Buying Guide for Home Security Cameras

Everything you need to know to make your home safer using security cameras.

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What price would you pay for safety? For millions of homeowners and renters, security cameras represent more than a worthwhile investment; they’re also an effective tool in preventing crime.

One of the biggest draws of home security cameras is that they create an immediate visual deterrent against break-ins, trespassing, and other intrusions. And since so many cameras nowadays are run through a mobile app and a Wi-Fi signal, monitoring your home using video surveillance is now as easy as picking up your smartphone.

We’ve tested and reviewed loads of security cameras and brands, and we’ve kept a pulse on all the twists and turns this industry has taken. We’ve seen companies release newer and smarter cams every year, from floodlight cams to traditional wired surveillance systems, and from high-performance cams to simple, minimalistic devices.

Ezviz C1C indoor camera

Ezviz C1C indoor camera

In our experience, we’ve found that while security cameras are easier than ever to use, buying the equipment itself is still somewhat challenging, as cameras with newer, sleeker technology continue to flood the market.

So in this guide, we’ll break down everything you can expect out of your camera buying experience. We’ll cover the bases of this ultra-competitive market and the ins and outs of the best brands. And we’ll get you closer to choosing the right cameras for your home and budget, no matter what your security needs may be.

Table of Contents

Why Do You Need Cameras?

D-Link Camera Outside

D-Link Camera Outside

You know you need cameras, but do you know why? When we begin the process of choosing a new home security camera, the first thing we do is research property crime statistics in our area, focusing on package thefts, break-ins, and other incidents. We know these crimes occur; but where? How often? What time of day? What time of year?

In our view, it’s not enough to install a video doorbell and call it a day; we always recommend targeting your camera purchase to specific threats or concerns.

After all, we might have our eye on a decked-out Arlo Ultra system with 4K video, but since we just heard about a few mischief-making teens cutting through our neighbor’s backyard at 4 a.m., it might be smarter for us to go with a pair of solid 1080p Zmodo cameras and some extra lighting for our exterior instead.

Zmodo Cameras

Zmodo Cameras

And with the precipitous rise in online shopping that’s only accelerated in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, we can’t overstate the importance of a good security camera, either with a doorbell or without, to monitor the front door.

According to a recent crime study,1 36% of Americans have reported having a package stolen from their property at least once. Of those, 44% have had a package stolen at least twice. And very few (11%) said the porch pirate was caught and the package recovered.

That said, we’re always thinking about new vulnerabilities and trouble spots elsewhere around our property, and you should, too. We can say that in this market, whatever your needs and preferences for home security might be, there’s a camera out there that can deliver it. Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts.

What Do Burglars See?

Swann Outdoor Video Quality

Swann Outdoor Video Quality

Though it might sound odd, we also think it’s a good idea to view your home through the eyes of a burglar. What do we mean? Well, first, think about what burglars look for: Areas with little to no lighting, where they can move undetected, for example. A camera with motion-activated lighting, like a Ring Spotlight Cam, lets any potential intruder know they’re messing with the wrong house. We tested and reviewed Ring’s Spotlight Cam.

We’ve run into dozens of scenarios like these, and though we’ve (thankfully) never been burglarized ourselves, experts have warned2 for several years that it can be traumatic and devastating to find out that a stranger has been inside your home, rifling through your belongings. Security cameras can be an easy and inexpensive way to avoid this.

FYI: For more stats and insights on protecting your home from break-ins, check out our comprehensive Property Crime in America report.

The Top Home Security Camera Brands

These days, many different home security cameras are popping up in the market. But you can’t trust your home protection to just any fly-by-night brand. With this in mind, see below for a roundup of some great security camera options that we’ve personally tested and vetted. You’ll recognize many of the names, but there should be some new brands to explore as well.

Features to Look For in a Security Camera

Reolink Argus 3, Argus Eco, and Argus 2

Reolink Argus 3, Argus Eco, and Argus 2

As you set your sights on the many cameras options out there, you might get overwhelmed with such a wide range of choices. But trust us, it doesn’t have to be painstaking finding the right security camera. Also, the wide selection helps to ensure you get the right product, with the right features – and the peace of mind you need to feel safe in your home.

For us, we always take a close look at the features and tech behind each camera to help narrow down our choice. We do this, primarily, by asking a series of questions as we go through our tests, like: How’s the app? How’s the night vision? Does it include batteries? Is it weatherproof? Can I install it myself?

