Best 4K Home Security Cameras of 2020

Security cameras are our specialty, and these devices are the best available online today.

By
&
Aliza VigdermanGabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Nov 4, 2020

It wasn’t too long ago when only professional videographers used 4K cameras, but now, even some security cameras can shoot as clearly. And why not? It’s crucial for security cameras to have good picture quality in order to produce clear video evidence when needed.

Having tested dozens of security cameras— several of them with 4K resolutions— we decided to put together a list of the best 4K cameras on the market using a methodology we devised. Every camera on our list shoots superb videos, but it’s their unique qualities that made them stand out. So without much further ado, here are our 4K security camera top picks.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall Cameras

Swann

Editor's Rating
8.1
/10
Swann makes affordable cameras, and that's why they are our top pick for those looking to put up multiple 4K cameras in their homes. The cheapest system we found included four 4K cameras and a one TB hard drive for $330. That's almost the cost of only one 4K camera from competitors.

Best Google Home Cameras

Arlo Ultra

Editor's Rating
9.0
/10
Arlo is best known for its battery-powered security cameras and the Arlo Ultra 4K is the leader of the pack. It's a great camera if you want smart features like intelligent alerts, person detection, and activity zones but hate dealing with those pesky wires. It even works indoors and outdoors so you can set it up however you like.

Comparison of the Best Security Cameras

System
Swann
Arlo Ultra
Nest Cam IQ Indoor
Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
Ranking1st2nd3rd4th
Ratings 8.1/109.0/109.2/109.2/10
PriceCamera systems start at $329.99Starts at $299.99$299.00$399.00
UsageIndoor/OutdoorIndoor/OutdoorIndoorOutdoor (IP66 Rating)
Viewing Resolution4K4K with HDR1080p HD with a 4K image sensor and HDR1080p HD with a 4K image sensor and HDR
Field of View90 degrees180 degrees130 degrees130 degrees
Night Vision Color and infrared depending on the camera modelColor night vision with spotlight and infrared night vision940 nm infrared night vision850 nm infrared night vision
AudioOne-wayTwo-way audioTwo-way audioTwo-way audio
Wired/WirelessBothBattery-powered and wirelessPlugged into power but uses Wi-FiPlugged into power but uses Wi-Fi
Battery Life (if applicable)n/aUp to six monthsn/an/a
Video StorageLocal and CloudLocal and CloudCloudCloud
Local StorageDVR, NVR, or Micro-SD card depending on the camera modelMicro-SD card or USB drive if paired with an Arlo Smarthubn/an/a
Free Cloud Storage FeaturesSeven-day event historyn/aThree-hour event snapshot historyThree-hour event snapshot history
Premium Cloud Storage PriceStarts at $4.99 per month for 30 days of video historyStarts at $4.99 per month for 30 days video historyStarts at $6 per month for 30 days video historyStarts at $6 per month for 30 days video history
Continuous RecordingYes, via DVR, NVR, or micro-SD cardYes, with a Continuous Video Recording Plan ($9.99 a month for 14 days worth of footage)Yes, with Nest Aware Plus ($12 a month for 10 days worth of footage)Yes, with Nest Aware Plus ($12 a month for 10 days worth of footage)
Artificial IntelligenceFace detection, Perimeter intrusion detection, Static object (i.e. package) detection, Heat sensing motion detectionPerson, vehicle, and object detection with paid plan, Activity zones with paid planPerson detection, Supersight, Sound detection with paid plan, Intelligent alerts with paid plan, Facial recognition with paid plan, Activity zones with paid planPerson detection, Supersight, Sound detection with paid plan, Facial recognition with paid plan, Activity zones with paid plan
Smart Platform IntegrationsAlexa and Google Assistant (depending on camera models)Alexa, Google Assistant, and SiriGoogle Assistant and AlexaGoogle Assistant and Alexa
Extra FeaturesSearch recorded clips using activity zones to find events faster, Massive local video backup with an NVR or DVR hard driveSmart siren, Weather-resistantNoise and echo suppressionNoise and echo suppression
Read ReviewSwann ReviewArlo Ultra ReviewNest Cam IQ Indoor ReviewNest Cam IQ Outdoor Review

Note: Not all 4K cameras were created equally. Some have wider fields of view, better zooming capabilities, and longer night vision range, so be sure to check out those specs as well.

