Information is the backbone of an effective security system. It provides the certainty that your kids are safe, that your dog didn’t destroy the sofa, that a thief hasn’t run away with thousands of dollars’ worth of valuables.
Cameras play a major role in a comprehensive security plan, but they should not be the only—or even the first—step.
Pros of Security Cameras
Cameras can deter crime.
Security cameras serve two primary roles in home defense:
- Deter would-be intruders
- Capture video evidence to aid a police investigation
Criminals don’t like being watched when they’re at work. Putting surveillance cameras 12 feet above ground level sends a message to any would-be thieves: you’re under surveillance.
A single security camera displayed in a prominent position can be an effective deterrent in its own right.
The reason for mounting security cameras so high up is so everybody can clearly see them from the street, but it’ll be difficult for the burglar to reach up and disconnect the wires.
Position the camera in such a way that you’re able to capture a license plate or get a clear shot of someone’s face.
Modern security cameras are feature-rich.
Most security cameras manufactured within recent years can do the following:
- Record sound and video of whatever’s going on in the room
- Detect motion and sound
- Send alerts to your smartphone if there’s any unusual activity
More advanced cameras have superior features, including:
- Two-way talk capability
- Attached motion-sensing flood lights
- Built-in sirens
Consumer-grade security cameras aren’t expensive.
Though you’d think the features listed above would cost you an arm and a leg, you’re fortunately mistaken. Security cameras are much cheaper than they used to be.
Most cameras manufactured for residential use range between $100–$300. If you want to buy some high-end professional-grade cameras (like those you might expect in a bank), those can cost several hundred dollars or even thousands of dollars each.
You can find cheap cameras on any e-commerce platform, but remember the old adage: buy cheap, buy twice. Talk to a security system company that offers security cameras in addition to burglar alarms and fire protection and they’ll help you choose a cost-effective camera that has the features you’re looking for.
Cons of Security Cameras
Cameras by themselves do not make a property secure.
Security cameras can’t replace a monitored home security system. Unless you always are able to know what’s happening in your home at any given time, it’s just not possible for you to be on-call 24/7, fully prepared to respond to a disaster the instant it happens.
Just think of the countless circumstances in which you’d have a tougher time responding to an emergency notification on your smartphone:
- You’re on vacation in another country
- You have poor cell reception and no Wi-Fi connection
- You’re asleep
- Your phone is out of battery
- Your phone is on silent
- You’re on a plane, driving a car, or swimming
- You are incapacitated or unconscious
The question then becomes: Do you have a backup plan for all of the above scenarios? What happens if you are unable to respond to an alert from your security cameras in an emergency?
For many people, self-monitoring their cameras turns their security systems into a source of anxiety as they can feel compelled to check their cameras constantly whenever they pull out their phones to do something routine like read a text message.
On a self-monitored camera system, it’s up to you to call the police, fire department, or emergency services. The knowledge that the safety of your family and priceless belongings are solely in your hands can be a heavy responsibility to bear.
Cameras can make people uncomfortable.
Privacy is always an important discussion to have when putting up cameras. The feeling of being watched is unpleasant, even when the camera may not actually be recording.
Everyone in your house (guests included) should be made aware what is being recorded and when. When the camera is not in use, the lens should be obscured or turned to face the wall or floor.
If that’s not possible, make it clear to all occupants living in the home that the device is only active when the security system is armed at night or when the house is empty.
Some camera brands have security holes that make your data vulnerable.
To protect the videos stored in your cloud storage service, make sure your Wi-Fi network is secure and that you’re periodically changing the passwords on your devices. Poorly-secured cameras and Wi-Fi routers that use default passwords make it easy for hackers to gain access to your information.
The US government is cracking down on cameras with glaring security holes. These enable third-party access the footage or use the cameras as part of a botnet in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack.
The recent US House Bill HR 5515 states government agencies are prohibited from purchasing or using Dahua or Hikvision cameras due to these concerns.
Even though these security holes have been made public for years, these companies have failed to patch the cameras. Dahua and Hikvision responded that they’d solve the issue, but they’ve made almost no progress.
Should you decide to purchase a camera from either brand, make sure it is on a closed network or behind a firewall. If your cameras are on a DVR that has them on a separate local area network (LAN), you’re not at risk.
