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The dome camera sector has become intensely competitive over the past few years and there has been a good deal of comings and goings but one of the few constants has been the steadily evolving range of Surveyor cameras from Vicon Industries. Surveyor domes are held in high regard by the industry for reasons that can be summed up in two words: reliability and performance. It is also significant that they're amongst the most technically sophisticated designs available, built to an impressively high standard and in the scheme of things, unusually installer and operator-friendly.


The Surveyor 99 mini dome camera is the latest addition to the range and the most advanced system to date. In common with previous models the key feature is on-board microprocessor control giving the camera a high degree of autonomy and providing it with a number of additional features, rarely if ever -- seen on this type of product. Vicon used to call this arrangement 'distributed intelligence'. It is based on the dome sharing its set-up and control functions with a compatible controller but the bottom line is that the Surveyor 99 is a whole lot smarter, and a great deal more flexible than just about any other dome on the market. Packing all of the important electronic bits inside the camera also simplifies installation and maintenance.


It is a compact design with the actual dome measuring just under 6-inches across. There are currently twelve model configurations available, covering different types of housing (indoor and outdoor), mounting system (ceiling or pendant), camera type (colour or monochrome) and lower dome cosmetics (grey chrome or gold), however all versions utilise the same camera drive mechanics, electronics and operating software. Although it is smaller than earlier Vicon domes the Surveyor 99 bears a strong family resemblance to previous models, starting with the unitary construction. The camera PTZ mechanism and control electronics are integrated into a single unit that fits into metal housing using just three easy to get at screws.


One notable change is that the camera unit is now independent of the housing. On previous models the housing was an integral component, with a multi-way connector on the camera module that docked with a connector inside the housing, carrying all of the power video and control signals. That meant it was possible to quickly exchange a defective unit, but it also meant the camera could only work when locked into position, which made it difficult to test the unit prior to final installation. All of the connections on the Surveyor 99 are mounted on the top of the mechanism and independent of the housing, so it can easily checked before it is fitted into place.


The colour and monochrome cameras are built around 1/4-inch CCD imaging chips with low light sensitivities of 0.13 lux (mono) and 2.1 lux (colour). Both types have 4 64mm f/1.4 lenses with motorised 16x optical zooms that can be increased to 128x with an 8x electronic zoom. They have switchable auto/manual focus and iris systems, manually selectable shutter speeds (up to 1/30,000th sec), and adjustable white balance and backlight compensation. 


A built-in character generator superimposes camera and alarm titles, on-screen menus plus mode, status and set up displays. Surveyor 99 has a built-in real time clock and a 64 event programmable timer that can be set to carry out a number of actions once or at daily or weekly intervals. These include moving to a preset position, starting a tour or auto-tour and alarm enable/disable functions.  


Up to 79 preset positions can be preset with an accuracy of +/- 0.3 degrees. The camera rotates at up to 300 degrees a second, maximum tilt speed is 120 deg/sec. The 360-degree view is split into 16 sectors any of which can be blanked out or 'censored'. Up to 8 tours can be programmed each with up to 32 steps. Additionally there are two auto-tours with up to 360 PTZ operations per tour; these are programmed in real time using the joystick and keys on the control unit.


Surveyor communicates with its control unit via an internal telemetry receiver using RS422 or RS 485 protocols. The module is designed to work with Vicon's Nova range of control systems and its ProTech PC software. Communications is either simplex or half duplex (4800, 9600 or 1200 baud). Alternatively it can be controlled using Vicon's Vicoax system, which incorporates control data on the composite video signal. 


The unit has four alarm inputs and the on-board CPU can be programmed to respond to activations in a variety of ways. These include moving the camera to any of the 79 presets, switching a relay, or following one of the 10 pre-programmed tours or 2 auto-tours.



It's a masterpiece of precision engineering; indeed many parts and components are made from a heavier gauge or grade of material than is strictly necessary. However, this contributes to a feeling of solidity, everything fits together neatly and all moving parts do so smoothly and quietly.


