In any good security camera, the motion detector sets the tone for the overall performance of the camera. Without a quality motion sensor to detect property threats, that up-to-the-minute feedback I rely on so heavily as a homeowner wouldn’t be worth much.
With upgrades and advances in equipment and technology, most security cameras handle motion detection pretty smoothly, providing real-time insight and footage that can be monitored, stored, and shared with ease.
Nest Cams work like a charm to get to know your home inside and out. In their latest IQ generation, they can also get to know everyone in it – with AI that recognizes faces. This is the kind of advanced motion detection you don’t see every day in security cameras. When I reviewed the Nest Cam IQ, I was blown away.
A camera that can learn faces is truly special. Nest Cams’ facial recognition feature alerts you to anyone it doesn’t recognize, so that when it encounters someone unfamiliar – a burglar, potentially – you’ll know right away via the Nest app in your smartphone. It does require a separate subscription to Nest Aware, but it’s certainly worth the extra few bucks per month to really harness this camera’s potential.
Way more than a traditional camera system, Nest IQ Cams actually have a Google Assistant built right in. So not only can these cams guard your home with unprecedented intelligence, they’re also highly adept at automating with your existing smart home. Check out our Google Nest Cam review to get the full scoop on our live Nest tests.
Motion sensors work essentially the same way across all security cameras, but they really get a leg up when there’s some powerful lighting thrown into the mix. Ring has two motion-sensor security cameras with built-in lighting: Ring Spotlight Cam, with battery or wired options, and Ring Floodlight Cam, with a hardwired light fixture. Both go a long way to light the way, which means you’ll have better night vision, depth of field, and overall clearer imagery.
In addition to great lighting options enhancing their motion sensor, Ring cameras have People Only Mode. This is great for times when you’re away from home and don’t want to be alerted every time a car passes by your house; with People Only Mode, you’ll only be alerted when a human has arrived.
For keeping tabs on packages, Ring’s motion-sensing capabilities go even further into features like motion zones and schedules, so you can zero in on the alerts you need. And here’s the cherry on top: You can turn on advanced motion detection, which increases the accuracy of your alerts and even automatically trims recordings so you won’t be stuck sifting through empty footage. See our full Ring Cam analysis to learn more.
Outside in the elements, you want a camera that doesn’t hesitate. Arlo’s instant intelligent alerts gave me tons of peace of mind when I tested an Arlo camera system myself; even in a torrential rainstorm, I still got regular, accurate alerts. And thanks to a generous 160-degree viewing angle, I only needed one Arlo camera to cover my entire front yard.
As with many cameras, you have the option of subscribing to an Arlo Smart plan that, like Nest Aware and Ring Protect, allows you access to features you wouldn’t get with Arlo’s free plan, like 30-day video history and advanced object detection. Any person, animal, or vehicle that crosses your Arlo camera’s view will be captured, and you’ll know in an instant who or what you’re dealing with.
Barring some occasional playback fails and lags, Arlo cameras perform pretty smoothly, and much of that is due to the quality of the motion sensor.
The other factor here is the Wi-Fi signal, so it’s important to note that Arlo cameras work best with a strong, reliable Wi-Fi connection. All security cameras need a few minutes to load recordings, and Arlo is no slower or laggier than others. Arlo’s wire-free cameras are also pretty stylish, so you’re getting a little fashion with your function, too. You can learn more in our full rundown of Arlo’s equipment costs and monitoring.
Blink, another Amazon-owned security brand, offers a reliable system of wire-free cameras. While more of an entry-level brand, Blink still packs plenty of power in video quality and motion sensing. It happens to be one of my favorites, simply because we value low-maintenance home security products that still deliver in the features and tech department.
While far from flawless, Blink’s motion detection handled nicely when I reviewed the Blink system not too long ago. Like so many of these cameras, their default setting is super sensitive, and Blink makes it easy to adjust that slider down and avoid those pesky unwanted alerts.
