Outdoor wireless webcam up and running for less than $100

After several months of mental planning I finally set up a companion weather webcam for my personal weather station. Over the summer I ran a few tests with a cheap USB webcam pointed out the front window, but the view of the yard proved to be rather uninteresting. What I really wanted to do was to capture the mountain-view I noticed from the roof while setting up the weather instruments. This view is not available from any interior portions of the house so I set out to design an outdoor wireless camera system for less than $100.

There are several options for outdoor cameras online. A simple Amazon.com search revealed many choices, but all of the all-weather WiFi units fell outside of the budget that I had restricted myself to. My requirements were that the camera and weatherproof housing be under $100. Given that the unit was to be mounted on the garage and the computer and wired Internet connections are in the main house I was also limited to a Wi-Fi solution.  I decided on the D-Link DCS920 Wireless-G Internet Camera, as it is a free-standing unit that can actually handle the scheduled capture and uploading of the images without the help of a computer. Many retailers have the DCS920 in the $80-$90 range.

The DCS920 is not an outdoor camera so I needed an enclosure that would both keep rain out and allow the camera lens to poke through.  Camera in hand, I set off to Home Depot where a helpful employee knew right away what to use to keep it dry.  He directed me to the electrical department and the Cantex Inc. 6 X 6 X 4 Junction Box.  I was able to drill the necessary holes to mount the camera, make the power connection, and allow the lens to see the light of day.  An additional make-shift clear plastic covering lets the lens see out, without letting water in.  Home Depot also stocks an extension cord which was a near-match for the beige house color and made a less conspicuous power source than a traditional orange extension cord.  The camera’s power adapter fit nicely inside the Cantex box alongside the camera, concealing the electrical connection from the rain as well.

The DCS920 has a Web interface that can be setup via Ethernet beforehand in order to enable the wireless connection to a secure 802.11g network.  The interface is very basic, and does not readily allow one to keep local archives of images easily (there is an option to email a photo as well as upload it to one FTP server).  Aftermarket software is available that allows for greater flexibility over nearly any webcam including the ability to add on-screen captions and time stamps, however I have opted to keep it simple for now.

After plugging in the settings for my Wunderground.com account my weather camera was up and running with a view of the Santa Ynez Mountain range above Santa Barbara.  You will find time-lapse videos of the images gathered in the Wunderground archive.

Update October 2, 2010: It should be noted that the D-Link manual notes the following environmental specifications:

  • Operating temperature: 0°C to 40°C (32°F to 104°F)
  • Storage temperature: -20°C to 70°C (-4°F to 158°F)
  • Operating relative humidity: 20% to 80% non-condensing

Update November 5, 2010: The DCS-920’s internal FTP client seems to be unreliable when set to the Weather Underground FTP server, however the FTP client built into the software package EvoCam 3.6.9 ($30) is able to maintain a reliable image upload schedule. After two weeks of using the wireless DCS-920 with EvoCam I have had good results. EvoCam gives you many additional options including the ability to save time-lapse movies, add time and date stamps as well as record video when motion is detected. View live video from my camera at the K6LCM weather page.

Update March 19, 2013: I have moved to the Mesa neighborhood of Santa Barbara and setup the webcam in this new location.  Presently the camera is pointed SSE toward the Santa Barbara Channel.

Update April 27, 2015: After more than four years, I have decided to cease operating the live camera.