Doorbell Cameras Guide
Our experts tested out the best video doorbells on the market so you don't have to.
Is a prowler outside? Or has FedEx arrived? Doorbell cameras can detect human motion and stream the footage to your smartphone, smart TV, home security hub and other screens. First made in 2013, they’ve quickly become popular gadgets for home security. With models priced under $200, a doorbell camera can be an affordable all-in-one security solution for a small apartment or a favorite add-on to a larger home security system.
This guide can help you choose the best doorbell camera for your home and budget. It includes video doorbell features, installation, costs, and a comparison chart of popular models.
Doorbell Camera Features
This part of our doorbells camera guide covers essentials and special features to consider as you shop.
Obviously a main feature of every doorbell camera is smartphone connectivity. A doorbell camera’s motion detector triggers a mobile alert, which might be accompanied by a snapshot. You can then catch live audio and video. If you want, you can talk to visitors through your phone. For example, “Sorry, we can’t come to the door! Leave a business card if you like.” Some doorbell camera systems also let you trigger a siren or a pre-recorded warning message from within the mobile app.
Just about every doorbell camera brand has apps for Apple and Android devices. If your smartphone is rather old, be sure to check the app requirements for compatibility before you buy a doorbell camera.
Power Sources: Hardwiring vs Batteries
A doorbell camera can have one of three power setups:
- A home’s hardwiring
- Hardwiring plus battery backup
- Batteries only
If you already have a mechanical doorbell to replace, then installing a hardwired doorbell camera can be a 10-minute DIY task. Your new doorbell camera will simply need to connect with your home’s existing doorbell wires.
Compared with battery-only doorbells, the main advantage with hardwiring is potentially smoother video. A doorbell without hardwiring might sometimes lose footage due to buffering.
If you don’t have a traditional doorbell to replace, then a battery powered doorbell camera is much easier to install compared with a hardwired bell. It might also be your only option if you aren’t the property owner. If you choose a hardwired version and don’t already have doorbell wiring available, you should probably hire a professional for installation. They would do basic electrical work and maybe use a drill to affix the doorbell.
Video Quality by Night & Day
Many factors affect the quality of doorbell camera security footage. This part of the guide looks at resolution, FPS, field of view, night vision, HDR, and range.
Camera resolution is a key indicator of how clear your doorbell security video can be. Most doorbell video cameras for sale in 2020 have resolution of 1080p; the video measures 1080 pixels vertically and is often 1920 pixels across. That’s sufficient for most people’s needs, and even the security cameras with 780p may provide crisp enough resolution for your needs.
A small minority of doorbell cams have especially high resolution, such as 2560 x 1920 pixels.
Keep in mind that the advertised resolution assumes best conditions. Typically you’ll need 2Mbps of home Wi-Fi available to benefit from your camera’s highest resolution. When bandwidth is low, your camera could switch automatically to lower resolution.
FPS refers to frames per second. Some of the best doorbell cameras capture 30 frames per second, and 15 is respectable. The lower the FPS, the more likely a security camera will miss a criminal’s face or other important details.
Field of View
The field of view for doorbell cameras is commonly about 160° wide. Some cameras have much narrower fields of view. Some have wider fields of view, up to 180°. Obviously 180° gives the advantage of your seeing whomever might be lurking off to the side! The best doorbell cameras manage to show wide views without the distortion known as fisheye effect.
Virtually every doorbell camera can capture useful security video at night. However, some have better nighttime capabilities than others.
With nighttime recording, one big difference among security cameras is color video versus black and white. Most doorbell cameras for 2020 make color recordings in daylight, and infrared black and white recordings at night. A small minority of doorbell cameras can record in color at night, sometimes with help from attached floodlights that are activated by motion.
Another important difference among doorbell cameras is sensitivity to ambient light. Cheaper doorbell cameras tend to be less sensitive to daylight, so they switch over to non-color night vision earlier in the day compared with better models.
Night vision quality varies too. The better the camera, the more shades of gray it can distinguish.
While night vision is an important feature for security cameras, you shouldn’t take daytime clarity for granted. It’s possible to have too much light.
HDR stands for “high dynamic range.” Some of the best doorbell cameras use this technology to reduce daytime glare. It can mean the difference between a criminal’s face being washed out by sunlight or being totally recognizable.
How far should your camera see? Some doorbell cameras have a limited range of about eight feet. Others can clearly capture action that’s much further away.
A camera with long-distance vision could pose problems, of course, if it’s constantly alerting you to non-criminal activity on your sidewalk or street. This concern is addressed in the next section, Motion Detection.
Every doorbell camera has a built-in motion sensor. This lets the system alert you to someone’s presence even if they keep quiet. The best doorbells have the longest potential ranges for motion detection, plus they let you set the sensitivity.
