The market for home security cameras that are connected is growing at a rapid pace. These streaming video camera systems connect to your WiFi network and send notifications, video clips and live video feeds directly to your smartphone. This allows you to monitor activities while you are away. Some models have built-in floodlights or spotlights that can be used to illuminate intruders.
This home security camera guide will explore the types of cameras available, their benefits and limitations, as well as how we test them in our laboratories for video quality, privacy and data security. We will also examine the latest trends, as well as some of the most common features that you may encounter when shopping for a security camera. We’ll also reveal the best season to buy a home surveillance camera.
Check out our recommendations for the best wireless security cameras, best video doorbells, best home security without subscription and best outdoor cameras. Members of CR Digital can access our complete ratings of home surveillance cameras with reviews on over 110 models.
What are your security camera options?
Most home security cameras are DIY devices. This means you install and monitor them on your own, rather than paying a security firm to do it. You can save money on installation and monitoring, but you will have to monitor yourself using alerts and video feeds from your phone. Some security camera manufacturers, like Ring, SimpliSafe and Wyze have started offering professional monitoring for their cameras. Agents check for intruders when the cameras detect movement and notify the police. If you are interested in a professionally-monitored home security system, take a look at our DIY home system ratings. Many models come with professional monitoring.
There are two main types of home security cameras in Auckland: video doorbells and wireless security cameras. Wireless security cameras can connect to WiFi, and be powered by a plug-in or rechargable batteries. The term “wireless”, in the name, refers to WiFi and not power. Some models are equipped with solar panels that can be used to charge the camera’s battery during the day.
Video doorbells have all the features and benefits of a wireless camera, but also alert you when someone rings the bell. You don’t need both: A video doorbell can do the job of a wireless camera to watch your front door. A video doorbell can be powered by a low-voltage doorbell.
Floodlight security cameras are becoming more popular, along with wireless security cameras and doorbell video cameras. These devices, as their name suggests, combine a wireless camera with bright lights and a constant power supply of a flooding light to monitor outdoor areas more easily at night.
We found that, regardless of the camera type we tested, most models did not deliver the high definition video quality promised by their manufacturers in all circumstances. Many models charge monthly fees to access some of the best features. These include cloud video storage, monitoring zones and the ability to ignore or focus on motion in a specific area of the camera’s field of vision.
It’s not that home security cameras cannot provide peace of mind. For example, you can see if your children arrived safely home from school, if the dog walker came as scheduled, or even if a package has been delivered. Software updates add new features to these cameras, including package detection and facial identification.
The latest trends in security cameras
In the last decade, home security cameras have changed dramatically. The rapid growth of home internet, smaller cameras sensors and cheaper WiFi chips has helped these cameras reach a mass market in a relatively brief time. Two relatively new categories, video doorbells and flooding cameras, have given consumers more choices than ever.
Manufacturers are also competing on price. You can now get a quality security camera, video doorbell or floodlight camera under $100. Blink, owned by Amazon, makes a wireless security camera for $35, an $85 doorbell video, and a floodlight camera for $100. Wyze, the smart home budget company, offers a wireless security camera for $36 and a video doorbell for $30, as well as a floodlight camera priced at $100. Even brands with a higher price point, like Arlo and Google, as well as Ring, have released wireless cameras for less than $100.
Many brands offer local storage
These new affordable cameras let you store footage locally on microSD cards, eliminating the need for cloud storage subscriptions. This is a good source of recurring income for manufacturers. Cloud storage subscriptions can range from $1 to $30 per monthly, depending on how many cameras are being used.
Artificial Intelligence Object Recognition
Artificial intelligence is another way that manufacturers are attracting customers to recurring subscriptions. Many camera manufacturers now offer artificial intelligence and object detection as part of their subscriptions. This allows their cameras to recognize people, animals and vehicles. These features are generally activated by analysing footage uploaded to the manufacturers’ servers, and then sending the results to your smartphone in real-time. Some cameras can run these algorithms on their own camera or wireless hub. These are the exceptions. These features have the additional benefit of reducing nuisance recordings and alerts from animals and swaying tree.
Some companies, like Ring and Wyze are working on custom artificial-intelligence features that will allow you to train your camera to detect certain changes such as if a car has been parked on the driveway. This functionality is not yet widely available.
Starlight Sensors for Color Night Vision
Starlight sensors are being used by some camera manufacturers, which allow them to see color even in low-light situations. This allows for color night vision, without the need for spotlights or flashes. These sensors can be found in cameras that are affordable from Abode and Blurams.
Professional Monitoring for Security Cameras
As we mentioned earlier, some security camera manufacturers, such as Ring, SimpliSafe and Wyze, offer professional monitoring services. Trained agents monitor your camera feeds to detect motion and alert authorities if an intruder is present. Ring’s service allows agents to communicate with intruders using the two-way audio of the cameras. These services are often more expensive than subscriptions to regular cameras and may require special hardware or cameras. Wyze, however, is an exception. Its Cam Protect service costs only $40 per year.
