Security Cameras Buying Guide

Learn how to choose a security camera system for your home to keep your family safe

Small wired security camera mounted on the exterior of a home.

The latest security cameras make it easier and more affordable to keep an eye on your home or business from virtually anywhere. This guide will help you assess your basic security needs and choose the best cameras to protect your family and property. 

Tip: While video surveillance can provide excellent additional security to your home and office, make sure they are not blocked by hedges, trees or other items. We also recommend keeping bushes and shrubs neatly trimmed so trespassers don’t have anywhere to hide.

Basic Elements of Security Systems


To choose the right security system, identify your biggest safety and security concerns. A basic video surveillance system consists of cameras mounted inside or out around the perimeter of your home or business, and a DVR with a channel devoted to each camera that connects to a TV or computer monitor. If you choose to install a video surveillance system, consider how many cameras you need, their resolution and how many hours or how much storage space of recorded video you want to save.

  • If you’re often out of town, consider security cameras that feature remote monitoring. 
  • For homes or businesses in areas where break-ins are a concern, a simple solution is to install security lighting. Choose from stationary lights or lights with motion detectors.


Remember, placement is key for effective security:

  • Where: Cover the front door, back door and first-floor windows.
  • Position: Above the door or window frame. Cameras installed over nine feet above the ground are harder to tamper with or destroy.
  • In plain sight: You want potential intruders to know you’re watching them.
  • Weather-resistant: Pick cameras that can withstand the elements. Waterproof cams with night vision are sure to record everything you need.


How Many Cameras Do I Need?


The number of cameras you need depends on the area to be covered and what you want to protect. It helps to draw out a basic map of your location, as shown below, to ensure you have everything covered. Identify and cover all points of entry and exit while minimizing blind spots, and cover any key areas (bedroom windows, doors near valuables, etc.) you want to keep secure.

For basic observation, single camera coverage should be sufficient. If you’re interested in the identification of anyone approaching your location, position a camera on both sides of each entrance to capture a complete view of the area.

Once you’ve determined the ideal number of cameras your location needs, pick a security system that comes pre-programmed for one, two, four, eight or 16 cameras.

Tip: Most security cameras can capture an identifiable image of facial features from up to 50 feet away. Any farther and the image isn’t necessarily reliable. 

  • Structures under 2,000 square feet
  • Basic Observation
  • A four-camera set and four-channel DVR is a typically sufficient for small structures.
  • Install the four cameras on each side of the building for full coverage.
  • This system can be applied to homes and small businesses.
an illustration of four cameras mounted on each corner of a building
  • Structures up to 3,000 square feet
  • Observe and Identify
  • An eight-camera system can more adequately cover small structures.
  • Closely monitor inventory for small businesses by installing cameras at every corner and have clear coverage of your home's entry points.
  • Install a camera to cover all four walls with an extra camera on the walls with exits.
  • This will provide dual-sided coverage on both your front and back door.
an illustration of six cameras mounted on each corner of a building, two on the front and back each
  • Structures over 3,000 square feet
  • No Blind Spots
  • Sixteen cameras are good for small businesses, homes over 3,000 square feet, and those interested in expanding their systems in the near future.
an illustration of numerous cameras mounted around a building covering the entire perimeter

 
Types of Security Cameras
 

There are many security camera types available to cover a variety of locations, both indoors and out. 
 
Indoor cameras can be useful for monitoring a child’s room, keeping an eye on people who are working in your home, or just checking to see what the pet does while you’re away. These cameras can be purchased as single units if you want to monitor one room, or as part of a complete surveillance system. Software often comes with the camera that allows you to see what your camera sees from any computer or mobile phone with Internet access.

 • Outdoor cameras can be displayed prominently on your property to deter intruders or installed unobtrusively for discrete monitoring. Contained in housing to protect them from the elements, some outdoor cameras can transmit images in low or no light.

Hidden cameras, also known as spy cameras, fit in ordinary objects such as a clock or potted plant and allow you to record activity in a home or business without detection.

Simulated cameras are an inexpensive alternative to actual security cameras and can act as a deterrent to would-be intruders. Keep in mind that if something happens, these are fake cameras that will not record the event.