The answers vary with each camera. So to help you make sense of it all, here are a few features we consider essential in home security cameras:

Fast Motion Activation

You want a camera that works fast and doesn’t hesitate. Part of this depends on the strength and speed of your Wi-Fi signal, but a good camera will always “wake up” the moment motion occurs to send you alerts on your phone. In our review of the SimpliCam, SimpliSafe’s only dedicated camera, we recall lighting-fast performance, and we recommend this camera often as a solid pick for folks on a budget.

SimpliCam with Mookie

SimpliCam with Mookie

SimpliSafe is one of the most DIY-forward systems out there, with equipment that can be mounted and set up with no elbow grease required. In the SimpliCam, we got a basic, no-frills device, maxing out at 720p resolution, which sounds kind of mediocre until you remember one important point: Lower-res video will run more smoothly over Wi-Fi than pricier competitors like Arlo and Google Nest,3 as they require less bandwidth to run and won’t overload your network.

So, all this is to say: Don’t underestimate the importance of “fast,” especially if you’ve got a system with multiple cameras.

And if you’re curious, SimpliSafe actually includes their SimpliCam free with most of their whole-home kits. Check out our full SimpliSafe system review for more.

Intuitive Smartphone App

Every security camera comes with an app these days, and like the cameras themselves, we’ve always found them relatively easy to learn. The best apps we’ve used present the camera’s features in an intuitive, logical way, so when we want to check on what time our kids’ school bus arrived home, it takes us just a few swipes to locate the footage.

FYI: In addition to helping with everyday tasks like monitoring the kids and pets, our camera’s mobile app is also a lifeline. If an intruder should show up on our property, we’ll be notified almost instantly, from anywhere.

The Blink app’s feed does a good job in this area, even automatically producing a highlight reel each day with short spurts of action that occurred in our home. We recommend Blink’s cameras and packages as a super-easy entry-level system, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but definitely impressed us in performance despite being pretty inexpensive; paying under $100 for a battery-powered Blink Outdoor camera is nothing to sneeze at, after all.

Blink App - Video History

Blink App – Video History

Flexible Video Resolution

You’ll see an overwhelming number of security cameras that claim 1080p video resolution as you start comparing options. But this, too, can be a bit misleading. Many cameras will only reach that 1080p benchmark under the most ideal conditions, like when your Wi-Fi signal is running at full strength.

But with our sometimes-less-than-perfect Wi-Fi connection, we didn’t always see the ideal 1080p quality we were hoping for, even among the top-rated brands that are known for recording exceptional video. From time to time, our picture was pretty grainy.

But we might be a bit hyper-observant about this factor. As experts, we tend to pay extra attention to video quality in all of our reviews, as we know that resolution is one of the most important qualities people look for in a security camera. As an example, have a look at our view from the Blink Indoor Camera.

That is a 720p picture, which is still pretty clear!

That’s why your best bet is to go with a camera with flexible, or fluid, resolution. As a whole, D-Link does this well; check out our comprehensive D-Link camera review for more info.

Truth be told, most days we don’t even notice these fluctuations; as long as the camera is working, we figure we’re already getting what we need out of it, or at least the basics.

Night Vision

We’ve seen some spectacular night vision images from our tests of security cameras. We’ve owned our home for a little over three years now, and we had no idea that so many deer showed up in our backyard on a nightly basis until we started checking out the nighttime view from our new Ring Floodlight Cam. Have a look below!

A family of deer travels across our property.

Ring Floodlight Cam Video Quality

We gave Arlo’s design-forward cams high marks in this category in our hands-on Arlo camera review, too, but do remember that infrared night vision is pretty standard across cameras; you’ll be able to see your home at night no matter what. Of course, we always end up spending more money if we want full color night vision, so do keep that in mind.

Two-Way Audio

Like 1080p and night vision, two-way audio has become a standard we expect in home security cameras. Even Wyze, one of the least expensive cameras on the market, has it. We consider it an essential feature, and in our full Wyze Cam review, we admit we weren’t blown away with the quality of the audio in our tests. Par for the course, we say, for a super-affordable camera like Wyze Cam; when it comes down to it, all we really need is audio that works when we need instant communication with the person on the other end.

Wyze Cam Pan and Wyze Cam (V2)

Wyze Cam Pan and Wyze Cam (V2)

We use this feature often as a convenient home intercom (“Time for bed, kids!”). But as an effective crime deterrent, this feature pleases us primarily because there’s nothing like using our own “outside voice” to prevent a crook from choosing our house.

With Wyze’s camera packages, we’ll be upfront: The communication is a bit less crisp than the Rings and Arlos we’ve tested. But, again, we still got an effective two-way channel that we knew we could use in a pinch.

