Security Camera Buying Guide – A Real Case Study

In this article I am going to walk through the steps I would take to buy a security camera system for this house. I am going to take a step by step approach using the tips I’ve listed here. At the end of this post, I am going to conclude with a recommendation based on the information I’ve gathered.

After reviewing this post, you should be able to make a confident decision when purchasing a security camera for the first time. Still unsure? Check out my recommendations here.

About this house

This house is a one-story ranch-styled house. This house has four bedrooms (three upstairs, one in the basement), and three bathrooms. This house is located in an upper Midwestern state, that can experience extreme temperatures.

What is the main purpose of the system?

The best camera system for this house will provide active monitoring. The homeowner wants to be aware when people are on the property. Active monitoring is especially important in this situation because the homeowner does not have a fence installed around the backyard. 

The homeowner would like to be notified when someone is on the property via a notification sent to their phone. In addition, the homeowner would like the option to view events as they happen

Is indoor and outdoor monitoring required?

The homeowner only needs external monitoring at this time. 

Recommendation

Based on the homeowner feedback, you can already narrow down your systems options to a system that provides alerts to a smart phone or tablet. You can eliminate old school systems like Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) systems, and systems without a mobile application.

Section guide

The main purpose question should set the tone and the theme of your security camera system. While selecting the wrong purpose isn’t a huge problem, you may spend additional time, money, and energy trying to get it right the second or third time around. 

This section should be completed first because it can be used as a guide for the reset of the decisions you make. 

Options here include: CCTV, Power over Ethernet (PoE), and wireless Internet protocol (WIP) systems. 

What is the objective of the system?

The homeowner would like a system that helps to deter crime. If the system has features that help deter crime and capture events in real time, that would be a plus. 

In addition to deterring crime, the homeowner would like as much coverage as possible. It is important to the homeowner that all angles appear to be covered. 

Recommendation

Based on the suggestions by the homeowner, the best recommendation for this home would be bullet, or dome cameras. Bullet cameras send a clear message that his home is being monitored. 

While dome cameras are more discrete, when people see these types of cameras, they know someone is watching. 

Section guide

This section should be used to gain a better understanding of how the system will be used. Questions to ask here include:

  • Are we trying to deter crime?
  • Are we trying to catch criminals in the act?
  • Are we suspicious of our nanny, neighbor, or friend?

By the end of this section, you be able to decide:

  • If you want to deter crime
  • spy on nannies
  • See who is playing ding dong ditch at your house

Who should view this video?

Although the homeowner is not very tech savvy, they want to be able to share recorded videos with friends and family. Also, it is important to the homeowner that friends and family have the ability to view live notifications when events occur. 

There cannot be a limit on the number of people that have authorized access to download events and view via the mobile app. 

Recommendation

Because the homeowner would like the ability to share the video with others, the system that is selected must have either a cloud storage option, or mobile app that allows multiple users for one home.

This does not eliminate any security camera systems as PoE or WIP systems are the best choices for this section

Section guide

This is an important section because not all systems have the ability to share recordings with multiple people. You should ask yourself these questions as you are thinking about this section.

  • Who should view this video?
  • Where will they view this video?
  • Do you want the ability to view both live and recorded footage?
  • Why do they need access to the video?

This section may require studying mobile apps of different security cameras. Also, it will be important to know if video is stored locally, or in the cloud.

Who is installing the system?

As I mentioned, the homeowner is not very tech savvy. In addition, the homeowner is not handy enough to install the system. The homeowner will either have friends and family install the system, or hire a professional. 

The homeowner is okay with either a wired or wireless setup.

If the system is wired, then the homeowner expects a “clean” installation, meaning no visible wires, no unnecessary drilling, etc. The homeowner is okay with running wires in the attic, basement or crawlspace.

The homeowner is okay with a wireless set up as long as it doesn’t have a dramatic impact on the current internet speed. The homeowner currently uses the internet to stream movies and television shows and doesn’t want to see a decrease in quality. 

Recommendation 

This will depend on the system that is decided. If the homeowner decides on a WIP system, then I will be doing the installation. However, if it requires a more advanced installation, then we will hire a handyman to complete the install.

Section guide

This is a very important section because how installs the system will help to determine which system to buy. Ask these questions when thinking about the installation.

  • How handy are you?
  • How much time do you have to install an entire system
  • How much can you afford to spend in a custom installation
  • What type of system are planning to install?

Installing a system a PoE or CCTV system can take a novice 8 hours or more, depending on the difficulty of the installation and the number of cameras. However, it may not be worth the cost of hiring a handyman install a wireless system. 

This section requires being honest with yourself when deciding your ability to install a security camera system

What type of audio?

The homeowner is okay if there is no audio as long as movements are captured. Any additional audio captured is considered a bonus. The homeowner is not interested in two-way audio because they don’t anticipate ever using it. 

Recommendation

Most PoE and WIP systems have at least one-way audio. Because the data is sent digitally, this one time feature has become a standard. 

Section guide

This section is important because it further helps to clarify your security camera system options. You should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I need audio?
  • What am I listening for?
  • Will a camera in this system be used as a front door or primary entrance?
  • Will this microphone record the neighbors?

