Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Security Cameras

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Man looking into security camera: Home Surveillance Cameras 101Home surveillance systems have come a long way. They started with a licensed installer coming to your home with bulky equipment and endless strings of cords. High monthly bills and lousy image quality followed.

Today, we have access to DIY solutions that you can install yourself and monitor from your phone. If you want to purchase your own home surveillance cameras but aren’t sure where to begin your search, you’ve come to the right place.

Article Overview

How Do Security Cameras Work?

First, you have the option of using wired or wireless security cameras. Larger properties and businesses typically use wired cameras. These systems use cables for power, internet connection and video transfer. Cables connect the cameras to a recorder, which you then attach to a router.

A wireless camera is much easier to install because there are no cables. You can install these cameras anywhere within range of the base station, which connects to the router (sometimes with a cable). The system transmits video footage wirelessly to the recorder or app.

What Are The Different Types Of Security Cameras Available?

Before deciding on cameras, you’ll want to consider where you live, how heavy foot traffic and crime is in your area, the layout and positioning of your home, and weather conditions, among other factors. Here are the different types of security cameras you’ll want to consider:

Outdoor | WiFiWireless | Wireless | Doorbell | App-BasedHidden | CCTV | Pet Cams

Outdoor security camera mounted to wall (Caption: Guide To Outdoor Security Cameras)Outdoor Cameras

Video surveillance around the exterior of your home can help scare off intruders before they even try and step foot into your house.

If they’re still gutsy enough to break into your home, you may be able to bring them to justice. Find out which outdoor security cameras we recommend.

 

Three wifi security cameras on a blank canvas (Caption: Best Wifi Security Camera)WiFi Cameras

WiFi cameras connect to your internet and typically can deliver footage through an app. These are much easier to install, but they can be less reliable if you have an inconsistent internet connection or someone severs the internet connection to your home. WiFi cameras are easy to relocate since all you have to do is plug them in (some don’t even require this step) and connect them to your WiFi. Some even have AI features.

We’ve reviewed the best wifi security cameras.

Wireless Cameras

Arlo camera at night (caption: Best Wireless Security Cameras)Wireless security cameras allow you to flexibly place your camera without worrying about hardwiring it or putting it near an outlet. Their simple installation and ease of use make them a popular choice.

You can read our reviews of the best wireless security cameras and the best wireless outdoor security cameras to see our top picks.

Wired Security Cameras

Lorex camera at night (caption: Best Wired Home Security Cameras)There are 2 main reasons people consider a wired security camera. They want a reliable connection, and they want to record video locally, so they don’t have to rely on cloud recording. You can read our article about the best wired security cameras to see what we recommend.

 

Doorbell Cameras

Ring doorbell posted on a front door (Caption: Best Doorbell Cameras)

An increasingly popular type of security camera available today are doorbell cameras. Package theft is occurring more frequently with the abundance of online shopping consumers are doing, so monitoring the front door is a necessity.

Doorbell cameras replace your existing doorbell with one that includes a camera. Download an app onto your phone and get notifications when someone rings your doorbell or motion is detected (depending on the brand you buy). If someone tries to break into your home or steal your package, you can speak to them through the doorbell to try to scare them off.

You’ve probably heard of Ring’s doorbell camera as it was one of the pioneers in this space. But did you know there are other companies you can choose from as well? Read our doorbell comparison article to see which one we chose as the top pick.

Did You Know?

In the Ring app, neighbors can help one another by creating alerts of nearby crimes. The company has also partnered with more than 400 law enforcement agencies across the country.

Pictures Of Home Security Camera Apps On Smartphones (Caption: Turn A Phone Or Tablet Into A Security Camera)Camera Apps

Have any old smartphone lying around your house?  Turn it into a security camera! This can save you a lot of money. All you have to do is install a home security camera app on your phone and your system will be up and running in minutes.

Hidden Cameras

If you need to discreetly monitor an area with a camera disguised as an everyday object, go full James Bond with a hidden camera.

CCTV Security Camera Systems

Outdoor camera up-close (Caption: Security Camera System Review)

CCTV systems (Closed-Circuit Television) systems are wired security camera systems. They typically require a video recorder to capture the footage in digital format.

The recorder has wires to each camera, and if a criminal cuts a cable, or the recorder is damaged or stolen, the footage may be lost and recording interrupted.

Did You Know?

CCTV systems are commonly used in businesses because they are considered to be more reliable since there is no risk of a lost connection due to wireless signals. They also support more cameras (sometimes up to 16), so they can monitor multiple areas on the property.

Pet Cameras

Dog next to pet camera (caption:Best Pet Security Cameras)

Want to keep tabs on your furry friends while you’re not at home? Many indoor WiFi security cameras or cameras that are part of your whole-home security system can allow you to view your pets.

But there are some fun pet-specific cameras on the market that have interactive features, such as games you can play and treat-tossing capabilities.

What To Look For In A Security Camera

We feel night vision and motion detection are “must haves,” while other features can be useful depending on your unique circumstances.

