No camera winds up on this list unless we’ve rigorously tested and analyzed it to determine whether it meets our strict standards. We look at dozens of cameras every year and compare criteria like image quality, monitoring options, storage capabilities, installation, durability, bonus features, and price. Then we choose cameras with a range of different features so we can be sure that you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.
To find out more about what impresses us, read on. Or, check out our complete guide to security cameras.
Our first consideration for this particular list was whether or not the cameras worked well for apartment dwellers. What makes for a good apartment camera system? Many of the same things that make for any other camera system: quality image resolution, a wide field of view, great bonus features like person detection, and camera durability. In addition, though, we gave extra points to those systems with simple installation that didn’t require us to scar up our walls or change the property in any significant way. After all, we want to be absolutely sure we get our deposit back when we’re ready to move.
We expect our cameras to deliver crystal clear images that capture a wide field of view, whether it’s daytime or nighttime. We don’t feel safe unless we know we can identify whatever happens to pass in front of our devices.
- Resolution: Resolution has to do with how many pixels an image contains. Obviously, the more pixels, the sharper the image. Generally, we expect the best cameras to have at least 1080p HD resolution. That’s 2 million pixels. There are 4K cameras on this list, though, that offer up to four times that amount.
- Field of view: Field of view is measured in degrees, and it tells you how much of an area a camera can see at one time. We prefer cameras with a field of view that’s at least 120 degrees.
- Night vision: A security camera that only works in the daytime is only doing half its job. We expect the best security cameras to see just as clearly at night as they do during the day. Infrared night vision is the minimum we’ll accept, and we prefer color night vision since it eliminates shadows where potential home invaders can hide.
We like professional installation because it ensures our security cameras will be installed properly, in the best locations, and that they’ll all work the way they should. However, we’re happy with DIY installation as long as it’s simple enough that we can handle it. We’re pretty good with a screwdriver, but if the process gets much more complicated than that, we get nervous. Of course, as with many security camera features, what we like best is when companies give us a choice.
You can get a pretty good idea of just how durable a camera is by looking at two numbers. First, the company should tell you what kind of temperatures the camera can withstand. Obviously, you want one that can handle typical weather in your particular area.
In addition, many cameras, especially outdoor cameras, come with an IP (Ingress Protection) rating. This rating consists of two numbers. The first tells you how well the camera resists dust particles. The second tells you how well it resists water. Indoor cameras don’t have to be as hardy as outdoor cameras, of course, but we expect outdoor cameras to have at least an IP65 rating.
The whole reason to have security cameras on your property is so someone can keep an eye on what’s happening there. While that someone can be you, of course, it can also be a professional security team.
- Professional Monitoring: Professional monitoring requires a monthly subscription, but it guarantees someone is always keeping track of your video feeds. Daytime, nighttime, when you’re at the hair salon, when you’re at the movies — no matter what the situation — someone is watching your property and can respond in the case of an emergency. That takes the worry out of security.
- Self-monitoring: Self-monitoring is a reasonable option if you feel you can respond to real-time alerts whenever your cameras pick something up. Of course, the main advantage to self-monitoring is that it’s typically free. If you choose to go the DIY route, you’ll want to make sure real-time alerts are free and that you can check out live feeds whenever you want. In addition, it’s better to go with companies that offer free storage. Otherwise, you might wind up paying to record footage.
Speaking of storage, cameras generally come with two types: cloud and local.
- Cloud: Cloud storage means all your recordings are saved virtually, to a cloud. That guarantees you can access them any time you want. It also eliminates the need for any bulky storage equipment on site. That can be a plus if you’re renting. Often, however, companies charge extra for cloud storage, which adds to your security bottom line.
- Local: Local storage means all your recordings are kept on-site. There are different varieties of local storage. Some cameras come with microSD slots. The advantage of microSD cards is that you don’t have to worry about bulky equipment. However, these cards don’t have especially large storage capacities. One option to microSD is DVR/NVR systems. These systems come with a far larger storage capacity, usually up to three terabytes. However, you have to find some place to put the devices.
Bonus features aren’t our first consideration, but they do matter. A camera with person detection, for instance, can reduce our false alerts, saving us time if we’re self-monitoring. Here’s a list of our favorite security camera extras.
- Two-way audio: Two-way audio lets us talk to anyone on our cameras, and it lets anyone on our cameras talk to us. Our favorite cameras not only have two-way audio but also noise reduction and echo cancellation.
- Activity zones: Some cameras’ images are broken up into different zones, or areas, within the field of view. This allows you to turn off zones if they are prone to false alarms.
- Smart-home compatibility: Security cameras don’t have to be compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, but it’s sure more convenient when they are. We like controlling our system with just our voice and having the ability to set up routines connecting our various smart devices together.
- AI: Cameras these days are getting smarter, thanks to artificial intelligence. We give bonus points to any system that can tell the difference between people, pets, and packages. We’re even more impressed with those that provide facial recognition.
- Price: If you rent, you probably keep to a pretty strict budget. The bottom line matters. So, last but not least, we always carefully consider the cost of every security camera we review. It’s important to recognize that price isn’t just about the cost of the cameras themselves. You should also think about how much monitoring might cost each month and whether or not you want to pay for professional installation.
In general, we like cameras that cost between $60 and $200 depending on their use and what features they have. Monitoring plans should be between $10 and $20 a month. Installation should never be more than $150.