Video Storage

With some home security equipment boasting pretty heavy advanced tech, it can be tempting to buy cameras based on how high-tech they are. But it’s important to remember that all that data you’re getting from your high-tech cams is not cheap, no matter which camera you end up with.

D-Link Storage Options

D-Link Storage Options

The costs of storing all those ultra-HD videos with colorized night vision and wide viewing angles can easily get out of hand when it all shakes out. This can be a sticking point for some users, many of whom would rather not blow out their budgets on storage.

We advise caution here. Be realistic; how much time are you really going to spend looking over your footage? Do you really need the cameras to be running 24/7, or are you looking for a camera that records clips and is only activated by motion?

The latter setup, naturally, will keep your costs lower; namely, you won’t need to spend $10 or more per month using the cloud to store footage. This is something we can’t emphasize enough: The costs of securing your home can add up fast, so be sure to account for any monthly fees (like a cloud subscription!) before considering the total costs of your security camera(s).

Going with a trusted brand like Samsung, for example, could help ensure you get what you’re paying for without any surprises. In our review of Samsung’s Wisenet cams, we learned that the brand had recently discontinued their SmartCloud storage service; while we were initially disappointed, we soon felt comfortable using the camera’s pre-inserted micro SD card to store video. With local storage, we were able to save money on an already affordable system.

Field of View

Another important point you should always consider when choosing equipment is how much coverage you want to get out of your camera – otherwise known as the field of view. Simply put, we refer to the field of view as the angle between the two horizontal edges of the camera’s display.

This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but generally, the narrower the lens, the most specific your target should be. In our review of Ring’s Stick Up Cam, we noted all of the camera’s features displayed prominently on the box – HD video, two-way talk, motion-activated notifications, easy installation, and a rechargeable battery pack – but no mention of the camera’s field of view.

Ring Stick Up Cam

Ring Stick Up Cam

In bringing the camera online, we got a firsthand look at that view: At 110 degrees, the viewing angle for Ring Stick Up is about average compared to other wireless indoor cams. Nothing earth-shattering, but again, that’s why we set up that camera to monitor our stairway rather than our expansive living room… we knew it had the angle to accomplish the task.

On the flip side, you’ll want a wider-angle lens for monitoring large spaces. For that, a trusty Zmodo Sight 180C tested well, mostly due to a panoramic 180-degree view; it also handled well for us as a pet monitor.

Zmodo Sight 180C Indoor Wi-Fi Camera

Zmodo Sight 180C Indoor Wi-Fi Camera

Design and Durability

A camera’s design – how it’s built as well as how it looks – often reflects the purposes it serves. For example, the no-frills Ring Indoor Cam has a simple, cylindrical design with no weatherproofing or protective cover, so we knew when we tested it that we shouldn’t risk exposing a camera like this to our tumultuous Ohio winter weather.

The Ring Indoor Cam is plug-and-play, so we knew we should keep it close to a power outlet. It’s also small, so we assume (rightly, in this case) that this camera uses a standard lens with a field of view under 130 degrees. This, in turn, helps us understand where the camera should go and what it should do for us. Making sense, right?

This chain-reaction approach is common in our review repertoire, and it’s helped us make the most out of our cameras and not get intimidated by their technology.
Knowing all this, we always encourage folks not to get too concerned about equipment damage; the majority of outdoor cameras are designed to protect from weather, plus most brands now have pretty straightforward policies if something isn’t right with the camera.

Did You Know: The most common weather rating for outdoor cameras is IP-65, which means it’ll protect from most damage, barring extreme flooding. As users, we think it’s extremely important for cameras to be rated for weather. After all, these devices are supposed to provide peace of mind, right?

Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ)

We love pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras because they’re a nice, economical option for apartment dwellers and homeowners alike. We’ve met a few cams with some very unique PTZ builds, with mechanical lenses that rotate Exorcist-style to allow us to see more out of our space than ever before. And we have to say, this can be a super convenient option; we know we’re getting one camera that covers a whole lot of ground, with little else to worry about.

Numerous brands, including Reolink, D-Link, Lorex, Amcrest, Wyze, and Swann, carry their own versions of pan-tilt cameras. As we mentioned earlier, brands with massive selection can be confusing, so if you’re looking for new and innovative features in a PTZ device, we advise giving the Amcrest ProHD a second look. We did a deep dive on this cam in our hands-on Amcrest camera review, if you’re interested.

Amcrest Indoor Pan-Tilt Camera

Amcrest Indoor Pan-Tilt Camera

Emergency Connectivity

Once used strictly by professional security systems, emergency connection is starting to pop up in standalone security cameras, too. But since we’re talking about wireless technology, a couple of camera packages are starting to appear with a thumbprint-activated safety feature we can tap from anywhere.

