SP&T News

Keeping cameras at peak performance

March 12, 2024  By James Careless

Image: pixinoo / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Security cameras are the heart of modern security systems.

This is why maintaining security cameras properly is absolutely vital. Here are the most common physical and digital issues that affect security cameras, and how to deal with them.

Physical issues and solutions

Depending on their location and function, security cameras may endure a wide range of physical challenges while continuing to do their jobs.

For instance, outdoor cameras have to withstand water, temperature and wind extremes; accidental damage; overexposure to sunlight and sun-induced heat; plus a host of other issues.


“Physical damage can also occur due to vandalism, corrosion elements in harsh environments such as salt spray, or industrial cleaning with harsh chemicals,” says Rui Barbosa, i-PRO America’s manager of surveillance products.

Badly executed outdoor camera placement can exacerbate these issues, resulting in “poor or blurred camera views, blocked views due to foliage growing or animals and insects interacting with the camera, or otherwise poor lighting,” says Joelle Grunblatt, chief marketing officer at Ai-RGUS, a company that makes an artificial intelligence software solution designed to help with security camera system maintenance.

Meanwhile, “poor placement of indoor cameras can lead to increased interaction with people that could cause tilting the camera, scratching the lens during maintenance and cleaning, or otherwise obstructing the camera view with signage,” she says. In both situations, poor placement can also hinder accessing the camera for maintenance and repair.

Addressing these physical issues from a maintenance standpoint starts with prevention, namely by purchasing rugged, high-quality cameras.

“Like most things in life, you get what you pay for,” Barbosa says. “Optimizing the lifespan means selecting the right camera for the job from a reputable manufacturer with a proven track record of durability. Manufacturers have varying levels of warranty and support so it’s important to do your homework.”

Putting security cameras inside environmentally-appropriate protective housings also makes a preventative difference, as does choosing the appropriate cameras for the requirement.

For example, “do not select indoor-rated cameras for outside use,” says Arijeet Mukherjee, Johnson Control’s head of product support, access control, and video solutions (ACVS) engineering. If you cannot avoid doing so, “use proper outdoor housings, and apply silicone sealant around the connections and joints of the camera housing to avoid moisture and water ingress,” he says. “Create drip loops in the camera cabling to prevent water from traveling along the cables and entering the camera housing.”

Proper placement and installation

Then there’s camera placement. “When planning the camera installation, especially the ones at height, always keep a provision to make sure they can be serviced at a later stage,” Mukherjee says. “All cable-laying should be done in such a way that in the future if a situation arises, we can pull the cable back and replace it with a new one. The same goes for accessibility of power supply or any other junction boxes.”

On the subject of cabling and installation, it is vital to do terminations properly and to ensure that they are protected from environmental and usage-generated damage as much as possible. “The most common reason for degraded image quality or noise in the image is improper terminations,” explains Mukherjee.

“It is imperative that the termination of the camera cabling is proper on both the camera and POE switch/power supply end.” And don’t forget surge protectors: “Camera damage because of no surge protection” is completely avoidable, he says.

So install surge protectors to prevent overload damage to cameras, add in a UPS (uninterruptable power supply) so that abrupt shutdowns do not cause damage to camera circuitry, and make sure that the entire installation has been properly grounded.

If all of the above has been done properly, then the physical maintenance requirements for your security cameras during their operational lifespans will be reduced —- but not eliminated. Like a car, security cameras need to be inspected, cleaned and serviced on a regular basis, because wear-and-tear happens in all instances.

“The standard operating procedure should include cleaning of the camera lens, cabling/terminations and connectors regularly,” Mukherjee says. As well, operators should take the time to visually inspect their cameras on a regular basis. Weekly or even daily inspections are a good idea, to spot damage that may have occurred recently due to storms or humans and remedy it promptly.

Cameras are digital devices

Although they are physical objects, today’s security cameras still are digital devices. As such, the issues that can occur with digital devices need to be kept in mind and dealt with.

Rule 1: Keep a close eye on your cameras’ picture quality. After all, “the goal of a camera is to capture a certain field of view and therefore, it is important to adopt policies to ensure that the camera continues to provide the desired image,” says Mukherjee.

Fortunately, “software exists to automatically identify camera view problems and this includes identifying problems such as blur, block, tilt, glare and low-light,” he says. Still, it is wise to keep reference images on file for each camera — ideally captured when the unit was newly installed and in top condition — so that these can be compared to the camera’s current picture quality during regular inspections, physical cleaning and maintenance.

Here’s another digital maintenance trick to know: When it comes to poor image quality, a ‘degraded night view’ can be caused by a “low quality and incompatible power supply,” Mukherjee says. To avoid this, he advises buying security cameras that can capture clear images at 0 lux, or using external IR illuminators for those that cannot.

As well, “proper maintenance will help keep night image quality intact,” says Mukherjee. “And use a proper power source which can energize all the IR LEDs or illuminators.”

Rule 2: Digital security cameras are data-driven devices in a world where everything has connectivity and a software component. As such, one of the best maintenance-oriented ways to keep them running properly is by applying the updates, says Grunblatt.

A second smart idea is to purchase cameras that are capable of automatically updating themselves. The reason: “An update needs to be tested and be verified to work with other software in use (e.g., a VMS or NVR),” she says. “This is very time-consuming, so using software that can automatically push these updates, once approved, can be a very big time saver.”

Applying updates is also an effective cybersecurity maintenance measure. We’ve all seen movies where the “hacker” takes control of security cameras for nefarious purposes. Ensuring that your cameras, and indeed your entire security system, is constantly being updated as required is a good way to foil such plots, and to deter cyberattacks in general.

Furthermore, when cameras are not updated or left with old firmware, “this leaves a vulnerability,” Mukjerhee says. “So it is imperative that we keep the cameras up-to-date. Failing to update the camera firmware regularly can result in missing out on crucial security patches and bug fixes. So check regularly for and apply firmware updates provided by the camera manufacturer.”

One final benefit of update maintenance is getting access to feature enhancements. As security vulnerabilities are identified, camera manufacturers update the firmware and software to close those opportunities for security leaks, and when they do, they tend to include new features that allow their cameras to do more than before.

Rule 3: To protect and maintain the security of your security cameras, have a comprehensive, systems-wide cybersecurity system in place and constantly maintained. Granted, as Grunblatt says, keeping a “security camera system cybersecure” is “very time consuming” but it needs to be done. “It is recommended to adopt policies to update passwords, have a strong password policy, and to keep firmware up to date,” she says. “Not doing so could lead to the possibility of a hack, for example, if default passwords are used or if wrong passwords attempts are not limited, or if a certain firmware version is known to have a critical vulnerability with a known exploitation method.”

“Hacking is ever-present, but having proper features, protocols and best practices in place should prevent any breaches or exploitations,” says Barbosa. “The nature of IoT and IP cameras is such that regular updates will almost certainly be required to maintain secure systems.”

This is why choosing “manufacturers with a continuous and robust improvement program” will help keep your devices “cyber-secure with the latest standards such as FIPS 140-2 Level 3 from NIST,” he says. “After all, if it’s robust enough for the NSA, FBI and DOD, it’s probably good enough for your organization.”

The bottom line

According to the experts, buy the best quality and most appropriate security cameras for their assigned tasks, install and protect them properly, update their firmware/software regularly and on schedule, and keep them clean, dry and in top physical condition through regular inspections from start to finish. These are the maintenance tips that will deliver the best quality and most performance from your security cameras over time.

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