Selecting A Security Camera For Your Home
Understanding Your Home Security Camera Options
If you've ever searched for "security cameras" online, you know that there are countless security camera variations, but to summarize, most security cameras fall under one of these two categories:
- Indoor Cameras
- Outdoor Cameras
Each category, however, is filled with different variations.
As the term implies, indoor cameras are built for indoor use. Cameras such as Canary View and Amazon Cloud Cam cam fall under this category. These cameras were designed to protect and monitor your indoor space, usually using features like motion and sound detection.
Fixed Indoor Cameras
Most indoor cameras are fixed, meaning they are stationary and they monitor a fixed area. On the bright side, fixed indoor cameras often have wide-angle lenses. If you place them correctly, one fixed indoor camera is enough to watch over an entire room. Wyze Cam, Yi Home, and the other inexpensive cameras mentioned in this article are great examples of fixed indoor cameras.
On the other hand, pan-and-tilt cameras have narrower fields of vision, but they make up for that limitation by offering the ability to pan and tilt on demand. Instead of offering a fixed view, pan-and-tilt cameras offers a sweeping view of its entire surrounding. For example, you can leave the camera facing a window but occasionally check on your pet crate by making the camera's head rotate You can control most pan-and-tilt cameras using your smartphone and the mobile app developed by the camera manufacturer.
Wyze Cam Pan is a great example. Although it can't tilt (look up or down), it can rotate, offering a sweeping 360° field of vision.
Smart cameras come in many shapes and sizes. It's not a single variation, but rather a general term for cameras that can do more than just provide video surveillance features. Canary All-In-One, for example, provides temperature and humidity monitoring as well as a built-in siren. Those that offer special features, such as facial recognition, person detection, and zone monitoring are also considered smart cameras. Canary, Nest, and Angee are our top three smart security cameras, and you can read about how they compare to each other in this article.
Outdoor cameras are built for outdoor use, which means they're more rugged and they have extra protection against external weather factors such as water, dust, and frigid temperatures. Take note that not all outdoor security cameras have the same level of protection against these elements, so be sure to research the type of outdoor camera built for your specific living conditions. For example, if you live in a place where it rains 70% of the year, be sure to pick an outdoor camera that is waterproof. Or if you live in area that gets real cold in the winter, choose one that can withstand sub-zero temperatures and still work optimally.
Bullet-Type Outdoor Cameras
Most outdoor cameras you will find online are bullet-type. These are extremely rugged cameras, usually with IP65 or higher weatherproof rating and extended night vision. There are wireless bullet-type cameras, but most of them are still hardwired or at least use PoE. More on those later.
Dome-Shaped Outdoor Cameras
Dome-shaped outdoor cameras are also pretty common. They are not as rugged as bullet-type cameras. Instead, they are designed to be installed under eaves where they are usually mounted upside-down. Most camera manufacturers offer both dome-shaped and bullet-type cameras. The primary distinction feature-wise is the viewing angle. While bullet-type cameeras are known for having a narrow field of vision, dome-shaped cameras usually have exceptionally wide-angle lens.
Cordless Outdoor Cameras
Although cordless cameras were totally unheard of just a few years ago, it's now becoming a commonality. Cordless cameras are exactly that — cordless. There are no Ethernet cables running through the attic to the camera nor power cables. Cordless cameras draw power from their battery and use Wi-Fi or a proprietary radio frequency to connect to the internet. Arlo was one of the first brands to revolutionize cordless cameras. Most of their cameras are completely cordless yet they offer two to six months of battery life thanks to the Base Station that handles all the heavy-lifting. Although the cameras are cordless, the Base Station requires power from an in-wall outlet. Blink and Blink XT use the same set-up, but instead of a Base Station, they have Sync Modules, but there are some that can stand on their own such as Canary Flex.
Smart Light-Equipped Cameras
There are also devices that combine two powerful security products: smart lights and security cameras. Ring Spotlight Cam and Floodlight Cam are great examples. Spotlight Cam can either run on its batteries, draw power from a solar panel, or plug into a wall outlet. Floodlight Cam is a little harder to install because it requires hard-wiring to a junction box.
The most interesting feature of smart light-equipped cameras is their ability to turn on their smart light when their camera detects motion. Not only is this a great way of illuminating your way as you approach your front door, it's also an ideal way to stop intruders in their tracks.
LTE-Enabled Outdoor Cameras
Finally, to take the name "outdoor camera" to the extreme, there are LTE-enabled, battery-powered security cameras. Outdoor cameras can live outdoors, bu they are still limited by your Wi-Fi signal range or length of your Ethernet cable. LTE-enabled cameras aren't affected by these limitations, so you can place them even in the most remote places. For example, in a cabin in the woods or a boat parked in the marina.
Instead of using Wi-Fi, these cameras use LTE signal provided by the included SIM card to connect to the internet. As long as there's a strong LTE signal, LTE-enabled cameras can stream to your phone or record event videos in the cloud. The downside of this type of cameras is the price. The hardware alone could cost you $300 upwards, plus you'll need to maintain a monthly data plan from the SIM card provider.
