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Affordable plug-and-play security cameras are tops in video quality, and perform well despite occasional tech hiccups.
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Before we start, we have a riddle for you. What’s small, cute, and takes great pictures?
It’s Zmodo, of course! Based in Shenzhen, China, this electronics powerhouse1 builds some pretty impressive cameras. They’re not necessarily going to knock your socks off in terms of sophisticated features, but as far as core functionality goes, they’re rock-solid. We’re talking 1080p HD resolution, 65-foot night vision, motion alerts, and optional cloud recording.
Zmodo offers a pretty impressive lineup of security cameras, but for the purposes of this review we’ll be looking at their 1080p Indoor/Outdoor WiFi cam, and the Sight 180 C, another camera that’s happy inside or outside that offers a wide field of view and a low profile design.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for indoor security, check out Zmodo’s new Mini Pro. It offers AI-powered alerts, a 130 degree field of vision, and a compact design that’ll blend right in to you existing decor. And at $39.99, it’s not going to break the bank, either.
We’re going to really dig into these cameras’ features and capabilities, but first, let’s take a quick inventory of the pros and cons we discovered in our tests.
One of the first benefits of Zmodo cameras is immediately apparent when you open the box. They’re extremely easy to set up. There’s nothing too technical here, and overall setup will probably take you less than ten minutes. Most of that time will be spent finding your phone to download the app. This is not unlike what we found in our test of Blink’s indoor and outdoor cameras, and it’s pretty standard for cameras around this price point.
FYI: If you’re looking for a camera as affordable as Zmodo, but with a more stylish look, consider YI, a relative newcomer to the market that makes a neat little $20 camera. We covered that and more in our hands-on YI camera review, if you’re interested.
All we had to do was find a good spot, line up the camera so it’s fixed in exactly the position we wanted it, and – a few screws and a little elbow grease later – we were up and running.
We do have one word of caution, though. While we were installing our outdoor camera, we noticed that it’s very top-heavy. You’ll want to make sure you secure your camera carefully so it won’t fall out of alignment, or worse, fall and break.
We double- and triple-checked to make sure our camera was secure before we went back inside, just in case. And we recommend that you do the same.
Did You Know: DIY camera installation is usually easy, but keep in mind that security cameras are vulnerable to theft, especially when they’re outside or otherwise prominently displayed. Be sure to secure your cameras with any anti-theft or security hardware included in the package.
After that, we turned to our next camera: the Sight 180 C. This camera immediately reminded us of a stripped-down Lorex doorbell camera, primarily because of its long, flat shape. Clearly, this camera was made with versatility in mind; the attached support stand is adjustable, and its size and weight make it easy to mount to a wall. And, if you want the option of moving your camera around the house, you can simply place the camera on a surface, on its support stand, without any mounting at all.
With both cameras in place, we turned to Zmodo’s app to continue with the setup process.
Ah, the app. We love having one centralized platform to view our cameras, and access all of their features. Keep in mind that setting up security cameras these days almost always requires downloading an app, and this was no different.
From there, we followed the prompts to set up each camera in the app’s dashboard.
This is where things got just a little clunky – for a minute.
The app told us that in order to set up our devices, we had to put in our Wi-Fi network login and password. Pretty easy, right?
Except that this process was a little different. When we accidentally put in the wrong Wi-Fi password the first time, the app moved to the next step – scanning the camera’s QR code2 – rather than prompting us to re-insert the password.
Of course, this doesn’t affect the day-to-day use of these cameras, so that’s something to keep in mind. A similar thing happened when we took apart a Swann camera system for the first time, and I recall it took three, maybe even four tries before everything synced up properly. That’s pretty standard behavior, not terribly different from setting up a new smartphone.
Did You Know: DIY cameras, in general, are easier to install than traditional security systems. But that doesn’t mean they’re all as easy as Zmodo. For more setup and install tips, visit our security camera installation guide.
Then, once we saw that both camera displays were accessible from our app, we sat back and watched. It was time to see the world through Zmodo’s eyes!
While it’s not knock-your-socks-off, dazzling 4K resolution, Zmodo’s image quality is still really impressive, especially considering it only costs $39.99. It actually reminded us of another standout inexpensive camera in our review lineup — Wyze. Their cameras offer great picture quality that won’t drain your account. Great news for folks who need multiple cameras to secure their properties.
While not quite as impressive as our Zmodo in video quality, Wyze Cams certainly held up as a viable alternative in our hands-on Wyze review. For an affordable, simple device you can place anywhere with little fuss, you can’t go wrong with either Wyze or Zmodo, really.
Now let’s turn our attention to the second camera in our test, the Sight 180 C.
Zmodo’s lightweight, low-maintenance Sight 180C doesn’t have too many knock-your-socks-off features, but it does have a 180-degree viewing angle, which is about 50 degrees wider than its most in-demand competitors. Ring’s Stick Up Camera, for instance, has a viewing angle of 130 degrees, but how much you really need a wide-angle lens ultimately depends on where and how you’re using the camera.
