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Reconyx SM750 Security Camera review. Thumbs down

December 14, 2010

“See what you’ve been missing!”

In terms of customer support… not much.

I just purchased a Reconyx SM750 covert “trail camera” for an important case I’ve been working.  The camera is capable of obtaining license plates on vehicles as advertised.  Unfortunately, it takes pictures of everything else too (snowflakes, flags blowing in the wind, tree limbs swaying slightly).

Link to the product website:

http://www.reconyx.com/hyperfire.php?model=SC&id=96

My conversation with Reconyx representatives follows:

Bulldog: “In addition to the false triggers setting the camera off, my  brand new sm750’s  camera’s time lapse options don’t have the seconds feature as advertised.  The menu within the camera only talks about minutes.  We seem to have three main issues. ”

Issue #1 

Bulldog:  ” The camera’s “low battery light” unexplainably is on when bringing the camera in and opening it up.   Yes, this is with brand new Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries.  All batteries tested out good at 1.58 volts  Additionally, once the camera warms up, it gives a 99% ‘Lithium remaining’ on the screen. Something is wrong with the low battery sensor in the camera itself.  This makes me worried that in cold weather the camera will shut down altogether after a couple of days.”

Reconyx Technical support: “Did you check to see if you put all the batteries in correctly?”

Bulldog: “Uhh, yeah. ” (The former school district director of technology services checked that.)

Issue #2

Bulldog: “The camera also goes off at the drop of a hat, snow flakes in the dark, flags in the wind, whatever…”

Reconyx technical support: ” Regarding the snowflakes at night pictures, there must of been some guy walking by setting off the camera that you didn’t see!  There’s no way snow would set the camera off.  Also, the SM750 is designed to focus on license plates, not people.  It can’t photograph people at night without an additional light source.  It will however sense them, and that must be what was triggering the camera.”

Bulldog: “There wasn’t anyone walking by, and we’re talking HUNDREDS of pictures of the snow falling.  Would you like me to burn them on a CD and send them to you?”

What I should of explained to Reconyx technical support:

My property has multiple security cameras, pointing in all directions. Some stand out and some are hidden.   Like most cities and towns of today, crime is up around here. Between that and my profession, I tend to err on the side of caution.  Additionally, I’ve developed a bit of a reputation around here.  Local dirtbags leave me alone.  They just don’t walk by my house in the middle of the night.   I’ve actually seen them on video recordings physically cross the street rather than walk by my house. 

 Fine by me.  I don’t go around starting trouble. I am known however for putting a stop to it.

What’s your point Bulldog? 

A. People don’t generally walk by my house at night.  Sure they legally can, but few brave the cold enough to walk around in freezing conditions after dark, let alone by my house.  Between yours truly and the large,  aggressive guard dog, they just choose not to.  Plus, there aren’t evening attractions around here:  no bars, no malls, no movie theatres.  The town shuts down after dark.

B.  If Mr. imaginary ninja was playing peek-a-boo with my Reconyx SM750 camera, I suspect my IR security cameras would of detected and recorded him.  I’m not using home consumer, discount store security cameras over here.  The cameras I’ve set up are beyond what most banks and retail outlets will purchase [IE: Too Cheap].    So… Please, don’t insult my intelligence.

Additionally, it’s all well and good the camera can capture plates, but at the expense of  photographing people?  What good is that?  Not really the trade off I want.

Anyway, I don’t remember what Reconyx tech support’s response was but it wasn’t anything useful.

Issue #3

Bulldog:  “The camera doesnt seem to have the seconds feature  in the time lapse programming as advertised and discussed on the phone.”

Reconyx Tech Support:  “Yes it does, you just need to alter the settings of the camera with the software we included with it.”

Bulldog: “So, I can’t just program the camera to use ‘seconds mode’ on the fly?”

Reconyx Tech Support: “No…”

Bulldog: “Why not?”

Reconyx Tech Support: “Oh… that’s because of very technical limitations, let’s not get into that.  You’ll just need to use the software. ”

Bulldog: “So what if I want to be able to switch back to ‘minutes mode’ with the camera while out in the field?  PI work requires alot of on the fly decision making you know.  I might need to switch from one to the other depending on what my needs are at the time.”

I don’t remember an answer for that comment.  I think at that time, the tech support guy switched the subject.
 
Additional no-brainers:
 
Someone should of used a better color choice for the python lock included in the optional mounting kit.   CANARY YELLOW??  Who came up with that one?   That would be my color of choice too, very discrete.  I take it no PI’s assisted in the beta-testing phase…
 
Bulldog wound up painting over the python lock with a dull brown camo paint.  Like there was a choice.
 
The swivel mount for the camera makes it enormous and impractical.  The lock box itself is quite sturdy, but the swivel mount wont work for covert picture taking.  No way.  It was also fun trying to deploy this beast at around 6am in the cold, and fight with that stiff lock mechanism.  So much for quick ‘covert’ deployment.  If you’re going to use this camera for PI work, forgo the locking housing… take your chances without it. 
 
Camera body and the IR illuminator lens cover strike me as very fragile.  One good wack of any type (even a short fall) and that lens assembly is going to crack.

  The ‘walk-test’ light is so bright that anyone around is sure to see it.  It’s also very discrete.  It’s the brightest red led I’ve ever seen.  When using the “walk test” be sure to wear a glow in the dark vest and carry a lit road flare.  That’s the only way I can think of to draw attention away from it.   The light really stands out when testing the camera’s sensativity.   Those unfortunate hunters who also happen to be visually impaired  must appreciate such a bright light when setting up Reconx trail cameras prior to opening day.  Easy enough to see the light from a distance.  Is this however a solution looking for a problem?  If you need an indicator THAT BRIGHT, perhaps you shouldn’t be discharging a rifle in the woods around other hunters.    For deployment on a surveillance case?   Not such an asset.  Wildlife might forget about the strange bright light pinpointing the camera’s location.  As for the subject or the neighbors of an investigation your trying to conduct surveillance on?   Different story.   They’re likely  to do a bit of investigation of their own.

