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What Is an IP Camera? Photography Basics Explained

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With advancements in technology, Internet protocol (IP) cameras have become more and more popular in recent years. An IP camera, also known as a network camera, is a type of digital video camera that transmits data over a local area network (LAN).

IP cameras are commonly used for security purposes, as they allow businesses and homeowners to keep an eye on their property from anywhere in the world. In this guide, we look at how an IP camera works, why you should use one, and what the different types of IP cameras are.

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How Does an IP Camera Work?

Ip Camera

Image Credit: domoticaxiaomi, Pixabay

To understand how an IP camera works, we first need to understand the basics of how a computer network operates.

A computer network is made up of two or more devices that are connected so they can communicate with each other. The most common type of computer network is the Internet, which connects billions of devices around the world.

For devices on a network to communicate with each other, they need to have a unique IP address.

An IP camera gets its name from the fact that it uses an IP address to transmit data over a network. IP cameras are connected to a computer network using an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi.

Unlike analog security cameras that need a coaxial video cable to transmit footage, IP cameras work with a wireless connection. The resolution of an IP camera can be up to 16 megapixels.

Every IP camera has a processing chip that encodes video footage into a digital format that can be transmitted over the network. The encoded video is then compressed using a codec, so it takes up less bandwidth.

The most common codecs used by IP cameras are H.264 and MJPEG.

Once the video has been compressed, it is broken up into small packets of data known as datagrams.

These datagrams are then sent over the network to the IP camera’s destination. The destination can be a computer, a server, or a cloud storage service.

When the datagrams arrive at their destination, they are reassembled into the original video footage. The process is called decompression, and it is done by a codec.

The video can then be viewed in real-time or played back later.

 

Sensors in IP Cameras

IP cameras have sensors that detect motion. When triggered, it can send an alert to the user. The alert can be in the form of an email, a text message, or a push notification.

Some IP cameras also have a microphone so they can record audio and video. These IP cameras are helpful for security purposes because they can capture footage of a burglar or an intruder.

IP cameras also have night vision and continue to record footage even in low-light conditions.

shutter camera divider 2What Are the Different Types of IP Cameras?

There are many different types of IP cameras available on the market today. The most common type of IP camera is the indoor dome camera.

Indoor dome cameras are typically small and can be easily mounted on a wall or ceiling. Here are some other types of IP cameras based on their functionality.

 

Pan-Tilt-Zoom IP Camera

Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras offer a wide field of view and can be controlled remotely to pan, tilt, and zoom in on a specific area. These cameras are ideal for surveillance applications where you need to keep an eye on a large area.

Bullet IP Camera

Bullet cameras are small, weather-resistant cameras that can be easily mounted on a wall or ceiling. They are typically used for outdoor surveillance applications.

Wired IP Camera

As the name implies, wired IP cameras are connected to a network using an Ethernet cable. These cameras are typically used in larger installations where there is a dedicated network infrastructure in place.

Power Over Ethernet IP Camera

Power over Ethernet (PoE) IP cameras also have an Ethernet cable to supply data and electric power. Thus, you don’t need two separate cables since one is doing both jobs simultaneously.

Since a PoE camera has fewer parts, it’s easier to install and maintain. A PoE camera differs from PoE+ cameras with respect to the amount of electricity transmitted to power them.

While PoE IP cameras typically transmit 15 watts of electricity, PoE+ systems transmit up to 30 watts. Thus, they are ideal for high-power cameras with built-in cooling and heating mechanisms.

Features of IP Cameras

Irrespective of the type, IP cameras must have a few features that make them functional and efficient for users.

Built-In Storage

Storage is an important aspect of IP cameras. The quality and quantity of footage that can be stored depend on the type and model of the camera. Some models come with an SD card slot, while others have a USB port. Meanwhile, most IP cameras send the video data to cloud storage since it’s more reliable and safer.

Video Data Encryption

The security of an IP camera also depends on how the video data is encrypted. Most IP cameras use the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to encrypt the video data before sending it over the network.

Video Analytics

Video analytics is a feature that allows IP cameras to automatically detect and track objects in the frame. They do this by analyzing the pixels in the video frames. Some IP cameras can also generate alerts when they detect a certain event or object.

Steady State Streaming

IP cameras need to have a steady-state streaming feature. It ensures that the video data is being sent continuously without any drop in quality. IP cameras operating in a steady state have lower bandwidth consumption. Therefore, they are budget-friendly and scalable for organizations.

Remote Viewing and Management

IP cameras can be accessed and managed remotely using a mobile app or a web browser since they are connected to the Internet. Most IP cameras also come with a built-in web server that allows them to be accessed from anywhere.

shutter camera divider 2Where Is an IP Camera Used?

There are many reasons to use an IP camera. The most common reason is for security purposes. IP cameras can be used to monitor businesses and homes from anywhere in the world. Likewise, IP cameras are used in babysitting and childcare applications.

IP cameras are also commonly used in public areas, such as parks and streets. In these applications, the cameras can help deter crime and increase public safety.

 

Advantages of IP Cameras

IP cameras have become increasingly common in recent years as their technology has improved and their price has dropped. There are several advantages to using an IP camera over its analog counterparts.

Accessibility

The most notable benefit of an IP camera is that you can access its footage from anywhere in the world. Since these cameras are connected to the Internet, you can use your phone or web browser to check the surveillance of your property even when you’re not there physically.

Simple Storage

Gone are the days when you’d have to keep track of the VHS tapes and disks. IP cameras store footage digitally, which means it can be compressed and saved on your computer or in the cloud.

Quality

IP cameras have better image and sound quality than analog cameras. They use digital signals instead of analog signals, which are subject to interference and static.

Flexibility

IP cameras offer a lot more flexibility for installation. You can put them almost anywhere since they don’t need to be physically connected to a recording device.

