Panasonic BL-C160 review
Panasonic’s BL-C160 has the great outdoors in mind as it’s ready for external operations and 24-hour surveillance straight from the box. You’d expect to pay a hefty premium for these capabilities but this camera comes in at under ?200 making it look excellent value.
The camera can operate in temperatures between 20C and +50C but its ingress protection rating of IPX4 states it is only moisture resistant and splash-proof so must be positioned in a sheltered location. It can be powered over an Ethernet cable up to thirty metres in length but this is a proprietary solution as the camera is not 802.3af PoE compliant and can only be powered by the small injector module included in the package. Panasonic also includes a rubber seal for the power and network ports along with a reel of insulating tape.
Maximum resolution is 640 x 480 pixels with a top frame rate of 30fps and MPEG-4 and M-JPEG are supported simultaneously. Plenty of motion detection functions are provided as along with the standard movement detector you also have a thermal sensor. There’s more as above the fixed lens are a couple of LED illuminators allowing the camera to operate at night. Audio is off the menu as there isn’t a built-in microphone or audio out sockets.
Installation is helped by the IP Installer tool and the camera’s web interface is well designed and intuitive. General image quality during daylight is comparatively good with realistic colour and reasonably sharp focus. Image quality can be changed and we found the Favour Clarity setting made small improvements to the focus. A 10X digital zoom function is activated by pointing in the image and using the mouse wheel although this is of limited value as quality isn’t maintained well when you zoom in. Car park surveillance will be a problem as number plates at distance will be difficult if not impossible to make out.
During night-time manoeuvres we found the camera’s LED illuminators worked extremely well. In fact, they are so bright any intruder that trips them is likely to be blinded by the light. You can have them come on permanently when night falls or link them in with the motion and thermal sensors. The resultant image is on the grainy side but it is possible to make out facial details from between three and four metres away although felons will probably have a hand over their eyes to prevent their retinas being burnt out.
For the motion detection you can modify the threshold and sensitivity to suit using a preview screen and bar graph. Up to five triggers can be defined where you use motion detection, thermal sensing or a timer and send images to the camera’s internal memory, FTP and HTTP servers or via email. RTSP is also supported so you can use your mobile to view the video stream and a separate option is provided for setting the appropriate resolution for this.
Considering the BL-C160 is fit for outdoor use the price is quite remarkable as the majority of competing products cost at least twice as much. Care must be exercised when choosing an external location for it but image quality, the simple but effective lighting system and ease of installation makes it a good choice for a first foray into external surveillance.