Some motion detectors for doorbells are especially good at distinguishing people from other moving objects. Heat sensors and human shape detection helps minimize false alerts.
The most advanced doorbell cams let you specify motion zones. In other words, you can exclude parts of the viewing field from motion alerts. Motion zones can be especially useful if your camera’s wide field of view captures property beyond what you’re guarding. For instance, you wouldn’t want alerts whenever your neighbor mows the lawn.
The better the doorbell camera, the better its motion zone settings. With the simplest technology, the viewing field is divided into a grid and you can exclude specific square-shaped sections. With the most advanced security cameras, the mobile app lets you draw a custom shape for motion detection.
Audio and Doorbell Cameras
The main audio feature on doorbell cameras is two-way talk. Similar to intercom, it can help create the illusion that you’re at home regardless of your actual location. Additionally some doorbell cams can be triggered by audio. Here’s a bit more about doorbell audio, communication, and Quiet Mode.
Two-way audio is a feature of most doorbell video cameras. The best models have better audio quality thanks to noise cancellation, echo reduction and other advanced technologies.
Some of the best doorbell cameras can be triggered by audio as well as motion. The security benefit is that they can start recording even before a prowler comes into view.
Doorbell cameras can make a chiming sound when someone’s detected at your door. You can set up the chime to be heard throughout your home. This involves plugging in a chime device that connects to Wi-Fi.
The best doorbell cameras let you adjust or disable the chime volume.
It’s common for doorbell cameras to have a quiet mode or snooze mode. When this setting is activated, the doorbell won’t chime or send mobile alerts.
Facial Recognition and Doorbell Cameras
Several leading security brands make doorbells with facial recognition software. This lets you build a database of familiar faces and tell the system to either ignore those faces or send you custom notifications when they’re seen. For instance, during the week you might want notification when your child arrives home from school. During the weekend, you might prefer to disable notices as they run in and out. Some other candidates for familiar face recognition are your best friend, a scary ex-partner, and your dog walker.
Some doorbells with familiar face recognition let you leave custom messages. If you don’t respond to your visitor in real time, your doorbell can play a message that you recorded especially for them. Additionally some doorbells have pre-recorded warning messages that you can play in case your video feed shows trouble.
Doorbell cameras are generally weather resistant; they can handle humidity, rain, dust storms and more. However, some are hardier than others. Among the leading doorbell cams this year, a common temperature range for guaranteed operation is -5° to 120°F. A minority of cameras can withstand even colder temperatures.
If you live in a region that’s prone to extreme heat or cold, be sure to check the camera’s operating temperatures before you buy. Also remember that you can supplement your doorbell camera with home security gadgets that aren’t weather sensitive, such as glass break sensors and weatherproof outdoor cameras.
Live View, Video Recording, and Storage
Live view is a main feature of any standard doorbell camera. With almost any camera you can check the live view for free on your smartphone, work computer, or other connected screen; you don’t need an alert to see live footage.
Video recording, on the other hand, isn’t always free. Some cameras save motion-triggered clips to cloud storage for free. That sounds great in advertisements, but the details can disappoint. Generally the clips are short and expire within a week.
It’s usually best to pay at least a few dollars per month to ensure that your doorbell camera can make useful recordings available to yourself and police. With cheap contract-free plans you can save every clip to the cloud with ample time for review. Paying more, you can save video for longer and can even set your doorbell to record continuously. Additionally many doorbell cameras can be professionally monitored for about $10/month and up.
Finally, some doorbell cameras can support local storage as well as cloud storage. Typically the microSD cards are sold separately.
Smart Doorbell Costs
The most obvious doorbell expense is for the camera itself. This section looks at doorbell camera prices and related costs. Generally the related costs are optional, though remember that you might need to pay for batteries.
The cheapest doorbell cameras with high customer satisfaction have MSRPs around $169. As suggested already in this guide, features tend to improve with price. The best doorbell cameras are priced from about $199 to $299. Compared with cheaper models they tend to have wider fields of view, crisper night vision, more generous free storage, and other advantages.
As mentioned above, you can set your doorbell chime to be heard throughout your home, even without your smartphone being handy. Chime extenders are plug-in devices that cost about $30 to $50 before discounts.
You can store doorbell camera video to the cloud with secure encryption, or locally to a microSD card in some cases. As explained above, free cloud storage is often insufficient for home security needs. Fortunately you can add generous storage for about $3/month and up.
Do-it-yourself monitoring is common among owners of doorbell cameras. At the same time, many doorbell cameras can be professionally monitored along with other equipment for home safety and security.
With professional monitoring you can count on an agency to call for help when you’re unable to personally report security breaches, fire, or other home emergencies. Prices start at just $10/month. With continuous video recording expect to pay around $30/month.
The best doorbell cameras are under warranty for at least a year. Many have free insurance plans too: If someone steals your doorbell camera, you’ll receive a new doorbell for free.