How to Choose a Security Camera



When you first decide you would like one or more video security cameras, it seems like a simple decision. You get a camera, hook it up and you’re good to go. Not so fast, buddy. There’s a whole variety of options to consider. If you are buying the camera(s) from a security company, they will basically narrow it down to a few easy choices based on your needs and budget, but if you are going to do it yourself, you need to consider who, if anyone will monitor the camera, where will the video be stored in case you need to go back and review footage (a common activity), will the camera show you what you want to see or not, does it need to work in the dark, what resolution of camera do you need/want, will it turn on and off based on a motion sensor or not and even how will it be wired for not just internet access but also power. If you have all those answers you can probably make a choice already, if you don’t then read on and we will walk you through it all.


Monitored cameras are cameras that are continually monitored 24/7 either by persons or some kind of automation or possibly a combination of both. Most big home security companies that provide you with equipment will also offer monitoring, not just for your cameras, but also for your motion detectors and other burglar/intruder detection systems. In other words, they are not sitting there watching the video from your cameras all day. They wait for an alarm to be triggered at which point they will look at the feed from your cameras and alert you if something seems amiss. Companies like ADT have been doing this for decades now and can monitor your systems even if you don’t have any cameras. There is a monthly fee for this service, usually in the neighborhood of $30/month for the cheapest package, but it can be more depending on your system. This kind of company will come out, evaluate your needs, install everything and you won’t get much choice with respect to cameras.

security monitoring

One thing to make clear is that in most cities there is a rule or law against setting up a home security system that automatically calls the police every time the burglar alarm is triggered. This is because 99% of the time it’s a false alarm or the burglars are long gone before the cops can get there. For this reason, the monitoring company will call you first to make sure it’s a legit burglar alarm and not just a false alarm. They may also look at the video feed as well. They will only call the police for you if it’s clear that a burglary has happened or is in progress.

You can also get an install it yourself kit from companies like FrontPoint where they send you the equipment and you install it and once it’s working you pay them a monthly fee for the monitoring.

A third monitoring option is to go out and buy your parts/cameras, install them yourself, and then contract with a monitoring company. Most of the monitoring companies will want to sell you a home security system because they want to make sure it is compatible with their monitoring system. It’s hard to find one that will work with just any old camera.

Self Monitoring

This is for the real DIY enthusiast. The latest and greatest home security systems will allow you to be the monitor. But rather than sitting around all day staring at your video feed, a better option is to build a smart monitoring system that only alerts you when there is something happening. You can look at your video feed any time you wish, but the system sends you an alert when a motion detector is triggered or another kind of burglar alarm goes off. This will save you a pile of cash on monitoring but it can also be a bit annoying to have to check your cameras at the theater in the middle of a show or while you are in an important business meeting. Ring doorbell cameras are a great example of this kind of system.

Video Storage

There are two basic options for where the video is to be stored: On a drive that you directly own and control or in the cloud. There are pros and cons to each.

security cameras with a DVR

Hard Drive Storage

If you own the drive(s) where the video is stored you can control who sees and who doesn’t see the video stored there. When the drives fill, up you have to decide if you want to delete all the old footage or not. Most automated systems have a system where it overwrites old data when the drive fills up, giving you a certain limited amount of time to review or copy the video if you need to. This is the kind of system that many retail businesses have been using for decades. Only today your video records on a DVR instead of an old VHS tape. The advantages include control of the video and price. A disadvantage is not always being able to access the video from anywhere you can get online. If privacy is a concern this one may be the better choice.

Cloud Storage

If you get 24/7 monitoring then you will likely also get cloud monitoring. Here again, if you only have a certain amount of storage on the cloud, you will have to delete the old video at some point. This is usually automated with the video files getting deleted after a specified period of time. Advantages include being able to access the video from anywhere you can get online and simplicity. Disadvantages include the tendency of cloud storage systems to get hacked.


Wireless video cameras are all the rage. It’s great to use wireless internet everywhere you can. But, how long does that camera operate without power? Different wiring, but essential in most cases.


