A Buying Guide to Smart Security Cameras

Security and privacy are two essentials of a person’s life. It is human nature to expect peace and space without the fear of being invaded in any way. Unfortunately, this is not the case. According to statistics, there are more property crimes in America than violent crimes. In 2019 alone, there were 2,109 property crimes per 100,000 people. These crimes range from stalking and trespassing to property damage and thefts. Given these statistics, it is probably a good idea to invest in a good home security system.

Before jumping to conclusions and start shopping for security cameras, there are a few things that you should keep in mind. Unlike regular home electronic devices, it is best to do a little homework first and learn a few things about security cameras and how they are supposed to work. 

Things to Consider Before Buying a Security Camera

The first thing you need to do is rather simple but crucial. It may not make much sense, but getting an opinion from your family can be helpful. You will find everyone’s input to be helpful regarding the actual need for a home surveillance system.

Here is a list of things you should consider before buying a security camera for your home or office:

Why Use Security Cameras?

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Security cameras come with different specifications and price ranges. What you need to do is recognize your reasons for installing such cameras. Some people find it necessary to keep tabs on their young kids at home or pets while they are away. Others want to secure their parameters and keep their property safe. Reasons like these are important because they will help you choose the right type of security camera without spending unnecessary money.

To keep tabs on your kids or pets, an indoor camera system will do the trick. It goes well, especially for toddlers who cannot sit in one place for long. Similarly, a nanny cam is installed in a baby’s room to keep yourself updated about their presence. Alternatively, an outdoor security system that covers the front and back of your house is a great way to secure your property. They make others aware of being watched and record a wide area on the street, which is often used as evidence in case of a crime.

Where to Place Security Cameras?

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Once you have decided your preferences, it is time for you to pick out places in your house where you would place a smart security camera and how many you require. The size of your house and the area that you want to secure are important factors to consider here.

Think of this as a game of hide-and-seek. Move around your house and notice the areas where the lighting is minimum. Burglars often use such spots to break in, and often they already know these places. A functional camera with visible light gives a heads up to anyone who tries to sneak around the house. 

You can also place a doorbell camera placed right under the doorbell, often connected with the bell itself. It allows the people in the house to talk to the ones on the door through a mobile app. 

Outdoor cameras usually cost around $200 each. They are a bit on the expensive side because they come with weather resistance shields around them. Still, it is advised to place the cameras under some shade for best performance.

Indoor cameras are advised for houses that have long hallways and bigger rooms. Keeping private places like bedrooms and bathrooms at bay, you should cover the common rooms, hallways, and any other area that gets minimum lighting and activity. It is recommended to get wireless cameras indoors, but even if you are getting plug-in ones, you should get their separate backup as well. This will allow the cameras to keep recording in case of power failures.

All this debate brings us to the question of the number of cameras you need. The answer may not be immediate because you have not searched for the kind of lenses these cameras use or the area they can cover. We will get on that in a minute because before jumping on to specifications for security cameras, first, you need to know their types and how they differ.

Types of Security Cameras

Buying a surveillance system can be challenging, especially if you are not aware of the technical terms that are used for it. You don’t have to dig deep into every specification, but it is important to know the basic differences between security cameras. You might have already guessed that we are more focused on smart surveillance systems as the other ones are gradually becoming outdated. 

Surveillance cameras, in general, are of two types – consumer-grade and commercial-grade.

1. Consumer-Grade Security Cameras

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In common terminology, consumer-grade security cameras are the ones that are not expensive and are used for small houses and businesses. On the outside, both cameras will look similar, but the performance will be massively compromised. These cameras come in both variants of plug-ins and wireless, and they usually cost under $50 per piece. You will get a set of six to eight cameras that will cost you around $1,000, along with a recorder. This sounds like a pretty good deal only if you have a small house and don’t want to cover anything, particularly after sunset. 

Consumer-grade security cameras are best to be used indoors. This is because of their ability to work well in good lighting. Since they are budget-friendly, they make an excellent choice for nanny cams or other reasons inside the house. However, consumer-grade cameras are not recommended for a house that requires a larger area to be covered. 

