, when the light level drops. Since these cameras can operate on IR, which is invisible to humans, a room can appear completely dark to a person, but an IR camera can still get an image. But, like with visible light, the IR light has to be of a certain strength for the camera to see it. There has to be an IR source. Heat creates IR, so an object can create its own IR light. However, the heat off of a person or animal is usually too faint for the camera to see unless the camera is extremely close.

Some night vision cameras have IR emitters built onto the front of the camera. These emitters shine, like a flashlight or spotlight and allow the camera to see a picture in total darkness (as perceived by the human eye). But, again, like with visible light, the emitters have to be strong enough to provide adequate illumination. Many of the cameras being sold have only a few emitters (6 to 9), and they will work, but maybe not at the distance needed. They might be good at 5 to 10 feet, but not at 15 or 20+ feet from the subject. So, if you want the IR camera to work, you may have to look for one with more emitters. Some have up to 32 emitters built in. Or, you can buy a separate IR emitter and place it wherever you want. Personally, for a barn, I havent found a huge benefit to the IR cameras. They are good though if you need to observe in total darkness, and I have used them in the house when monitoring a sick family member at night.

If you can go with a wired system, that is the most reliable and will usually result in the best picture. You place the camera where it gives you the best coverage, and then run the cable/wire to the house. If you have multiple cameras, you'll probably want to get a video switcher box that takes all of the inputs and then lets you watch them as you like. It can usually be set to rotate between the different video feeds, or stay on just one until you change it. You can set up the switcher in the barn or in the house. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages. If you put it in the barn, you only have to run one cable to the house, but you would not be able to change the switchers setting without going out to the barn. This works well if you only want to monitor one camera, or if you are content having it rotate between the different cameras. If you put it in the house, you can easily change the setting, but you need to run a cable for each camera to the house, so end up running a lot of cables.

The other option is a wireless system. The cameras video signal is sent via a video/audio transmitter from the barn to a receiver in the house. The receiver converts the signals back into video which you then feed into a TV or monitor. The advantage with wireless is not having to run wires/cables, but the down-side is the quality of the signal. There are some things to know about wireless technology, and some ways that you can maximize using a wireless system.

When comparing wireless equipment, dont be confused by the Giga Hertz (GHz or G) number that is given for a wireless device. This number is not an indication of the strength of the wireless signal. The GHz number is a frequency thing, and although it can affect the quality of the signal and what type of other electronic signals will disturb it, but it wont generally have a great effect on the distance the signal will travel.

The number you need to know for the strength (distance) of the signal is the Watts (W) or milli Watts (mW) and keep in mind that 100 mW = 1W. The higher the watts, the stronger the signal, and the further it will go. If it is high enough, it will go through metal walls on the barn. But of course, if it has to go through metal, it will not go as far as it would with an unobstructed view or if it only has to go through wood or glass. If the ad for the device doesnt state the W, then ask. I see them regularly advertised on a popular on-line auction site from 100W (1W) up to 1500 mW (15W).

I recommend a combination of wired and wireless. You can pair wired cameras with wireless video/audio transmitters. The reason this works better than just a wireless camera is that you can place the wired camera exactly where I want it, and then place its wireless transmitter in the best location to transmit the signal. You connect the camera to the transmitter via the camera's wire (cable). With a wireless camera, the transmitter is built in, and you have to be concerned about placing the camera in a spot where the signal can get out, but that may not be the best place from which to see the horses.

You can set up multiple cameras with multiple wireless transmitters, just set the transmitters to different signal frequencies. (This is usually done with little dip switches located on the transmitters.) If you are going to want to use multiple cameras, there are two different routes you can use to see the videos. One option is to ask the seller about buying a single receiver that has multiple inputs, rather than getting a receiver for each camera/transmitter. Normally, the multi-input receiver can be set up to view just one camera/transmitter at a time and you manually change between them, or it can rotate between the different cameras every few seconds. Just be sure that the transmitters and receiver will work together. Another option is to buy the individual transmitters and receivers and then rather than a multi-input receiver, you buy a video switcher that takes the video outputs from each of the receivers and then lets you toggle between the different videos.

Another aspect that I touched on is lighting. It is one of the harder things to work out, whether it is regular light, or IR. If you have a harsh light source, then you can get hot spots and dark shadows. Both of which will limit the usefulness of the image you are receiving. It is no fun when you are already sleep deprived to be jumping up and running out to the barn because you think you see something, or are afraid that you arent seeing something, when you think you should be.

All of the cameras have an internal iris that reacts to the light it has to work with. If you have a bright spot of light, then the iris will close down so that the brightest light it sees isnt too bright. But, that means you may not be able to see the areas around that bright spot that are less brightly lit. This is what I mean by a hot spot. It is an area that is lighted surrounded by darker areas.

The best lighting is usually not from a single source. It is best if you have multiple sources as this reduces the harshness of the shadows. Rope lights or Christmas tree type lights strung completely around the stall give a really nice light. It can completely eliminate shadows and wont create a hot spot. Be sure that you place the lights above the cameras view or behind objects so you dont have any bulb where it is showing in the camera picture as this will also cause the iris to close up, darkening the entire picture as it tries to avoid too much light.

For me, since I personally dont like the brighter light needed for a color camera and lighting is tricky with IR as it tends to be under illuminated or the source is too strong and cast shadows, I am happy with a low-light black and white camera (or color camera with low light capability). I then light the barn/stall with Christmas tree (or rope lights) strung around the entire perimeter of the stall. This gives a soft light without hot spots or shadows. I use the wired cameras tied to wireless transmitters and a single receiver in the house which is wired to my monitor (TV). In the barn, I place the wireless transmitters in places where they have the best view of the house receiver. When I had weaker transmitters, I even have put them in plastic containers outside of the metal barn so the barn didnt block the signal. I have since found stronger transmitter, so didnt have to put them outside, although I do place them where they can send the signal through a doorway (or out a window) if possible.

I dont have any experience with using the different internet watching systems that are out there, but maybe someone can start a post that explores all of those options and how they work. I imagine that if you input your camera video into a computer set up in the barn that you could use it to transmit your signals, instead of wired cameras or wireless transmitters. There is probably a way for you to privately monitor the video from the computer as well as sending it over the internet for everyone to see.
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Jan 24, 2008
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Great post!

I think over the years we have used every camera out there from 50.00 to 500.00 and our experience is the wired cheap security cameras work better then anything else. Even though our barn is not far from the house we have had no luck with wireless.

On the GHZ if you have a wireless phone and it has the same GHZ as your wireless cam you are going to have trouble with the pic quality of your cam as the phone will interfere. Microwaves also interfere.

I do use wefoal cam service and I think its worth it to have extra eyes. There are a lot of different options now such as free sites and sites that even pay you to have your cam but I have found their viewer is too small. I do like that with wefoal and marestare the viewer is larger and can be made full page etc. Also being able to record is nice and usually the free services do not offer that.

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