The purpose-designed camera module is contained inside a ventilated metal housing and mounted on a heavy-duty pan/tilt mechanism with full 360-degree rotation. The control and communications electronics, pan motor and a thermostatically controlled cooling fan are on a two-storey chassis. The power, control, alarm and video connections are on the top storey, which can be accessed from inside the housing. A BNC socket handles the video output. Control and communications signals are routed through a screw terminal or a single RJ-45 socket; a second RJ-45 socket carries the alarm connections. Power (24 VAC from a mains adaptor module) is wired to a three way screw terminal. A terminal box is supplied to simplify external wiring when using a RJ-45 harness. Two 8-way miniature DIP-switches are used to set the camera address and configure communications protocols, select PAL or NTSC and simplex or duplex operation. Jumper pins on the underside of the uppermost PCB set single camera system and end of chain termination for RS-485 operation.



Surveyor 99 can be programmed in a variety of ways. It is compatible with Vicon's VX1300-DVC or V1300-RVC operator keypads, the V1400X-DVC system console, and as previously mentioned, the Nova VPS control system or a PC using ProTech software. All programming is carried out using a set of on-screen menus, overlaid on the video output. The main menu has nine options: pan/tilt control, camera control, alarm handling, relay driver, source titling, preset/tour handler, schedule/time of day, language and install defaults. Settings are chosen using the control pad/console's joystick and keypad buttons.


The Pan/Tilt menu covers speed, zoom and power save functions. Camera functions such as iris level, focus mode, shutter speed, sector censoring, white balance, backlight compensation and aperture etc., are included in the camera control menu. Alarm handling options include enabling/disabling inputs and setting alarm actions. The Relay driver selects the output relay function whilst source titling allows the installer or operator to compose titles, change text layout and size and fade selective titles. Menu six, Preset/Tour Handler is used to program positions and tours and the scheduler deals with time/date setting and programming timed events. There is a choice of four menu languages (English, German, Spanish & French) and menu nine gives the option to restore all factory default.


The accompanying manuals are very comprehensive and generally well laid out. They cover a lot of ground, including all aspects of mechanical installation and wiring for the various kinds of housing and mounting hardware. Most experienced installers should have little difficulty finding out what they need to know, the only minor irritation, and something we've commented on in the past, and that is a lack of co-ordination between the dome manuals and those supplied with the controllers. All of the information is there, but it can take a while to find it.



As on previous Vicon domes the colour camera is a highly versatile design, capable of delivering a detailed and accurate image in a wide range of conditions. The auto exposure systems are fast and responsive to rapid changes in lighting levels and auto focus is unusually accurate though it has a slight tendency to 'hunt' in poor light or when the subject lacks contrast against its background. Colour fidelity is excellent in natural daylight, colours are clean with very little noise, and overall picture noise is at a very low level in a well-lit scene.


The pan/tilt mechanism is smooth, fast and capable of being controlled very precisely, though it pays to experiment with the speed settings, as it can be quite lively.     



Surveyor 99 is a sophisticated and superbly well built product that clearly embodies a lot of the best features from previous Vicon domes. In spite of its complexity and many advanced features it is no more difficult to install and set up that most rival products, indeed in some respects it is a lot easier thanks to the well thought out control and operating software. Video performance is excellent and it produces a sharp image in all but the most demanding situations. The high degree of system flexibility afforded by the Vicon controller options makes it suitable for the widest possible range of installations.  




Power supply              230 VAC 50Hz

Weight                        2.0 2.9kd, depending on housing

Dimensions                 180mm dia x 223 mm (indoor version) to 228mm dia x 236mm





Product design 9         

Build quality               9

Ruggedness                9



General functions            9

CCTV functions            9         

Ease of use                 8

Instructions                7

Manuf. support            9                     

Performance               9

Video quality              9



R. Maybury 1999 0711



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