Factors To Consider In A Home Security Camera

Must Haves

  • Night Vision – This is important since many crimes take place in the dark or at night. The best cameras have night vision, to catch the criminal’s face or license plate in the dark (note that most do not yet apply facial or license plate recognition technology, manual matches will have to be made). Check out our top picks for the best night vision cameras.
  • Motion Detection – We suggest getting a camera with motion detection, so your camera picks up important events only, vs recording constantly or on a fixed schedule. Constant recording takes up a lot of storage space, and if there is a crime committed, you’ll have to watch through all of that footage.

Advanced Features And Technical Details

  • Field of View – The size of the area you want to monitor will determine the field of view. Is a wide-angle lens necessary? Ultimately, this will be up to you. Consider where exactly you might place a camera before purchasing.
  • Zoom, Pan, Tilt – Make sure your camera(s) point in a direction that allows the criminal’s face to be seen clearly (a zoom feature can help a lot here). Think about where the criminal might break in, and how, when you consider the placement and angle of your camera. If you’re covering wider areas we recommend a camera that pans and tilts as well (many of these are controllable remotely, via your smartphone, and can also be motion-triggered).
  • Resolution – Technology has come a long way in the improvement of picture quality. Make sure the camera you are considering has high definition at a minimum so you can clearly see characteristics of burglars and any unusual activity. And note that for WiFi cameras the image quality will depend on your internet speed.
  • Arlo Ultra camera with solar panel (Caption: Best Solar Powered Security Cameras)Wireless or Hardwired – Since thieves can cut wires (and potentially disable your system that way), wireless equipment has become the norm, especially in older homes where wires are potentially easier to access. One advantage of a wired system is you will not have to replace batteries. Some cameras are solar-powered or use rechargeable batteries.
  • Audio detection – This can be convenient because you can speak to the intruder and warn them that authorities are on the way. They may leave before doing any harm. Or you can have your own personal security guard do that for you by monitoring your camera feeds and deterring intruders with the Deep Sentinel system.
  • Motion detection zones – You can select areas of the view angle that should detect motion and begin recording. Zones come in handy if you place a camera above your garage that shows part of the street (learn more about garage security), but you don’t want your camera to record every time a car passes by.
  • Feed quality – high definition video can capture more details that may come in handy when apprehending a suspect.
  • IP Camera – a camera capable of recording to the internet, where you can remotely access the footage. Compare this to a DVR camera, which records to a local hard drive that an intruder could steal.
  • Recording length – the longer the recording capacity, the more footage you can capture, but that may also affect online storage limits.
  • Operating temperature – For example, in Iowa, the winters can get below -10°F, so I needed an outdoor camera that could withstand the frigid temperatures as well as hot summers reaching around 100°F.

Pro Tip

Every home and situation is different so we suggest making a list and looking for the best surveillance camera that meets your specific needs.

Security Camera FAQs

There are a few things to keep in mind before buying your cameras, as well as questions we receive from our readers. Don’t see your question? Ask us in the comments!

  1. How Many Cameras Do I Need?
  2. Where Should I Place My Cameras?
  3. How Easy Are Security Cameras To Install?
  4. Can Security Cameras Be Hacked?
  5. Do Responses To Alarms With Cameras Get A Higher Police Dispatch Priority?
  6. Are Security Cameras Legal?
  7. Can Security Camera Footage Be Used In Court To Prosecute Crimes?
  8. What Should I Do If My Camera Is Not Working?

1) How Many Cameras Do I Need?

Many systems allow for you to add-on multiple cameras. You might get one camera thinking it’s enough coverage but then come to learn you need a second camera for another part of your house that is an entry point for intruders and it’s easy to add a second camera later on.

Security camera catching a mailmail in action

2) Where Should I Place My Cameras?

Our home security camera installation guide has all the details on where you should place your cameras, how to install them and other tips.

3) How Easy Are Security Cameras To Install?

One of the biggest concerns is how simple the camera installation is. Fortunately, most security cameras have DIY set-ups that take less than 15 minutes. However, there are some that require a little more work (i.e., CCTV systems).

4) Can Security Cameras Be Hacked?

There are multiple ways for hackers to gain access to your security camera. Read our guide to properly secure your cameras.

5) Do Responses To Alarms With Cameras Get A Higher Police Dispatch Priority?

What Is The Average Police Response Time In The U.S.?This depends on your precinct and specific police department protocol, but yes, in many cases a video-verified intrusion is considered a “burglary in progress” and will receive higher dispatch priority. What does this mean? Typically a faster response time. Check out our article on average police response times around the country to see how quick your local cops are.

Note that if the suspects are not caught, there is another whole issue surrounding the admissibility of video in court.

6) Are Security Cameras Legal?

Be sure to learn about the laws in your state or contact your local police department regarding the legality of filming people from a surveillance camera placed on your property.

7) Can Security Camera Footage Be Used In Court To Prosecute Crimes?

In general yes, but you will need to prove that you had permission to record the suspect, that the footage is admissible in court, and that it is relevant. Typically intrusions in and around your property are admissible, whereas more public locations like your sidewalk or a public access may not be.