Summary of the Best 4K Security Cameras

A Detailed Look at the Best 4K Security Cameras

  • 1. Swann 4K Cameras - Best Affordable 4K Camera System

    Editor's Rating
    8.1
    /10
    Pros
    • Affordable
    • Stores rolling videos locally
    • Face, perimeter intrusion, and package detection
    • Seven days free cloud storage
    Cons
    • Limited viewing angle on most 4K cameras
    • Susceptible to power outages
    • Low mobile app ratings
    • Confusing product lineup

    Swann Cameras Video Quality

    Swann offers several 4K cameras, and while we didn’t get the chance to test all of them, we purchased two of the most popular 4K cameras from Swann. The first one was the PRO-4KMSB Thermal-Sensing Security Camera, which was pretty basic in terms of features but proved great for outdoor surveillance. It had a narrow 90 degrees viewing angle, so we had to place it high up to make sure it covered our apartment’s stoop. But it had an impressive night vision range that could see up to 150 feet in total darkness using infrared LED lights. The second one was the NHD-885MSFB Spotlight IP Security Camera. It had the same 4K resolution as the first one and a slightly wider but still quite narrow 93 degrees field of view. But unlike the other Swann 4K camera, it could use both infrared night vision and its built-in spotlight to see at night.

    Swann Camera
    Swann Camera

    Customizable Camera Systems

    The Swann cameras we tested were not as flashy as those from its competitors in the sense that they didn’t have as many smart features. However, we knew that we could count on Swann if we needed a versatile camera system. For example, we customized our Swann system to include a basic 4K camera, a 4K camera with a built-in spotlight, and a couple of 1080p HD cameras. The two 4K cameras stood guard outside our apartment. And because we wanted to save money and didn’t need 4K cameras throughout, we opted for 1080p HD cameras for indoor use. That’s one of the best things about a Swann system. There were tons of varying camera options and many of them were able to work together to create a custom-tailored camera system.

    Choice Between Local Storage, Cloud Storage, or Both

    With Swann, we didn’t run out of options when it came to video storage. Their 4K camera systems came with a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) or Network Video Recorder (NVR) equipped with a hard drive for local video storage. Some camera models had a built-in micro-SD card slot as well. Both options provided plenty of storage for 24/7 continuous recording, which was fitting given that one 4K camera can fill a 120 GB storage per day.1 Select cameras, DVRs, and NVRs also connected to Swann’s cloud service, which they used to backup short clips of motion events. Those that worked with the cloud service stored event videos for seven days for free. If possible, we recommend using both local and cloud storage, with the hard drive as your main storage medium and the cloud as backup in case something happens to the DVR or NVR.

  • 2. Arlo Ultra 4K - Best Battery-Powered 4K Security Camera

    Editor's Rating
    8.8
    /10
    Pros
    • Weather-resistant for indoor and outdoor use
    • Battery-powered
    • Works with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri
    • Local recording via a micro-SD card or USB drive
    Cons
    • No free cloud storage
    • Artificial intelligence features (person detection, activity zones, etc.) require a subscription
    • Not compatible with legacy Arlo base stations
    • Battery life lasts up to only six months in an ideal environment

    Wide-Angle Field of View with HDR

    All the 4K cameras we tested were somewhat similar in terms of video quality, but the Arlo Ultra 4K stood out because of its 180 degree field of view and high dynamic range (HDR). Coupled with the camera’s 4K resolution, those features allowed for a clear and complete view of our living room or front door whenever we moved the camera outside. The Arlo Ultra 4K also had impressive night vision, which we were able to switch between color and black-and-white depending on where we placed the camera. Inside, we let it use its built-in spotlight to illuminate our living room. When placed outside, we turned off the spotlight and opted for infrared night vision so that people wouldn’t notice our camera.

    Arlo Ultra 4K Camera
    Arlo Ultra 4K Camera

    Wire-Free

    Thanks to its built-in battery, the Arlo Ultra 4K was completely devoid of wires. Good news for those like us who aren’t savvy when it comes to wire management. Arlo says it can last up to six months on a single charge. Having tested the camera for over six months and recharging it only once, we think Arlo made good on its word. The Arlo Ultra 4K’s battery also perfectly complemented the camera’s ability to work indoors and outdoors. The lack of cables simplified the installation process and it made it possible to move the camera around depending on where we needed it. We kept it outside our front door on weekends when we’re mostly chilling at home and moved it indoors to help us watch over our pets on our working days.

    FYI: Arlo recently launched a new 4K camera, which they named the Arlo Ultra 2. It has all of the same features as the original Arlo Ultra 4K, but it has an increased Wi-Fi connectivity range and dual-band Wi-Fi.