We like to call our Zmodo Sight 180 C our panoramic camera. Throughout our tests of the Sight 180 C, we noticed how much more activity this camera picked up than its similarly-priced peers; this was especially helpful when we were trying to keep an eye on our fast, troublemaking puppy darting across the first floor of our house while we were out running errands.
And, with all that coverage, it meant that we didn’t have to buy extra cameras to pick up what this one missed.
So if coverage is what you’re after, we think this is a great pick.
But like so many cameras we review, this one doesn’t come without some downsides.
First off, there’s no siren. Can you live with that? For indoors, we could. So this became a great, low-budget way for us to keep all the little ankle-biters in our home in check. We think we like it this way! However, it’s nice to have a siren on outdoor cameras, as it serves as an active crime deterrent. That’s one minor gripe we had about the Sight 180 C.
Pro Tip: If you are looking for active deterrent features in a security camera, Canary’s trio of cameras with a built-in emergency siren and call button might be a better choice. We took them for a spin in our Canary Security hands-on review, if you’re interested.
We’ve been wowed by that crystal-clear quality delivered by both of our Zmodo cams. But would we be similarly impressed by how they performed at night?
Short answer? Why, yes, we would.
But not in the way you’d think.
You see, the quality of the night vision on these cameras could be better. We think that’s pretty evident in the photo above.
Our first thought was that the video quality on these cameras wasn’t any worse than we expected; we were dealing with very inexpensive cameras, after all. We saw, for instance, a problem with glare; any light in this camera’s field of view produced a strong halo effect that rendered any objects at or around it virtually invisible.
And then there’s the textbook blurriness, which was, again, to be expected. Tree branches blending in with the night sky doesn’t help either.
But, guess what? All of those things are pretty standard in cameras of this price point when it comes to night vision, so we were neither surprised nor disappointed.
Within the app, there are plenty of bright spots, too, like Night Vision Sensitivity, which helps us fine-tune alerts based on the sensitivity of the motion.
But it doesn’t end there. Our Zmodo camera also distinguishes between objects. In addition to straight-up motion, our camera was able to tell us if said motion was a person, animal, or vehicle.
They call fancy little features like this “intelligent alerts.” And we intelligent, safety-minded people really like that!
Look, she hasn’t learned to cook us dinner or clean our bathroom yet. But Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa3, can still learn a great deal about the devices in your home and allow you to use those devices hands-free. We wanted to check this out for ourselves, so we put it to work with our Zmodo cams.
Here’s our takeaway. Using Alexa to control our Zmodo cameras is not as simple as using Alexa to control, say, a Ring Doorbell.
That’s because Amazon owns Ring4, and Ring’s skill is embedded in our Amazon Echo Show.
Zmodo, clearly, is not owned by Amazon. So we had to do a little more legwork to get Alexa to recognize our third-party Zmodo cameras.
To do this, we went into our Amazon Alexa app in our phones and searched for Zmodo under Skills.
Then, we had to enter our Zmodo login and password.
And there it was! Not too difficult, but a little more time-consuming than Ring’s smart home experience.
The cool thing was, we could just leave this display up for as long as we wanted. So any time we heard something that didn’t sound right, or we knew we’d be getting a delivery, we didn’t have to stop whatever else we were doing to check on it. This team of multitaskers was quite grateful!
If video quality is a priority for you – and most likely it is – we think you’ll be pleased with Zmodo cameras. And, with that low price tag, it’s easy to justify buying multiple Zmodo cameras at once. If that’s what you’re after, we think you’ll appreciate Zmodo’s 2-, 3-, or 4-pack kits. It surely makes the whole buying experience easier!
Here’s a full breakdown of Zmodo’s products and prices:
|Zmodo Camera||Camera Type||Key Features||Price|
|Zmodo Mini Pro||Indoor Battery||130-Degree Vision, Smart Motion Alerts, 1080p Resolution||$39.99|
|Zmodo Indoor/Outdoor WiFi Cam||Indoor/Outdoor||65-Foot Night Vision, Smart Motion Alerts, Optional Cloud Recording||$39.99|
|Torch 360||Torch Light Cam||360-Degree Views, Color-Change Functionality, Screw-In Power||$80.99|
|Zmodo Pivot||Rotating Cam||Optional Cloud Recording, 1080p Resolution, 350-Degree Views||$59.99|
As we’ve been seeing more and more nowadays, subscription plans are becoming the way we’re all doing home security.
Zmodo’s menu of subscription plans is pretty standard for the industry: one basic plan for no charge, and a few upgrades that add a little pizzazz to our technology. For our purposes, we chose the premium plan, which gives us 7 days of free recording, among other features.