2. Commercial-Grade Security Cameras

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These types of cameras are the ones that you see in big stores like Ikea and Walmart. They give a notion of superiority and feel that they are meant to keep a check on really important things. Commercial-grade surveillance cameras are expensive compared to their consumer counterparts, but their performance is top-notch. 

You will have to ask for these commercial cameras because the moment they hear you saying cameras for a house, the salesmen will try to beat you with the consumer-grade ones.

As the name implies, commercial-grade tech is intended for “commercial” purposes, but they can be purchased if you do not want to compromise on the quality and performance. To cover a wide area of your luxury house or a farm, you will have to invest in these cameras. The prices are significantly higher than the consumer-grade ones – $400 for a single camera. 

The whole set of cameras may add up to $2,000 or more, and this does not include a recorder. The recorder alone can cost you up to $5,000, depending on the quality of recordings you want and, subsequently, the storage capacity it would require. Of course, smart cameras these days do not require any external recorder. The new technology of remote storage is now being used, which will be explained later.

Main Features of a Security Camera

Main Features of a Security Camera 

Now comes the part where you will have to understand the working of a surveillance camera and the specifications that makes it worth your choice. This is also where you will know the difference between consumer-grade cameras and commercial-grade cameras. 

If you are a tech enthusiast and have enough knowledge about mobile phone cameras, some of these features might make more sense to you. The overall working of a security camera is no different than any other regular camera. The differences lie in the connectivity, integration, and usage of a security camera.

1. Performance – Results

Without a doubt, all you want out of a security camera is an output of good quality that can be used in a time of emergency. No one wants a video quality of a potato camera that can’t even make the face of a person recognizable. But how would you judge a camera’s output? What is the criterion which makes a security camera’s performance good or bad? 

  • Lighting Conditions

One of the most promising ways of judging a camera is to try its results in low lighting. A good camera must maintain its focus no matter how much it is exposed to light. Take the example of a camera placed behind a door that covers a hallway. Whenever the door opens, the camera will get an instant flood of light, making the results very clear. But the light will make the actual hallway appear dark in the video because of the overexposure of light. This is the kind of thing that a consumer-grade camera does. It gets overexposed under conditions like this and compromises the video clarity. 

On the contrary, commercial-grade cameras come with High Dynamic Range (HDR) enabled. They capture an exposure of both the images – an area with overexposed light and the area that has gone dark. It merges the two images and results in one good quality image with no sign of overexposure anywhere. All this is done by default and within an instant of a second. This is one of the many features that make a commercial-grade camera a worthy investment.

  • Night Vision

Security of anything can’t be compromised at any time of the day. But it is even more required during the night when someone might try to take advantage of the darkness. It is of no use if a security camera only captures a blurred outline of a person and no details. This is where consumer-grade cameras fail. 

Security cameras at night are programmed to focus on the spot where there is the best lighting. The consumer-grade cameras come with built-in illuminators that throw light directly below the camera. This makes any object close to them over-exposed and blur. Sure, they can tell if a person is there, but you can hardly recognize their facial features. 

Commercial-grade cameras come equipped with infrared (IR) illuminators. This advanced technology is capable of maintaining the balance of light on the object. The object will neither be over-exposed nor have low lighting. The camera will adjust itself by default. As a result, you will have a clear picture of the person.

  • Resolution

You might have heard about this term from peers while talking about video quality or TV sets. Let us try to understand resolution with the help of a simple example. You must have seen those jigsaw puzzles growing up. Puzzle pieces joined together to form a complete, larger picture. Once the puzzle was solved, you could see a clear image formed. The same is the case with resolution but with extremely tiny dots called pixels. When trillions of pixels are put together, a digital image is formed. 

The more pixels that a screen can hold, the clearer would be the image/video quality. A similar case is applied on security cameras but with a little difference.

In the past, cameras came with as low resolution as VGA, which honestly was terrible quality. Modern cameras these days come with the lowest resolution of 1080p and the highest of 4K. 4K resolution means that there are four times more pixels compared to a video of 1080p. Does that make 4K better than 1080p? The answer varies according to your requirements.

