While looking for IP cameras, I noticed a device that looked close enough to a toy – but turned out to be an indoor/outdoor observation camera. A few days ago it hit my eye again, as it was on sale. Being the camera fan I am, I could not resist.
For testing purposes, I went for the “wild life” on my balcony (I live in a major city, but with plenty of trees surrounding our home, so we have a fair share of birds and squirrels visiting), where I always wanted a chance to have some life footage of the animals checking out what’s left for them. It’s only been on rare occasion that we could watch while we were at home, so an automated observation cam seemed to be right what I need.
As the title already says, the camera is a Technaxx Nature Cam TX-09. As most of the later operations area is is painted white, I went for the off-white housing, rather than brown or camouflage. Quite unusual for me, I didn’t check the technical details before buying, so unboxing the cam was like opening a surprise present for me :).
What you get, hardware-wise, is the camera in its housing, a special mounting pod that can be screwed to a wall or tied to a (wide) pole or tree, and both a USB and an A/V cable. It does include two screws plus anchors to install the mount on a wall, and has a weather-resistant strap in case you’d like to tie the mount to some life tree or anywhere else you’d rather not drill holes into. The camera slides into the mount without any locking pieces, so you cannot operate the camera upside-down – but you wouldn’t want to do that anyhow, since the case is crafted like a birdhouse, which would look out of place if turned upside down, and the video or images would be upside-down as well, which would be rather impractical.
The camera does have a built-in microphone, thus you’ll get audio with your video.
Mounting the camera
The mount does have a seamlessly adjustable ball joint, so you do can easily align the cam with the target area. Additionally, it sports a thread to affix the camera to a standard tripod mount, like any typical photo camera.
If you’d like to place the cam on a flat surface, like on a table, you’ll notice that the camera will be tilted slightly upward, because of a small, 2 millimeter rim at the lower front of the housing. This doesn’t seem problematic, but makes it feel slightly shaky.
The last noticeable feature are two small sockets, for an audio/video adapter cable (ending in standard cinch connectors for composite video and one audio channel) and a mini-USB connector. Both the A/V adapter cable and a USB cable are included. The two sockets are more or less covered by a common rubber padding, which will seal off against dust, and probably against dew, too. But unlike the solid clamps to shut the case (which seems properly sealed by a rubber lining), it does look rather loose and not that trustworthy.
Power & memory
Overall, the Nature Cam TX-09 is prepared for outdoor operations – instead of using a power supply, it requires four size D batteries (“LR20”, “Mono”, 1.5 volts). According to the power monitor, the batteries are still close to full after a week of continuous operation, so I’d expect them to last a while – you can set up the cam out in the wood, hike back home and fetch the cam a few weeks later. I have not tried running the cam with rechargeable batteries yet.
There’s no way to attach any type of power supply, but you’ll usually not need it, anyhow: You fetch the device, swap the SD card and reactivate. Viewing the pictures and video will be done on a PC, while the cam is already at work again. Thus you won’t drain the batteries by using the built-in LCD monitor.
A potentially limiting factor is the size of the “optional” memory card – the cam is equipped with a small internal storage area of around 28 Megabytes and a socket for an SDHC card, up to 32 GB.
The camera will take either single still images or short (15 seconds) video sequences. A still takes about 2.4 Megabytes (5 MP cam: 2592×1944 pixels), a 15 second video sequence (1280 x 720 MJPEG) requires approximately 50 Megabytes – so you’ll be able to store more that 13,000 stills or 27 hours of video.
While this sounds like a lot of footage (and it indeed is), the video capture setup possibilities are what I would call the only weak point of this gadget: The camera operates via motion detection, but has an inter-capture delay of 15 seconds minimum, and video captures are stopped hard after 15 seconds. That’s right: No matter how long your “movie stars” are acting in front of the camera, you’ll get 15 seconds of video, then one or more multiples of 15 seconds pause, then again 15 seconds recorded, pause, and so on. As you can see from one of the sample clips below, a cautious bird might take longer than 15 seconds before making the final move to the seeds you put out, and so you’ll miss that part. I’d love to have continuous motion detection in video mode, so that the cam will record as long as the show is on.
In addition, it would have been nice to be able to set recording schedules, so that you’d only monitor the action at night, or afternoon, or whenever you think fit. The camera does have a built-in real-time clock (it will time-stamp both stills and video), so it’d be just a matter of programming. And the camera doesn’t have any on/off switch – you’ll have to remove the batteries to deactivate the camera.
Other than that, I’m actually satisfied with the camera. It will operate both day and night and offers sufficient video and audio quality. The camera housing isn’t that stylish, but blends well into the typical garden environment. It’s sturdy, the mount seems stable and adoptable to various mounting options, and the camera appears to be weather-proof (IPx4, meaning it’s protected against splashing water).
Operating the camera
The cam comes with a build-in “console”, consisting of a small color monitor and a few keys. There are mostly used to set up the camera, like setting the current time, selecting the inter-shoot delay and the video vs. stills mode. From that point of view, the cam is “autonomous” and doesn’t required a PC to set it up.
On the other hand, since the the “console” it hidden and sealed by the back cover, you cannot check the camera orientation via the monitor – you have to set the camera to “test mode”, lock the cover, mount the cam, take the test shot, unmount and open the housing, and check the result. But: You cannot delete any images & videos via the console. So you’ll have at least that test shot “on file”, as well as a last shot taken while unmounting the cam (to remove the SD card).
Once you’ve set up the mount position, things get less complicated, as you won’t have to do any test shots – and the cam has a five minute delay between the last operator action and activating the “surveillance mode”.
Here are a few sample shots, so you can get an impression of the actual image quality:
Connecting the cam to a PC
When running the device in “normal mode”, that is after activating the built-in “console” and attaching the device via USB to a PC, it connects to the PC as “04fc:0171 Sunplus Technology Co., Ltd SPCA1527A/SPCA1528 SD card camera (Mass Storage mode)”. From there, it’s nothing else than a flash drive, so you can use the operating system of your choice to access the AVI and JPEG files stored in the internal memory or on the SD card.
You will find traces of the actual camera as well, Linux reports on my test PC:
[273323.323136] usb 1-6: new high-speed USB device number 86 using ehci-pci [273323.447765] usb 1-6: New USB device found, idVendor=04fc, idProduct=1628 [273323.447785] usb 1-6: New USB device strings: Mfr=1, Product=2, SerialNumber=0 [273323.447798] usb 1-6: Product: BC-7 [273323.447809] usb 1-6: Manufacturer: Salix [273323.453387] uvcvideo: Found UVC 1.00 device BC-7 (04fc:1628) [273323.456651] input: BC-7 as /devices/pci0000:00/0000:00:1d.7/usb1/1-6/1-6:1.0/input/input27 [273323.948974] usb 1-6: USB disconnect, device number 86
As you can see, the camera immediately disconnects again… but the manual does describe access to a service menu, and there you’ll find an option to toggle the USB mode, turning the device into a web cam. But this again is nothing that will be too much help, as running the device on battery does limit its use.
For good measure I looked up the USB ID of the cam, and found plenty of references to small chinese “spy cams”. But looking at other information there, it appears that the TX-09 has a higher optical resolution and looks more like the #15, with a different programming to support the surveillance mode. So it’ll take more time & effort to check the actual closeness of the hardware to the 808 key chain camera described on Chuck Lohr’s pages.