The Ultimate Guide to Home Security Cameras

If you're starting off with home security, a good place to begin is with a security camera.

Aliza Vigderman Gabe TurnerExpert
Last Updated on May 6, 2020

The rise of home break-ins and package theft has put many Americans on high alert. So it’s no wonder that home security camera sales are also on the rise. The truth is, security cameras are an essential component of a well-protected home. They can capture and record video, day or night. They can detect suspicious activity using motion detectors. They can be remotely accessed, monitored, and controlled. And they can keep watch inside and outside your home.

But with hundreds of options on the market, how do you choose a home security camera that’s right for you and your family? Well, you start right here. This Ultimate Guide to Home Security Cameras will equip you with the knowledge and confidence needed to make a wise decision. Our home security experts lay it all on the table — from features and technology, to pricing, installation, and more. So let’s get started.

The Different Types of Home Security Cameras

There are several different types of home security cameras. But they can be broken down into two main categories: indoor and outdoor cameras. Depending on your needs and security requirements, both types can deliver exceptional functionality in safeguarding what matters most.

Indoor Security Cameras

Want to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening inside your home? If so, indoor security cameras have you covered. The styles and types of cameras range quite a bit, and each camera type serves a different purpose. So, for instance, if you want to keep a close eye on a babysitter, you can purchase a Nanny Cam. Or if you’re looking for more general home protection, opt for an indoor security camera with motion detection. Here’s a rundown of the different types of indoor security cameras.

  • General indoor security cameras — These indoor home security cameras can be hardwired or wireless. Today’s best wireless cameras are easy to install (some are even plug and play!) and include helpful features like mobile access and monitoring, HD image quality, live-streaming, night vision, two-way talk, motion-activated alerts, home automation integration, and more. Indoor security cameras are normally sold as an upgrade, but they serve an important function when it comes to protecting your home and family.
  • Nanny cameras — Keep your nanny (or other service provider) honest with a Nanny Camera. You can never be too vigilant, so these hidden or exposed cameras are helpful to keep watch on the little ones you love most. It’s 100% legal to use both hidden or exposed cameras inside your home, just do not put a hidden camera in a private space like a bathroom or dedicated nanny bedroom. Also, if it’s a hidden camera, most states require the nanny’s consent if you wish to record audio.
  • Pet cameras — These are more or less the same as a nanny camera. But the latest and greatest pet cams offer features like two-way talk and laser lights to interact with your pooch, and even a treat-dispensing feature that ejects tiny treats to reward them for not getting into the trash or destroying your new pillows.
  • Baby monitors — Parents know just how important baby monitors are to keep their baby safe and calm their own anxiety and nerves. Most baby monitors offer pan-and-tilt, and other great features like heat and humidity sensors, lullabies, night vision, two-way talk, and more.

Outdoor Security Cameras

Unlike indoor cameras, outdoor security cameras are fairly straightforward when it comes to their purpose. Simply put, they are meant to deter (and record!) criminal activity like break-ins, package theft, vandalism, etc. But while they’re similar in purpose, they all bring something different to the table when it comes to features and tech. Today’s best outdoor home security cameras offer DIY setup and impressive features like infrared night vision, two-way talk, motion-detection, remote access and control via mobile app, and so much more. These types of cameras are also sold separately in most cases, and serve wonderfully to secure the perimeter of your home.

  • General outdoor security cameras — Setup outdoor home security cameras for your first line of defense. The very presence of a security cameras will make most criminals think twice about targeting your home. But, in the event your home succumbs to an attack, quality outdoor cameras will send you a real-time mobile alert and record the criminal’s acts. If you have 24/7 professional monitoring, the camera will also alert the monitoring center. And of course, many outdoor cameras are built to withstand even the most severe weather conditions.
  • Floodlight cameras — A subcategory of outdoor security cams, floodlight cameras expose criminals with a flood of light, as the name suggests. These cameras are motion activated and often include important features like mobile access, alerts, night vision, and more. And the best part — you don’t need to worry about the neighbor’s dog triggering the motion sensors, as many floodlight cameras are advanced enough to distinguish between people and pets.
  • Doorbell cameras — We dig into doorbell cameras in greater detail in our Doorbell Camera section. But for now, it’s important to understand that a doorbell camera is an effective way to protect your entryway. They replace your existing doorbell with a doorbell video camera. These cameras typically offer easy DIY setup, and they allow you to talk with visitors, package thieves and burglars without having to open the door. The remote monitoring feature is especially helpful, as you can tap into the live-stream of your front porch from pretty much anywhere in the world.

Home Security Camera Features & Technology

When it comes to choosing a home security camera, you must consider the features and technology. Some cameras are incredibly basic and don’t offer more than image capture. Others come loaded with all the bells and whistles. You can expect to spend a pretty penny — sometimes upwards of $400-$600 — for a home security camera with advanced features. But there are several options in the $150-$250 range that offer plenty of great features and go the distance to protect your home and family.

