Security Camera Buyer’s Guide

If you have a security consultant, you already know this. But if you’re a new business owner, or newly concerned about security and safety, review these questions and answers before you shop for a security camera system — or a consultant!

(If you are already knowledgeable about video cameras, jump to the bottom of this page to see some examples.)

Disclaimer: photographic equipment changes regularly, so as you shop, be sure you are looking at current models.

Security Camera Buyer's Guide

Questions to ask yourself before you shop:

 

Indoor or outdoor security system?

Many cameras operate both indoors and out. Outdoor “barrel” or “bullet” security cameras (as shown in the illustration) have a hood that protects them from the weather. “Dome” style cameras are most popular indoors, and can also be weatherproof for outdoor use.

While an outdoor camera can be used indoors, the reverse is not true.

Analog or digital? 

In an analog system, the image is transmitted from the camera via cabling to a DVR, where it is converted to digital then stored for later viewing.

In a digital system, the image is converted in the camera itself. The camera is then connected by cable to an existing computer network where the image is stored.

Installing analog cameras coupled with DVRs is probably the most cost-effective approach to security for your business. (A multiple DVR system has a safety feature, too, in that one DVR might fail, but the others can continue to operate.)

Wired or wireless?

To my surprise, I could not find many positive reviews of wireless systems. The wireless signals apparently suffer from more interference and interruption.

How much detail do you need to see?

Do you need to be able to recognize faces in a 12 x 12 room? Read license plates 30 yards away in the parking lot? Think about how far away the object will be and the horizontal distance you want to cover.

These will help you get the right lens size for your camera.

The more detail you want, the higher the price of the equipment you’ll need. In many cases, however, you do NOT necessarily need the highest quality.

Having cameras with varifocal lenses will allow you to set the same camera for different uses. Some versions are P/T/Z – can be panned, tilted and zoomed for utmost flexibility.

P.S. Analog cameras measure resolution in TV lines (for ex., 400-700 TVL); digital cameras measure in Megapixels (for ex., 720 – 1080 mpx).

Day or nighttime views, or both?

Most cameras have the infrared night vision built in, and automatically switch from day to night mode.

What about bandwidth? 

The larger the image, the easier it will be to see detail on your video. Depending on your equipment, you may see one still picture after another, or your image may feel just like watching TV. You may even be able to zoom in on an image.

Every additional feature or convenience requires more bandwidth. And whether you are recording onto a DVR or an existing computer network, even the simplest security systems take a lot of bandwidth.

Where will you be viewing?

If you’ll be viewing onsite, you’ll need a video monitor. You may be able to hook the DVR up to your existing computer monitor.

If you have high-speed internet where the DVR is located, you may be able to watch live footage or recorded video from any computer, tablet or smart-phone anywhere in the world!

Audio as well as video?

Probably not!  RESEARCH YOUR LOCAL, STATE and FEDERAL LAWS before adding audio surveillance. You could fall afoul of the law without realizing it.

What kind of support?

If you purchase through Amazon or any other major retail outlet, you are probably buying from a third-party distributor, not the manufacturer. The amount or quality of support will vary dramatically. Before you buy, make sure you will have access to full documentation, at least, and check on the terms of the guarantee.

More questions to ask regarding security for your business:

  • Can I set a different schedule for each camera?
  • Can the camera be set to be motion-activated?
  • How long do I want the tape to run before it is over-written?
  • Do I need alerts sent to my phone or email?
  • Do I want to be able to remotely control the camera?
  • Will I be able to download “incident footage” so I can keep it for insurance or criminal investigations?

Three examples of Security Camera Systems

I picked these three best-selling models because they had consistently good reviews while demonstrating the features discussed above. As you can see, prices vary. Click on the images for full details.

Zmodo

Four night-vision cameras, cables connect to DVR, remote access via computer or 3G phone.
LaView

Six night-vision cameras, plug-n-play cables connect to network, highest quality resolution, online videos for support
FunLux®

8 night-vision cameras, automatic alerts, QuickView (using QRcode), 2-year warranty, lifetime technical support

 

If you have experience with any of these, or with a different system, please let us know so we can update this guide.

Virginia Nicols
Your Emergency Plan Guide Team