I’ve been using several Axis M1031-W wireless IP cameras to handle my home video surveillance needs for quite a while but they are starting to get old I’ve been looking to replace them with something that offers higher video quality and better features.
I looked into the original Dropcam a couple years ago but ultimately I decided to go with the Axis cameras instead.
Axis makes some solid IP cameras, in fact the early Dropcam Echo actually used Axis hardware. Unfortunately Axis hasn’t released any new consumer IP cameras lately so I decided to start looking at other options.
After compiling a list of potential options the Dropcam Pro quickly became my top choice so I decided to buy one and test it out.
Dropcam Pro Specs
The dropcam pro has some very respectable hardware specs. Most notable is the wide 130 degree field of view which allows the camera to capture a much larger area within a single frame. It also includes night vision with built in infrared illumination.
It does not have an ethernet port which means wifi is the only option for connectivity.
- Field of View: 130 Degree Wide Angle
- Zoom: 8x Digital
- Lens: All Glass
- Night Vision: Yes (with infrared LEDs)
- Audio: Two way
- Apps: Mobile and Web
- Wireless: 802.11b/g/n Dual Band (2.4GHz and 5.0GHz)
- Video Quality: 720p HD (1280 x 720 at 30 frames/second with H.264 encoding )
- Power: Micro USB
- Color Options: Silver or Black
Unboxing The Dropcam Pro
The packing for the Dropcam is very clean, simple, and attractive. The box comes shrinkwrapped in plastic with an outer cardboard sleeve surrounding the main package.
- Dropcam Pro HD Camera
- Adjustable Aluminum Camera Stand
- Wall mounting hardware (drywall anchors, screws, and wall mount plate)
- 10-foot Micro USB cable
- AC Adapter (USB power adapter)
- Quick Start Guide
The first thing you’ll find inside is the Dropcam itself. It ships with a small piece of protective plastic covering the camera lens.
Behind the Dropcam is the quick start guide, AC adapter, USB cable, and wall mount screws.
The Dropcam also comes with a wall mount plate which can be used with the included screws and drywall anchors to mount the camera directly to a wall.
Installation and Setup
The setup process for the Dropcam is extremely simple and only takes a couple minutes to complete. The software for the dropcam comes pre-loaded on the cameras internal storage, to access the software the camera needs to be connected to a computer using the included micro USB cable.
Once connected the camera will be listed in My Computer as a storage device. If autorun is enabled the setup program will start automatically. The installation program can be launched manually by running the Setup Dropcam.exe file located on the cameras storage.
The camera includes both the Windows, and Mac versions of the installation software.
The setup process consists of 3 steps, creating a Dropcam account, configuring the wireless network settings, and placing the camera in the desired location.
Since the Dropcam is a cloud based camera the online account is required to view live video, as well as historical video if you subscribe to a CVR plan.
Next the software will prompt you to connect your camera to a wireless network. The Dropcam only supports recording video to the cloud via a wireless connection since it does not have an ethernet port.
After the camera is connected to the wifi network it can be disconnected from the computer and placed in the desired location. The software will automatically reconnect to the wireless network once it finishes booting.
After the camera is connected to the cloud it will begin streaming video.
To view any video from the camera you must sign into the Dropcam website. The camera does not have a local interface to view via the LAN so you must have an internet connection available at the location you plan to use the camera.
From the web interface you can view live streaming video , or historical footage if you purchase an optional CVR (Cloud video recording) plan. The timeline below the video allows CVR users to jump to any point on the time line (up to 30 days) and view recorded video.
Overall I like the Dropcams web interface but one feature that seemed to be missing was the ability to quickly grab a still image snapshot.
The web interface also provides an easy method to create and share video clip, although you’ll need a CVR plan to take advantage of this feature. Dropcam allows you to store up to 3 hours worth of video clips in your online account.
Clips can also be downloaded, or shared via email or social media.
The clip tool can also be used to easily create a time lapse video. While this isn’t a very practical feature it is a pretty cool novelty function.
