A method gathers scene information from a low-cost camera system. Existing surveillance systems using sufficient cameras for continuous coverage of a large field necessarily generate enormous amounts of raw data. Digitizing and channeling that data to a central computer and processing it in real time is difficult when using low-cost, commercially available components. A newly developed system is located on a combined power and data wire to form a string-of-lights camera system. Each camera is accessible through this network interface using standard TCP/IP networking protocols. The cameras more closely resemble cell-phone cameras than traditional security camera systems. Processing capabilities are built directly onto the camera backplane, which helps maintain a low cost.