We’ve taken a look at two mid-level, megapixel pan/tilt cameras; the Axis M5014 and the Panasonic BB-HCM715. If you haven’t already seen part one of our comparison of, read it first. In this part of our comparison, we’ll have a look at the recording system on both cameras, event detection, audio, user interface and price, before delivering our verdict.
Onboard recording is available on both cameras, with the BB-HCM715 providing a slot for a standard SD card, while the M5014 uses a MicroSD slot to reduce the casing size. Access to the M5014 card slot is from the camera’s base. To insert a card, a push flap is opened and a small camera cage is unclipped. The slot on the Panasonic is rubber and can be easily opened to access the card. The camera also comes with a hard-plastic case which can replace the rubber flap should the camera be mounted in a location susceptible to tampering.
We tested the recording and playback system on the M5014 first. Recordings can be triggered by any of the event triggers (see below for further details) with the option of multiple events setup simultaneously, or continuous recording. Recordings are made with frame rates up to maximum resolution and can use JPEG or H.264 compression formats.
Accessing the recordings is also straightforward. The setup menu has a Recordings panel with the option to view, download or remove recordings. The video is downloaded as .mkv files which we tested in Windows Media Player 12 and found that it plays natively, without the need for additional codec installations.
On the other hand, the BB-HCM715 isn’t quite as advanced. Firstly, the recording system will not function when the camera is in megapixel mode. The maximum recording video resolution is 640×480. This is a real shame. Cutting the resolution in half drastically limits the effectiveness of the camera as a security device. As with the M5014, recordings can be made using trigger events, but the recordings are limited to a stream of JPEG images rather than a single video file, making navigation of stored footage quite difficult.
Downloading is also less intuitive than the Axis. Instead of downloading a single event, users navigate images one-by-one. When the start of an event is seen, users can choose to download images from that point in blocks of 1, 10, 100 and so on. It’s a very imprecise and clunky way to handle recordings.
The M5014 is the definite winner when it comes to recordings. We’ve seen many cameras which try to embrace the edge recording functionality but this is one of the first to properly achieve it. The Panasonic system is nowhere near as streamlined and really needs more work to compete with that of the Axis.
Both cameras have quite an extensive list of event detection features designed to improve the effectiveness of recordings. Event detection systems allow cameras to trigger recording only when required, helping to maximise the available storage space and make locating specific events much easier.
The Panasonic shock detection system is ideal for multi-camera installations where users are not looking at recordings regularly. The system detects whenever the camera is knocked and can either trigger recordings or email notification to alert users. We tested this feature and found that even gentle taps were enough to trigger an event, though the camera could still be moved if the attacker is gentle enough.
We also tested the audio detection system using the camera’s built-in microphone and found that it works well. Events are triggered once the ambient noise reaches a certain level. This level is also configurable so the camera can be just as effective when mounted in an empty office or a factory floor.
The M5014 doesn’t offer as diverse a feature set as the Panasonic event detection system, featuring only sound detection. Having said that, the Axis Camera Platform is available on all modern Axis cameras, allowing event functionality to be added to cameras where required, such cross-line detection or automatic number plate recognition (ANPR). However, the functionality provided by this system is outside the scope of this comparison.
We tested the audio detection system and found it to be just as accurate as the Panasonic version. One point we did like is the visual output provided by the camera which shows the audio level that the camera is detecting. Green levels show audio below the trigger threshold with red points showing audio above the threshold; it’s a simple yet accurate solution for setting the audio trigger level.
It would have been nice to see some external inputs on the M5014 to compete with the BB-HCM715, but we can understand that doing so would have either impacted on the IP rating of the camera, making it more susceptible to water ingress, and/or would have pushed the price of the unit up.
Both cameras feature audio capabilities; the M5014 provides 1-way audio listen in with integrated microphone and the BB-HCM715 provides 2-way audio with microphone plus 3.5mm mini-jack connections for external microphones and loudspeakers.
The audio on the M5014 operates fairly well. The audio features are on by default, but the gain must be adjusted to the surroundings. For our testing we used a gain of 50dB. We tested the camera in a quiet room with low ambient noise levels and could hear speech clearly at test distances of 2 and 5 metres.
We found that the audio from the BB-HCM715 was roughly as clear as that of the Axis, perfectly audible from a distance of 2 and 5 metres. There is not as much configuration available on the Panasonic, with only 4 choices for microphone sensitivity (Very low, Low, Normal and High) compared with the vast selection of gain levels available in the M5014, but for basic audio it is ample.
The audio output system of the Panasonic is an additional feature that will be highly useful. The ability to interactively communicate with people in view is useful, as is the ability to challenge intruders. The results of this are outside the scope of this comparison.
The Axis and Panasonic are designed to be mounted in different ways. The Panasonic comes complete with a plastic camera stand designed to mount to either a wall, ceiling or horizontal surface. Mounting screws are included so that for certain scenarios, the camera can be mounted without the need for additional hardware. It’s also partially cable-managed, allowing the cable to be routed through the centre of the bracket to neaten up the installation.
