DIY Set Up for iPhone-based FOSCAM Home Security Cameras

Low cost, high tech home monitoring with a dash of iPhone coolness

An illustration of home security and surveillance system being controlled by an iPhone.

 Getty Images

If you've decided that now is the time to take the plunge and invest in wireless security cameras for your home, you might be wondering which ones to buy. This article offers on take on DIY wireless cameras for home and the home security apps necessary to ensure you're protected.

Choosing an iPhone Security Camera

When looking at wireless security cameras, there are dozens of options to choose from. Many people approach the decision with three goals in mind:

  1. They want wireless cameras: The camera needs to be wireless so there is no need to run cables, or to hire someone for that job.
  2. iPhone accessibility is a nice feature: The system needs to be iPhone-compatible so the security feed is available wherever you need to access it.
  3. Motion sensing with snapshot or video to e-mail is essential: Some type of motion-sensing capability that feeds into email alerts is essential to so you are notified if someone is trying to break in.

After much research, two cameras from Foscam (the indoor Foscam FI8918W (Buy on Amazon) and the outdoor Foscam FI8905W (Buy on Amazon) ended up being the top picks for this situation. The low cost, build quality, and the features that these cameras offer are impressive for the cost. The indoor model offers pan and tilt capability (for remote control of the areas viewed) and the outdoor fixed position model allows for weatherproof housing and enhanced night vision capabilities.

Installing the Wireless Cameras for Home

The one disappointment is that setup wasn't as straightforward as it could have been. The instructions provided were adequate but contained some very rough Chinese-to-English translations that made them difficult to understand in places.

Even though the cameras are wireless, you must still plug them into your router via an Ethernet cable to perform the initial setup procedures. Once setup is completed, you can untether from the network cable and use wireless to connect to the camera and then position them wherever you need to (within range of the wireless network, of course). Both cameras featured WEP and WPA encryption as well as password-protected user access.

To complicate things, when using an iMac with an Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station as a router, you may need to do some digging in the AirPort Utility in order to find out what IP address the router assigned the camera when it was plugged it in. You must know what IP address is assigned by your router to the camera because the setup is browser-based.

After the cameras are all set up and viewable inside the network, it is essential to make them accessible via the Internet for remote monitoring with an iPhone. This is covered in the manual for the most part, but it may be necessary to research instructions to enable port forwarding for your specific router.

Port forwarding allows you to route incoming traffic (such as when you use your iPhone to access your camera) to a specific internal (non-public) IP address. If you want your camera to have a fully resolvable hostname (i.e. yourcam.yourisp.com) instead of revealing your public IP address (which can change often depending on your ISP), then you will have to use a Dynamic DNS service such as dyndns.com.

Although the camera’s instructions covered how to enable Dynamic DNS, we didn’t want things to become too complicated initially, so we did not setup Dynamic DNS.

Using the Surveillance Camera App

Once your cameras are installed, you can set up all the camera features, including motion detection, snapshot e-mail, and camera admin password. It is extremely important that you set an admin password because you don’t want the world to have access to your cameras.

On the iPhone side, you should consider purchasing an app called FOSCAM Surveillance Pro (Buy on iTunes). This app had good ratings and had the ability to directly control most of the camera’s features, such as the pan/tilt, motion sensor setup, and brightness.

Setup should be extremely simple, and the app has a very polished feel to it. You can view up to six cameras at once in a mosaic window. Rotating the iPhone gives you a full-screen view of the camera feed, and touching an area of the screen will cause pan/tilt capable cameras to follow the direction you are pointing.

Image from an iPhone-based camera surveillance system showing a home with a driveway and the app controls.
Foscam Surveillance Pro App.

There is no DVR function built into the app, but you can set up motion sensing and e-mail capabilities so that you can be alerted when someone gets within the camera’s field of view.

You might consider setting up a free Gmail account (or something similar) to send the alarm snapshots to so you don't clutter your inbox. Some surveillance cameras take hundreds of snapshots a day, depending on the sensitivity you have set. You must enter your email provider’s Simple Mail Transport Protocol (SMTP) server information so that the camera can send mail out to you.

One common problem encountered is that even with the correct SMTP server and port information, the camera may not send an email in either Gmail or Yahoo! Mail. Many users have experienced this problem. You can learn more about it in the FOSCAM forums.

iPhone Surveillance Camera Monitoring Options

Since there is no onboard video recording capability, one option you may consider is a Mac surveillance camera monitoring software package called SecuritySpy. The app is free to download, but does have in-app purchases, so you may end up having to pay for video storage or other features.

After working out a few kinks, such as setting the motion sensor sensitivity levels so that every squirrel in the neighborhood doesn’t set off an alarm, the system will probably do a great job of alerting you to any cars or people entering the perimeters of your property.

The total cost of a system like this could be around $200. If you opt for a one-camera setup, then you could build it for less than $100. The beauty of this solution is that you can easily add additional cameras at a later time, as you can afford to, without a lot of reconfiguration.

Thing We Like

  • Low cost.
  • iPhone accessibility and controllability.
  • Ability to add additional cameras easily with minimal reconfiguration.
  • No third-party monthly monitoring fees.
  • High configurability when using SecuritySpy software for alert and video capture.
  • Solid build quality on camera hardware.

Things We Don't Like

  • FOSCAM camera’s SMTP e-mail snapshot alert feature did not work.
  • Configuring network connection required some mid-level technical know-how for port forwarding, Dynamic DNS, Wireless setup, etc.
  • Third-party software is needed for DVR functionality.
  • The camera instructions were difficult to understand.
  • Color accuracy was way off for both cameras tested with no known way to adjust them.
  • Cameras did not feature optical zoom capability.

If you're up for increasing your budget and investing in a higher quality camera, see our list of the best smart home security systems.