The Redcliffe webcam is a 4mp Olympus C-4000 digital camera in "PC control mode" with the image capture
and uploading controlled by VM95
commercial program recently offered for free
by US company
Erdman Video Solutions
. EVS offer a broad range
of hardware configurations at an affordable price to suit every purpose - see their website for more details.
Despite a terrible 2006-2007 storm season, one of the worst in my 18 years living
in Redcliffe, the webcam still managed to capture some nice scenes since it first started operation
in mid October, 2006.
These and more images can be
seen in the ever expanding gallery.
In making their VM95 software publically available EVS has opened up the opportunity for people to put
together a high quality webcam on their own budget. If you have a window with a view, the setup could be as simple
as placing a camera in front of the window and running a USB calbe to your computer. For me, having
a view from the rear of my house that was far better than that from any window, setting up the
webcam involved some extra expenses - extensions of USB and power cables, mounting brackets and a
custom built weatherproof housing. The parts list for my webcam is below.
An Olympus digital camera! :) A list of cameras supported by VM95 is here
. Instructions on
preparing the camera for PC control are here
. I went for the C-4000 because it has a slightly wider angle lens than most, starting at 32mm as opposed to the more
common 38mm. It's also a good 4 years or more old now and can be picked up quite cheap on places like Ebay
. A (worldwide) Ebay search for all cameras VM95 supports is here
. I paid $130 (including postage)
An outdoor/weatherproof housing. I had a lot of trouble tracking down a suitable security camera style
enclosure that was big enough for the camera. While the C-4000 is a tiny little camera it's still quite a
bit wider than your average security camera and none of the housings i could find on the net gave me the ~150mm
width that i needed for the camera and the USB and power cables that stick out of the side of the camera. So,
i ended up getting one built myself. I picked up an ABS enclosure
from Jaycar Electronics in
Brisbane for $33 and went into a local sign makers shop and got them to cut out the front side of the enclosure and replace
it with an offcut of plexiglass - they did it for $20. This is something others will probably be able to do themselves but i didn't have the tools or the material to do it. You'll also need to cut a hole
in the bottom of the enclosure for the cables.
- The ABS enclosure that i brought was light grey in colour.
I've recently painted the outside of the enclosure white (so it isn't warmed by sunshine as much)
and the inside matt black, to reduce glare on the plexiglass which in turn improves the image contrast (a marked
improvement was immediately noticeable).
Of course, black inside the enclosure means any sunlight entering the enclosure will produce more heat
than the grey colour and to counteract this i've cut out some breather holes in the top of the enclosure to let the hot air out (and constructed
a cover for the holes out of an old ice cream container to stop water getting in).
A mounting bracket. I picked up a
cable managed bracket
from Jaycar (cable managed in that the power and USB cables can
run down through the bracket itself, coming out of small hole at the base of the section that screws onto the wall.
Nice and neat!). It was cheap too at only $20!
An AC power adapter. It would be nice if the camera could get it's power from USB but i guess there just isn't enough there for it, so it needs to be powered from an AC adapter. The C-4000 needs a 6.5 volt adapter, which doesn't seem to be a common voltage. I was expecting
to be able to walk into my nearest electronics store and just pick one up but i went to several places and no-one had 6.5v! 6 and 7's, but no 6.5's! Jaycar
don't have them listed on their website but they do sell them in store at ~$45 (which i didn't realise until i'd ordered one online). I ended up picking up a
genuine Olympus adapter
from Centre.net.au for $45 + $12 shipping.
An "active" USB extension. You may or may not need this. There's 8m between where the webcam is mounted and the computer that runs it and you're
not supposed to run USB cables longer than 5m so i invested in a 5m "active" USB extension
($30 + $12 shipping) so that i could use it together with a standard 5m cable, giving me 10m. These active extensions
seem to be relatively new and a Google search on them will reveal some problems with reliability. Whether they're problems with certain brands or the technology itself i don't know, but so far
so good here!