To put it in comparison, a 30-second video clip of 1080p will take about 130MB of storage space while a 4K clip of the same duration exceeds 350MB. This difference is huge, and unless you have an effective storage plan up your sleeves, 4K cameras are not recommended. Cameras with 1080p or even 720p quality do just fine. It takes up less space, and the video quality is great, too, with all the details.

  • Storage

Since we are talking about smart security systems, it is pretty obvious that you should have a good internet connection within the range of all the cameras. Most cameras come with internal storage that could be used in case of power shortage, but the everyday recordings will require a lot more space than a small SD card.

Older cameras came up with a separate video recorder, which was always followed by the risk of getting damaged or simply being taken away during a burglary. A new form of storage called “cloud storage” is used, which is not new in the IT world, but people who want to implement surveillance cameras in their houses might be new to this. 

Think of it as a giant cloud over your house that could be accessed from anywhere since it is a cloud in the sky. The cameras record and send all the data onto the cloud over the internet every day or whenever its backup is programmed. This technology has become so convenient that there is a close to zero percent chance of losing the data.

Where does this cloud storage come from? Well, most security companies offer monthly or yearly storage plans that could cost you anywhere from $20 a month to $100 a year. According to your overall usage, you can get a relevant storage plan and always upgrade it if needed. 

  • Lens Type – 360° & 720° Surveillance 

For a vast area that needs to be covered in one frame, you will need wider lens cameras. The usual cameras have a 130° angle that focuses on the frame in front of it and records a crisp image. But where the area to be covered is significantly large, a 360° or a 720° camera may come in handy. They come with a spherical lens that resembles a fisheye. A 360° camera covers all directions of a single hemisphere while the 720° covers all the possible directions of the upper and lower hemisphere.

The only drawback of this kind of surveillance is that they compromise a bit on the resolution. Since a 360° or 720° camera has to extend its frame over a wide area, its output resolution gets a bit choppy and warped compared to a flat 130° camera. 

Consumer-grade cameras do not provide such innovations in the surveillance systems, although they are smart enough to display videos over the internet. This is also one of the many reasons to spend money on a good quality commercial-grade camera if you have a wide area to keep a check on.

2. Integration

In this world of major connectivity where a whole house can be controlled remotely with the help of an application, why should a trivial thing like a security camera work standalone? One of the most advanced and useful features of the latest security cameras is their ability to work with other devices. Smart virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa and Amazon Echo can be connected with the cams, and they can provide you with real-time feed and notifications. 

The most important aspect of this integration is that it works immediately upon a sense of intrusion. If a house is “smart,” the security system can lock all the windows and doors and notify the authorities on time. 

Commercial-Grade vs. Consumer-Grade – A Comparison

Consumer-Grade Security Camera

Commercial-Grade Security Camera

Night Vision

Clear up to 30-40 feet

Smart Infrared (IR), Thermal

Resolution

1080p

1080p to 4K

Storage

Local and Cloud

Cloud

Lens Type

Flat 130°

Fisheye, 360°

Body

Plastic

Metal

Cable Quality

Lightweight, low-density copper. 0.8 pounds per 60 feet

Adequate copper, high density, 2.7 pounds per 60 feet

Video Quality

High Definition but grainy

Full High Definition

Integration

App, compatible with some smart home systems

App, compatible with most smart home systems

Cyber Security

Vulnerable

Often equipped with Military-grade encryption

Price

$30 - $100

$400-$5000

Our Top Picks

Product
Visual
Where to Buy
eufy Security, eufyCam 2C Pro 2-Cam Kit, Wireless Home Security System
Blink Mini – Compact indoor plug-in smart security camera
Reolink Argus 3 Spotlight Security Camera Wireless System
Wyze Cam v3 with Color Night Vision, Wired 1080p HD Indoor/Outdoor Video Camera
Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera - 3 Pack - Wireless Security


1. eufy Security, eufyCam 2C Pro 2-Cam Kit, Wireless Home Security System


The eufyCam Security System is an excellent example of commercial-grade security cameras. It comes with a home base with which up to 16 cameras can be connected simultaneously. It has an amazing quality of video recordings with 1080p resolution and an extra feature of image enhancement. You can easily integrate this smart security camera with Amazon Alexa and also with Apple HomeKit. 