Motion Detection and Activity Recognition
Dropcams cloud software also supports activity recognition which can categorize common activities on the timeline for easier reviewing. Unfortunately this feature doesn’t work very well when the camera is monitoring outdoor environments with lots of activity. When set to monitor the area in front of my home I found it to be very inconsistent when trying to identify anything.
Overall the motion detection features leave a lot to be desired. Dropcam lacks the ability to set a motion detection window , or specific area of the video frame to be monitored or excluded. I found the lack of this feature to be very annoying especially when the camera was monitoring my driveway which borders a busy street.
Email alerts for motion events can be disabled but then you are left without any notifications whatsoever.
Camera settings are also controlled via the web interface. The control panel provides several useful features such as the ability to disable the camera LED, enable night vision, rotate the image, and enable time scheduling for the camera.
The camera can also be configured to send email notifications if motion or sound is detected.
The sharing tab allows access to the camera to be shared with anyone else you choose. Dropcam also allows you to make the camera public if you want it to be viewable by anyone.
Overall I found that the settings allowed me to control most of the items I would care about but unlike Axis cameras you won’t find many power user settings.
I was very impressed with the quality of video produced by the Dropcam. The camera produces video with a resolution of 1280×720 at 25 frames per second. Overall the cameras sensor seems to respond very well to changes in the amount of light present in the frame.
The wide angle lens allows the camera to capture a much larger area than any camera I’ve used in the past.
The Dropcam is able to detect low light conditions and automatically enable night vision mode as needed.
I found the Dropcams night vision performance to be excellent. I think the cameras great night vision performance can mostly be attributed to its built in infrared illuminators. The camera has several infrared LEDs located in a circular pattern around the cameras lens.
The image below was taken in a completely dark room with no lights turned on whatsoever yet everything perfectly visible!
I discovered that the night vision mode will not function correctly if the camera is pointed out a window or sitting behind a piece of glass. This is due to the fact that glass reflects too much infrared light from the cameras built in infrared illuminators back toward the lens ruining the image.
Night vision mode can be enabled or disabled in the camera settings.
Dropcam has mobile apps available in both the Android Play Store, and the Apple App Store. These applications allow you to view video from one, or more Dropcams through a single easy to use interface.
I had good results from both the Android and Apple versions of the apps. I actually found the mobile app worked better on my iPad Mini instead of my Galaxy S4 but I think this was mostly due to having a larger screen area to work with.
Cloud Video Recording
One of the biggest drawbacks of the Dropcam is that it does not provide the ability to store video to a local server. In order to have any stored video footage you must purchase a cloud recording plan for each camera.
The prices listed below are on a per camera basis which can get very expensive if you have multiple cameras. Additional cameras do receive a %50 discount but the CVR service can still cost you a significant amount of money on a monthly basis.
The CVR (Cloud Video Recording) service allows you to store up to 30 days of video on their servers. Cloud video is stored on a rolling basis so the oldest footage is automatically removed. When you purchase a Dropcam it includes a free 14 day trial of their CVR service. After the trial expires you’ll be stuck with live video only unless you subscribe to a CVR plan.
Clearly the decision for Dropcam to not offer a local storage option is a financial move on their part and not a technical one. Many competing cameras like the Samsung Smartcam HD offer a method to store recorded video without a monthly service plan.
While I feel that $9.95 a month is a bit high I still think it’s worth it considering the convenience factor. It also provides piece of mind that your video is being uploaded to a remote server and not stored on a local machine that could potentially be damaged, or stolen during a break-in.
Overall I’ve been very impressed with the Dropcam Pro. The camera is very easy to setup and produced excellent quality video in almost all lighting conditions. The Dropcam is a great camera for anyone looking for a turn key video surveillance solution.
The main drawback of the Dropcam is the high monthly recurring cost required to save historical video footage. Advanced users might also be slightly discouraged by the lack of power user settings such as motion detection windows, custom alerts, or scripting functionality.
Even with these limitations I still think Dropcam is a great solution for most home and business users.