A select few cameras we’ve tested have joined forces with Noonlight, a security tech startup that helps self-monitoring security camera users dispatch emergency services without having to call 911.

YI Indoor Camera

YI Indoor Camera

We don’t see this emergency connection feature routinely in cameras yet, but when we do, it really amazes us. Take a look at our YI Home 3 camera review, where we discovered the 24/7 emergency service in an otherwise basic $19.99 indoor camera. Though it did involve signing on to a separate subscription, we do think you’ll appreciate the extra layer of safety here. If something goes terribly wrong, the monitoring center can dispatch 911, EMS, or Fire. Features like this are crucial for the elderly and those who live alone.

YI Camera - Emergency Response

YI Camera – Emergency Response

When we did our hands-on review of Canary cameras, we were spoiled by this feature, since they don’t charge a separate fee beyond the standard Canary subscription. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Canary’s equipment costs are significantly higher than YI’s, so keep that in mind.

Canary Emergency Button

Canary Emergency Button

AI Facial Recognition

Though not widely common yet, we’re seeing more and more cameras with AI-powered facial recognition. For us, buying cameras with this advanced feature comes down to a question: How smart do we want our smart home to be?

In Google Nest Cams, for instance, we got one of the most impressive feature sets thanks to Google’s bold embrace of facial recognition technology. We saw this consistently in our tests as the camera gradually learned the faces and identities of each occupant in our home, then used the data to generate real-time Familiar Faces alerts. We couldn’t help but sit back and say, “Wow, they’ve come a long way, haven’t they?”

The implications, too, are worth noting; a camera that knows our face, and can immediately tell when someone “unfamiliar” is present, is the kind of technology that has the potential to save lives. That’s pretty much priceless, if you ask us.

What to Know About Camera Pricing

With so many choices in this market, we’ve found that we pay widely different prices for equipment and monthly monitoring depending on which camera or brand we choose. Here are a few pointers to help you demystify the somewhat confusing world of security camera prices:

Upfront Costs vs. Monthly Storage

When choosing equipment, it might feel like you’re balancing on a seesaw. Do you want to pay one price upfront for the equipment, or break it down into a monthly subscription for storage and usage? Do you want to pay a lot now and a little later, or a little now and a little more later, or nothing now and everything later? Don’t worry… we’ll break this down.

Each brand has its own unique model for pricing, and again, it all comes down to preference. We, personally, like using a micro SD card in our cameras and storing our footage there, the way Lorex’s cameras do, so we’d ideally want a camera that gives us this option.

Reolink Argus 3 MicroSD Slot

Reolink Argus 3 MicroSD Slot

Of course, using local storage gets us out of any monthly subscription fees the camera might offer as an add-on. This way, we don’t have to sign up for a cloud subscription, which in most cases is pretty inexpensive per month but can surely add up over time.

Pro Tip: Want to get the full scoop on security camera costs? If so, head over to our in-depth guide to home security camera pricing.

Micro SD cards are also pretty inexpensive and widely available; a few brands have even added pre-inserted cards to their cameras in recent years. Wyze, a brand of super-affordable, no-frills cams, allowed us to add Wyze-branded SD cards to our purchase. And we were especially pleased to find we could use those cards to store data from other devices, too.

Wyze SD Cards

Wyze SD Cards

Beyond those options, we’ve also seen plenty of attractive combo packages that charge one price for monitoring and equipment. With Canary cameras, for instance, we had the option to sign up for Canary’s robust Premium Service Plan for $12.99 per month and get a Canary Pro, Flex, or View camera for no extra cost.

Canary Packaging

Canary Packaging

We regularly see bundles similar to this across more traditional brands, too, like Lorex, with its emphasis on local storage and no monthly fees. We’ve long recommended Lorex as an affordable way to buy multiple cameras at once, with low-cost options starting at $35; check out our hands-on Lorex camera review to learn more.

Lorex Indoor Camera and Box

Lorex Indoor Camera and Box

‘Cheap’ Cameras vs. High-End Cameras

This industry is so brimming with devices these days, we’ve found there’s a camera for pretty much any budget. It’s very much a “get what you pay for” approach, so we adjust our expectations accordingly.

That said, it’s still entirely possible to pay too much for a security camera. In our experience, we’ve gotten to know brands all over the pricing spectrum to get an idea about what you’re really getting with those higher-end brands, like the new Arlo Pro 4 and the previously mentioned Google Nest.