 

Low Maintenance

The cost of maintaining analog cameras is much higher than IP cameras. Not only do you have to worry about the physical tapes and disks, but you also have to hire someone to regularly change and clean them. IP cameras are low maintenance with little or no need for regular cleaning.

PoE Switch

IP cameras that use PoE only need a single cable for both power and data. It makes installation a lot simpler and cheaper since you don’t have to worry about installing a separate power outlet for the camera.

Video-Sharing

Besides viewing the camera’s footage from your device, you can also share it with other people. It is perfect for security purposes or if you just want to show someone what’s happening on your property in real-time.

Disadvantages of IP Cameras

 

Although IP cameras have many advantages, some disadvantages should be considered before purchasing.

Cost

One of the biggest disadvantages of IP cameras is their cost. They can be significantly more expensive than traditional CCTV cameras, and this cost can be a barrier for many people looking to add security cameras to their homes or business.

Privacy Concerns

IP cameras also raise privacy concerns. Because they are connected to the Internet, there is a risk that someone could hack into the camera and view the live feed.

High Bandwidth Demand

As IP cameras stream video over the Internet, they can demand a lot of bandwidth. It can be a problem for businesses with limited bandwidth or people with internet service with data caps.

shutter camera divider 2Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

It’s normal to be curious about these types of cameras. Here are some commonly asked questions about IP cameras.

General Questions

What Are the Drawbacks of IP Cameras?

IP cameras are typically more expensive than traditional security cameras. Additionally, because IP cameras rely on a network connection, they’re susceptible to network outages.

What’s the Difference Between an IP Camera and a Webcam?

An IP camera is a digital camera that transmits data over a home or business network, while a webcam is typically used to capture images or videos for live-streaming purposes.

Is an IP Camera Better Than CCTV?

Since IP cameras have higher resolution than CCTV cameras, they can provide better image quality. In addition, IP cameras are easier to install and configure than CCTV cameras. IP cameras also can send and receive data over a network, which allows them to be remotely monitored.

What Are the Benefits of Using an IP Camera?

IP cameras offer many benefits over traditional security cameras, including remote viewing, cloud storage, and motion detection. Additionally, IP cameras are more resistant to tampering than traditional cameras.

 

How Do I Choose an IP Camera?

When choosing an IP camera, you’ll need to consider the camera’s field of view, resolution, and frame rate. You’ll also need to decide whether you want a wired or wireless camera. For instance, if you’re looking for a camera to monitor your front door, you’ll need one with a wide field of view. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a camera to capture detailed images or videos, you should opt for one with a high resolution.

Questions About Usage

Can You Use IP Cameras for Video Conferencing?

Yes, it’s possible to use an IP camera for video conferencing. However, you’ll need to make sure that the IP camera is compatible with the video conferencing software. In addition, if you want to ensure two-way communication, you must use a camera with a built-in microphone.

Do IP Cameras Record Continuously?

That depends on how you have your camera set up. By default, most IP cameras are set to record continuously. However, you can usually change the recording settings to fit your needs. For example, you can set the camera to only record when motion is detected.

What Happens if My IP Camera Gets Disconnected?

If your IP camera gets disconnected from the network, it will stop recording. Additionally, you will not be able to view the camera’s live feed.

 

How Do I Access My IP Camera’s Feed?

You can access your IP camera’s feed by logging into the camera’s web interface. Alternatively, you can use a mobile app or a desktop application. Due to its Internet connectivity, an IP camera can be accessed from anywhere.

Do IP Cameras Use Bandwidth When Not Viewed?

IP cameras don’t always use bandwidth. Many IP cameras have a “sleep mode” that allows them to use very little bandwidth when they’re not actively used. However, some IP cameras may continue to use a small amount of bandwidth even when they’re in sleep mode, so it’s important to check with your camera’s manufacturer.

Do IP Cameras Slow Down Your Network?

Yes, if an IP camera is recording continuously, it will use a lot of bandwidth and slow down your network. However, you can reduce the amount of data used by an IP camera by reducing the resolution or frame rate or by using motion detection so that the camera only records when there is movement. Some cameras also have built-in compression to reduce the amount of data used.

How Can I Use an IP Camera for Surveillance?

Surveillance is the most common use case for IP cameras. The best way to set up surveillance is by using a Network Video Recorder (NVR). The NVR connects to the IP camera and records video footage onto a hard drive. It allows you to store months or even years of footage without taking too much space.

You can either connect the NVR to a monitor or use the remote viewing on a laptop, smartphone, or tablet to view the footage. If you don’t want to use an NVR, you can connect the IP camera directly to your router using an Ethernet cable.

shutter camera divider 2Questions About Security

Are IP Cameras Easy to Hack?

Like any Internet-connected device, IP cameras are vulnerable to hacking. However, you can take certain precautions to protect your camera and home network. For example, many manufacturers use a default password that is the same for all units of a particular model, making it easy for hackers to find and exploit.

By changing the default password to a unique and complex one, you can make it much more difficult for hackers to access your camera. Moreover, keeping your camera’s firmware up to date can help protect against known security vulnerabilities.

How Do I Secure My IP Camera?

There are a few things you can do to secure your IP camera. First, make sure to change the default password for your camera. Additionally, you should only allow trusted devices and computers to access your camera’s feed. Finally, you can also use encryption to add an extra layer of security.

shutter camera divider 2Conclusion

IP cameras are quite popular nowadays as they offer several advantages over traditional CCTV cameras. They are easier to install and don’t require additional equipment. IP cameras also offer better quality images and can be easily integrated with other security systems.

In most cases, the pros of IP cameras outweigh their cons, making them a suitable choice for businesses and homeowners.


Featured Image Credit: Phonlamai Photo, Shutterstock

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.

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