Our testing method is based on CR’s experience in testing connected devices such as cameras, TVs and televisions. Our tests are based on the speed at which a camera can send alerts to your phone when motion is detected. For video doorbells we test how you can view who pressed it. We also focus on video quality, smart features and data privacy. These factors will determine whether you are satisfied with your wireless security cameras or video doorbells.
In the response-time testing, we time how long it takes the camera to detect motion in its field of vision and send an alert to the smartphone app. We also measure the time it takes to receive a smartphone notification and, then, a video feed for video doorbells. This is important if you have someone waiting at your door.
We set up a video-quality room, with everyday objects and mannequins to stand in for people. We then evaluate the clarity of the video from the cameras, both under good and low light conditions, as well as at zero light (to check night vision). CR engineers created this test to reveal weak points in cameras, such as their lens, sensor or software. Each lighting scenario is also given different levels of illumination. These tests are all designed to determine if you can clearly see objects or people in the picture, like a possible intruder. These tests are reflected in the individual video quality score of each wireless security camera or video doorbell that we rate.
We evaluate a variety of smart features depending on the type and brand of security camera. These features may include smartphone alerts (with Alexa, Google Home/Assistant and Apple Home/Siri), two-way audio (with Apple Home/Siri), scheduling and geofencing. These features are incorporated into our Smart IQ score, which allows you to compare smart home devices.
We test these cameras to ensure their privacy and security due to the repeated hacking of wireless security cameras, and growing privacy concerns regarding video doorbells which record audio in public places (such as sidewalks and streets). We evaluate the public documentation of each company or service provider, including privacy policies and service terms, to determine what the manufacturer claims about how it handles data. These tests examine the network traffic and user interface of each camera, as well as its smartphone companion app, to ensure that it adheres to manufacturer policies and does not share your data with third parties.
Our test engineers then use the results from these tests to calculate the Overall Scores of both wireless security cameras as well as video doorbells.
How to choose a home security camera
1. Choose Your Camera Type
Where you plan to install the camera will determine what type you need. There are several options for home security cameras if you want to install one in your home. You’ll have to choose between a floodlight camera, a video doorbell or a wireless security cam if you want one installed outside.
Consider using a video-doorbell to monitor a front door or a back door. It can be powered by your existing doorbell wiring. Wireless security cameras are the best option for monitoring another part of your property. If you’re looking to monitor an area with a hardwired light, swap it out for a floodlight camera. While all video doorbells, floodlight cameras and wireless security cameras can withstand the weather elements, some are not. Check the specifications of any camera that you are considering installing outside.
2. Choose Your Power Source
Batterie-powered wireless cameras, video doorbells and floodlight cameras are the best options for placement around and inside your home. You may need to charge your camera weekly, every few months or even twice a year depending on how much you use it. Hardwired doorbells and cameras eliminate the need to recharge, but they may restrict your options for placement unless you are willing to hire an electrician or run an extension cable.
Remember that your power source could limit the models available to you. It’s especially true for video doorbells, as there aren’t many battery-powered options on the market.
3. Compare Cloud Storage Plans
Be sure to check how much cloud storage is included with the doorbell or camera you are considering. You can also find out how much extra storage will cost. Cloud storage is preferred by most manufacturers over memory cards, as the files are larger and they can earn more money with subscriptions. If you don’t have cloud storage, or local storage, you won’t know if someone has tried to break into your home if you missed an alert. Some of these cameras won’t allow you to download footage to send to the authorities until you pay.
Manufacturers and models can have a significant impact on the amount of online storage that is free and how much it costs. The battery-powered Google Nest Cam, for example, comes with three hours of cloud storage. Google Nest charges up to $12 per month ($120 annually) for up 30 days and 10 days of 24/7 recording. Ring doorbells and cameras offer no free storage. However, Ring charges $4 per month for one camera with 180-day storage. Or $10 per month for all cameras in one location.
Remember that most of these plans only store video clips triggered on motion and not continuous video feeds. Some brands, like Arlo or Google Nest, do offer plans for continuous video storage.
4. Consider Your Privacy
These cameras can provide you with peace of mind. However, they also provide an internet connection and a view inside your home. You may not be the only one who can see your home through your smartphone. The manufacturer may also have access to your video.
Two-factor authentication is becoming more common. It’s an extra layer of security where you receive a passcode that can only be used once via text message, phone call, email or authentication app. When you log in, the passcode is entered along with your username and password. If a hacker manages to crack your password, then they will not be able access your camera until they have also accessed your one-time passcode. If your camera has this feature, make sure you activate it. More information on how to prevent home security cameras being hacked can be found in our article.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t purchase a home surveillance camera. If privacy is a concern, it’s best to keep these devices away from very private spaces, like bedrooms.
We rate each camera model on data privacy to help you choose a camera which respects your privacy. Our home security camera ratings will show you how each camera performs in terms of privacy.