Window Webcam - Lessons Learned
The very popular live video on the site is provided using a Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks Pro. The window webcam has been running since Sept. 23, 2004. Here are some thoughts and advice on setup:
Picking a camera
Perhaps the single greatest question once you've decided to get a webcam is what kind of cam works best as a weather cam. There are all kinds of choices - USB, ethernet, wired, wireless, indoor, outdoor, night vision - the list goes on.
I've always decided on my webcams first by price. Webcams can range from several dollars to several thousands of dollars. Obviously the more you pay the more features you get. The second feature I look for is quality of the image. Often, the best way to tell that is by looking at another user's webcam and seeing what their image looks like. The third feature is ease of hookup. A USB webcam is very easy to hook up but the downside is that it requires being connected to a computer and that computer must be on 24 hours a day. USB also requires either a very short run to the computer, or extension cords (USB, active USB, or USB to ethernet). The alternative is a network cam, which connects directly to the internet through it's own IP address, but obviously costs more.
The initial webcam for our site was the Logitech Quickcam 4000 Pro. While this USB webcam is very easy to setup and provides an adequate image at low 320x240 resolution, today's webcams offer more alternatives.
Chris at Cape Coral Weather mentioned that he was using the Quickcam for Notebooks Pro, which is also a USB webcam by Logitech. Coincidentally, I found an incredible deal on the camera from a surplus computer shop and so ordered one.
This webcam, while not the easiest to mount, provides images which rivals much more expensive cams. In fact, I'd say it provides the best image of any webcam under a $1,000. The fact that it has auto focus is a big plus. If it had one flaw, the camera has very poor low light capability.
Picking a window
I, like many, chose a window which gave an interesting view. In this case, it's the front yard of my neighbor looking toward the end of the school yard (it's quite large). I wanted to make sure there were trees in view (so wind could be gauged).
But I also choose the window because it was close to my computer. If I needed to go much more than one 6-foot USB extension beyond my computer, I would have had to buy an active repeater USB cord. Others have found that they can extend the range of the USB considerably by using a USB to CAT5 adapter. This allows for runs up to 150 feet from the computer.
Cleaning the window
I know this sounds pretty basic but my windows really did need a cleaning - the cleaner the windows, the clearer the pictures. Expect to clean the weather window about every month to keep the best picture possible.
In addition to cleaning, I've found adding a protectant like Rain-X helps repeal both rain and dirt.
Mounting the camera
Our original camera was a 4000 Pro. While the cheesy base that comes with the 4000 Pro will probably work in some situations, I decided to mount my webcam on a universal socket tripod. The one I picked is a mini tripod which allows for a stable base and precise aiming.
The universal socket allows the webcam to be screwed onto the tripod. This makes for worry free mounting in my window sill.
Our latest webcam, the Logitech Quickcam for Notebooks Pro, has a little clip on it for mounting on laptops. This has proved some challenges for mounting. Currently it is mounted on a clear plastic glass, approximately 12 inches high. The plan is to eventually mount it on a black, metal strut, jetting out from the window frame.
At night, if you don't do something in the window frame, you're going to get glare if there are any lights on in the room. I have a blind on the window but it was not enough to eliminate glare. So, I went to the fabrics section of my local super store and bought a few dollars of heavy black cloth and cut it to fit the window frame. This completely eliminated the glare, even with all lights on in the room.
My windows were orginally from the 1970s. They were made of two single panes in an aluminum frame. During the fall, I had no problems with condensation but once things dropped below 32°F, the window started fogging and frosting over.
I've tried just about everything I can think of to keep the window fog free... cleaning, plastic over the frame, anti-fog coating, etc. It's been really frustrating watching the webcam fog up day after day.
The only thing which has worked to remove condensation and keep it from coming back is a fan. I mounted a small 120mm 12 volt computer fan in the window. I used a 120v to 12v converter that you can find at your local electronics or super store. I had the voltage turned all the way down to 5v so the fan was virtually silent.
Today, the window has been replaced with a newer, energy-efficient model and condensation should be a thing of the past. If your windows are older and fogging, consider a fan.
Check with local authorities to make sure your window webcam is legal where you live. Videotaping laws vary widely and a person should check before placing a webcam.
Our webcam's images (still and live) are controlled by Webcam32 software (no longer available). It produces a thumbnail and still image every two minutes on the website and powers the streaming video.
Those interested in such software might also consider ConquerCam. It offers much the same features for less than WebCam32.