What to Look for in a Security Camera

Hands installing a security camera on a ceiling

Security cameras come with a wide variety of features, so it can be challenging to pick the one you want. You need to think about what you plan on using your camera for and then browse for a suitable option.

Think About the Features You Want

All modern security cameras essentially do the same thing—monitor your home and keep you updated on what’s happening around your home or business. This is why it all comes down to features. Some cameras have more convenient features than others, such as a long battery life of six months to a year, an adjustable field of view, and motion detection that can differentiate between people, cars, and packages.

You may find cameras that have the features you’re looking for, but those features may be more advanced on different models. For example, two cameras with motion detection, but one can differentiate between people and cars while the other can’t.

So, as you’re looking for a security camera, pay close attention to all the features it offers and decide if you’re happy with them. Depending on what you plan on using your camera for, you may only need a few specific features. You could consider everything else as a bonus.

Let’s say you’re choosing between two or more cameras that have all the features you need. In other words, you’d be happy with any of those picks. You should now evaluate all the bonus features and then pick a camera that suits you the best. Remember to take into account your budget, too.

Now, let’s take a look at the basic and advanced features of modern security cameras, so you know what to look for.

Basic Features of Security Cameras

Hand holding smartphone next to a security camera
Phonlamai Photo/Shutterstock.com

Here’s a list of the basic features that most modern security cameras should have. Note that we’re not saying to avoid buying a camera that doesn’t have some or all these features—you should consider what’s important for your purposes.

  • High-quality resolution. Your security camera should have a high enough resolution to clearly see everything that’s going on. The quality shouldn’t be blurry to the point where you can’t tell what something is in the footage, especially if the object is close up. Quality cameras should allow you to change the resolution and capture videos in at least 720p. However, higher resolution usually requires a stronger network connection for an uninterrupted video feed. Higher resolution also fills up storage space quickly.
  • Two-way audio: With two-way audio, you can hear audio that your security camera picks up and be able to respond through an app. This can be a valuable feature for those who want to scare off intruders by letting them know that you’re contacting the police or if you want to say hello to the postman.
  • Motion detection and instant alerts. Security cameras can detect motion and then send instant notifications to your phone. If you’re carrying your phone, you can respond immediately to whatever your camera picked up. Your camera will then take a screenshot or video of the motion detected, which you view later through an app.
  • Wireless or wired. Setting up your security camera shouldn’t be too difficult. You have two options. The first is to quickly set it up wirelessly and run on battery life (hopefully a long one). The second is having it wired to provide constant power, which can take longer to set up. If you choose wired, you may need additional tools around to set up the camera, such as a ladder. Whether you go for wireless or wired, though, you’ll need to connect your camera to your Wi-Fi, either on a 2.4 or 5.0 GHz network.
  • Weather-resistant. If you’re looking to place your camera outside, make sure it’s weather-resistant. Security cameras can be expensive, so you won’t want to replace one just because it starts to rain.
  • Night vision and spotlight. Of course, you want your camera to see in the dark—at least clear enough for you to observe everything that’s going on. Some cameras can even monitor in full color during the night. Spotlight is a feature that makes your camera light up whenever it detects motion. This is especially useful at night to direct the attention of unwanted visitors’ toward your camera.
  • App control. Being able to view and control your camera and change various settings through an app is essential. With app control, you’ll have full access to your security camera remotely and at all times, assuming you have your phone on you.
  • Video storage. One thing to remember about video storage is that you can’t save everything your camera records permanently. Most cameras only save footage when it detects motion, and that footage is what takes up space. Without a paid subscription, you can’t save much video storage, as most local storages are relatively small. However, you should be provided with at least a few GB of local storage and some cloud storage.

Advanced Features of Security Cameras

Man's face under facial recognition system

Here’s a list of the advanced features that quality and usually more expensive security cameras may offer. We wouldn’t consider most of these features essential, but you might if there’s something on the list you need.

  • Adjustable field of view. Being able to pan and tilt your camera to change the field of view is a premium feature. This provides more versatility in your setup since you can manually adjust what’s being monitored. This feature may be what you need to avoid having half the screen being blocked by a building.
  • Offline recording. Since most security cameras need to be connected to Wi-Fi to work, they become useless during a power outage. Being able to record for at least 30-minutes during a power outage can be valuable, especially for high-security areas. The Google Nest Cam has this feature, and it’s one pick on the list of the best security cameras we reviewed.
  • Advanced motion detection and tracking. It can take too much storage space to save every detected motion. It could also be distracting if you don’t care about being notified about a passing car. Smarter security cameras can differentiate between people, animals, cars, and packages. You can then change your camera’s settings to only be notified whenever a person or package is detected. With advanced motion detection, you can even set different zones for the camera to monitor. An example could be a “hot zone,” where there’s a lot of activity and you don’t want to be notified of any motion in that area. Highly advanced cameras not only detect motion but can track it as well, just like what you see in movies.
  • Built-in siren. A brilliant advanced feature that some cameras have is the built-in siren. At the press of a button, you can set off a loud siren to scare off trespassers.
  • Facial recognition. Similar to advanced motion detection, some security cameras can use AI to recognize faces over time. In turn, you’ll know exactly who’s passing by your camera. This is a great feature to confirm that the kids are home from school.
  • Voice assistant compatibility. Your security camera may be compatible with a voice assistant such as Alexa, Google Home, or Siri. This is a convenient feature that allows you to monitor your home hands-free. Rather than taking out your phone, going to an app, and selecting a specific camera, you can use voice commands such as, “Alexa, show me the side door.” However, if you use this command, you’ll need to set it up so that Alexa knows which camera is monitoring your side door.

Now that you have a general idea of all the different features, you can shop for security cameras to find one that’s suitable for you.

The Best Security Cameras of 2021

Best Security Camera Overall

Arlo Pro 4 Spotlight Camera

Best Budget Security Camera

Wyze Cam V3 Spotlight

Best Outdoor Security Camera

Google Nest Cam

Best Wireless Security Camera

Ring Stick Up Cam Battery

Best Security Camera with Built-In Storage

eufy C22 Security Solo Cam

Ring Video Doorbell 4

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