How you can recycle an old smartphone into a home security camera
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We’re going to tap into our inner Michael Weston from Burn Notice and set up a DIY security camera. Now there are tons of ways to do this that range from super easy to more complicated. So I’m going to go over a few methods that I think you’ll find useful and some tips to set you up for success.
Why Make Your Own Home Security Camera?
First, why would we want to make our own security camera? The purpose of these cameras is to go where the typical camera can’t or to set up surveillance in a location temporarily. Now at this point, I have to disclaim that you need to use these cameras ethically and lawfully. The Secure Dad does not condone the use of spy cameras. My goal is to help families secure their homes and monitor their property.
One of my first thoughts for setting up a DIY security camera is to monitor your kids when they are outside or at your home. Maybe you don’t have a surveillance camera or there’s a gap in your system and you want to keep an eye on them while they play in the yard.
You might also want to set one up to monitor your front porch for package deliveries. Perhaps you have a child that is sleepwalking and you need to be alerted to when they are wandering around the house. Or maybe you have a teenager who is sneaking out and you need to know what they’re up to.
And if you are traveling, you might set one up in your hotel room to keep an eye on your stuff, especially if you’ve turned down room service. No one should be in your room, so no one should trip it. Or you can use it as a baby monitor when you are traveling. There are lots of legitimate uses for creating these types of cameras.
Making Your Own Home Security Camera with an Old Smartphone
The easiest way to create your own home security camera is to make one out of an old smartphone or tablet. You can use apps to turn your mobile device into a security camera, including motion detection, real-time alerts, and two-way audio.
As long as your old phone can connect to Wi-Fi and the camera works, you are good to go. Or you can use a phone that still has 5G service to use it remotely, like in a vehicle. Just power it with a power bank and the whole thing can be used remotely and is easy to move.
Home Security Camera App: AlfredCamera
The app that tested out was AlfredCamera. AlfredCamera works on Android, web browsers, and iOS devices and offers a free tier, but you can upgrade for a few bucks a month.
To get this to work, you can simply download the app onto your main phone and your old phone that is now being recycled into a security camera. On your main phone start the app, and then designate it as the viewer. On the old phone, designate it as the camera. I was genuinely impressed with how quickly the phones synced and were ready to go.
Now you have a camera and monitor that the app will pair together to work as a surveillance system. And you can add more than one camera, too.
You can designate the use of the front or back camera and whether or not you want audio and motion tracking. And you can add people to your trust circle so they can view the cameras as well. The free version will be more limited, so be aware. There are also a lot of ads, too. So if you think you like it, go ahead and upgrade for like $2.99 a month.
When motion tracking is enabled, the camera phone will record and send an alert to the viewer phone. From that phone, you can view the recording or view the live feed. You can even use two-way audio to talk and sound an alarm. So in essence they have a lot of the same features that the bigger companies have.
To set them up, you can balance them against a wall, book, or other object. Your best bet to get the right angle is to use a tripod. The cheap tripods you see for $8 or so at the store will work fine. And no, your phone screen will not be on all the time. The AlfredCamera app has a dim and lock feature to help with low power mode.
The Disadvantages of a Smartphone Home Security Camera
But there are some disadvantages. Mobile phones can’t stay powered forever and if you are using your old phone, the battery may be almost dead anyway. So you’ll have to power the device with a wall charger or power bank if you are away from an outlet. They can also run hot if you have them in an enclosed space.
Mobile phones are also harder to hide, so you might have to get tricky with where you place them. Another disadvantage is that they are not weatherproof unless you get a case that will make your old phone indestructible.
What is an ESP32-Cam?
Next, I want to mention the ESP32-Cam. This is a 2-megapixel camera that is Wi-Fi ready that is mounted to a small motherboard-looking module. They are not plug-and-play at all, you’ll have to put some work into them.
These are generally cheap and if you know some coding, can actually be a good source of surveillance. You can actually get them on Amazon for less than $15.
There are tons of videos online that walk you through how to use one of these things, but you do need to know basic coding - which I don’t. If you are good enough you can even use facial recognition with them. But if you like to tinker with electronics, this may be a good option for you.
Using a Laptop Camera as a Home Security Camera
Another method you might try is to salvage an old laptop camera. Simply crack open an old laptop and pull out the camera with at least an inch of wire still attached. After you identify the wires, you can solder them to a USB cable. You can also use USB-C and an iPhone cable as well.
At this point, you have a free USB security camera that you can place anywhere. If you don’t want to break a laptop, you can buy laptop replacement cameras of varying quality for cheap.
These are not necessarily plug-and-play either, but it is a cost-effective way to get a home security camera. I’m just not sure it’s worth the time investment.
Trail Cameras for Home Security
The last thing I’ll cover is that you can supplement your home surveillance system with a trail camera. For those you may not know, a trial camera is used by hunters to get images and video of wild game moving in areas.
I have one and I’ve used it before to check out different aspects of my property. My son and I would actually track squirrels in our yard one summer as a fun project. We named one Mr. Fatty. Anyway, I wrote an article on this for The Secure Dad blog if you want to know more. I know it’s not a DIY camera, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
For ease, I really do suggest using an old smartphone or tablet as a DIY home security camera. The AlfredCamera app works really well - I was very impressed with it. There are other apps that do similar things, so check them out in your app store. Of course, there are lots of other ways to make home security cameras, these I thought were the most interesting.
Disclaimer: The Secure Dad LLC does not condone, endorse, or support the use of spy cameras or any form of unauthorized recording, including the recording of individuals without their explicit and informed consent. The use of spy cameras or any other surveillance devices for the purpose of invading someone's privacy, infringing upon their personal space, or recording them without their knowledge and consent may violate applicable laws and regulations, as well as ethical considerations.
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