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PLETTAC FAC 838 IS COLOUR CAMERA

 

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WHAT OUR EXPERTS SAY...

Whilst not exactly a new idea the Plettac Space Camera range does refine the concept of a separate camera head and control unit. The idea is simple enough, split the lens, image sensor and its associated electronics from the main body of the camera and mount them in a compact module. The camera head, connected to the control unit by a single cable, can thus be installed in confined locations and being a good deal smaller than a conventional camera, is more discrete and easier to conceal or integrate within furnishings and fittings.

 

Clearly that much is already possible with sub-miniature cameras and ‘board cameras’, but the key difference with the Space Camera is that there have been no compromises with performance, it’s exceptionally well specified moreover it has an unusually wide range of operating parameters that can be remotely configured from a dedicated camera control unit or a Windows PC.

 

We’ve been looking at the FAC 838 IS SD colour camera; two basic variants are available with short (0.3M) and long (7M) cables connecting the camera head to the control unit. The camera modules on both types are fitted with a high performance 1/2-inch interline Hyper HAD image sensor with a 480k (effective) pixel array. Claimed low light sensitivity is down to 0.2 lux (0.05 lux in field integration/slow shutter mode) and horizontal resolution is in the order of 480 lines.

 

The actual camera module is a small and very rugged alloy cylinder measuring 48 x 37mm. On the front end there’s a standard C-Mount threaded collar, set into a threaded barrel that provides the back-focus adjustment. At the other end there’s a square mounting plate. The video/power/control cable emerges from the side, along with a pair of 4-pin sockets for auto iris/zoom lenses etc.

 

On to the control unit, which is a relatively anonymous-looking cream coloured box with the same proportions as a conventional camera, indeed it appears to be identical in construction to the camera housings used on other models in the Plettac range. It measures 185 x 71 x 60 mm and has a D-Sub connectors at each end. The one at the front for the camera module is an unusual 26-way type, so it can’t be accidentally connected to anything else. The 15-pin connector on the back panel carries power, data, control signals and the video output. Inside the control unit there are four very densely packed glass fibre PCBs mounted on a metal chassis. The standard of construction and quality of materials is most impressive throughout and both the head and control unit look as though they are well protected and able to survive in a harsh environment (with suitable weatherproofing).

 

Most of the camera’s main features are based on the extensive use of digital video processing. They include an impressive array of automated exposure systems with SCS (sensor controlled sensitivity), auto and manual shutter (1/10,000th/sec to 10 seconds), manual and automatic gain control, black level, gamma correction, and white balance. In fact there are an astonishing range of adjustments available to the installer/user, carried out from a set of menu-driven on-screen displays (more about that in a moment). There’s also provision for a camera ident/title, of up to 2 lines of 20 characters, which can be positioned anywhere on the screen in three display modes (black background, frame or standard). It also has a number of ancillary security features including a motion detector with alarm indication plus an image storage facility. The latter utilises a range of presettable grids or targets with variable sensitivity and field configurations.

 

SETUP AND OPERATION

All of the camera’s setup and configuration adjustments are carried out remotely from a control unit or a PC, using PGEWin software. Access to the main menu is password protected. The first page opens with six selections (Video Processing, Synchronisation, Output Interface, Text Insertion, Alarm Management and BS-88 communications), the second page has options to set and change passwords, program the control unit’s Function Keys and restore factory settings.  It has to be said that menu navigation hasn’t been terribly well thought out and it’s easy to get into a tangle. It’s not at all intuitive with key assignments for making selections and changes jumping from one part of the keyboard to the other. The instructions could be better as well and sometimes fail to get into the nitty-gritty, leaving the user or installer wondering how to access or modify a particular function. The setup for the motion detector is a case in point; a few more diagrams would have been useful. The control software on our sample also appeared to be a little flaky at times and on a couple of occasions locked up; the only way to get it working was to remove the power from the system and start again.

 

PERFORMANCE

Despite the sometimes-frustrating behaviour of the remote control system it is clear that the camera’s video performance is of a very high standard. Resolution and low light sensitivity on our sample lived up to the manufacturer’s claims and in good light the resultant image was crisp and clean with natural looking colours. Colour accuracy was maintained under changing light conditions, though manual adjustment was normally required in tube light. The range of adjustments means the camera can operate in practically any lighting situation, and left to its own devices the auto exposure systems can cope with most conditions. The camera head and control unit are both mechanically stable and came through the SI intermittency checks (several hefty whacks with a rubber mallet) with flying, or should that be unwavering, colours…

 

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

The FAC 838 IS is a formidable piece of kit; the remote control facility could prove especially useful in situations where access to the camera head is difficult or inconvenient. This is a specialist product and a potential problem solver in situations where the requirement is for a small high performance camera, capable of operating in difficult conditions.

 

PRODUCT ASSESSMENT

Design and design features                      ****

Circuitry and components                ****

Ease of installation and wiring            ****

Range and variety of functions            ****

Accompanying instructions              **                              

Technical advice and backup            ??    

Value for money                         ??                          

 

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ã R. Maybury 2000 1809

 

 


 

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