2019.02.22 This blog is a quick setup guide and evaluation of the Reolink Argus family of solar powered motion activity security cameras. I purchased both the Argus Pro and the Argus 2 which vary primarily only in the low light image sensor used.
Installation manual was downloaded from here. Goal of this blog is to provide a simple setup guide and a camera evaluation for use in an external security scenario for capturing both pedestrians on a sidewalk and car license plates entering a confined cul de sac.
Step-1 : Unpacking. The Argus Pro and Argus 2 cameras don’t come with on board memory but instead a uSD card slot. They accept up to a 64 GB card. First thing out of the box, insert a uSD ( about $10 for 64 GB in 2019 ). With this, the frustration begins. The opening is just big enough for the card, so you may need a paper clip or long finger nail to actually push it in all the way. Once it is in – forget about ever removing it or replacing it. I installed 3 cameras and the push-to-eject mechanism only worked on 1 of the 3 ( and stopped after a single eject ). Why does this matter? Two reasons, chances are 3-5 years from now the flash on the uSD card will wear out. Would you rather replace a $10 flash card or a $100 camera? Two, the camera stores standard H.264 video clips to the card in standard Windows compatible file system. If you can eject the card, you can manually archive footage and view in a standard web browser without requiring the WiFi connection and proprietary Reolink PC Client software. I fully expect in the future I will be opening up the housing of these supposedly waterproof cameras to attempt to extract and replace the card.
Step-2 : Camera Configuration. Like many consumer products ( Amazon Echo for example ) your smart phone is required to configure the cameras. I’m not a huge fan of this because it pretty much guarantees 3-5 years from now as iPhone and Android technology moves on you won’t be able to reconfigure all this camera kit you just spent $100s on. I much prefer PC web based configuration ( like for routers, etc ) as they are much more likely to still work down the road. But what can you do? Anyways, for iPhone, go to the iTunes store and download the free Reolink app. Fire it up and follow the prompts. First it wants to know your camera information by looking at the QR code behind the battery – so before snapping the battery on the camera, run the iPhone app and point your iPhone at the QR code. Once it is recognized it will ask for your WiFi information. It probably already knows your home WiFi SSID, but you still need to enter the password in. After this is done, your iPhone will create it’s own QR code on the phone screen. Insert the battery in the camera and point the camera at the phone until it recognized the QR code. The camera uses speech synthesis in English to prompt you – which is great ( if you speak English of course ). That is pretty much it. Your phone now has full control of the camera and you can use it to view live video, change settings, etc. But being a phone, this all pretty much sucks. I want the PC app for 24″ large screen video, mouse control, etc. So….
Step-3 : PC Client Configuration. Download the PC ( or Mac ) client from the Reolink website. It comes in a ZIP file, pull out the EXE and install it. Click on “Add Device” and now ignore everything the Software and the Manual tells you.
DON’T click the “Scan Device in LAN” button – as it will NEVER EVER EVER find your battery powered Reolink Argus devices even though they are on your LAN. This button is NOT meant for you to use you Argus camera buyer you. The manual doesn’t say this, the software doesn’t say it – SO I AM TELLING YOU THIS RIGHT NOW. Don’t press the button. It will be extremely disappointing.
Also DON’T enter the IP Address of your camera ( available on your iPhone App ) and attempt to enter Media Port 9000, Name, Password etc as that won’t work either for the Argus devices. Both of these methods must for for other Reolink products ( POE wired cameras, etc ).
What is EXTREMELY obscure that I finally located searching and searching for help is that you need to select Register Mode = UID ( instead of “IP Address” ). Now finding the UID code to enter is also EXTREMELY frustrating. On the back of the Argus there is a tiny sticker about the size of a pencil erasure. Not the big sticker behind the battery, but on the outside of the camera. This tiny sticker has a QR code and beneath it there is a 16 alphanumeric UID in an incredibly small font. I had to use a magnifying glass to read it – and even then there were problems. One of my three cameras contained a “I” in the UID, but it looked just like a “1” in the super small font. It took multiple tries to get it right. For some reason, the iPhone App doesn’t report the UID for the cameras in the information page after setup. This whole UID thing was a nightmare. Once I got through it things are going much smoother.
Step-4 : Camera installation. This is fairly straightforward but also frustrating – no fault to Reolink – just a limitation of infrared night vision cameras in general. The camera comes with a standard 1/4 inch 20 UNC thread tripod mount that can either be screwed into a flat wood surface ( molly screws also included ) or a strap is available to attach to a tree limb. The hard part is getting a location that works well at night. I’m warning you know, to see a person’s face clearly the camera needs to be about 3 feet directly facing them. Car license plate numbers or even make and model? Forget about it.
Night results. The “Mailbox” upper-left is the Argus-2 which has the Sony “Starlight” CMOS sensor that is capable of color at night ( if there is enough light ). I have PIR LED lights all along the fence by the mailbox and have been unable to see the “Startlight” sensor work any better than the regular infrared Argus-Pro units ( Driveway, Sidewalk ). So, no magic night vision bullet.