Another potential hurdle is whether the video recording is accurate enough to warrant facial recognition. In our experience this is where the evidence often falls short. We recommend you consult with your attorney for specifics in your jurisdiction.

8) What Should I Do If My Camera Is Not Working?

If you run into problems with your security camera working, it may be an easy fix. Before you panic, check out our expert’s tips on security camera troubleshooting.

This step is often overlooked but it’s critical to know the laws before buying a security camera, especially if it’s hidden, in a vacation home or if you plan to use any intrusion video in court. In the case of a vacation rental property, for example, it is illegal in most locations to operate indoor cameras without guests’ permission.

Some cities ask you to register your security cameras in case a crime takes place nearby so they can see if there are any cameras in the area that may have captured the activity. In fact, in Washington DC, they even have a rebate program to reimburse and incentivize residents to add outdoor cameras to their homes to help with crime prevention and monitoring.

What Are The Best Cameras?

If you’re looking to get up and running quickly, our experts compare the hottest cameras on the market in our top cameras comparison. These are WiFi cameras loaded with all the bells and whistles you might need.

Did we answer all your security camera related questions?

About The Author:

Kimberly is our home security expert and has been writing about security and safety since 2013, covering everything from security systems and home automation to identity theft protection, home warranties, medical alert systems, and more. She has personally tested hundreds of system components and interfaced with dozens of home security companies to find out what’s happening behind the scenes. Her work has appeared in many notable brands, including The New York Times' Wirecutter, Reader's Digest, Forbes, People, Woman's World, and Huffington Post.

In 2018, she had her first child, which opened up a whole new avenue of security experience with baby gear. She wanted to purchase the safest items for her family.

Kimberly received her Bachelor of Arts in multimedia journalism from Simpson College. Her natural curiosity helps her research as she seeks the truth when learning about, comparing, and personally testing products and services.

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Disclaimer: This website contains reviews, opinions and information regarding products and services manufactured or provided by third parties. We are not responsible in any way for such products and services, and nothing contained here should be construed as a guarantee of the functionality, utility, safety or reliability of any product or services reviewed or discussed. Please follow the directions provided by the manufacturer or service provider when using any product or service reviewed or discussed on this website.

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Kate Welling
June 15, 2020 1:00 pm

I was surprised to read how many different cameras there are. I would love to get wifi cameras. You mentioned that these are easy to install.

Shaylee Packer
May 14, 2020 8:15 am

As you mentioned, WiFi security cameras are great, if you have reliable internet. You do have to take into consideration that if your internet goes down, so do your cameras. We recently moved into a home, and I would like to have security cameras placed. Would a security company be able to tell me which type would be the best for my situation?

Kristofer Van Wagner
May 3, 2020 3:39 pm

It never occurred to me that there are numerous different types of security cameras for us to choose from. My sister-in-law just moved to a new house in a new neighborhood. Because she has no experience in purchasing CCTV security systems, I will encourage her to speak with a professional.

Natasha Willams
March 21, 2020 4:02 am

Thanks for the elaborated information. However, I have another query regarding the Arlo Q. My Arlo Q is not accepting to connect with Alexa and Google wifi. I have tried out for the factory resetting as mentioned.It doesn’t seem to work. Does anybody have any recommendations or explanatory solutions or tips to get rid of this discrepancies?

Tori Raddison
February 26, 2020 5:14 pm

My husband is getting worried that somebody is going to break into our house. To put him at ease, we’re getting a security system. I liked it when you said to consider where you’d put a camera before you buy one. That way, we only have to buy the exact number we need!

Tritonsurveillance
January 13, 2020 5:59 am

Such a Awesome explanation most of the people do not know about the facts of security camera or cctv coverage specially for me this is very helpful and easy to understand.

Henry Killingsworth
December 10, 2019 3:47 pm

Thank you for helping me to understand that it is important to get a security camera that has motion detection abilities so that it doesn’t fill up a bunch of space from recording at all times. A couple of months ago, I discovered that someone had broken into my house and took some of my wife’s jewelry. Fortunately, no one in my family was hurt but it seems like investing in a security system would help me to be able to better protect my family.

Ashley Maxwell
June 28, 2018 4:18 pm

Thanks for mentioning how surveillance cameras should have night vision. I also like how you said that it should sens motion as well. My husband and I are looking for surveillance cameras; thanks for the post.

Jesse Allen
August 3, 2016 2:54 am

Thank you for this wonderful post. And like the other comment mentions, resolution is an important characteristic to consider. It is 2016, and 1080p has become a standard of sorts for surveillance cameras but it is still worth mentioning for someone going in for the first time.

Guest
May 17, 2016 12:16 pm

One other thing to look for that I might add is resolution. Some cameras have really crappy quality and the better the resolution the more likely you are to see the details of the person’s face, features and plate number. People often skimp and get the cheapest camera, but since you’re already spending the money it’s worth paying a little more to make the camera more effective.