It’s worth noting, though, that monthly storage costs with Zmodo skew a bit higher than average for the industry. It’s dollars and cents, we know, but monthly costs can add up. Zmodo’s costs aren’t extravagant, as long as you can live with paying $5 per month to store 7 days of footage. For what it’s worth, that’s $2 more per month than you’d pay for a Ring premium cloud subscription. Just something to consider.
Here’s a look at Zmodo’s subscription options:
|Zmodo Cloud Plan||Basic||7-Day Plan||30-Day Plan|
|Video History Lookback||12 hours||7 days continuous cloud recording||30 days continuous cloud recording|
|Alert Clip Storage||No||7 days||30 days|
|Custom Motion Zones||No||Yes||Yes|
|Video Editor & Time Lapse Clips||No||Yes||Yes|
We found Zmodo’s customer service experience to be useful, yet inconsistent. They’ve got plenty of help for people having trouble with installation and troubleshooting for lots of different topics. But in the event that you can’t find answers to your questions through the support page, we were happy to find a customer service phone number that led us pretty quickly to an agent, who answered our questions thoroughly.
We’ve also heard from people whose customer service experience was less than stellar; some have complained that the agent they called wasn’t knowledgeable enough about cameras but could write a novella about Zmodo’s state-of-the-art Wi-Fi extender.
Not the ideal outcome when you call an electronics company, so we understand the disconnect. For us, however, the experience was hassle-free.
As we continued to test and explore our Zmodo Sight 180 C and 1080p security cameras, we came across something that we couldn’t quite categorize, or compare to anything else.
Within the app’s Cloud settings, there’s a page that looks like this:
At first glance, it looks like just another camera dashboard.
But, take another sniff, and you’ll see that this page is actually a bunch of displays of animal rescues around the U.S. that are streaming their live camera feeds on Zmodo’s app, for some serious cuteness.
Even better: We learned that some of the pets we can see through these live feeds are available for adoption5. Other apps do this, but this is the first one we’ve seen in a security camera app. We love it!
Except we don’t entirely understand why this page just isn’t called “Pets” or “Devices in Action” or something similar, instead of “What is this page?” Can’t they just tell us what the page is?
But again, a minor gripe. After giving these cameras a good three-day run, we can say without hesitation that our Zmodo cameras deliver almost exactly what they promised, right up to that top-notch, crystal-clear video. So if you’re on the market for an affordable security camera that doesn’t skimp on features, we think Zmodo is definitely worth a consideration.
Yes. By linking your Zmodo account with Alexa, you can incorporate your cameras into any Amazon smart home ecosystem. If you’ve got an Echo Show, this is a great way to get instant insight into any activity in or around your property, or just pull up your live feed to check out the scene.
Yes. Zmodo’s $5-per-month cloud plan is an easy, inexpensive add-on and gives you a ton of space to store your videos. But it’s not required to use Zmodo cameras every day; you can also opt for a basic (free) plan, which automatically stores your last 12 hours of video history.
Mediocre at best. We didn’t get nearly the kind of clarity and detail that we got with cameras like Arlo and Ring, so it was hard to decipher dark-colored objects. This was especially difficult in high-activity areas; when we were alerted to motion through our phone, we couldn’t tell what was actually going on by looking at the clip. So if night vision is a priority for you, Zmodo might be a disappointing experience.
Low-cost technology usually comes with an unspoken warning: “You get what you pay for.” In Zmodo’s case, we didn’t find any huge flaws using their cameras in our home to monitor activity like wildlife sightings, porch piracy, and speeding cars. Everything did what it was supposed to do in our Zmodo cams. But for more advanced technology like facial recognition and built-in emergency response, you’ll have to pay more for a higher-end brand.
Since their camera features are pretty basic, you can’t really call Zmodo an artificial intelligence-powered camera brand. But they do have intelligent alerts to distinguish between people, animals, and vehicles when motion is detected.
Tong, S. Marketplace.org. Minnesota Public Radio. (2019, June 27). Shenzhen: birthplace to Huawei — plus several other Chinese tech behemoths. https://www.marketplace.org/2019/06/27/shenzhen-birthplace-huawei-chinese-tech-giants/
Lyne, M. Search Engine Land. (2009, Oct. 15). What is a QR Code, And Why Do You Need One? https://searchengineland.com/what-is-a-qr-code-and-why-do-you-need-one-27588
Rawes, E. and Wetzel, K. Digital Trends. (2020, Aug. 7). What is Alexa, Where Does She Come From, And How Does She Work? https://www.digitaltrends.com/home/what-is-amazons-alexa-and-what-can-it-do/
Schleifer, T. and Del Rey, J. Vox. (2018, Feb. 27). Amazon is making its second-biggest acquisition ever — the doorbell company Ring. https://www.vox.com/2018/2/27/17059768/amazon-ring-acquisition-doorbell
The Humane Society of the United States. (2020) Adopting from an animal shelter or rescue group. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/adopting-animal-shelter-or-rescue-group