Security Camera Necessary Features Guide
If you’ve read any of my camera reviews, then you’re probably used to hearing all about our Necessary Features Test. It’s how I see if security cameras are up to snuff according to both the specifications provided by the manufacturer and my lived experience testing out the product. While it’s extremely rare for a product to get full marks for each category, it has been done before, but what do all of these features actually mean? In this article, I’m going back to basics, explaining exactly what I’m looking for in a security camera and what you should be looking for, as well. Let’s get started!
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 have 2K or even 4K display, which has twice the amount of pixels as 1080p HD. Basically, the more pixels there are, the clearer the image will be, essential for getting a good idea of what’s happening at home.
- Field of view: You want your camera to have a viewing angle of at least 120 degrees or more. The wider the viewing angle, the fewer cameras you’ll need to cover a room, saving you money. Note that the highest possible field of view is 180 degrees, and some cameras can pan all the way around, giving you 360 degrees of coverage. However, I 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 you to zoom in digitally, pinching the screen with your fingers, some cameras can actually zoom in optically, meaning the camera will move closer to its subject. I prefer cameras that can zoom in optically, the more times the better, allowing you to get as much detail as possible. If you do end up having an intrusion, the optical zoom will come in handy when you’re identifying your perp.
Cameras should have a built-in speaker and microphone, allowing for two-way audio. Two-way audio means that not only can you hear whoever the camera is in front of, but you can also speak to them from wherever you are, so long as you have the Internet! This comes in handy not only to communicate with your family and friends when you’re away but also if you have an intrusion. I’ve seen videos of crimes stopping midway because a user told them to leave via two-way audio, which is why this feature is up there in terms of Necessary Features.
When it comes to night vision, I prefer infrared over color night vision. No, it’s not that 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 a bright spotlight that allows for color night vision. I like to keep my security cameras on the DL, especially if there’s an intrusion. Think about it: if a robber knows about your cameras, he’s more likely to cover them or even attempt to steal them! That’s why excellent infrared night vision is a Necessary Feature.
Your storage won’t do you too much good if you can’t access it! Now, being the risk-averse person that I am, I recommend backing up your 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 you 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 they don’t need to be completely free; that’s just an added bonus.
Smart Platform Integrations
If you’re at all familiar with Security.org, then you know we’re obsessed with voice assistants, artificially intelligent voices that can control connected devices, tell you the weather, read a recipe step-by-step, and a ton of other convenient functions. The main voice assistants are as follows:
- Amazon Alexa
- Google Assistant
- Apple HomeKit
- Microsoft Cortana.
If you’re already in a smart home ecosystem, then you’ll probably want a camera that you can command hands-free. If that’s the case, you might have a bunch of other Internet of Things, or IoT devices in your home, from smart light bulbs to video doorbells to smart plugs for turning appliances on and off. If that’s the case, you want to make sure your security camera can work with your other IoT devices to create some home automation.
If your device works with IFTTT, for example, it will work with thousands of other devices, allowing you to create triggers between multiple devices. For example, you could have your smart light bulbs turn on “away mode” as soon as your camera is armed, meaning you’re not home. So long as a camera works with at least one voice assistant, I give it full marks for smart platform integrations.
Artificial intelligence is something that you hear about increasingly in the news, and it’s a huge deal if you’re talking security cameras. So, the basic security camera on the market has motion detection, meaning that you’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. You’ll only be alerted if the camera detects a person, which means you won’t be checking your phone nearly as much.
On top of that, some cameras even have facial recognition, meaning that over time, they can learn the faces of your friends and family, alerting you when specific people come in the room. That also comes in handy if there’s an intruder, as your camera will alert you that there’s an unfamiliar face. With fewer notifications, you’ll only be alerted when it matters. Cameras with person detection receive full marks!
As you can see from the above graphic, prices come in a huge range when it comes to security cameras. I’ve seen cameras sell for as little as $20 and as much as $400 that have similar features, with the average being somewhere around $100 to $200. Of course, you should take the quality of the camera into account as well. But this category is more subjective than the aforementioned categories, not as easily quantifiable, despite the numerical data. Ultimately, you’re going to decide if a camera is worth its price or not, which is why doing your due diligence is essential.
When I say convenience, I mean how easy a camera was to set up and use, from initially hooking it up to Wi-Fi and mounting it to livestreaming 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 setup. Of course, you can always hire a professional and make things super easy, but this is going to cost you a pretty penny.
Now you know everything there is to know about how I evaluate security cameras! If you’re looking for one of your own, I’d start out with my list of the best home security cameras of 2020, the best indoor cameras, or the best outdoor cameras. There are dozens of models available, so make sure to do your research before buying!