Security Camera Guide.
Not just for mansions anymore, security camera systems are affordable for more and more households. If you’re new to the world of security cameras, this guide breaks down the basics on what they do and how they work, plus offers tips on the best placement for a cohesive, secure camera system.
Types of Home Security Cameras
Considerations when Installing Security Camera Systems
Six Best Spots for Security Cameras
Most Common Entry Points during a Burglary
How Wireless Security Cameras Work
Security Cameras: The Eyes of Your Home Security System.
Intruder and motion sensors set off an alarm that’s loud enough to stop a burglary in its tracks. Cameras help pick up the pieces after the burglary by gathering visual evidence of the whole thing.
Camera evidence can help law enforcement respond to a burglary more quickly, e.g., if you get a license plate number. It can also help confirm they’ve got the right person.
But cold hard evidence aside, a home security camera system also has emotional benefits. Most of those come through the camera’s companion app, which puts a live feed within reach so you can see for yourself what happens at your house when you’re away.
Knowing can be its own emotional payoff, especially when what you find is your pet being adorable while you’re at work. But even worst case, at least you know for sure what happened, and you can update your security strategy as a result.
Types of Home Security Cameras.
Premium Indoor Camera
- One-touch calls
- Night vision
- Bluetooth speaker
Outdoor vs. Indoor
Anytime you shop for security cameras, you’re likely to see them categorized as indoor or outdoor before anything else. That’s because otherwise, home security cameras share a lot of traits, and it’s the small nuances here and there that may make them best fit for one area of the home over another.
Wired vs. Wireless
Security cameras need internet access to be able to record automatically, back up the footage, and stream a live feed to your smartphone on demand. The cameras can get internet either wirelessly or from a wired connection to an Ethernet port.
Wired vs. wireless also refers to whether a security camera has an electrical cord or not. Cordless security cameras run on battery, while wired security cameras connect to the home’s electrical grid by plugging into an AC outlet. Some cameras have both and use the battery as backup so they can keep recording without a hitch if the power goes out.
Other Types You’ll See
Cloud vs. Local Storage. Most cameras today store clips to the cloud rather than saving to an external storage device, like a microSD card. With local-only storage, you won’t be able to view clips from your phone—you’ll have to remove the drive and watch them on your computer.
Cloud storage makes your clips available from your app in seconds, whether you’re in the living room or out of town for the weekend. The cloud can be hacked more easily than a microSD card, unfortunately, but you can ofset that risk by choosing a camera provider that’s serious about encryption.
Standalone vs. Smart Home–Integrated. Wireless security cameras are sold both as standalone units and as part of home security plans. Whichever way you initially buy your cameras, many can be linked to a smart hub later so you can control more devices from one app.
Sometimes, linking your cameras to your smart hub also lets you preset your cameras to work with other devices on the network. For example, some smart hubs can be preset to activate recording on all your cameras if any entry sensor triggers the alarm.
Considerations when Installing Security Camera Systems.
General and Specific Location
The type of camera—indoors or out—usually dictates the general location. To choose a specific spot, think of the most valued or vulnerable areas of your home and place your cameras nearby:
- Camera for checking on baby goes in the baby’s room
- Camera for guarding your emergency cash bundle goes near the fireproof safe
- Camera for saving your nerves from the threat of a second break-in goes wherever the first break-in occurred
Field of Vision
Field of vision is actually a technical specification that means how many diagonal degrees a lens can capture in all directions, plus how many feet the camera can see in front of itself.
But field of vision can also have a more general connotation, like what objects or stretches of property your camera can see—what’s in frame, what’s out of frame.
When installing, make sure your camera viewfinder shows what you want to see, from side to side and top to bottom of the frame. That process can entail moving the whole camera right or left, higher or lower; physically tilting the camera lens higher or lower; or both.
Make sure your camera is synced first, so you can see the live feed while testing, but don’t put the ladder away until you’ve got the camera right where you want it.
Pan and Tilt Abilities
If your security camera can auto-track moving objects or give you remote control of the lens direction, you won’t need to be as precise with your placement of the camera. That said, you should make sure that at its default setting, it sees the frame you want to see.
For extra peace of mind, test the view at the top-left, bottom-left, top-right, and bottom-right lens positions so even the secondary viewpoints show you what you want to see.
Some cameras mount to your walls or siding with traditional bolts and screws, some affix with high-grade adhesive, and others give you an option between multiple mounting methods. Whether you own or rent your home, make sure you’re happy with the mounting method.
Also, be aware that a camera’s field of vision varies wildly based on whether it’s mounted to a wall, fixed on the ceiling, or sat upright on a horizontal surface, like a shelf or cabinet. Check the view during installation so you only have to do it once.
Battery-powered cameras should be placed where it’s easy for you to recharge or replace the batteries, but not so easy that a burglar could disable the camera with little effort.
Plug-in cameras can be placed near an existing AC outlet, but don’t feel limited to those locations—choose the best spot, and use a subtly positioned extension cord if the camera cord itself isn’t long enough.
For more information on battery vs. AC power, check out “How Wireless Security Cameras Work” below.
If you want your camera to provide good, solid evidence to police, you should get the highest resolution you can. Most cameras are HD now, some offering 720p, most clocking in at 1080p, and a select few going up to 4K (2160p).
