Have you ever been in the middle of a job and wished you had another pair of eyes to help you? The AgCam surveillance system from Dakota Micro is an excellent solution to that problem. It enables you to mount a small video camera on a piece of equipment or a structure and then watch what's happening on a video monitor in the cab of your tractor or even in your home office.

The AgCam system uses a sturdy, compact camera with an aluminum housing on a magnetic mount. The camera(s) can be quickly and easily connected to a 6-, 7- or 9-in. color monitor. The monitor can be placed on a mounting stand in the cab of a tractor, combine, pickup, building, office or wherever you want to watch what is being broadcast.

Installation and hookup are easy. You don't need to spend a lot of time reading a complicated manual. Just grab the camera, connect a cable onto the end of it via a twist-and-click lock, and hook that cable into one of the two similar cable connections on the monitor. Attach the power cord to a cigarette lighter or 110v outlet, and you're ready to go.

No more twists and turns

Farm Industry News asked me to test the AgCam on my farm near Cresco, IA. The first task I tried was mounting the camera on my self-propelled chopper. I went with two cameras for this job. One was mounted on the cab roof facing the rear. This allowed me to watch the spout without turning around while it filled a wagon as I was going around corners. No more visits to the chiropractor for “chopper neck” at the end of the season! I placed a second camera just above the drawbar looking down and back. That allowed me to back up to wagons without having to guess where I was in relation to the drawbar, which is out of sight from the operator's seat.

The monitor I used for my test was a 9-in. version. The monitor has a quick-tach suction cup mount for placing it anywhere you want. The camera itself has a powerful magnetic base, so it is very easy to mount on any metallic surface. To test the camera's ability to stay in place and provide a good picture, I put it on the edge of the steel flatbed of my Ranch Hand Tractor and Utility Vehicle and mounted the monitor on the inside of the windshield. Then I drove across a frozen field perpendicular to the way it had been chisel plowed. The image on the screen never bounced, the monitor maintained its position the whole time, and the camera never budged from its position, despite the fact that the ride rattled my brain quite soundly.

Sharp image

Picture quality on the monitor is outstanding. The AgCam image is clear and crisp, and it is in high-quality color that rivals that of personal handheld video cameras. Working in dusty conditions didn't seem to bother the lens of the AgCam. Throughout the entire time I used it, I never had to clean off the lens because the picture on the screen was cloudy or blurred. There were times where it would be difficult to see an image on the screen if the camera was looking directly at the sun, but a minor change in angle cleared that up right away.

The AgCam does not quit working when the sun goes down. Its night vision capabilities are impressive. I easily backed the chopper into the machine shed in the dark without turning any lights on in the shed or on the machine to guide me.

The manual and the company Web site (www.agcam.com) will tell you that camera position is the key to making the system most effective. The chances of having the camera positioned ideally on the first try are rather slim. What looks like the right spot for placement rarely is. It may work best to have a second person available as you search for the ideal location for the camera.

Because of the strength of the magnet on the camera's base, we found it quite effective to add a strap iron as a camera perch in a couple of applications. Placing the camera on the end of the auger of the grain cart didn't provide the ideal location while filling a wagon. Moving the camera to the top of a strap iron placed on the side of the grain cart near the auger gave a much better field of view.

Features and options

The AgCam is waterproof. That means you can attach the camera to a strap iron or a pole and maneuver it inside your liquid fertilizer tank to see what things look like inside without having to put yourself at risk.

The AgCam comes with a remote control that allows you to switch between channels with multiple cameras and also make a few other changes on the screen. One button switches between four different screen aspect ratios to make the picture fit a certain size. It can vary from a wide-angle look to more of a letterbox format. It is surprising how much easier it is to watch some tasks with one aspect ratio versus another one.

A great option for the system is the Ranch Hand Wireless Transmitter/Receiver Pair. This allows the camera to be placed in one location while transmitting the image to a monitor in a different location without being tethered by a cable. Both the transmitter and receiver can be attached to a gain antenna to increase signal strength from several feet away to several miles away, depending on the antenna and geographical layout.

Some jobs require several sets of eyes. Those jobs also can be handled by the AgCam with the use of the AgCam Full Color Quad Processor. The Quad Processor allows the user to have four cameras connected to the monitor at once. The monitor can be split into four separate screens to show images from all four cameras at once, or it can use a split screen to show images from two cameras. Or the operator can make use of a picture-in-picture function to have one image on the large screen while also looking at a smaller image in a corner of the screen.

Imagine trying to keep track of all the processes taking place on a combine at once in detail. With a Quad Processor, you could mount one camera on the head to watch the outside edge during dusty soybean harvesting conditions and mount a second camera on the unload auger to help line up and dump into a wagon or grain cart on the go. A third and fourth camera could be placed inside the back of the combine to monitor grain loss or to watch residue distribution.

You also can use a digital video recorder (DVR) to record any of the video taken by the AgCam for later viewing. Is there a rumble somewhere on that machine that you can't see? Put an AgCam camera in the suspect area, hook it to the DVR and then play the video back to see if the problem shows up at working speed.

Prices

The basic AgCam kit includes a 6-in. monitor with a stand and remote, a camera with a magnetic and a hard mount, 60- and 20-ft. cables with watertight connectors, six adhesive cable clips to keep your camera cables secured and out of the way, an external audio/video adaptor, a hardwire power adaptor, an A/C power adaptor and a 12v power adaptor. The kit retails for $929. The same kit with a 9-in. monitor is $1,089.

Optional equipment can be purchased individually, such as an extra camera for $389, the Ranch Hand Wireless Transmitter/Receiver for $299, a variety of external gain antennas for signal boost, the Full Color Quad Processor for $415, the stand-alone digital video recorder, and a video server to allow you to view the AgCam at a remote location via the Internet. Cameras with a stainless steel housing are now available for an additional $210 above the cost of the camera with an aluminum housing.

For the basic price of $1,089 for a 9-in. monitor and a single camera, I thought the durable, high-quality AgCam provided excellent value. Adding options makes it an even more appealing tool that can fill a lot of roles for me at a reasonable cost. I don't intend to chop silage and look back again this coming season.

For more information, contact Dakota Micro Inc., Dept. FIN, 8659 148th Ave. S.E., Cayuga, ND 58013, 866/462-4226, visit www.dakotamicro.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 101.