The test light is a good idea, but does it have to be bright enough to clearly see it from a half mile away?

I paid rush shipping to get this sucker in here and familiarize myself with it on this very important case I’m working.  In fact, I was planning on deploying the camera tomorrow.
 
Other PI’s and security company owners in PISA (the Virginia Private Investigator and Security Assocation) are looking for feedback on this camera.  I brought it up in an email with another member, and word spread.  I’ve gotten ten inquiries regarding the camera at last count.  What do I tell them?  Primarily to read this blog posting.  If they want a short but sweet answer:  The camera carries  a pretty high price tag to come with so many problems

Come to think of it, although I need to test it more, it seems that when I was doing the “walk test” last night, the camera never left the test mode after two minutes as advertised.  Instead it kept flashing that bright red LED everytime I walked by.  I’ll have to test it more and see if perhaps it was the constant false triggers preventing it from going “live” or what… but obviously as a PI it’s pretty important to me that it leaves the “test mode” after the two minute interval.  Hey, if it doesnt make it as a covert camera, it would work great as a distraction device to help out with quick escapes. 
————————————————- 
Addendum: 12/15/10

After two days on the phone with Reconyx the camera is going back.  They refused to send me a return shipping label.  So basically I’ve had the defective camera for a total for 3 days, paid express shipping to get it here in a hurry, and now get to pay shipping to send it back.  Additionally, they refused to let me give the sm950 a try (the other security model)  rather then go with another sm750.   I think that being unable to photograph people at night is too big a trade off for the license grab capability.  By the way, that vehicle had better be CLOSE if you expect to read the plate.

Anyway, the first tech support guy saw no problem with that, and approved me for a return based on the camera’s defectiveness along with a swapout for a SM950.  Reasonable enough.  A few minutes later  I was called back by “Dan” who stated that “we’re not set up for that.”  I would have to pay the shipping on the return, and then purchase the sm950 separately (and pay the shipping on that as well). Oh, and hope that the almighty decision makers at Reconyx approved my refund (for the defective merchandise I had in my possession for a total of three days).

Additionally, they seemed not to believe me that the camera was continually taking pictures (as in HUNDREDS) on what they refer to as “false triggers.”  Uhh, execuse me Reconyx:

#1 I have a highly technical background, and I don’t need hand holding to make sure I put the batteries in right

#2 I know a few things about cameras

#3 You get the 2010 award for piss poor customer service.  I won’t even go into everything that transpired during my conversations with your reps, but essentially I’m told one thing by one rep, and then another rep changes the story… all this when the camera was defective (and was acknowledged as such by a Reconyx representative) right out of the box.  You guys should of been bending over backwards to try and work with me, instead of hitting me up for return shipping.  That stupid swivel mount camera housing, reccommended to me by “Daryl” at Reconyx (which is absolutely useless and indeed a detriment to pi work) weighs  in the neighborhood of 10 pounds. 

#4 I offered to send you as many boring images of waving flags, the ground, and snowflakes as you had the stomach to look at. After counting a bit more carefully they numbered over a thousand.  Images of actual vehicles going by and people (daytime images only)?  Approximately 190.

If someone over there had been a little more customer orientated, we’d be doing a camera swap out instead of a “you know where to put this merchandise” return!  I’ve had the camera and accessories (to the tune of  over $800 dollars) for a total of three days now, and it was defective right out of the box…yet I’m somehow the guilty party?

Reconyx might know a few things about cameras, but they know squat about customer service and less about PI work (I still havent gotten over the canary yellow lock).  Daryl seemed in disbelief when I told him I didnt have any more time to screw around on this and was returning the camera for a refund.  “But we’ve only had 3 returns ever!!”

Well Daryl (or however you spell it),I frankly don’t give a you know what. Eat my shorts.  Learn that although the customer is not always right, Reconyx is not some infallible corporation from on high either.   Learn something about customer service and pi work.  By the way, you now  have return #4 to add to your collection.

Final conclusion:

The Reconyx SM750 (and likely the SM950) is a great example of a company taking a well recieved product, and making a couple of tweaks here and there.  Then the manufacturer goes after a totally different market without doing their homework.  Deploying a trail camera to capture wildlife is alot more forgiving and a lot different then deploying a camera for surveillance of people.

Changing the camera’s camo housing, offering a super strong metallic case  (versus strengthing the housing itself), and adding computer programmable features just doesn’t cut it.   Hands are likely a lot more steady, and their owner a lot more patient when installing a trail camera and not faced with the risk of an overly anxious homeowner confronting you (or worse) with a gun. 

A bit of murphy’s law mixed with nervous, fumbling hands and the camera’s scrambled eggs on a protruding rock? No foresight.    Spending an additional 10 or 15 minutes trying to secure the  with a very obnoxious (and hard to tighten) lock, and a blast proof metallic case is not the way to go either. 

 For one thing, every one of those minutes puts the operative at additional risk during installation, retrieval, and replacement of the camera.  Risk of being seen.  Risk of being shot.  Surveillance is not generally performed on the Brady Bunch or the Partridge family. 

As for the long, extra length of locking cable sticking out behind the camera like a tail:  nice touch.

Try consulting with someone from the profession your trying to market to prior to releasing a product.  (Gee what an original thought.) Do some live testing… KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER.  In short, measure twice and cut once.

 Oh yeah, and a good customer service attitude is always helpful when in business.  You think you have stress dealing with customers?  Come spend a couple days with me.

-Bulldog

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