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Security camera buying guide

What you need to know about buying a security camera including what types are available and how to compare all the options.

Quick facts about security cameras

  • Security cameras can give you the peace of mind that everything is OK when you’re away from home.
  • The latest cameras make monitoring your home easier than ever, but if you want to monitor your entire home or property, costs can add up quickly.

Pros and cons of security cameras

Security or IP (Internet protocol) cameras can help protect your loved ones, property and belonging. The latest cameras offer modern features that allow you to interact with those on the other end of the camera, receive alerts and store footage in a variety of ways.

Security cameras are commonly used to do the following:

  • Deter criminals.
  • Prevent break-ins and theft.
  • Keep an eye on children left home alone.
  • Check on pets.
  • Supervise deliveries.
  • Gather legal evidence.

While security cameras can be an effective way to protect your home or business, they aren’t foolproof.

  • Safety and protection are not guaranteed.
  • They can be disabled, disconnected or hacked.
  • Privacy laws dictate how you can use video footage and where you can direct a camera.
  • They can be costly, especially if you need more than one.
What are surveillance cameras?

The term surveillance camera or webcam is generally used to refer to cameras that passively observe or record. They offer little to no interaction whereas security cameras can send alerts, set off alarms, pan across a field of view, detect motion and more.

Types of security cameras

Security cameras come in one of two forms: standalone or as part of a monitored system.

Monitored

  • You will typically purchase monitored security systems directly from a security company that will help you choose the right cameras for your space, install the cameras and monitor them. Pricing for monitored security systems is usually subscription based and depends on the number of cameras, storage capacity, features and the amount of surveillance the security company provides

Standalone

  • Most people looking for home or workplace security cameras choose standalone cameras. Despite the name, standalone cameras can connect together to form a network. Modern cameras come with a wide range of features to help you easily control the camera, connect to other smart home devices and keep an eye on your home or business.

How to compare security cameras

Before you buy a security camera, consider how you will be using it.

  • Will you keep it in one location or move it around? Do you want to keep an eye on your pets while you’re at work or watch for burglars while on vacation?
  • Do you need to record footage and if so, how do you want to access it?
  • Do you need high-resolution video?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • Do you want to be able to control the camera from your phone or another smart device?

Once you’ve thought about how you want to use your camera, look for the following features:

Bandwidth

Cameras that stream live footage, especially high-resolution footage, use up a lot of bandwidth on your Wi-Fi network.

Audio

Many cameras allow you to record audio in addition to video. Others offer two-way audio so you can use the camera as an intercom to talk to people (or pets).

Lighting

If you will be using the camera in a dark area, consider buying a model with night vision or motion activated lights.

Facial recognition

Cameras with facial recognition allow you to filter out friends and family so that you aren’t receiving constant alerts when visitors come over.

Hardware

Think about where you want to mount your security cameras. While some models come with mounting hardware, many offer hardware at an additional cost. You can install most security cameras on walls, ceilings and other flat surfaces.

Storage options

Security cameras offer two main options for storing video footage: cloud storage or on a local device. Most models only offer one or the other but a few cameras offer both options.

Cloud storage

Cloud storage uses an Internet connection to store your videos on a server or a network of servers. With cloud storage, you can access your footage from anywhere with an Internet connection, but if your Internet connection is interrupted the footage may not be stored properly. Some cameras include a limited amount of free cloud storage. Cloud storage can be scaled indefinitely and cost typically depends on how much storage you need. Most cloud storage is subscription based.

Local storage

Local storage devices include microSD cards, hard drives, flash drives, PCs and DVRs. These devices hold a limited amount of video and can only be accessed using the physical device. If the storage device is lost or stolen, the footage will also be lost. Many security cameras offer some form of local storage.

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