The Verdict on Security Cameras
While security cameras aren’t a singular solution to anyone’s security needs, homeowners and business owners will likely benefit from the added peace of mind cameras can provide. And in the event of a break-in, the information cameras provide may be useful in tracking down your stolen valuables and the intruders.
A well-implemented camera system is an excellent addition to a professional-grade security system; it reduces your personal risk and makes your community safer.
How to Choose a Security Camera
One of the major obstacles buyers face is that security cameras are incredibly difficult to compare due to variance in price and features. Reading a spec sheet or a product e-book tells you very little about how well a camera actually performs in day-to-day usage and whether it will fulfill the specific function you need it for.
It’s not always easy to figure out why a $100 camera is somehow inferior to a $300 camera, so many people buy the cheapest camera they can find.
Price is always important when building the right system for your needs. But in our experience working with thousands of customers, the ones who spend more time researching various camera types tend to be happier in the long term.
Listen to what past customers have to say about the camera on major review outlets, e-commerce sites, and social media. Learn as much as you can about the product and the services that accompany it. Before you make a purchase, consider the following:
Nowadays, 1080p resolution is standard in most security cameras, and this should be the absolute minimum you settle for unless you’re on a tight budget. Video quality less than 720p will leave you looking at blobs, but saying a camera is 720p, 1080p, or 4K doesn’t mean the image is necessarily better.
You also have to consider the quality of the processor in the camera as well as that will impact compression rates. Heavily compressed footage will end up blurry even on 4K cameras. Being able to make out certain features clearly could make all the difference someday.
Try to find video footage online that was captured using the model of camera you’re looking for to see whether it can pick up key information facial features or license plate numbers.
You also want good night vision range (usually referred to as infrared or IR), especially on outdoor cameras. Find user-created videos online that show the camera’s functionality in low-light conditions to ensure the camera you invest in has clear footage day and night.
You’ll have to supply power to your cameras by wires or by battery.
Batteries can die quickly, especially when used in outdoor cameras that pick up lots of movement, and it’s easy to forget to replace them. Batteries add another potential weakness to your security system, so consider sticking with wired cameras.
Field of view
Be aware of how wide of an area you need your camera to capture. Camera fields of view range from 100 degrees to as much as 180.
Some cameras are mounted on the wall or ceiling in such a way that you can manually turn them as needed, while others like PTZ cameras can pan, tilt, and zoom via remote control to see a wider area.
You want the widest angle possible so that your camera covers the most terrain.
Different camera manufacturers offer their own video storage methods. Most camera manufacturers offer free short-term cloud storage, but if you want to store videos long-term, you’ll probably have to upgrade to a more expensive data plan.
Alternatively, you may also be able to store videos on an SD card or USB drive. Some people might be averse to cloud storage because of the monthly fees, the trust you have to place in the company’s privacy standards, data caps, and slow download speeds.
Think about whether the convenience is worth it to you. If you’re the kind of person who wants your cameras running 24/7 and monitors them closely, cloud storage is less efficient than a DVR or NVR.
Smart assistant integration
If you use smart home technology, such as Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, or Apple HomeKit, choose a camera that will integrate with your smart home system.
Deciding where to place your cameras is essential when you want to get the most utility out of each device.
Think about the most likely break-in points in your home (front door, back door, sliding door, garage) and make sure those points are within the camera’s field of view. Put the cameras high and as far away from what you want to record as possible without sacrificing image clarity.
Try putting cameras on the corners of your house instead of in the middle of walls. Make it so that intruders would have to get in front of the camera to disable it.
Purchasing the Right Security Camera for Your Needs
Choosing a security camera is difficult, but as with most things, the best way to go about it is by deciding which features you need first and eliminating every option that doesn’t fulfill all of those needs.
Once you have a shortlist of cameras that all accomplish similar things, compare the camera’s price, the manufacturer’s reputation, the quality of their customer service, and customer reviews.
When you’re not sure, start with a single camera and add-on later. Buying several cameras at once gets expensive quickly, and you always want to test out any new technology for a while before investing into it.
If you need help choosing a camera, we’re a local alarm company based out of New England that specializes in designing security systems to your needs. We combine burglary and fire alarm monitoring with cameras and automation to keep your home safe and give you more control over your daily life.