Marc van Jaarsveldt, consultant, The Surveillance Factory, a system integrator, says there are many factors to consider when reviewing your security cameras to determine if an upgrade is required: “There are many factors to consider prior to upgrading and the option to extend the lifespan of your existing equipment must be appraised. The biggest challenge is to decide whether to keep abreast of new technology or to try and keep your system live for as long as possible. This trade-off does have implications for how effective your camera system is as a security tool.”
While getting value out of your initial investment is key, there is no denying the leap that surveillance technology has made in the past five years and what this means in terms of camera technology features and benefits if you do decide to upgrade your system.
When reviewing the system, van Jaarsveldt says that the camera lifespan will generally be impacted by the quality of the equipment purchased at the outset, the current operating environment and maintenance schedule as well as the client’s overall appetite for improvements made to the system.
In a typical surveillance scenario, a quality camera may have a lifespan of between five and ten years, while a less expensive model may only survive for three years. “This will be impacted by the environment as an outdoor camera, for example, will be exposed to harsher elements. There are temperature changes, rain, dust, moving parts (on PTZ cameras) and even electrical surges to contend with, all of which can affect the camera” says van Jaarsveldt.
He cautions that camera lifespans do vary based on the manufacturer. Not all camera brands can survive in the field for ten-years: “The average warranty period for a camera is three years, with a possible extension to five years. Being out of warranty, however, does not mean it doesn’t work, it will simply cost more to repair, should something go wrong.”
If longevity is a goal, then maintenance of the system is critical. Van Jaarsveldt says that while this does not impact the overall lifespan significantly, it can make a difference to its functionality: “Simply cleaning the cameras will help, especially if they are in a harsh environment where they are exposed to sun, dust, water or chemicals from industrial processes. By cleaning the camera housings and lenses you are able to slow down the rate at which the hardware degrades or deteriorates. This can prolong the life of a camera. Also check for and remove nesting insects such as wasps, ants and spiders from camera housings.”
While it is understandable that users want to get the most value out of the system and enjoy a longer lifespan, the biggest influence and challenge to maintaining an up-to-date system is the rapid rate of technology development. While cameras five years ago offered an acceptable 720p resolution (1MP), today’s cameras routinely offer 3MP, 5MP resolutions and even the much talked about 4k, which is 8MP.
“The fact is that cameras five years ago are in no way a comparison to what is currently available. Even the best IP camera then could not compare with what is available now,” says van Jaarsveldt. “This makes the challenge more complicated as newer technology offers so much more value for a security environment where the quality of video footage is so important.”
He says that for some industries, such as retail, this lag in technology poses a significant risk and threat to the business: “There are certain sectors that simply can’t afford to fall behind the technology curve. While the older systems may still work, the reality is that a new system will offer more functionality and significantly more value to the business.”
An example according to van Jaarsveldt is the fact that older generation cameras offer lower quality images due to much lower resolutions and substantially less advanced light management such as WDR: “Earlier generations of cameras don’t offer good resolution with excellent light management, exposure and contrast control and wide dynamic range (WDR). While the new generation IP cameras offer far superior resolutions and most end users tend to accept 2MP or even 3MP as the entry level resolution.”
These higher resolutions offer more detailed images and when the video is analysed for incidents or events, this additional resolution is critically important. Newer IP cameras also offer superior light management, automatically allowing for big variances in contrast to be eliminated by combining multiple images.
“In security environments, where light contrast affects the cameras significantly, this is a very important feature. The camera is now able to produce video footage of a far higher quality and this provides improved security and forensic value,” explains van Jaarsveldt.
He says that while older systems may still be useful, clients need to be aware of the ramifications of keeping the older hardware in the field for too long: “If a complete camera swap out is not affordable, then review your cameras and replace the ones that are used in higher risk areas with newer models. Note that cameras with vastly higher resolutions may affect the performance of the back end recording server or NVR as well.”
By working with reputable system integrators, clients should be made aware of the specific components of their camera system that need to be retired and replaced. “Surveillance systems are generally in place for a good reason, it is imperative that they are upgraded as necessary and maintained appropriately,” says van Jaarsveldt.