Wired security cameras rely on wires for internet and power. This makes them more reliable but prevents them from being easily moved around. It can also make them less likely to be accessed by hackers.


Wireless cameras get their internet connection via your WiFi. That’s nice and all, but not always as reliable or as fast as a wired connection. Unfortunately, cameras also need power so they need to be connected to a wire for that purpose unless you want to change the battery on a regular basis. Doorbell cameras generally fall under this category as they connect to the internet via WiFi but use the power traditionally reserved for a doorbell to also power the camera.

Focus, Zoom, and Direction

In order for a camera to be useful, it must be able to focus on a subject or area of interest, Blurry images of porch pirates probably won’t be much help to the police or anyone else. The best cameras will have autofocus capability, as well as a zoom that you can control remotely and positioning so that you can point the camera in different directions. Those things all cost extra. The cheapest cameras will point in one direction and have a fixed focal length and focus. Most doorbell cameras are like this. A standalone video surveillance camera will probably have autofocus so that people, or other things, moving in front of the camera can be kept in focus. Some cameras come with a gimbal and motor that moves them from side to side sweeping across an area that is too big to cover all in one shot. The highest-end camera rigs can be moved to point in almost any direction side to side as well as up and down. These are commonly enclosed in a plastic bubble with one-way mirror coating, so observers can’t tell where the camera is pointing at any given time. It’s up to you to determine what your needs are and what will fit into your budget.

security camera in a ball

Additional Camera Features to Consider

As with any kind of camera, there are a variety of other features to consider. Do you really need an HD or 4K resolution camera? Does it matter for security if the camera captures full color or just black & White? Does it need to work in the dark with night-vision or is the area well lit at night? Will the camera only turn on and record video only when it detects motion in front of it or is it always on? Here’s more info on all those topics:


Resolution is basically the same as TV sets, the higher the resolution the more detail you will see. But also the higher the resolution the more expensive the camera and the more space will be taken up wherever the video is stored. The cheapest most basic video cameras will have a relatively low resolution. We’ve all seen and been disappointed by the blurry images captured from low-res video of robbers sticking up a gas station or something like that on the news when the police are trying to identify the perpetrators. The older that security camera is, the less likely it is to have high resolution. However, just because your camera is new doesn’t mean it has high resolution. You probably don't need 4k video for your security cameras. Always take a look at some example video before you decide which camera to buy.

Color or B&W

It’s just a security camera, does it really need to show full-color video? Probably not. It’s nice to get color, but in lower light situations this can end up just being various shades of grey anyway, so a B&W camera might just be all you need. Color cameras cost more.

Night Vision

If you are most concerned about break-ins or burglaries at night, then you may need a camera with night vision. Usually, this kind of camera will include small LED infrared lights on the camera. This will give you a clear B&W image at any time of the day or night. The alternative is to use cheaper regular light cameras and just make sure that the area of interest is well lit when you want to see what’s going on. An easy and inexpensive way to handle that is by placing motion-activated lights or motion-activated switches that turn on the lights, so the area(s) of interest are well lit when activity is taking place. As long as the lights work, so will the cameras. If the lights are not practical or reliable then, night vision cameras are a better choice.

Motion-Activated or Always On

Cameras, as well as lights, can be controlled by motion sensors. This turns on the cameras only when something is happening and leaves them off the rest of the time. This saves money on power as well as video storage space, but it also prevents using the cameras for routine monitoring of normal activities, which might be useful for businesses. It’s pretty common for cashiers to have cameras on them at all times and management might want to watch that video feed from time to time in order to make sure the cashier isn’t pocketing the profits or behaving in other ways that are detrimental to the business. If the camera is always on, then you can always take a look at the video. If it’s not, you can’t.

security camera

You Make the Decisions

That’s a pretty good basic rundown of what you need to consider when you are buying a security camera for your home or business. If you are now reeling from all the different options and don’t know where to start, then let Affordable Home Security help you out. They have various partners for home security who can help you decide on a system that fits within your budget and still addresses all your security concerns.

For more information on the very best security cameras available to the public, please visit Consumer Reports and read their reviews.


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