The bracket itself feels quite strong and sturdy and will definitely support the weight of the camera, but will not withstand intentional damage or attack, so the camera should be installed out of reach. Additionally, the camera angle adjustment can be moved by hand without tools so the camera can be redirected easily.
It’s good to see that Axis are providing multiple options for mounting. Both hard and suspended ceilings are catered for with brackets designed for each. These have their limitations, though. The surface-mount bracket is attached to the camera with spring-clips, so it can be unclipped at any point. Additionally, the suspended ceiling mount places the weight of the camera on a very small point, meaning it is not ideal for fibre-based roof tiles. The camera doesn’t weigh much, but if it was to be grabbed or pulled the camera would come off really easily. Really, the camera needs to be installed far out of reach. (Additionally, this type of camera would suit a recessed mounting kit perfectly. The tiny dome would attract very little attention and the camera’s housing has quite a low profile. Unfortunately this is not available.)
The inclusion of the camera stand and mounting screws is a good move by Panasonic, requiring no additional hardware out of the box. However, the stand is fairly large and makes the camera quite conspicuous.
The user experience of both cameras is quite good. Both interfaces are logically and intuitively laid out, with clear links and easy access to help features. The GUI of the M5014, as with all Axis cameras, is sleek and professional. All functions can be accessed easily regardless of the browser used.
The Panasonic interface is not quite as refined, though is by no means unintuitive. Being shared across the lower-end Panasonic cameras, the interface is easy-to-use and provides lots of help information. However, the pages are a lot more cluttered than the Axis and navigation in general feels more clunky, even as far as requiring restarts of the camera for changes such as IP address and video modes.
All in all, the web pages of each camera are perfectly usable, though we preferred setting up the Axis camera.
The limitations on the BB-HCM715 are one of the key factors in the choice between the two cameras. Just as if you bought a car and found that the engine only works when the handbrake is on, the stripping of key functionality in order to accommodate megapixel resolution can be very frustrating and really debilitating to the security system.
As demonstrated in the Digital Zoom part of the comparison, the digital zoom facility will not function once the camera is above VGA resolution. Additionally, only certain video modes and frame rates are available simultaneously – for example, having MJPEG video at full resolution will disable the MPEG-4 and H.264 compression formats. Many people use the option of multiple compression formats to view multiple streams with different bandwidth or storage requirements, which will not be possible on this camera. On top of this, the entire event triggering system cuts out. The loss of this system means that users must rely on external recording applications, either hardware or software-based, which can be expensive to purchase and run. A free single-channel recording application is included with the camera, but this will not record megapixel-quality footage.
We could also understand if the loss in functionality was of a system that could be easily circumvented or lived with, for example having a reduced event system which could only transfer footage at half frame-rate. But the loss of such fundamental features, especially the option to record or transfer footage at maximum resolution, is impossible to ignore. In essence, once the megapixel mode is enabled, the camera turns into a 1.3 megapixel webcam rather than an IP camera which, when you factor in the cost of the device, is very difficult to justify.
At time of writing the Panasonic BB-HCM715 is available for £385 (plus VAT) whereas the Axis is £475 (plus VAT). For cameras that are aimed at similar markets with the same resolution, a price difference of 20% is quite large.
Is the M5014 worth the extra £90? We think it is. Though the camera images and feature set are relatively similar, the limitations of the BB-HCM715 impact on the camera’s usability too much.
Firstly, there’s the increase in the field of view provided by the M5014. The Axis can essentially cover an area where two BB-HCM715’s would be required. Then there’s the digital zoom which, although being less than the Panasonic, provides a clearer image at the same distance.
The recording system of the M5014 is also more developed and refined than the BB-HCM715. It’s easier to setup, easier to use and displays full video rather than images. The event system on the Panasonic has more features than the Axis, and the shock detection does work effectively, but it is not enough to redress the balance. Plus, with the M5014 users can choose to add event detection features as they see fit, so that they only have to pay for the systems they intend to use.
When it comes to audio, the quality of sound provided by the two cameras is as we expected. The sound quality is relatively clear and there is a range of configurations available to ensure that audio is still clear with different levels of ambient noise. The BB-HCM715 wins through with support for 2-way audio, a very usable feature that lets users interactively communicate with people in view.
The biggest drawbacks for the BB-HCM715 are the limitations incurred when using the maximum resolution that the camera can manage. We could barely believe that so much functionality was lost in order to pull the maximum video size specified in the brochures. When purchasing a camera, customers expect to be able to use the functionality advertised without cutting back on features elsewhere. The problem seems to be down to the camera hardware. In order to keep the camera costs low while still providing megapixel video, it seems that Panasonic have used a processor and memory which cannot perform all the features simultaneously. In reality, this turns the camera into either a VGA-resolution IP camera, or a megapixel webcam.
Because of this, if the budget is available, we would highly recommend the M5014. If it isn’t, we would recommend that potential buyers weigh up all the pros and cons before considering the BB-HCM715. The picture quality is good, but there are a lot of sacrifices to be made.