Home surveillance has never been simpler than it is today. The Internet has made setting up a camera to watch what matters most—whether you're guarding your house, watching the adorable antics of a pet on the go, or anything in between—easier than it's ever been. The market for personal home cameras and surveillance equipment has grown, and manufacturers have risen to the challenge. Each of these major players in the IP camera game has their devoted followers, but which camera wins out in a head to head comparison?
From a physical standpoint, all four cameras are discreet, which is ideal for home surveillance. So how does the hardware compare across the four cameras?
Besides the price, the Foscam FI9831P and FI9826PB probably look like the same camera. And they pretty much are. The FI9831P is a little larger. It is 8 inches high and less than 1.5 pounds. The Foscam FI9826P is only 5 inches high and less than a pound in weight. Other than the size, there is minimal difference in the hardware. The FI9826PB may be the smaller number and smaller size, but it's more powerful. The FI9826PB and the FI9831P use a 1.3MP lens that pans and tilts. The FI9826PB also has the option for 3x zoom and it uses a 4mm-9mm lens vs. the 3.5mm lens used by the FI9831P. It may seem like a minor difference, but the better lens does produce a better quality image. Is it worth the extra $80?
Foscam R2 looks like a more modern version of the FI9831P and FI9826P. It has a slimmer cylinder shape with a round swivel style camera. The body rotates on its base, allowing it to pan, and the camera tilts vertically on its body. R2 uses a more powerful, 2MP lens with a focal point of 2.8mm. Higher megapixels means better resolution, and a lower focal point means this camera has a wider field of view. But then again, is the better image quality worth the extra cost?
The Dropcam Pro is in another league when it comes to size. It comes with 8x digital zoom and a 130-degree view. It's quite tiny: 4.5 inches in height and barely over 5 ounces, this is by far smaller than the Foscams. Like the Foscam's, the Dropcam Pro is made for indoor use. While Foscam does sell cameras made to be used outside, Nest does not, so you must add a third-party protective case if you want to use it outdoors.
Nest Cam is the newer version of Dropcam. There really isn't a great difference between the two. Like Dropcam, it comes with 8x digital zoom and a 130-degree view. However, size is one of the major differences. Nest Cam is the same height as Dropcam but it's slimmer, and the base is more flexible with a 360° rotation, 180° pivot, magnetic base, and a 1/4 inch-20 screw mount. The body may be slimmer, but it's slightly more heavy at 7.17 ounces.
The FI9831P, FI9826PB, and R2 offer the same storage options. They all have the option to record to the cloud or locally. To record locally requires an SD card (sold separately) that can be up to 32GB, but no larger. This means that it needs to be taken down, emptied, and replaced fairly often. 32GB is a lot of room, but for a high-powered and high quality image, it's going to fill up quickly. How long the 32GB lasts depends on your usage; users running it at full 1280 x 960 resolution 24 hours a day will need to change it more frequently than those using it a few hours a day. R2, which has a 1080p resolution, takes up more storage space. So R2 users will have to empty the SD card more frequently.
If you opt-in to the cloud service, these Wi-Fi cameras will store your video securely online. They have four cloud service plans, one of which is free. The free plan accommodates 1 camera and lets you watch a maximum of 30 minutes live video at a time. It also allows you to save 30 event clips and 100 images to the cloud. Once your cloud storage is full, you will no longer be able to save videos or images until you delete existing files.
The Basic plan costs $8/month and offers unlimited live viewing of up to 4 cameras, 1 day of video, and 5,000 images stored in the cloud. The Standard plan costs $20 per month. It allows you to view live footage from up to 10 cameras and store 1 week of video and 30,000 images to the cloud. And finally, the Premium plan, which costs $50/month, allows you to connect as many cameras as your heart desires while watching footage from them all. It also lets you store 1 month of video and 100,000 images to the cloud.
Nest Cam and Dropcam are different. There is no option to store videos to an SD card. Videos are saved to the cloud instead. Nest offers a cloud service called Nest Aware (starting at $10/month). It gives you access to premium features, like person alerts (more on this later) and Sightline. Sightline lets you scrub through days worth of videos to find events that matter. It also pulls out events that it thinks matter (i.e. action that triggered an alert). The events are shown as thumbnails, and you can tap on them to watch the full video. Alternatively, you can use Nest or Dropcam without subscribing to Nest Aware, but you will only be able to access 3 hours of snapshots via Sightline. Basically, you will be able to see the thumbnail, but you won't be able to click on it to watch the full video. If you prefer, you can sign up for third-party cloud services like Camio, which acts as an alternative to Nest Aware.
Special Features Compared
The FI9831P, FI9826PB, R2, Dropcam Pro, and Nest Cam all have features that set them apart. The key is seeing how these special features and perks compete across the board.