What To Look For In Security Cameras
Choosing a security camera can be confusing. Besides the fact that there are hundreds after hundreds of options, there are terms manufacturers use that are confusing even for us tech-savvy consumers. Below, we'll work you through the different security camera features and how they should affect your buying decision.
The first thing you'll probably notice is the resolution. Normally, a higher value means better image quality. For example, 1080p videos are much clearer than 480p and 720p. Some newer cameras even offer a 4K resolution. However, higher isn't always better. Running several 1080p or 4K cameras at once will put a strain on your bandwidth and slow down your internet connection. If you're looking to add multiple cameras, 720p (a.k.a. HD) is the safe value.
Field Of View/Viewing Angle
A cameras field of view defines how much it sees. If it has a narrow field of view, you'll likely need more than one camera to cover an entire room. If a camera has a higher viewing angle, that means one is enough to monitor a room, as long as you position the camera optimally. The minimum FOV we recommend is 130-degrees. However, we also recommend that you choose a camera with a lower than 180-degrees viewing angle. Cameras with more than 180-degrees viewing angle will likely have a fisheye distortion, which bends the image in order to accommodate the wide view. Of course, you can also choose pan-and-tilt cameras if you want better coverage.
It's important that your camera can see both in the day and at night. Most security cameras use IR night vision, which turns the image to black-and-white and uses built in Infrared LEDs to see. There are also cameras that offer colored night vision, especially those that have built-in smart lights.
The most common security feature offered by security cameras is motion detection. If anything moves within their field of vision, they'll let you know and record a short clip. PIR motion detection is the recommended detection method, because it uses a Passive Infrared sensor that is only sensitive to things that emit body heat, such as humans. Computed Vision is another detection method. It detects anything that moves within the field of view, which means it's more prone to false alerts. However, by fine-tuning the camera's sensitivity and with the help of smart features, you can eliminate or reduce false alarms.
One such smart features is motion zones. It basically tells the camera what area to monitor for motion and what area to ignore. For example, your front door is a high-priority area so it's a good idea to include it in your motion zones. The windows, on the other hand, can cause tons of false alerts, so it's best to ignore it. Some cameras will let you draw shapes around areas you want to monitor, while others let you choose squares from a pre-configured grid.
Person detection is another smart feature. Instead of triggering every single time something moves, cameras with person detection will only trigger when a shape that resembles that of a person is seen moving. Some cameras include this feature for free, while others charge a premium monthly fee for it alongside other smart features. Most, however, don't offer person detection.
Improving upon person detection, there's facial recognition. Person detection can tell you if there's a human in sight, facial recognition can tell you who the person is as long as that person is in your database of known faces. It can help you quickly identify if a motion event needs immediate attention. For example, if an unknown person is seen, then that means you'll need to check your motion event log. If a family member is seen, then you can rest easy that your home is safe.
Other A.I. Features
The use of A.I. in security cameras is becoming more and more common. One example is Canary Flex. Beside being able to detect humans, it can detect if a package is being delivered or picked up from your doorstep.
Recording is a key security camera feature, but not all cameras approach video recording the same way.
Cloud recording is when a camera records videos and sends them to a remote server for safekeeping. Because they're in the cloud, you can access them anytime so long as you have access to the internet. This recording method is the most convenient for many, but it has downsides.
First, cloud servers are notoriously known for being hackable. If your camera's cloud server is hacked, you run the risk of your videos being leaked or viewed by just about anyone. Second, it usually requires a monthly fee. Although some cameras come with free cloud storage, most will require you to pay a monthly fee.
Because of the potential privacy risks and long-term cost associated to cloud recording, many still prefer local recording where videos are stored in a microSD card or a DVR. It's more practical because there are no monthly fee to pay, plus most cameras now offer local storage streaming. Even if your videos are saved in a microSD card, you'll still be able to watch them anywhere you are.
The downside of local recording is that if the intruder takes your camera, they take away any video evidence along with it. Unless they reconnect the camera to the internet and don't reset it (which is highly unlikely), your hopes of recovering video evidence is lost. Fortunately, there are cameras that offer both local and cloud recording, such as Wyze Cam.
Although not a recording method, we highly recommend that you check if the camera your eyeing supports continuous recording. Continuous recording is when the camera stays on 24/7 and records everything it sees regardless of whether there's motion or not. With it, even if your camera misses a motion event, you can still playback the video and see exactly what occurred at a certain time.
Most cameras record continuously to a local recording device or microSD cards, but there are a few that offer continuous cloud recording. The best example if Nest Cam, which offers Nest Aware (a continuous recording plan) for as low as $5 per month per camera.
Where To Look For Useful Research Articles
Hopefully, this little shopping guide we've put together helped you gain more understanding about security cameras. If you're looking for a more detailed review of a particular security camera, or a comparison between two or more cameras you're eyeing, we're here to help. Below you'll find a list of articles we've created that touch on topic of security cameras. If there's anything that interests you, simply click the link and it'll take you to the article. Don't forget to bookmark this page as we will update the list below as we review more security cameras.