The Nest Cam IQ indoor, part of our in-depth Google Nest Cam review, retails for $300. Indeed, this cam is meant to impress, and the Google-backed quality is second to none. But consider whether you actually need a $300 camera in every area of your home you want to monitor. As a whole-home surveillance system, it’s not exactly practical – especially when you can find entire camera-based surveillance systems for far less. (That said, the Nest Cam IQ does have an incredible facial recognition feature, so maybe one or two of these advanced cams is a wise investment).

Nest Indoor IQ Camera

Nest Indoor IQ Camera

Instead, a much more cost-efficient setup for single-family homeowners like us would be a Blink system. Those cams, now owned by Amazon, are small, fast, and reliable, and their installation is a breeze. When we reviewed Blink cams, we started with a system that included three cameras and a base station, which Blink calls the Sync Module 2. All of this cost us less than $250, a bonafide steal compared to the cost of a single Nest Cam.

Blink Outdoor

Blink Outdoor

Snapshot of Security Camera Pricing

Camera Features Price
Ring Stick Up Camera Indoor, 1080p HD video, battery optional, two-way talk $99.99
Arlo Pro 3 Camera System 2K video, wire-free, two-way talk, wide (160-degree) viewing angle Starting at $199.99
Blink Outdoor Camera Water resistant, wire-free, basic features, base station required $99.99
Wyze Cam v3 Indoor, 1080p HD, plug-in, basic features $19.99
Google Nest IQ Indoor 1080p with 4K sensor, facial recognition, instant alerts $299.99
Amcrest SmartHome 1080p WiFi Outdoor Floodlight Camera HD video, built-in siren, 2000lm floodlight, two-way audio $169.99
Swann Wi-Fi Series 1080p Camera System 1080p HD video, basic features, requires base station Starting at $99.99
Lorex Smart Outdoor Wi-Fi 1080p Camera System Water resistant, two-way audio, Color night vision Starting at $129.99
Canary Pro 1080p Camera Indoor, 1080p HD video, climate monitor $169
Reolink Argus 3 Wire-Free Camera Outdoor, 1080p HD, built-in motion spotlight, Starlight night vision, two-way talk $109.99
Zmodo Wireless Smart Security Camera Indoor, 720p video, adjustable night vision $29.99

But as we all know, price is far from the only consideration we focus on when shopping for cameras. We also look at several criteria, from location of our cameras to their shape, power source, and feature set.

Choose Your Location

Once you bring your shiny new cameras home, where do you plan to put them?

You don’t have to commit to one location with a wireless camera, one of many reasons we enjoy testing and reviewing them. But the biggest determining factor we consider when deciding where to display a new camera is whether it’s an indoor or outdoor device.

Indoor Cameras

We think you will find, on the whole, that indoor cameras tend to display better on surfaces, such as fireplace mantels and bookshelves.

And even when we decide to mount an indoor camera on a wall, that process is no more difficult than hanging, say, a diploma above our office desk. It gets even easier if we get one with batteries; check out our hands-on Canary Flex review, where we discovered the versatility and simplicity of the brand’s magnetic mounting equipment combined with wire-free installation.

Canary Flex Mounted on Wall

Canary Flex Mounted on Wall

Outdoor Cameras

Setting up cameras around your home’s exterior, in areas where would-be burglars might see them, not only makes practical sense, it also makes a huge difference in terms of peace of mind.

When we took an outdoor camera from Ezviz for a spin, we were reminded of the intimidating presence of cameras of decades past; the tough exterior and bulky build gives off an impression that anyone who crosses its path knows we mean business. For a pair of working parents like ourselves, this is more than just a wish-list item; we want the camera to scare criminals away, and whatever it takes to achieve that, we’ll do it.

Ezviz C3N, installed outdoors

Ezviz C3N, installed outdoors

For what it’s worth, we didn’t witness any funny business outside our home during our Ezviz testing period; you can learn much more about this intimidating camera in our hands-on Ezviz camera review.

Choose Your Power Source

Wireless (or Wi-Fi) Cameras

While brand labeling in this biz can sometimes confuse, just remember that security cameras with “wireless,” “IP,” or “Wi-Fi” technology all require an Internet connection to work.

You might see “wireless cameras” and “Wi-Fi cameras” used interchangeably across the many camera brands we’ve reviewed out there. That’s because, by and large, they’re the same thing: Cameras that work off a Wi-Fi network rather than physical wires to transmit data.

That said, wireless cameras might still require you to plug in a power cord for the actual device to work (unless it has batteries, which we’ll explain in a sec), so do keep that in mind.

Blink Mini Mounted

Blink Mini Mounted

Wire-free Cameras

Not to further confuse you, but wireless cameras are also different from wire-free cameras. This is important to understand because with something as vital as a security camera, you don’t want to be caught unaware when it’s time to change the batteries.

