Following is a vendor-agnostic, Beginner’s Guide to Construction Cameras, outlining everything you need to know to make the right purchase decision for your project.
Construction jobsite monitoring is more effective than ever before through the use of powerful, easy-to-use construction cameras, paired with feature-filled remote monitoring software designed specifically for construction projects. The difficulty can be discerning the camera hardware differences and ensuring you understand all the software and service features available to you so you not only solve your current need, but also get longevity and added value from your camera investment.
A good way to get started with understanding construction cameras is by answering a few questions about your project and jobsite. Thinking through the answers will help you better understand the camera hardware, software, and service features detailed later in this article.
- How large is your jobsite, how much of it do you need monitored, and from what angles?
- Do you need static photos of your jobsite, real-time video streaming, time-lapse videos – or all three?
- Do you often personally visit the site and capture up-close project details on your phone that you later need to share?
- What is the size of your budget for a remote monitoring solution?
- Do you have investors, lawyers or management teams you need to keep informed about your project?
- Do you want to be able to use your cameras for multiple construction projects?
- Are camera mount points readily available or will you need to negotiate mounting your construction cameras on property owned by someone else?
- Do your camera mount points require your cameras to have additional zoom capabilities because they are farther away from your jobsite?
- Is your jobsite in an area where weather comes into play during the build process?
- Do you need a team of people using different laptops and mobile devices to be able to share project information in a secure, online environment?
- Do you desire 24×7 camera support from your construction webcam partner?
- Is your jobsite in an area where you have nighttime security concerns?
- Will the monitoring you need also be used to “market” this project to other audiences (i.e. investors, potential tenants, community goodwill, etc.)?
It’s important to note that all of these questions are focused specifically on the construction industry. There are many vendors in the “remote video monitoring” space, so choosing a construction camera partner that is solely focused on the construction industry will be critical – they will understand your specific challenges and have hardware and software solutions tailored to your needs. An example of this is the solar camera offering. A provider of generic video monitoring cameras won’t always offer the more cost-effective and versatile solar powered cameras because they don’t understand the specifics of outdoor construction jobsite monitoring. Additionally, you will want to take the following into consideration when reviewing construction camera vendors.
- Pan-Tilt-Zoom Cameras
Pan-Tilt-Zoom cameras, or PTZ for short, can provide a much larger, panoramic view of your jobsite. True robotic PTZ cameras can be remotely moved and controlled via a web software interface. This type of camera provides the ability to monitor large sites in their entirety, which may not be visible with a standard fixed position camera (even if it’s touted as possessing a wide angle lens). This type of camera also offers time-lapse video functionality for multiple areas.
PTZ cameras generally have either optical or digital zoom functionality. A camera that uses true optical zoom, or actual camera lenses to capture the zoomed-in frame, will maintain image quality and you won’t see image degradation (graininess) as you zoom. Digital zoom is achieved with manipulation of the original photo or video so when you “zoom” you will see the images become grainy or fuzzy.
A word of caution, though – not all PTZ cameras are truly robotic, optical zoom cameras. Some are DLSR cameras, which may boast higher pixel resolutions but rarely have live video or on-demand refresh capabilities, and others still are fixed position-like cameras that have been attached to arms to achieve movement. It’s best to ask pointed questions of potential vendors regarding these features because, depending on your needs (think back to the list of questions at the beginning of this article), you may be disappointed if you purchase a camera only to discover it’s not a true robotic, optical zoom camera. Also consider that higher pixel resolutions are not always a value-add.
- Fixed Position Cameras
Fixed position cameras are exactly what they say they are – these cameras don’t move and are mounted in a stationary position but have some benefits that PTZ cameras don’t. Fixed position cameras often have higher resolution images, a wider field of view, and less moving parts that could potentially break.
Additional camera hardware considerations include:
- Camera temperature and humidity controls
- External storage or internal storage disks
- Upload and download speeds for external storage
- Protective cases for both weather and construction-related bumps and incidents
- Power requirements (can the camera be plugged into a standard three-pronged outlet or what happens if my jobsite doesn’t yet have power?)
- Built-in modems to transmit the video and photos for real-time access
- Additional hardware or software needed to store your photos and access/review them
This is a good time to note that a quick Google on Do-It-Yourself (DIY) construction cameras will generate a plethora of results, but digging down into those posts and comments you’ll learn that attempting to set up your own DIY camera system is very complex because of the above-mentioned considerations like temperature, humidity, storage space, camera protection, and the extra hardware and software needed to view and edit your images and videos. And this doesn’t even include the website software interface features and benefits you get from using a supported construction camera system that will be discussed later in this article – benefits like the ability to view and maneuver your cameras remotely from a computer or mobile device, time-lapsed videos, image compares, free image/video storage, and even just the ability to pick up the phone and get support for your cameras. It’s possible, for sure, but DIY construction cameras are not for the faint of heart!