With Blink, you’re not going to run into too many hassles, and that includes motion detection. These cameras are made for the kind of low-maintenance experience more and more users crave. I enjoyed the no-frills approach, having lots of flexibility to adjust and tweak the app’s settings to conform each camera to our space.
And since no camera in Blink’s suite is more than $99, I consider this an affordable system. Without fine-tuned motion alerts or color night vision, these cameras do have their limitations. But for the price, Blink offers a gem of a package.
The Kuna system stands out for its smart lighting, which combines a security camera with attractive light fixtures that essentially “hide” the camera and allow it to blend in with your home’s decor.
From an old-fashioned Dickensian lantern to a high-tech floodlight, Kuna does things differently than rivals in the industry. The Kuna Maximus Floodlight, for example, is a powerhouse of a light fixture that offers motion sensing with a range of up to 70 feet and works similarly to the Ring Floodlight.
Since light-camera combos are Kuna’s bread and butter, it was nice being able to control the Kuna camera using the mobile companion app. The moment I received a motion-activated alert on my phone, I could react directly from my phone’s lock screen. A nice touch, and a speedy way to monitor my space while I’m on the go. See our full Kuna camera live testing guide to learn the ins and outs and to see if this camera makes sense for you.
Since it’s really the backbone of any security camera, you’re going to want a camera with effective motion detection. The most common motion sensor we see in cameras is a passive infrared (PIR) sensor, which detects heat (infrared energy) that humans and animals release from their bodies.
You can’t have truly effective motion detection without decent night vision in today’s security cameras. Have a look at what I discovered when I installed a Ring Floodlight Camera in my backyard:
Not every camera out there has color night vision, though, so you might not get crisp images like this in every motion sensor camera. Arlo’s cameras have full color night vision, too, but you do get what you pay for with those, and the price is not necessarily cheap.
Every security camera comes with an app these days – as an iPhone user, I’ve found that they’re by and large easy to use across most brands. The best apps I’ve used present the camera’s motion detection features in an intuitive, logical way, so when I check on what time my kids’ school bus arrives, it takes me just a swipe or two to locate the footage.
FYI: We’ve identified the highest-rated home security cameras and ranked them on performance, features, pricing, ease of installation, and more. Check out our top-rated security cameras to find the perfect match.
The majority of security cameras, under the most ideal conditions, will record video at 1080p HD resolution. You’ll see it most often when your Wi-Fi signal is running at full strength.
But getting the best motion detection from your cameras doesn’t necessarily require a high video resolution, so remember that a super or ultra HD resolution (2K or 4K) camera like the Arlo Ultra or Arlo Pro 3 might not detect motion as quickly or as efficiently as, say, a 1080p Blink Outdoor cam.
Another important component of motion-sensing cameras is the viewing angle, or field of view. This, in layman’s terms, is the angle between the two horizontal edges of the camera’s display.
The smaller the view, the less motion you’re going to capture from your camera. This is a crucial thing to consider in cameras, as not all viewing angles are the same. Ring’s 110-degree Indoor cam, for example, won’t get you the same viewing possibilities as the E1 Outdoor, one of Reolink’s cameras. With PTZ action, you can stretch out that view to a whopping 350 degrees.
With smart home automation features, security cameras are now functioning less as standalone devices and more like components in a larger smart home setup. For the most part, security cameras today are compatible with at least two smart home platforms. Usually, that’s Amazon Alexa and OK Google. But many other cameras, including Zmodo’s super affordable cameras and Swann’s NVR-based systems, are compatible with Z-Wave, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT, and other smart home ecosystems, too.
FYI: Our comprehensive Home Automation Guide has lots more information on integrating cameras into your smart home.
The bottom line on motion sensors in security cameras is that, though they all work basically the same way, some cameras do handle this better than others. Factors like camera location, storage space, and video quality can all affect the performance of a camera’s motion sensor.
That said, you don’t want to skimp on technology like this, either. While advanced features I see in Nest and Arlo cameras do cost more than basic cameras, I can’t overstate the importance of solid, effective motion detection. Hopefully this comprehensive guide helps you to find the perfect camera solution for your home and family.
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.