If price is a limiting factor or you care more about other features, a camera with lower resolution can still provide excellent security coverage. But the lower the resolution, the closer you should place the camera to eye level. If it’s placed too high, zooming in on the footage later will pixelate rather than clarify important details—for example, the facial features of an intruder.
As mentioned earlier, many surveillance cameras share advanced recording and smart home integration features, whether they’re intended for indoors or outdoors. So it might be tempting to get the camera you like best and put it wherever you want.
But keep in mind, few indoor cameras are built to withstand the elements. If you’re using an outdoor surveillance camera of any kind, make sure it has adequate weatherproofing—and if it doesn’t, make sure to place it where it’s shielded from wind, rain, snow, and hail.
Six Best Spots for Security Cameras.
You could put a security camera on every corner of your house and then some if you had a limitless budget. But since cameras are among the pricier security equipment you can purchase, we’ve ordered this list from the most crucial to the best-case budget locations.
Of the many rooms or outside locations you could choose, one thing to remember with every spot is that your camera should cover the areas that are most vulnerable—and whatever’s most important or valuable to you is what’s most vulnerable.
1. Front Door
The front door is the most common entry point during a burglary, which makes the video doorbell so much more than a convenient replacement for an analog doorbell; it can also be a wireless camera with real security chops, especially considering you can speak to anyone you see at the door and maybe even prevent a burglary that way.
2. Windows and Doors
Windows and doors are especially vulnerable when they’re on the ground floor of your home. For reflective surfaces like windows or glass doors, a camera pointing outward isn’t going to record much except glare—entry sensors or glass break sensors might be more effective for telling you if someone’s broken in. But you can use an indoor or outdoor security camera near these windows and doors to (1) discourage the burglar from even trying or (2) capture what they look like before they have a chance to tamper with anything.
3. Fenced or Covered Areas
Fences, especially ones you can’t see through, are often meant to protect you from prying eyes. But burglars may actually find them helpful during a job, because that means they have more privacy too. The same pattern goes for bushes, trees, and other obstacles that make it hard to see your windows and doors. Point a camera into the backyard or on the side of the house to protect these areas.
4. Areas with High Foot Traffic
If you get a lot of walkers, runners, bikers, or neighborhood kids passing by your property—for example, if you live on the corner of a busy street—a burglar could case your house unnoticed in all that traffic. Point a surveillance camera toward the busiest spot to record suspicious behavior and unwanted attention.
For many families, garages double as storage, and not just for kids’ baseball mitts, basketballs, and sidewalk chalk. Power tools, bikes, and, of course, cars make the garage an attractive target for burglars. Supplement your garage door sensor by pointing a surveillance camera over the main doors or the door that leads outside.
6. Second Floor or Basement
Sometimes burglars case a home by posing as solicitors, and on occasion, actual service workers have been known to come back to a client’s home uninvited. A camera can be especially valuable if this happens because it may help you identify the person more easily.
The second floor or basement are especially good spots for catching burglars who are familiar with your home. When an intruder strays from the easy-to-access first floor they’re either particularly ambitious or they already know what they’re looking for. Point a camera where someone could turn the corner and not suspect they’ve just been caught.
Most Common Entry Points during a Burglary.
There isn’t a huge body of research analyzing burglar motivations and habits, but there is some. This particular set of statistics suggests at least one trend: the more accessible the spot, the more likely a burglar will exploit it. Here's a visual of the top spots burglars statistically choose to enter a home, according to InterNACHI.org.
How Wireless Security Cameras Work.
Wireless Meaning Internet-Connected
Wireless security cameras connect to the internet without plugging directly into an Ethernet port. There are a variety of wireless internet technologies—cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and Zigbee—but wireless home security cameras usually connect over Wi-Fi.
Security camera systems can be connected by Ethernet cord, but it’s a cumbersome installation and limits where you can put your cameras. When you connect your camera wirelessly instead, you can put it just about anywhere.
Plus, if you run Ethernet cables all over the outside of your house to connect your cameras, a burglar can cut them. With wireless, there’s nothing to cut.
Why do cameras need the internet? Saving and sharing the footage is much easier online—and so is beaming the live video stream to a smartphone on the other side of town.
Wireless Meaning Cordless
Cordless security cameras don’t require electrical wiring to work; they get their power from a battery. Most cordless cameras today use an energy-efficient or even rechargeable battery so it doesn’t have to be changed often, and a select few cameras use solar power instead.
Cordless cameras look clean and can be just as sophisticated as a wired camera, but there are tradeoffs.
- Cameras require a lot of power, so if you want a cordless model, choose one that records only motion-activated clips or you’ll end up changing the battery more often.
- Cameras require decent upload speeds to avoid lag in the live feed or recorded clips, so make extra sure your internet plan is adequate. If your camera misses a key moment in a burglary, you’re not getting the security you invested in.
Cord-powered cameras also have drawbacks to consider. If the power goes out, you can’t record anything. Also, you may have to use an extension cord to install one, and that cord can be cut by burglars. At least that won’t take out the whole system, though.
The best way to avoid these drawbacks? Get a wired security camera that comes with space for a backup battery. It’s an easy solution if the model accommodates it.