- Well, i might have jinxed myself by saying something about the reliability of the active
USB extension! Everything was fine for the first month or so and then all of a sudden i have constant USB problems. For what seemed
like no reason at all VM95 was getting black images from the webcam - not black as in the camera has taken
an image at such a fast shutter speed that there was no detail in the image at all but black as in there's no
data coming back down the USB connection. Unplugging the USB lead from the back of the computer and
plugging it back in again seemed to solve the problem, but it was happening at odd intervals and at times
when i wasn't home to get things running again, so it was a major problem. I'm still not sure if the problem has been
solved for good but having since brought another cheap computer with a fresh Windows XP install and *no* other
programs installed other than WM95 (as opposed to using my old desktop computer with a lot of my day to day programs on it and an XP install
that was 12-18 months old), the USB has been rock solid stable. If the problem comes back the best alternative that
i can see is to use a powered USB hub between the two 5m cables.
10m of power cable and 2 plugs. Of course the AC adapter doesn't have anywhere near enough lead to reach the camera so i had to buy some power cable from Jaycar and extend it. I hope your
soldering skills are better than mine!
So, a grand total of just over $300. Of course you could do it a lot cheaper if you had some
of the main components already, could source them cheaper or just didn't need everything that i've used.
There are some optional extras to consider, both of which i'm using but they're not vital so i've excluded them
from the main parts list. The first is a computer to run everything from (if you're like me and want to have
a desktop computer that you can do what you want on without worrying about upsetting the webcam setup). I
picked up a cheap Pentium III 600mhz out of the paper for $80. It runs Windows XP with only 128mb
of memory and so far i haven't had any problems with it at all. The second
is an electronic timer to cut power to the camera and/or computer when the webcam isn't running. I picked up a
from Jaycar for $30 - works beautifully!
The benefits of using a digital still camera as a webcam as i see them, and for my purpose, are :
- The image quality, clarity and dynamic range far exceeds that of any purpose built webcam that i've purchased
and tried off the shelf, and i've tried quite a few.
- High resolution images. I've been providing images at various resolutions up to 980 x 734
pixels and the larger images are popular. My camera is capable of producing 4mp images and of course
newer models are upwards of 6-8mp - that's enough resolution to produce large prints... from a webcam!
It also allows you to produce timelapse sequences that are comparable to high definition video footage.
- Most of the Olympus cameras supported by VM95 feature exposure times out to 16 seconds. With the
appropriate settings enabled in VM95 this not only allows the camera to produces good images
in trying scenes (for example in low light conditions with the approach of a heavy summer storm) but
it also allows me to run the camera at night with the potential to capture lightning.
It's been said around the 'net that
digital cameras aren't designed to be used/run for long periods of time and using them as a webcam will kill them. That's probably
true to an extent and it makes sense, but i think the bulk of the heat (and problems that the heat would cause)
would be generated by the LCD screen, and the WM95 software allows you to disable it. Whether or not these
cameras are going to last the distance or not is yet to be proved - Erdman Video Solutions are using them
in commercial packages so i'm betting on them lasting, but only time will tell. At the end of the day they're
relatively cheap to buy now and will only get cheaper, so if they do pack it in after a few years replacing them isn't
going to be an overly expensive exersise.
On a side note, once an Olympus camera is placed in "PC control mode", it stays in that mode
even when the camera loses power and is restarted. This was the clincher for me as getting up and down a ladder
to restart the camera (which is mounted under the eves of a 2 storey house) everytime the power went
out just wasn't an option. The C-4000 alos has an in camera option called "All Reset" - when changed to the
off option the camera saves your settings to it's
internal memory so that they're restored after a power loss - i'm assuming this is a feature of
the Olympus camera line, not just the C-4000. One problem i had at first was the camera
reverting to it's default setting of noise reduction being off after power loss. This meant that my night time images
were terribly noisy! Since finding this setting i haven't had to reset any camera settings for months.
That's about all for now - i hope this page has been of help. In the near future i'll be updating it to
include a run down of how to setup the VM95 software and any other software and/or scripting that i've put
together for the cause.