The best things about this wireless home security system are its military-grade encryption to save it from cyber-attacks and smart artificial intelligence system that recognizes humans from objects. However, its motion sensors may act up during some brisk movements. Another thing about eufyCam is that it is on the slightly expensive side of the budget, and it may cost you a lot since you would need more than one camera. Overall performance of this security camera is great with friendly application and smart integration. 

2. Blink Mini – Compact indoor plug-in smart security camera


For an indoor camera to keep tabs on your beloved pets or toddlers, this camera is probably your best bet. Blink Mini security camera is a plug-in type indoor camera that has a two-way audio system inside it. This means not only can you see the inside of your house, but also talk with your kids and pets too. 

The smart integration system of Blink Mini allows it to connect with Amazon Alexa and works with voice control too. It is completely synced with its application and displays a clear image throughout the day, no matter the lighting conditions. The only apparent drawback of this camera is that the live feed is interrupted every 30 seconds, and it requires the user to prompt “continue” from the mobile app to continue watching the feed. 

For this reason, Blink Mini may not be suitable to be used as a baby cam. Otherwise, it is affordable, has easy installation, and comes with monthly plans for cloud storage.

3. Reolink Argus 3 Spotlight Security Camera Wireless System


Reolink Argus 3 is a battery-operated security camera and can also be powered via a solar panel (included). Its major feature is the spotlight with a siren that activates upon suspicious motion and sends a notification to your connected devices. It also has a slot for an SD card, so if you don’t want to dive into the hassle of purchasing storage plans, this camera is best for you.

However, Argus 3 comes with a bit of a problem as well. First, the solar panel does not have a proper mechanism by which it could be hanged to the wall. Any stray cat can knock it off, and you will find it on the ground. Secondly, the video and image quality is great over a strong internet connection, but the mic may get noisy with buzzing sounds. For a mid-range security camera with an independent solar panel, Argus 3 is an excellent option if used wisely and in a proper place.

4. Wyze Cam v3 with Color Night Vision, Wired 1080p HD Indoor/Outdoor Video Camera


An excellent choice for indoor security, Wyze Cam v3 detects motion and sound and adjusts its sensitivity accordingly. It can give a colored night vision indoors and outdoors, but we suggest you try it as a nanny cam for indoors. It also has a two-way audio system that allows you to hear the sounds and talk to your kids or pets at home via the mobile app.

Wyze Cam v3 is impressive in many aspects, but in some, it lags behind a bit. The night vision is great, but motion detection tends to make false alarms too. It also stores 12 seconds of a clip every five minutes, which is a pretty long interval. Also, Wyze does offer cloud storage with a 14-day free trial; the longer subscription packages may be costly. For some, Wyze Cam v3 maybe a 5 out of 5 experience, while some people, especially those using it outdoors, might not have a good experience using it.

5. Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera - 3 Pack - Wireless Security


As an integrated security camera, Arlo Essential might beat the rest. It works well with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Samsung SmartThings, and Apple HomeKit. It does not require any hub to be connected with; it connects with the Wi-Fi on its own, keeping tabs with the linked devices. 

Moreover, this spotlight security cam works great outdoors during the night with its motion detection and spotlight. You can configure the settings to ignore animals and moving cars from your mobile application.

Overall, Arlo works great in almost all aspects except that its battery has some issues. It may cause you some trouble by running out of juice fast since its motion detection is extremely sensitive.

 

Conclusion

There are many options available on the market when it comes to buying smart security cameras. You can find them in various sizes, shapes, and specifications. If you have not done your research properly, there is a high chance that you can get the wrong type of security camera that won’t be much beneficial to you. Hence it is better to be aware of the specifications and the price range, keeping your requirements in mind. A good security camera system will serve you for a long time with little to no problems.