Security Camera Necessary Features Guide
Anyone who has spent time reading our camera reviews probably knows what we mean when we refer to our necessary features test. New to our site? The necessary features test is how we determine whether or not security cameras are up to snuff according to both the manufacturer’s specifications and our experience testing the product.
We know our readers count on our input, so we take our evaluations seriously. While it’s uncommon for a product to get full marks for each category, a few very impressive cameras have done it!
The categories we consider part of our necessary features test include: video, audio, night vision, storage, smart platform integration, artificial intelligence, value, and convenience.
Want to know more about what all of these features actually involve? Join us as we use the remainder of this page to go back to basics. We’ll explain precisely what we look for in a security camera and what we recommend any potential camera buyer be looking for, as well!
When it comes to video, I’m looking at three main factors:
- Pixelation: The current industry standard for video display is 1080p HD. Previously, it was 720p HD, and more advanced models include 2K or even 4K display, which has twice the number of pixels as 1080p HD. Basically, the more pixels there are, the clearer the image. Of course, we want as clear of an image as we can get. Suppose we had a break-in, but our camera could not produce a clear enough picture to help differentiate the robber’s image from that of 10 other possible criminals. In that case, it’d be extremely difficult to identify them and get our things back. High-resolution recordings make for great home videos, too.
- Field of view: We want our camera to have a viewing angle of at least 120 degrees. The wider the viewing angle, the fewer cameras we need to cover a room, saving us money. Note that the highest possible field of view is 180 degrees, a standard that many cameras reach these days. Plus, some cameras can pan all the way around, giving us 360 degrees of coverage. However, we don’t conflate the field of view with the ability to pan as they are separate but important features.
- Field of zoom: While some cameras allow us to zoom in digitally, pinching the screen with our fingers. Other cameras can actually zoom in optically, meaning the camera will move closer to its subject. We prefer cameras that can zoom optically. The more times, the better. It allows us to get as much detail as possible. If we do end up having an intrusion, the optical zoom comes in handy when we want to identify the perp.
Cameras should have a built-in speaker and microphone, allowing for two-way audio. Two-way audio means that not only can we hear whoever the camera is in front of, but we can also speak to them from wherever we are, so long as we have the Internet! This comes in handy not only to communicate with our family and friends when we’re away but also if we have an intrusion. We’ve seen videos of crimes stopping midway because a camera owner used two-way audio to tell criminals to leave immediately and that the police were on their way. That is just another reason this feature has a place in our necessary features test.
When it comes to night vision, we prefer infrared over color night vision. And it’s not because black-and-white is more flattering! Infrared night vision stems from LED sensors; the more sensors there are, the clearer the night vision will be. These sensors are super subtle, unlike the bright spotlight that color night vision requires. We like to keep our security cameras more inconspicuous, especially if there’s an intrusion. Think about it: if a robber knows about our cameras, he’s more likely to cover them or attempt to steal them! That’s why excellent infrared night vision is a necessary feature.
We’re frugal people, at least when we can be! If we felt safe about it, we’d stick to local storage only, as it’s entirely free. There’s just one problem — storage won’t do us much good if we can’t access it. Plenty of obstacles could keep us from our local footage. For example, someone could steal the SD card inside our camera, or our memory card could be full and simply stop recording. Additionally, we could lose the USB that contains our previously downloaded footage, or the computer we saved it to could get water damaged. So, being the risk-averse people that we are, we recommend backing up footage in two ways: locally, either on a flash drive, a hard drive, or even a micro-SD card, as well as on a secure cloud server. Now, some cameras include a micro-SD card, typically 32 or 64 GB. Some cameras give us cloud storage for free while others charge for subscriptions. To get full marks for storage, cameras must provide options for cloud and local storage. Although we don’t require that they be completely free, it’s certainly an added bonus when they are.
Smart Platform Integrations
We are obsessed with voice assistants, artificially intelligent voices that can control connected devices, tell us the weather, read a recipe step by step, and a ton of other convenient functions. The most popular assistants are:
- Amazon Alexa
- Google Assistant
- Apple HomeKit
- Microsoft Cortana
For security customers who are already part of a smart home ecosystem, it makes sense to search for a camera that uses that voice assistant first. Regardless, who doesn’t want a camera that can command hands-free? We might have a bunch of other Internet of Things, or IoT devices, in our home, from smart light bulbs to video doorbells to smart plugs for turning appliances on and off. If that’s the case, we want to make sure our security camera can work with our other IoT devices to create some home automation.
If our device works with IFTTT, for example, it will work with thousands of other devices, allowing us to create triggers between multiple devices. For example, we could have our smart light bulbs turn on “away mode” as soon as our camera is armed, meaning we’re not home. So long as a camera works with at least one voice assistant, we give it full marks for smart platform integrations. As this technology advances, it’s likely our full marks for compatibility with a single voice assistant policy will change.
Artificial intelligence is something that we hear about increasingly in the news, and it’s a huge deal in security cameras. The basic security camera on the market has motion detection, meaning that we’ll be alerted if the camera detects motion. Of course, this can lead to a lot of unnecessary notifications from pets, cars, leaves rustling in the wind, or movement from any inanimate object. To create notifications that matter more, some cameras have person detection, which means that they can tell the difference between people and other moving objects. When we have this capability turned on, we are only alerted if the camera detects a person, which means we aren’t needlessly checking our phone all the time for cars that drive by or our neighbor’s abnormally friendly cat.
On top of that, some cameras have facial recognition, meaning that, over time, they can learn the faces of our friends and family, alerting us when specific people come into the room. Facial recognition also comes in handy if there’s a potential intruder or even just sales person we’re hoping to avoid, as our camera will alert us that there’s an unfamiliar face. Cameras with person detection receive full marks!
As seen in the above graphic, security cameras prices come in a huge range. We’ve seen cameras with similar features sell for as little as $20 and as much as $400. The average security camera cost, however, is somewhere around $100 to $200. Of course, we take the camera’s quality into account as well, including a slight weighting we give to the general consensus of customer reviews and ratings for each product. But this category is more subjective than the categories mentioned above, as it is not as easily quantifiable, despite the numerical data. Ultimately, it’s the customer’s responsibility to decide if a camera is worth its price or not, which is why doing one’s due diligence is essential.
When contemplating a camera’s worth, customers may want to consider some of the following with regard to value:
- Previous personal experience with the brand
- Warranty and return policy
- The versatility of the camera
- Innovative features
When we say convenience, we mean how easy a camera is to set up and use, from initially hooking it up to Wi-Fi and mounting it, to live streaming footage from the mobile application, and everything in between. Most cameras have DIY installation, so it’s especially pertinent to make sure they’re easy to set up. A great question to ask is whether or not the install will require drilling, wiring, or any other technical skills. Many DIY installations take all of 15 to 30 minutes and work perfectly. On the other hand, we’ve worked on others that had either an excessive amount of parts, unclear steps, or complex requirements, and left us working for several hours on what was supposed to be an easy install. Of course, hiring a professional is always an option. It makes things super easy, but we prefer not to since that costs a pretty penny ($75 to $150) and still requires us to be present during the install.
That’s everything there is to know about how we evaluate security cameras! To begin a personal search for security cameras, we recommend starting out with our list of the best home security cameras, the best indoor cameras, or the best outdoor cameras. There are dozens of models available, so make sure to do thorough research before buying!