    Intelligent Alerts with Arlo Smart

    Speaking of watching over pets, the Arlo Ultra 4K had a bunch of artificial intelligence features that made our lives easier. Pet detection was one of those features. It alerted us whenever it saw our new puppy so we could check our live feed and see what he’s up to. Aside from helping pet owners like us, the Arlo Ultra 4K can distinguish people, vehicles, packages, and the sound of smoke and CO alarms and alert its user accordingly. It’s also capable of sending out alerts when movement is detected in a specific zone while ignoring unimportant areas, also known as activity zones. However, these artificial intelligence features weren’t free. They required a subscription to Arlo’s cloud service, but given how much it made our lives convenient and the bonus cloud storage it came with, getting a subscription was well worth it. We wrote a separate page on Arlo’s pricing, so be sure to check that out to learn more.

  • 3. Nest Cam IQ Indoor - Best Indoor 4K Camera with Artificial Intelligence

    Editor's Rating
    9.2
    /10
    Pros
    • Built-in person detection
    • Doubles as a Google Assistant smart speaker
    • Cloud storage as low as $6 per month for all Nest cameras
    • Highly rated mobile app
    Cons
    • Expensive
    • Features like facial recognition require a Nest Aware subscription
    • Free cloud storage stores event snapshots only
    • Viewing and recording resolution capped at 1080p HD

    1080p HD Resolution with Supersight

    The Nest Cam IQ Indoor was not quite a full-fledged 4K camera as it only streamed and recorded in 1080p HD. However, we included it on this list because of its 4K image sensor that gave the camera incredible zooming capabilities. Even when we digitally zoomed the videos 12 times, we could still see a clear picture when viewing from the Nest App. In comparison, when we reviewed the Nest Cam Indoor, small details appeared blurry even though we only zoomed eight times. The Nest Cam IQ Indoor utilized its zooming ability to enable Supersight. Whenever it saw a person move into view while the camera was armed to detect motion, Supersight automatically zoomed into the person’s face and followed its movement. That would make it easier to identify an intruder’s face.

    Nest Cam IQ Indoor
    Nest Cam IQ Indoor

    Smart Features with Nest Aware

    Sure, Nest cameras are a bit pricey and they need a Nest Aware subscription to unlock their full potential, but we really liked how smart the Nest Cam IQ Indoor got with Nest Aware. For starters, it was able to detect and recognize faces. After a bit of learning from us— we named the faces we wanted it to recognize via the Nest App— it knew when it saw a stranger or someone familiar and alerted us accordingly. It was also able to tell people, pets, and vehicles apart and that allowed for even more insightful notifications. But one of its best smart features was activity zones. It took the guesswork out of the motion detection process and only alerted us when there’s movement in zones that mattered to us, such as our front door. That means we received fewer and more relevant notifications throughout our busy days.

    Tip: Although most of the Nest Cam IQ Indoor’s smart features require Nest Aware, person detection is free.

    Continuous Recording with Nest Aware Plus

    Aside from Nest Aware, there’s a higher subscription tier called the Nest Aware Plus. It offers all the smart features of Nest Aware and expands the cloud service’s video storage capabilities. When we signed up for Nest Aware Plus, our videos were stored in the cloud for 60 instead of 30 days. On top of that, it made our Nest Cam IQ Indoor record continuously, keeping videos in the cloud for up to 10 days. Nest Aware Plus cost us $12 per month, but one subscription covered all the Nest cameras we owned. That means even our Nest Cam Indoor and Nest Cam IQ Outdoor were able to utilize the 60-day cloud storage and 10-day continuous video storage. That’s a great deal specially for those with multiple Nest cameras like us. We’re really glad that Nest launched this new Nest Aware pricing.

  • 4. Nest Cam IQ Outdoor - Best Outdoor 4K Camera with Artificial Intelligence

    Editor's Rating
    9.2
    /10
    Pros
    • IP 66 rating with -40 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit operating temperature
    • Relatively easy to install for an outdoor camera
    • Automatically zooms in on the face when a person is detected
    • Infrared night vision doesn’t draw attention to the camera
    Cons
    • Most expensive of the bunch
    • No local storage and free cloud storage only stores snapshots
    • Power adaptor must be plugged in indoors
    • Must have a Nest Aware subscription to access activity zones

    Nest Cam IQ Outdoor Video Quality

    As its name suggests, the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor is simply an outdoor version of the Nest Cam IQ Indoor. It had a similar video quality— 1080p HD, 130 degrees field of view, and up to 12 times digital zoom powered by the 4K image sensor. However, one slight but significant difference we noticed was the night vision range. The Nest Cam IQ Indoor used 940 nm infrared LED lights, while the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor used 850 nm LED lights. 850 nm is better suited for an outdoor camera as it can illuminate a wider area compared to 940 nm LED lights2. And based on our tests, it did seem that the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor’s night vision had a longer range than its indoor camera counterpart. As for daylight videos, though, the two Nest Cam IQ versions were on par with each other.

    Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
    Nest Cam IQ Outdoor

    Supersight

    The Nest Cam IQ Outdoor also used Supersight to provide us a close look at people approaching our front door. We placed the camera approximately one foot above our Brooklyn apartment’s front door so it had a pretty wide view of the pavement and street. But thanks to Supersight’s motion tracking, whenever we viewed a motion event, the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor was already focused on the subject’s face. That made it easy for us to identify the person, whether it was a friend visiting from The Big Apple, the FedEx guy delivering parcels to us, or a complete stranger. If it’s the third, we know to immediately use the camera’s two-way audio to let them know we’re watching.

    Artificial Intelligence with Nest Aware

    Without a Nest Aware subscription, the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor could only tell us if it saw a person. But when we paid for the subscription, we unlocked facial recognition, pet and vehicle detection, and activity zones. We knew when we tested the Nest Cam IQ Indoor what these features could do, but were able to put them to much greater use with the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor. For instance, we used activity zones to make the camera ignore the street and half of the pavement. We wouldn’t want to get notifications of people and cars passing by, but we would like to know whenever someone steps too close to our stoop. Also, when there was a string of burglaries in our neighborhood, we decided to turn on vehicle detection at nights so the Nest Cam IQ Outdoor would alert us if someone parked outside our apartment. It doesn’t hurt to be a little more cautious.

Our Selection Process: How We Picked The Best 4K Cameras

Although this list focuses on 4K cameras, our review process involved more than just comparing the video quality. While testing the cameras for over half a year, we paid close attention to their features that made them capable of protecting our residence as well as a few other important factors such as:

  • Overall video quality (resolution, frame rate, field of view, zoom, etc.)
  • Night vision
  • Motion detection
  • Notifications
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Ease of use and installation
  • Mobile app performance
  • Video storage
  • Smart platform integrations
  • Privacy
  • Cost

Since we were dealing with 4K cameras, it came as no surprise that they all captured clear videos. But there are other factors that could impact the video quality. Some cameras, especially the ones with a higher resolution, have low framerates that can cause movements to appear laggy. No one wants that. We want smooth videos that appear life-like when viewed. Cameras with a wide viewing angle and good zooming capability are also ideal. And of course, having infrared night vision is a must.

The security features of a camera is just as important as the video quality, if not more. After all, most people buy security cameras for protection against burglary and intrusion. Motion detection is the most common security feature. It tells us if there’s movement within the camera’s view so we can check and take action if needed. However, false alarms can be quite annoying, so it’s also nice to have smart features like activity zones, person, pet, or object detection, and even facial recognition. These artificial intelligence features are not uncommon, but they are often hidden behind a subscription. That’s the case for almost all the 4K cameras we tested, so we settled with the ones that offered the most smart features, free or otherwise.

Swann Camera and Hard Drive
Swann Camera and Storage Hard Drive

Video storage is another necessary feature to check. 4K videos take up more storage space than 1080p HD videos, and since cloud storage can be quite expensive, we looked for cameras with local storage options. We also found some cameras with good cloud storage options. Most of these cameras only record when there’s activity, although some are capable of recording rolling videos if you’re willing to pay higher monthly fees.

Next, we delved into the user experience. We took notes about the performance of the companion mobile app, how well each camera integrated with our Alexa and Google Assistant smart home ecosystems, and the installation process. Wireless cameras were much easier to install than hardwired ones, but as expected, their respective companion mobile apps also played a role. Cameras with good mobile apps were usually easier to set up because their manufacturers took the time to simplify the pairing process of the camera and the app.

Nest Cam IQ Indoor with built in Google Assistant
Nest Cam IQ Indoor with built in Google Assistant

Finally, we factored in the cost. There’s the upfront cost, which is the price of the camera itself and its accessories, and the long-term cost, which is determined by monthly fees for cloud storage and artificial intelligence features. Although 4K cameras are understandably more expensive than 1080p HD cameras, we found some options that are relatively affordable. And while we’re on the subject of costs, we recommend that you check out our review of the best home security cameras as well. While it’s nice to have 4K security cameras, it may be more practical to mix in some lower resolution cameras. There, you’ll find a number of cameras we tested that would complement the 4K cameras in this list.

FAQs

Citations
  1. Midlantic. (2020). Infrared Illumination Specification Guide.
    midlantic.net/forms/infrared%20specification%20guide_020408.pdf

  2. Circle HD. (2020). How to Accurately Calculate Video File Size (Plus: Bonus Glossary).
    circlehd.com/blog/how-to-calculate-video-file-size