Features to look for in a home security camera:

  • High resolution video — This feature makes all the difference when it comes to catching and prosecuting a criminal. The highest resolution cameras are HD 1080p and can pick up small details like tattoos, moles, and distinct facial features. Cameras that offer lower resolution (480-720p) can get the job done, but don’t count on crystal clear video that will stand up in court.
  • Night vision — Most home security cameras worth considering offer night vision. After all, criminals often make their moves in the cover of darkness. A camera with infrared night vision will capture their dastardly deeds as if it were broad daylight. The importance of this feature cannot be overstated.
  • Motion detection — Cameras that offer motion detection are typically setup to send real-time alerts (see below). The moment activity or motion is sensed, the camera can perform a number of functions like shine a floodlight, sound a siren, or begin recording video.
  • Real-time alerts — You should look for a home security camera that is capable of sending real-time alerts via text, email, or phone call. Especially important for those who don’t have 24/7 professional monitoring, this motion-triggered alert feature allows you to jump into action and call the police if your home is targeted while you’re at work or on vacation. But it’s also nice to have alerts to see when your kids make it home safe from school.
  • Large field-of-view — This feature is critical to get the full picture, so-to-speak. Many cameras only offer a limited field-of-view of 90 degrees. Others allow you to see a much larger view and extend to 140 degrees and beyond. Large field-of-view is necessary if you have a big yard or a large area you want to keep a watch on.
  • Mobile access — The best home security cameras come with a mobile app. This app lets you access, monitor, and control your camera from your smartphone, tablet, or PC… from virtually anywhere in the world. This feature pairs well with real-time alerts. The moment you receive an alert, simply open the app and view the live-stream to assess the situation. Mobile access is fast-becoming a standard feature and a benefit you can expect with most quality cameras.
  • Monitoring options — You can opt for 24/7 professional monitoring with most home security cameras. This means emergency response agents are immediately notified in the event criminal activity occurs. The agents at the monitoring station dispatch police, fire, or EMS depending on the situation. Professional monitoring comes with a monthly cost, that’s why many choose to self-monitor their home for free with the companion app. If your home is targeted, just call the police on your own. It’s that simple.
  • Video storage options — Some cameras offer local storage with a microSD card. This option allows users to have greater control over their home security footage, but it also comes with limitations (low space and not so convenient). The other option is cloud storage. Most companies charge a small monthly fee for a cloud storage plan — but it’s easy, secure, and more convenient to store video in the cloud than on a card that can be lost, stolen, or damaged.
  • DIY installation — While do-it-yourself installation is not always the preferred method, it’s becoming more popular every day. And the reason is simple: most wireless DIY home security cameras can be up-and-running in only minutes, with no tools, and no drilling or wiring. In many cases, customers prefer DIY over professional installation so they can avoid installation fees and don’t have to wait around to let a stranger (installation technician) into the privacy of their home.
  • Smart Home Compatible — If you’re a smart home enthusiast, consider looking for a security camera that integrates with third-party home automation platforms. When your camera is connected to your smart home ecosystem, you can configure smart commands that automatically trigger certain functions at preset times.

Doorbell Cameras

Doorbell cameras are a popular sub-category of home security cameras. True to their name, they serve as both a doorbell and a camera, and have become incredibly affordable over the years. Sure, it all started with the Ring Doorbell. But since those early days of innovation, many companies have released high-quality  doorbell video cameras that deliver impressive features and tech.

But even the most basic doorbell cameras can protect against ‘porch pirates’ stealing your packages, break-ins and burglaries, home invasions, vandalism, and the list goes on. They are generally easy-to-install, wireless (battery operated), and require little-to-no drilling or wiring. Installation takes 20-30 minutes, tops. And you’ll enjoy 24/7 security at your front door.

One of the popular features that makes doorbell cameras so attractive is the mobile app access and controls. Let’s say you’re at work and receive an alert on your smartphone that someone rang your doorbell. With many doorbell cams, you can open the app to view, listen, and talk to the visitor (or burglar!). It happens all the time that a homeowner thwarts a break-in with their doorbell camera’s two-way talk feature. For these reasons and more, a doorbell camera is a smart investment for an added layer of home protection.

Home Security Camera Cost

The cost of home security cameras ranges anywhere from $19-$29 to $500-$600 and beyond. Obviously, the more sophisticated features and tech, the more expensive the camera will be. But to give you a sense of what to expect for security camera cost, we’ve broken it down into a few considerations and categories. These are as follows:

  • Upfront equipment cost
  • Installation fees
  • Activation fees
  • Monthly monitoring fees
  • Other miscellaneous service costs

Now, most often you are only on the hook for some (not all!) of these fees. Some home security companies allow you to purchase the camera outright. This one-time purchase price varies, but expect to pay anywhere between $50-$150 for a quality indoor camera, or $150-$250 for a quality outdoor security camera. Purchasing the equipment up-front means you don’t have to finance it through the company or sign a long-term contract.

If you choose a hardwired system, the company will most likely require professional installation. This cost ranges from $49 to $199 or more. Then, on top of this, certain systems require an activation fee.

Finally, if you sign-up with 24/7 professional monitoring for your cameras, it’ll cost you. It’s typical that you’re required to purchase a company’s premium plan to get 24/7 professional video monitoring. This ranges between $40/mo to $60/mo. But remember, you can often choose to self-monitor your own cameras and save the monthly monitoring subscription fee.

The Bottom Line

Equipping your home with security cameras is a wise choice. The very presence of a camera is enough to deter most would-be burglars and thieves. And when it comes down to capturing criminals in the act, the best security cameras can do it in your sleep! With night vision, motion detection, two-way voice, and other features, outdoor home security cameras are the ideal way to secure your home’s perimeter.

Indoor cameras are also highly effective. They serve as another line of defense, as they monitor and record housekeepers, nannies, children and pets. Whether you go with indoor or outdoor cameras (or both!), you’ll want to look for high-resolution HD image quality, mobile access, and other features discussed in this guide.

If you’re on a budget and searching for an affordable home security camera, you’ll be glad to know you have plenty of options. And even the most basic security camera is better than no camera at all. You never want price to stand in the way of outfitting your home with the security equipment needed to protect yourself, your family, and your valuables.