What sets the Foscam FI9831, FI9826P, and R2 apart from Nest Cam is the optical pan/tilt feature. The 2 cheaper Foscam cameras have a lower (1280x960) resolution, but this is balanced out by the fact that you can pan around and check out an entire room. If a higher resolution PTZ camera is what you are after, R2 is your man. Yes, Dropcam and Nest Cam can digitally zoom, but that's not the same thing.
Dropcam Pro and Nest Cam have added a feature into their cloud service plan called activity zones. You must pay for Nest Aware to gain access to this feature, but it does set them apart from the Foscams. Using activity zones, you can choose to monitor or ignore certain areas within the camera's field of view. For example, you may want to monitor your bedroom, but you want the camera to ignore what happens in your bed. Simply draw a virtual square using the camera's software to show the camera what you want to monitor versus ignore.
Another unique feature is Person Alerts, also accessible only by Nest Aware subscribers. Person Alerts uses a powerful algorithm to distinguish if a person is seen by the camera or if the event is caused by something else. As a result, your camera won't only tell you that there's an alert, but will also tell you if it thinks the alert is caused by a person or not.
Finally, both cameras are part of the Works with Nest program. The ability to work with Nest products among other home automation devices is both cool and useful. For instance, your Philips Hue bulbs (also part of Works With Nest) can turn on automatically at Nest Cam's command if your camera detects motion.
|Camera||FI9831P||FI9826PB||Foscam R2||Nest Cam|
|# of IR LEDs||11||11||11||8|
|Megapixels||1.3 Megapixels||1.3 Megapixels||2 Megapixels||3 Megapixels|
|Field of View||70° FOV||35-70° FOV||110° FOV||130° FOV|
|Ability to Zoom||NO||3x Zoom||2x Magic Zoom (optical zoom), 6x digital zoom||Digital Zoom|
|Automatic Arm/Disarm Based Upon Location||NO||NO||NO||YES
|Connection||802.11b/g/n or Wired Ethernet||802.11b/g/n or Wired Ethernet||802.11b/g/n or Wired Ethernet||802.11b/g/n or Wired Ethernet|
|Events Alerts||Push, E-Mail and File Transfer Protocol (FTP)||Push, Email, and FTP||Push, Email, and FTP||Push, Email, and FTP|
|Stream to Your Computer||Windows and MAC||Windows and MAC||Windows and MAC||Windows and MAC|
|Cloud Storage||Yes, Free or Paid||Yes, Free or Paid||Yes, Free or Paid||Nest Aware, Paid (3 Hours Snapshot for Free)|
|Local Storage||FTP, PC, SD Card||FTP, PC, SD Card||SD Card||NO
|Purchase||Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now|
*25fps(50Hz), 30fps(60Hz), Down adjustable
Problem Areas with the Foscams, Dropcam, and Nest Cam
No camera is perfect, and with all high-performance technologies, something has to give. One of the most telling ways to compare these cameras is to look at their problems instead of their successes.
The Foscam FI9831 and the FI9826PB sell themselves as "plug and play" models, but some people find that they are anything but. Though the setup process is sold as simple, the steps have to be followed in a very specific order. Any deviation from that can lead to long hours on the phone with their tech support staff as they try to figure out just how your installation and set-up went wrong. This can be very frustrating for customers who haven't been able to use their camera yet due to the complicated set-up. Also, the apps and software are not nearly as user-friendly as Nest's. Dropcam and Nest Cam offer one app, and it's easy to use. There are many apps for Foscam, some official, some not, some free, some not, some are easy to use, some not. It can be an overwhelming choice for someone who just wants to spend a few minutes setting up the camera before moving on to more important things.
The Dropcam Pro has two large flaws: the first is that speed of your Wi-Fi will affect the quality of the image you save, and lagging and dropped data is not uncommon if you have a small bandwidth set-up. The second, as there is no local storage on this device, anything that you miss during the upload to the cloud is gone forever.
Nest Cam carries the same flaws as Dropcam. At first launch, it was missing some of the features that people loved about Dropcam and its companion app. However, they've since launched the ability to automatically arm and disarm your camera based upon presence as well as the option to add family members to help monitor your camera.
The Foscam FI9831P is available new for as little as $99. This under a hundred price shows how much you can get for a little; though basic compared to the other two, this model proves to be a great value. For someone looking for a basic camera, that's a good value; this is a solid option.
The Foscam FI9826PB retails for $179.99. The extra $80 went straight into the lens for this camera; better lens, better zoom, and a 300-degree pan view are nothing to be sneezed at. This is a mid-range camera that could be top of the line depending on the preferences of the user. If you're looking for primarily local storage with light access to the cloud, you can find both with this model.
R2 is currently priced at $195.99.
Dropcam is no longer on the market. You can purchase the Nest Cam instead, which is currently sold for $199. And in general, Nest Cam is a better option. It offers an improved design and updated technology.
Updated 1/23/2016 to add the R2
Updated 3/10/2016 Nest Cam offers geo-fencing and family access
Updated 9/9/2016: Nest Cam offers person alerts and Sightline features to Nest Aware subscribers. All users get 3 hours of snapshots through Sightline.