Wired vs. Wireless Security Cameras


If you are considering a whole-house surveillance system, you can choose from wired or wireless security camera systems. Most single-camera setups, such as nanny cams, are wireless. The type you need depends on the location you’re observing. 

Wireless Security Cameras

These are ideal for existing homes. Wi-Fi cameras install easily without the need to run wires through your walls and are simple to relocate when needed. Be aware that the term wireless refers to the signals transmitted by the cameras. Most systems require a power supply or batteries for cameras and the receivers.

• Easy installation

• Flexibility to move camera locations

• Better for rental properties as they can be removed

wireless camera mounted on the outside corner of a roof

Wired Security Cameras

These are a good choice for new home constructions. The surveillance system can be installed as part of a complete home security system or structured wiring network, with wires inside your walls from the control panel to cameras throughout your home and outside.

• Suitable for large homes or businesses

• Require cable connecting cameras to the recording device

• Directly wired into the building’s landline

• Longer recording times and more cameras

wired camera mounted on the side of a building


Camera Resolution


A higher resolution camera will result in increased image quality. Surveillance camera resolution is measured in TVL (Television Lines).

  • The typical home camera resolution is around 700 TVL.
  • Higher resolution cameras can have a TVL of up to 1280.



# of Channels / Resolution 1 TB 2 TB 3 TB
  • 4 Channel
  • 1080 P
    720 P
    960 P
    D1

  • 1.5
    1.75
    5.25
    6

  • 3
    3.5
    10.5
    12

  • 4.5
    5.25
    15.75
    18
  • 8 Channel
  • 1080 P
    720 P
    960 P
    D1

  • 0.75
    0.87
    2.5
    3

  • 1.5
    1.75
    5.25
    6

  • 3
    3.5
    10.5
    12
  • 16 Channel
  • 1080 P
    720 P
    960 P
    D1

  • 0.37
    0.43
    1.25
    1.5

  • 0.75
    0.87
    2.5
    3

  • 1.5
    1.75
    5.25
    6


The type of sensors used on the camera have an impact on image quality as well.

  • CMOS sensors are economical, requiring less power and are not as light-sensitive.
  • CCD sensors have higher output uniformity and provide cleaner, higher quality images.


Video Recording


Cameras only do part of the security job – without a device to record what the cameras see, someone would have to monitor the cameras 24 hours a day. 

Digital video recorders (DVR) 
DVR is a popular option for recording information from home security cameras. They are easy to install and provide clear images with a dedicated hard drive for storing recorded information and long recording times.

Network video recorders (NVR) 
NVR uses internet technology to link a network of cameras to one single system. They are great for people who are new to home surveillance, as there is no need to drill various holes throughout your house to connect multiple cables.

DVR vs. NVR 
DVRs allow flexibility to add cameras as your system grows, and offer remote access from any Internet-connected device and the option of connecting to a dedicated monitor, TV or PC for viewing. They require analog CCTV cameras that generally more affordable and easy to use. 

NVRs lets users monitor multiple networked cameras simultaneously. They mainly use IP cameras which produce higher quality images, and the system can record both video and audio. Additionally, they can be easily adjusted and moved since everything is wirelessly connected via ethernet.

If you're trying to decide between IP vs. analog cameras, consider that IP cameras use NVRs while analog cameras use DVRs.


Video Storage


The amount of storage needed depends on the number of cameras you have, the camera type, and how often you record.

Since security systems utilize DVRs, users have the capacity to store hours of high-quality video on a hard drive. Depending on your system, your cameras can record 24/7 or be programmed to only record when they detect motion.

Wireless security systems are available in a variety of recording times, hard drive size and channels, but wired cameras offer a much wider range of options. For example, the most common number of channels for wireless security systems is four, whereas the most common number of cameras for wired systems is sixteen.

Smart Video Surveillance and Other Video Cameras


Camera systems with smart technology allow you to observe your camera's feeds from your smartphone and receive alerts when they detect motion. 

Besides outdoor security cameras, it may be necessary to install cameras inside your home or business. Choose from hidden cameras, baby monitors and more.

  • For around the clock surveillance, consider night vision cameras.
  • If you have young children or family members with medical concerns, utilize baby video monitors and intercoms so that you have easy communication throughout your home.
  • Cameras with pan-tilt-zoom capabilities allow you to manipulate the cameras from your desktop.