Reolink Argus 2 Camera with Protective Sleeve

Reolink Argus 2 Camera with Protective Sleeve

To keep things simple, remember that wireless cameras might not contain batteries, but wire-free ones always do. If you want a wire-free camera, expect to pay about $10-$20 more than you would with a wireless (plug-in but still Wi-Fi) camera. And, on top of that, expect to change the batteries on an intermittent basis; for us, this tends to vary based on how often the camera is triggered.

Reolink’s Argus 2 cam seemed to hold its own as a wire-free indoor camera with batteries that lasted a really long time for us; it doesn’t hurt that this camera was easy to install and move around the house, too. It’s one of many positive experiences we had with Reolink cameras; learn more in our in-depth Reolink review.

Choose Your Recording Method

It’s not as common these days, but we still see a good number of NVR and DVR-based camera systems for residential use. In systems like this, we can store a decent amount of video history through the NVR without the need to sign on to a monthly cloud subscription or attach a memory card.

This hard drive configuration tends to work great for covering large spaces, but more important, it’s a great way to record and store video on those 2K and 4K ultra HD cameras that are becoming more commonplace.

2 Swann Cameras on the NVR

2 Swann Cameras on the NVR

Remember, though, that a NVR or DVR system, like the Swann 2-camera NVR kit we reviewed, will leave you with an unwieldy black box. If you’ve got the space and don’t mind the extra machinery, this shouldn’t bother you much; personally, we prefer to keep the gadgets to a minimum to avoid clutter. But that’s just us.

FYI: While NVRs differ from DVRs in the way they process video footage, they do share one key advantage over a cloud system: You can view your camera’s footage remotely without relying on an Internet connection. If that’s a good fit for you, consider giving Swann or even a larger brand like Amcrest a look.

Do You Need Professional Monitoring?

Though we’ve seen professional monitoring (for cameras) offered less and less these days, it’s still a worthwhile consideration in your camera search. Here, the question comes down to whether you want to pay for a third-party monitoring service that will alert authorities to any relevant threats in your home, or you prefer to monitor your system yourself.

To many of us, cost is the determining factor here. But no matter what your budget is, the No. 1 factor we focus on in cameras with professional monitoring is whether the service actually works.

In a recent review, one of our team members put a Cove system of cameras, sensors, and an alarm to the test, and came away with one very important takeaway: The police do, actually, show up. If that isn’t a testament to the effectiveness of home security equipment, we’re not sure what is.

Police Officer checking up on us thanks to Cove Monitoring

Police Officer checking up on us thanks to Cove Monitoring

For more on that interesting experience, head over to our hands-on Cove security system review. But in the meantime, we’ll say this: Cove happens to have one of the least expensive monthly monitoring fees in this biz. So if you are interested in professional monitoring, a Cove kit might be the way to go. Clearly, it does work! Other great options for whole home security include Ring Alarm, SimpliSafe, and Frontpoint.

Do You Need Home Automation?

For the most part, security cameras today are compatible with at least two smart home platforms. Usually, that’s Amazon Alexa4 and OK Google, and it just so happens that we use both an Amazon Echo Show and a Google Home Mini when we run tests on our cameras.

Our dog, lounging in the hallway on our Reolink Argus 2.

This way, our cameras function less as standalone devices and more like components in a larger smart home setup. In a typical Amazon-based setup, for example, we can set a trigger within our Alexa app to lock our Ring-compatible smart lock and arm our Blink Indoor Camera at the same time. We’ve used this automation when we leave the house to ensure that we’ll have a working set of eyes on our puppy and kiddos while we’re out. And since Blink is owned by Amazon, we were pleased that our Blink cams behaved essentially the same way as a system of Ring cameras did in our Amazon smart home ecosystem.

Did You Know: We recommend cameras with home automation as an easy way to control all your devices and feel more secure at home. Pop over to our comprehensive Home Automation Guide for more info.

Installing Security Cameras

With the trend toward wireless or IP camera technology, installing a wireless or Wi-Fi camera is now typically no more difficult than hanging a picture frame (it might be much easier, in fact). We always recommend wireless cameras to folks who need an easy installation, but we’ve also encountered hardwired cams that aren’t terribly difficult to install, either.

Installing Wireless Cameras

SimpliCam Support Stand

SimpliCam Support Stand

In a large number of security cameras we recommend, the selling point is the easy installation. It’s appealing, we know. But we also know that “easy” doesn’t always mean “better.”

