Product Review: Blink Cameras

Every post about cameras on a security-related blog should start with this sentence, but few do:  Cameras are not a security device, they are a recording device.

In other words, cameras – in and of themselves – do absolutely nothing to actually stop someone from gaining entrance to your home.  Oh, seeing one might discourage someone, but unlike a lock or anti-break film on your windows, they do not actually prevent the act of breaking in.

But they can do a marvelous job of recording the events.

With that in mind, I have been thinking about deploying cameras around my house for quite some time, but there are complications with that.  First, a lot of low-grade Chinese cameras are open to exploits turning them into some of the largest botnets ever recorded.  Second, wiring an existing house for cameras is a time-consuming, potentially expensive process that – as a parent of toddler – I cannot support at the moment.  Third, creating a system that can monitor the cameras, record relevant details, and make those recordings accessible outside the home is also time- and money-consuming.

So there are compromises to be made, as with all security.

Back during the last Prime Day, Amazon’s Blink Camera system reached a price point where I figured I could get a few, tinker around with them, and not feel too bad if they turned out to be useless.  I am happy to report they are far from useless.

Pros:

  • The cameras are quite affordable. Even discounting frequent sales – and they are quite frequent – the outdoor camera + base station combo runs about $130, with additional outdoor cameras costing $120. Yes, there are cheaper cameras out there, but not many are fully wireless.
  • There is no hardware requirement aside from the base station and cameras. In some regards, this is a con as well – you do not retain control of your video. But as long as you are recording things that are basically “in the public purview” already (like the exterior of your home), I do not view this as a big deal.
  • 20181125_143602The cameras are fairly small, and the base station is even smaller.  It only requires a place to plug in its USB charger, so you can use any of the number of phone chargers you probably have laying about.
  • While being incompatible with rechargeable batteries, the cameras seem to last a while on their batteries. They advertise a year or more on one set of batteries, and mine have been up for about six months with no sign of needing replacements any time soon.
  • The video resolution is quite usable – up to 1080p.
  • The low-light infrared illuminator is more than bright enough for its purposes.
  • The exterior cameras are IPX65-rated, and the one camera I have unsheltered on my house has never given so much as a hiccup, even during a hurricane.
  • It is possible to both view the cameras real-time, and set them to record based on motion visible to the Passive Infrared (PIR) sensor.
  • Likewise, the sensitivity of the sensors can be dialed up or down, and the duration of the recording can be adjusted from 5 to 60 seconds.
  • In fact, everything is adjustable – quality of the recording, duration of the recording, sensor sensitivity, retrigger cooldown, activity zones (this is still in beta), when the cameras are “armed” (I.e. the sensors active), etc.
  • You can set the controlling smartphone app up to alert you when there are video clips recorded.

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Cons:

  • The camera simply does not do contrast, at all. If there is a bright spot in the frame, and a dark spot in the frame, neither will be particularly clear, but the dark spot will lose all definition or detail. This holds true whether we’re talking about visible light and shadow, or the IR illuminator.
  • The PIR sensor frame and the video frame do not quite match up. In other words, the sensor can trigger for something the camera cannot see. This is particularly noticeable when the trigger target is closer to the camera.
  • The PIR – being infrared-driven – can be fooled by cold concrete being heated by the sun. This can be solved by dialing down the sensitivity on the sensor.
  • The same goes for bugs, particularly moths.
  • You do not get infinite storage of videos. This makes sense, considering you are not paying for infinite storage of videos, and no doubt Amazon is using your videos for… some purpose or another, in order to offset the cost of storing them, but still.
  • And, speaking of, you are not in control of those videos. Personally, considering that all of my Blink cameras are on the exterior of my house, I do not consider this a huge concern – if people wanted access to that footage/information, they need only stake out my home for a time. On the other hand, interior footage could be… more concerning. I have never noticed a Blink camera coming on aside from when I or a schedule/sensor told it to come on, but I have not exactly been watching mine with an eagle eye.
  • The videos are only accessible through a smartphone.  They can be downloaded to said device and uploaded wherever, but there has to be a smartphone in the equation.
  • While the app will ping you when there’s a recording, it will only ping you after the recording is complete, uploaded to Amazon, and processed.  So that could be ~2 minutes, depending on clip duration and internet speeds.  Again, these are not a security system.

And, all that said, internet appliances that you do not control should live on their own network.  Most routers these days offer the ability to host a “guest” network, that cannot see the main network where your desktop and whatnot else lives – these cameras should be placed on that kind of network (virtual networks and so forth would also be viable options).

Now for some sample videos.  Please note that all of these videos were recorded at the “best” setting, which is actually the middle quality setting – “enhanced’ is better (and now that I’ve seen how little space of my online storage these videos take up, I will probably upgrade all my cameras to that level).

Here’s an example of the contrast being blown out:

And an example of the illuminator being too bright:

But here’s an example of night-time illumination being basically perfect:

And what it can do with adequate lighting:

All said, for the price point, I have no complaints.  They do not have crystal clear quality (mostly due to my setting, which I will be adjusting), but they are also easy to install (if you can use Command Strips, you can mount these), easy to maintain, and inexpensive.  I have some reservations about the data being stored on Amazon’s systems, but that is something for everyone to decide on their own.  I do not regret the purchase, and I will probably be buying more in the future.

(Disclosure:  All links to Amazon carry my referral information.  It costs you nothing, but Amazon throws me a percentage of every purchase you make.)

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