Step-5 : Using the PC Client Software. This is a bit frustrating as it appears like the Argus battery powered cameras were poorly bolted onto the existing Reolink PC Client app that was designed for POE ( line powered ) cameras. Let me explain. The software has two tab modes “Live View” and “Playback”. Intuitively if one wants to review and recorded footage from the night before, they would click “Playback” and get nothing. The cameras just indicate “State: Not Connected”. There is nothing on the “Playback” screen to connect to the cameras. Instead, you have to click on the “Live View” tab and by each camera under device list there is this funny small black circle with a box and a triangle in it. No popup text indicating what it does. Trust me and click on it. After a few seconds the camera will wakeup and live video will be displayed. Do this for all the cameras ( there is no single button to wake up everybody ). Once they are all green and “State: login success” you should see live video feeds. NOW and ONLY NOW can you switch to the “Playback” tab.
After each black circle with square and triangle is pressed the cameras go green. There is a battery symbol, but it doesn’t actually show the battery’s charge state.
The playback tab shows a calendar and a video timeline at the bottom for all the active cameras. The blue indicates some video was recorded. Unfortunately if you click your mouse on the the blue timeline, it won’t show you a still image for that moment in time. The views will still be blank. You have to press “Play” ( Lower Right ). The “Stop” button won’t load a single frame – even the “Advance a single Frame” button won’t load a single frame. You MUST press Play and then Pause to get a still image. Annoying.
The software isn’t horrible. It nicely displays and sinks up all the cameras in time ( the ones that were active ). A super nice feature would be a feature to have multiple cameras go active when a single camera’s PIR sensor detects something. I really wish this feature existed. The most annoying thing is having to use the “Live View” page to individually turn each and every camera on and off when you want to review previously recorded events. The download feature is really nice with the exception that it downloads the MP4 files to C:\DownloadFile which is not standard for Windows – I went looking in the standard “This PC\Downloads” directory and got very frustrated and had to go searching. The Windows 10 viewer is actually better and closely examining video clips. I recommend that over using the Reolink app.
The by far BIGGEST BLACK EYE for the Reolink Argus is that the PC Client ONLY WORKS if the internet is up. Apparently it phones home to the mother ship for some reason. With my WiFi router up, but the cable modem disconnect – Reolink’s PC Client will not find the cameras. That is just whacked. Both my PC Client and the cameras are on the same LAN – they should be able to communicate directly with each other. This is a tremendously stupid architecture decision in my opinion. Why are they doing this? It sells more camera if you tell people they can access via the internet from their phones – so this is the way the clients work. Why is this such an issue? The way it is architected ( AFAICT ) is Reolink has a server somewhere on the internet that the cameras ping periodically ( every couple of seconds ) to see if a client wants to stream some video. If a client on the internet does, then the cameras send the video to the server and the client grabs the video from the server. What this means is that not only must you have internet connection, but you are also 100% dependent on Reolink keeping their server operational. History shows things like this tend to End-Of-Life and go off-line after 3-5 years. ( Example – Sony PS3 gaming server ). Why they don’t also support a local internet free connection escapes me. That’s just plain stupid and inconsiderate.
Wish List for Reolink Argus 3:
- Working uSD card ejector.
- UID in bigger font and clear instructions on setting up PC Client.
- PC Client access to cameras without having to phone home to Reolink server.
- Plastic loops in the external case to support zip-tying camera without tripod mount.
- Stronger IR LEDs.
- Faster and longer distance PIR sensor.
- Global PIR trigger. Allow the PIR on one camera to trigger ALL the cameras.
In Closing: I like the physical cameras themselves, the solar panel charging is a wonderful feature. The micro SD card not ejecting is a bummer. The mounting hardware is a nice little kit. The PC Client software needs work. A lot of work to make it more friendly to the Argus battery powered line of cameras. It is clear to me that they were poorly bolted on to existing software designed for always on camera – all the way from the UID setup nightmare to the powering the cameras on and off from live view to get the “Playback” to work. Am I pissed I dropped $500 on these 3 cameras? A little upset, but I’m not returning them. I might even buy a 4th just to make the display complete. Hopefully in time Reolink will make their PC Client software more functional for the Argus line of cameras. At this point, I would only recommend others buy these cameras if they read this blog review first and fully understand what they are getting into and the limitations.
Closing picture, my cul de sac was recent hit with vandals painting swastikas and other racially offense words on people’s cars and garage doors. Although I didn’t catch anyone tagging the neighborhood, I did catch a rabbit at 3:10am and a local Police cruiser at 3:20 AM – possibly in hot pursuit of the rabbit which is something.
Final location I went with after 1st night experiment is to place 2 cameras in a tree by the sidewalk and one between the garage doors. This provides a good view of the cul de sac and provides the opportunity of making out someones face at night given the 3-5 feet limitation IR night vision. Having cameras near face level and also 3-5 feet away is crucial for the IR night vision to pick up facial figures. Otherwise, all you see are shapes.
FCC tear down photos of what is inside.
2019.03.03 Update: The uSD card failed in one of three cameras this morning. It has been really cold ( below freezing ) – wondering if it is related. At first the camera found the card but said it needed formatting. Now it doesn’t even see the card. Went out and inspected camera to discover the uSD card actually ejected itself. Strange.