The wireless cameras we test require us, first and foremost, to pair with our Wi-Fi network to get them online. This is the way they will transmit data over the Internet, just like our other Wi-Fi-enabled devices do. And, as with all those other devices, we know that wireless cameras need to be placed within a certain range of our Wi-Fi router to run smoothly.

Once that’s done, we begin the actual installation. This usually involves a screwdriver or drill, possibly a ladder, and a healthy dose of patience.

Installing the Lorex Doorbell Camera

Installing the Lorex Doorbell Camera

Installing Hardwired Cameras

In most hardwired camera systems, the difficulty level will be higher than the average wireless job. If you’re not up for it, a professional installation might be worthwhile.

It’s also important to think about all those wires you’d need to feed throughout your home with a setup like this. Depending on your home’s size and layout, this could present a few challenges. In a hardwired Night Owl 8-Channel 4K System, for example, we’d have to route cables from the box in our living room to every other room in our house where we wanted to set up a camera. And, as an aside, we’d probably have to upgrade our home Wi-Fi speed, too – but that’s a project for another day. That said, this might be the perfect solution for some situations.

Did You Know: True to its name, Night Owl gave us some of the sharpest night vision images we’ve ever seen in a security camera. For more, visit our hands-on Night Owl camera review.

Best in the Biz: Our Top 5 Security Cameras

We’ve covered the range of features, technology, designs, power sources, recording devices, installations, monitoring, and many other factors that go into choosing a security camera. But as we’ve mentioned previously, this is an industry teeming with competition, and each camera we review brings something new and unique to the table. With all this selection, let’s keep it simple. Here’s our professionally ranked top 5 breakdown of the security cameras you’ll want to look for as you begin your search.

Ring Nest Lorex Arlo SimpliCam
Ranking 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
Best Accolade Best Camera Overall Best Google Camera Most Versatile Best DIY Install Camera Best User-Friendly Camera
SecureScore™ 9.2 9.0 8.4 8.0 7.9
Equipment Cost Starting at $59 Starting at $199 Starting at $29 Starting at $179 $99.99
Monthly Cost Starting at $3.00 Starting at $5.00 N/A Starting at $2.99 Starting at $14.99
Connectivity Wi-Fi, Ethernet Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, Ethernet Wi-Fi, Ethernet Wi-Fi
Power Battery, Wired, PoE Wired Battery, Wired, PoE Battery, Wired, PoE Wired
Field of View Up to 140° Up to 130° Up to 160° Up to 180° Up to 120°
Resolution Up to 1080p Up to 1080p Up to 2160p Up to 2160p Up to 720p
Storage Cloud Cloud Cloud, Local Cloud Cloud
Two-Way Audio Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Alexa Compatibility Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Google Home Compatibility Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Live View Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Night Vision Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Warranty 1 Year 2 Years 1-2 Years 1 Year 3 Years
Read Review Ring Camera Review Nest Cam Review Lorex Review Arlo Review SimpliCam Review

1. Ring: Best Overall Camera

Ring Cameras

Ring Cameras

Ring’s wireless HD cameras check all the boxes for us and more. They’re the DIY pioneers in this business, with affordable mid-range prices, and one of their biggest draws is how easy it is to send video to law enforcement in the event of a crime. Thanks to the built-in Neighbors app, we’ve got unprecedented insight into any suspicious or criminal activity in our neighborhood. With Ring cameras, we can make smarter decisions about our home security when we know all of those bases – and more – are covered.

2. Nest: Best Google Camera

Nest IQ Indoor Equipment

Nest IQ Indoor Equipment

The product design, security features, smart home technology, and video quality we tested in the Google Nest IQ cameras gave us a truly amazing security camera experience. These cameras read our faces, automatically tracked motion, and gave us unprecedented insight in our motion alerts.

With a steep price tag (Nest charges $399.99 for their Outdoor Cam IQ, for instance), we also know this tends to place a strain on consumers looking to add multiple cameras. But if you have a decent budget to work with, and you value high-tech smart devices, check out Nest’s IQ line. You won’t be disappointed.

3. Lorex: Most Versatile Camera

Lorex Indoor Camera

Lorex Indoor Camera

With a generous selection, Lorex is hard to pin down in overall performance. But across all of Lorex’s reasonably priced smart Wi-Fi 1080p cameras, we found consistently solid performance for whatever scenario we had in mind. We also have to give Lorex praise for their emphasis on upfront costs and no contracts.5 Equipment is easy to set up, and though the brand doesn’t boast a modern, sleek design like its high-profile competitors, their versatility still makes them a viable competitor.