- HD Security Recording
It’s impossible to be everywhere at all times. With construction cameras that provide security recording, you can rest assured that if there’s any activity on your jobsite it will be captured with the motion-activated recording without any loss of video quality. Security recording allows you to monitor theft or investigate issues on your job site and is hugely beneficial – but not all vendors or offer this functionality.
- High Definition Imagery
A useful visual documentation begins with the equipment. There are a number of factors that go into what makes a camera take better pictures than any other, but pixel density is one of the benchmarks most often evaluated. Construction cameras can be found with a wide range of resolutions. But beware, more isn’t always better! Larger images require longer download times and can affect camera and system responsiveness – and just like when taking photos with your mobile phone, the only time you’ll notice a difference in the pixel resolution is if it’s blown up to a billboard size. For imagery and videos being posted to social media sites, websites, blogs, etc., a mid-level pixel setting is just fine.
- Multi-User Viewing
If you have to keep different constituents up to date on your project and jobsite progression, you’ll want to investigate multi-user viewing. You don’t want to manage how and when people access your cameras to get their updates; it dilutes the value of having the cameras in the first place. If this is a requirement for you, then investigate vendors who provide free multi-cast streaming video. This allows any number of viewers to watch live video from your jobsite camera.
- Time-Lapse Video Recording
If you have a need for time-lapse videos then you should explore whether a given vendor can provide the ability to have multiple, simultaneous time-lapses running from different views. This will give you full visibility into your jobsite. Imagine if you could time-lapse a parking lot, an eastern structure, a western structure, and your jobsite trailer all from one camera! Time-lapse movies are also excellent marketing tools to promote your company and projects.
When looking for a construction camera partner you’ll want to investigate their website software interface used to view your jobsite and manipulate the cameras remotely. You could have the most sophisticated camera ever but if you have to drive around from camera to camera and remove storage disks containing your images (some of which could be full without your knowledge) then you’re adding more work to your plate, not less. The power of the construction camera is the additional efficiency it affords you and your team, so the real value-add of the construction camera is the backend software interface.
Look for a camera partner that offers not only desktop, but also, mobile and tablet compatible software interfaces for your cameras. Some partners even offer software packages that provide real-time viewing, a calendar interface which allows you to choose a date and see any images captured on that day, live viewing (regardless of the method used to connect), the ability to lay two photos on top of each other, side-by-side comparison, real-time live streaming video, and even a dashboard functionality allowing you to see all your jobsites in a single spot.
One of the biggest differentiators for construction camera software interfaces is the ability to do an ad hoc refresh and see live photos and video instead of just looking at still pictures from the past. Many camera vendors do NOT offer this feature so it’s worth asking the question.
Additional camera software considerations include:
- Can you images taken from other devices to provide additional viewpoints without requiring a new camera every time?
- With access control and administrative tools, can you determine who can see through the lens of the cameras or review stored material?
- Does the system provide delivery of scheduled email reports to designated individuals?
- What about video and photo storage process and expenses (who stores them, where and for how long)?
- Is it easy to shut down a camera, cease service, and then re-connect the camera and spin up the service again at a different jobsite?
- What service and support is offered on the website software interface and cameras?
- Cellular Connectivity
Cellular networks give the widest range of connectivity for any smart device. The newest cellular technologies like 4G LTE can upload high-resolution video in real time from anywhere in their coverage area. Cameras that connect via cellular network allow for true plug-and-play functionality as no tapping into wireless networks and struggling with firewalls – all that’s needed is a power source.
- Wireless Networking Capabilities
Some construction cameras rely on an on-site Wi-Fi connection. If your site is already equipped with a Wi-Fi network then this isn’t a stumbling block but if your jobsite is new, too large, doesn’t have IT networking support, or isn’t equipped with enough power to run the equipment, wireless connectivity can be a bit tricky. It’s also a well-known fact that many ISPs lose service intermittently for a variety of reasons, such as weather, maintenance, and signal overload, so ensure you’re taking your ISP’s connectivity performance into consideration when deciding which route to go. If any of the aforementioned will be an issue, look for a construction camera that has a self-contained wireless connection, preferably a 4G LTE cellular modem, that operates in even the most severe weather conditions.
- Solar Panel Power
When a jobsite is in the early stages, a power source might not be available anywhere close to where you would like to setup your cameras. Instead of running power cables just to keep the camera recording, you can opt for a solar-powered model. A five-day battery backup prevents cloudy weather or long winter nights from stopping the camera’s operation. Installation is simple and easily accomplished by any construction crew.
Above are the basics on choosing a construction camera system that best suits your needs. We hope you’ve found this Beginner’s Guide to Construction Cameras helpful! Feel free to share it with your friends and colleagues.
While TrueLook certainly provides best-in-class construction cameras and affiliated service, support, and a feature-rich software interface, we understand that everyone’s needs are different and it’s more important to find the right solution in order to be successful.