A video camera that can be used for surveillance needs to be designated for that purpose: trying to adapt a webcam or other camera can be an exercise in futility. That’s especially true today where mobile devices like smartphones and tablets can use a surveillance app tied into a specific camera. For that reason, and more which will become evident shortly, I prefer using Swann’s ADS-440 SwannEye Camera.
To start, looking at the camera, it won’t win any design awards. It’s a fair-sized hunk of plastic with a dome-like lens on a rotating plate. The box it comes in also has mounting equipment — should you wish to place it on a wall or other vertical surface — along with instructions on disc, a manual and an Ethernet cable. The only part that must be attached by hand is the short antenna, which screws on the back. It’s here that inputs are found for audio, along with a power port and Ethernet port.
First find the location to place the Swann ADS-440 SwannEye Camera. Obviously it needs to be within the range of the wireless home network. However it first needs to be installed/configured and for that it needs to be placed next to a computer/laptop.
There are two methods for installing the SwannEye. The first involves using the included software disc that is designed for PC use, with the second being a bit less hand-holding for Mac users (a stand-alone program). In the case of PCs, the program takes the user through the installation and then provides the needed “hooks” so it can be used with the users’s home network, be it wired or wireless. For Mac users, the stand-alone program brings up the camera’s IP address which, when clicked on, brings up a web browser page with the varying choices for installing for wired or wireless. In either case, the single most important thing to do is change the default user name and password from the default.
The camera is assigned a unique IP (Internet Protocol) number — this remains constant even when it is unplugged and plugged back in (or loses power and reboots). Because of this, it’s possible to use a standard web browser on a computer/laptop to access a set of commands that can be used — these include viewing from the browser or viewing the image as if from a mobile phone (useful if using such instead of an app for viewing). Making a note of the IP address will be helpful, as will remembering the user’s name and password, since this will be asked for each time the browser is accessing the camera.
The use of the Swann ADS-440 SwannEye Camera is intuitive and simple; providing you have properly configured the mobile application if it’s being used. Most will find, as I did, a mobile phone (iPhone — but there is also an Android app that behaves in the same manner) the best “screen” for viewing the camera in action. This is party due to the app not being configured for an iPad (and so having to be used in 2X mode) and also since the phone’s screen is more than big enough to show the view. The camera can be remotely tilted and panned — or allowed to do both continuously in a 180 degree arc — with individual photos “taken” when a touch-screen button is pressed. The basic controls for remote viewing work through a compass-like direction pad that responds to being pressed: turning the camera left or right and up or down in minute increments. Additionally, the built-in motion detector can be activated for sending an email message (or recording to a computer) when something crosses its path.
As noted above, the initial setup requires the camera to be physically connected to the home network through an Ethernet cable (directly to a computer or through a router). Once done, the camera can now be disconnected and then relocated at a new location and used wirelessly.
The setup that I used involved having the SwannEye placed next to a window overlooking my balcony (the camera is not water resistant and it’s rainy season here in SoCal). From this vantage point the fixed focus lens of the camera could take in most of the balcony. The only really useful setting I found on the app was that of changing the size of the image being displayed — there was no reason not to go with the highest (640) since primarily what was seen was static. But since viewing over the Internet can cause delays in the image being presented (depending on many factors outside the user’s control), it might be best to work with lesser settings when there is to be action. Either way, from the web browser’s initial setup, adjusting the frame rate of the idea will play a more significant part in how the image is viewed – going with real time video is fine if you’re in the local network, but can result in a jerky image if you’re viewing it outside the local network.
The infrared illumination kicks in when the light level drops at the front of the camera’s sensor. It takes a bit of getting used to when seeing the IR image — it’s very “X-files” ish but as long as the image being broadcasted is fairly close to the camera and the resolution of the image itself is not a the lowest setting, you can quickly determine whether the object is a person, a prowling cat or otherwise.
A more revealing test had me place the camera so that it could watch my two dogs while I was out — they tend to hang out on the kitchen floor’s linoleum so I placed the camera on the counter at one end. If I had used another camera I would have needed to be more precise in aiming the lens, but here I was counting on the remote pan and tilt capabilities. These worked while I viewed the kitchen remotely through Wi-Fi: pressing the pan/tilt controls required a bit of patience as the response was not immediate, although the video was, if a bit choppy at times. This remote control over where the lens is aimed really makes the camera useful when out and about.
Bottom line: The Swann ADS-440 SwannEye Camera performs surveillance in a straightforward manner. Considering its physical capabilities, and as long as only one area needs to be covered, the retail cost of $129 is more than a bargain.
- Remote viewing not dependent on third-party server
- Microphone and speaker capabilities
- Does not work with cellular connections
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.