4. Arlo: Best DIY Install Camera

Arlo Pro 3 Mounted Outside

Arlo Pro 3 Mounted Outside

The best way to ensure an easy, hassle-free installation of any electronic device is to get rid of all those cumbersome and unattractive wires we typically use to power them. Luckily, the technology behind Arlo gave us one of the easiest installation experiences we’ve had, mostly thanks to a pair of rechargeable batteries Arlo includes in each cam. Arlo cams are all about DIY installation, crystal clear picture, and a camera construction that’s built to last.

5. SimpliCam: Best User-Friendly Camera

SimpliCam on Ledge

SimpliCam on Ledge

The refreshing simplicity of a SimpliSafe system will make you wish all security equipment was this easy to use. It certainly helped that, in our tests, all we had to do was plug in the camera, power it on, and follow the steps to get a nice footage reel of our home in standard definition. As a component to a SimpliSafe kit, this well-made camera gave us consistently smooth and fast mobile app performance, too.

Our Final Thoughts on Home Security Cameras

Blink Outdoor Camera

Blink Outdoor Camera

We hope that in this ultimate guide to home security cameras we’ve given you a lot to think about when you’re considering surveillance for your home. Taking the time to assess the features and tech that sets these cameras apart, and using our hands-on experiences as a guide, should help you make a smarter, more economical decision about your home security needs.

We’re always eager to see what new and unique things camera brands are bringing to their products this year and beyond. From our team’s perspective, the future of home security cameras lies in their value as a component in the smart, connected home: More control, more integrations, and above all, more peace of mind.

Beyond our guidance here, we’ve published plenty of resources for even more help in the camera buying process. We suggest you start by checking out some of our best motion sensor cameras.

We also broke down the best cameras with home automation, best cameras with wired installation, the best affordable cameras, and the best cameras for outdoors. Can’t say you don’t have choices, right?

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know a security camera will work in my home?

Wireless cameras are meant to pair with home Wi-Fi, and though it might take a few tries, we’ve always had success pairing the cameras we test. If you do run into trouble, instructions are always provided in the box, either in a paper manual or within the mobile app.

Do security cameras work in a power outage?

The last thing we want in our security equipment is an unexpected outage, giving a burglar just enough time to break into our home. To avoid this, we recommend cameras with either rechargeable or long-life batteries, like Blink’s Outdoor and Indoor camera system.

Can I set up an indoor camera outside?

Outdoor cameras of today are built to withstand most weather events (barring anything too extreme, of course). Look for an IP weather rating of 65 or above for outdoor use; if you’re working with a camera that’s not IP rated or specifically built for outdoor installation, we don’t recommend putting it outside.

What’s the most expensive security camera?

For folks who are looking for top-of-the-line video surveillance and features like facial recognition, rechargeable batteries, and weatherproof housing, Google Nest’s $400 IQ camera will get you all of that and then some. Their latest line of super-smart IQ devices blew us away, but as budget-conscious homeowners, we understand it can be tough to justify spending that kind of money on an individual cam.

Do hardwired cameras work the same way as wireless cameras?

Yes. Hardwired cameras, by and large, will deliver the same level of protection as a wireless one would.

Citations
SafeHome.org only uses high-quality sources to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. C+R Research. (2020). 2019 Package Theft Statistics Report.
    https://www.crresearch.com/blog/2019-package-theft-statistics-report

  2. Blickenstaff, B. (2017, June 14). The PTSD of Home Burglary. Pacific Standard.
    https://psmag.com/social-justice/home-burglary-invasion-psychological-space-88129

  3. Statt, N. and Dieter, B. (2019, May 7). Google Nest: Why Google Finally Embraced Nest as its Smart Home Brand. The Verge.
    https://www.theverge.com/2019/5/7/18530609/google-nest-smart-home-brand-merging-hub-max-rebrand-io-2019

  4. Shulevitz, J. (2018 November). Alexa, Should We Trust You? The Atlantic.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/11/alexa-how-will-you-change-us/570844/

  5. Morrison, S. (2020, August 24). Contracts, Hacks, and Google: What to Consider Before You Get a Home Security System. Vox.
    https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/8/24/21354628/home-security-adt-google-ring

Written By
Jaime Fraze
Security Camera Expert

Jaime Fraze has 16 years of writing and editing experience, with seven years spent writing about emerging technologies. As our home security camera expert, she has hand-tested and reviewed every major security camera brand and has written more than 300 articles on the topic. Previously, Jaime has contributed to award-winning media outlets such as the Rocky Mount Telegram and the Daytona Beach News-Journal. As a homeowner and mother of two, Jaime is constantly looking for ways to keep her home and family safe. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English/Journalism from the University of Delaware.

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