Do you have an HOA?

Yes, the homeowner has a Home Owners Association in which they pay annual dues. The dues cover maintenance of common areas, and insurance in the event someone is injured in the park.

After checking the bylaws, it has been determined that no approvals are needed for installing security cameras in or around the home. 

Recommendation 

Since nothing has to be approved, the homeowner is free to decide on a security camera the best suits their needs. 

Section guide

This section is not often talked about but very important. If you live in a place that has bylaws, it is very important that you review those bylaws before making a decision on a security system.

For example, if you live in an apartment, there could be a rule that you agreed stating no external cameras are allowed. Also, you may be restricted as to what you can drill. 

Who is your tech-savvy person?

As previously mentioned, it is best to hire a technical person to complete installation of the system. This person will install the necessary mobile apps, configure an cameras, modify the routers/ switches, etc.

It has been suggested that I am the most tech-savvy person the homeowner knows, so I will be completing the networking portion of the install. At least I will get free water, and a ham sandwich out of the deal.

Recommendation

As I mentioned, I am the tech-savvy person the homeowner knows. Because I enjoy messing with electronics, I am allowed to tinker with your home security system. When I am done, I have the pleasure of showing them how it works.

Section guide

This is another important section because this person will complete the initial installation process for the cameras. This installation may include configuring port, changing the IP from dynamic to static, and creating secure passwords. 

It is important that you hire someone that you know, like, and trust to do this work. The last thing you need is to spend a bunch of money on a security system and someone sets it up incorrectly. 

Where are you placing the cameras?

After walking the home once during the day, and again at night, I recommend installing a minimum of 5 cameras on the property. I would install the cameras in the following places:

  • Front door
  • Above the garage
  • One facing the basement window
  • one, possibly two in the back
  • One facing the front of the house

As we know, criminals use the front door, back door, and garage most frequently when breaking into a house. The next common area is a basement window. Also, on the same side as the basement window, there is a spot that receives very little light at night.

Because the house is a long, ranch style home, I would consider placing two cameras in the backyard, just to make sure all angles, I would place the cameras at the corners of the home to cover both the windows and backdoor.

Finally, I would consider placing another camera at the front of the house. I would place this camera at the far left with an attempt to cover the windows.

Cameras could also be placed inside the garage, but the homeowner doesn’t require it.

Recommendation

For this home, I would suggest more than 5 cameras, but that is up to the homeowner. As the number of cameras increase, so does the thought of using a PoE system instead of a WIP system. A PoE system may be best in this situation because it will not have the same negative impact on the homeowners’ internet connection.

Also, a PoE system may be better if the homeowner decides to add more cameras in the future. Finally, the cost per camera becomes much more PoE friendly as the number of cameras increase.

Section guide

In general, you should have security cameras at the front door, backdoor, and garage, as these are the three places criminals use the most to enter a home. 

In addition to these three locations, you should ask the following questions when deciding on the location of the cameras

  • Will these cameras peer into a neighbors’ home?
  • What part of your house does not receive natural light a night?
  • Are there any obstructions in or around your home?
  • Does the architecture of your house create any blind spots?
  • Will any of these cameras overlap/ capture the same locations?

These questions should help you determine the exact number of cameras you will need for your home. 

What are the homeowners’ needs?

The homeowner would like a low maintenance system that notifies them when there is motion of the property. Also, the homeowner would like to receive messages to their phone if motion is detected. The homeowner would like to ability to quickly and easily review recorded video if necessary.

The homeowner would like the option for continuous recording, but it isn’t a deal breaker.

Recommendation

Based on the feedback from the homeowner, it is clear that he homeowner is looking for a PoE system that offers push notifications and is easy to use.

Section guide

In this section, you will need to look for something that is easy to use and meets most of your needs. Once you find 5 of these systems, read product reviews and watch YouTube videos to get an idea of how difficult setup, integration, and other features may be. Look for reviews that were completed 6 months or more after the initial purchase.

Important features

The homeowner listed the top 5 most important features below:

  • Motion sensor
  • Video quality
  • Night vision
  • Live viewing
  • Continuous recording

The homeowner also listed the five least important features below:

  • Cloud storage
  • Waterproof
  • Power source
  • Two-way audio
  • Doorbell

Recommendation

There are a number of different security camera systems that meet the short features list created by the homeowner. It this stage, it is a matter of making sure the systems you find are within your price range and have cameras that meet your needs. 

Section guide

In this section, make a list of 10 features you’d like to see in a security camera system. Rank your list from least to most important. Next, search for security systems that fit as many of these features as possible. 

Not sure which features are available? I’ve created a list of 22 security features from my least to most favorite. Check it out here.

Camera types

The homeowner does not have a preference as to which type of camera is used. In fact, the homeowner is ok with cameras that can be seen from more than 100 feet away. The only thing that is important to the homeowner is that the camera has multiple abilities and features.

Recommendation

I suggest that the homeowner uses bullet cameras from this security system. Bullet cameras will provide everything the homeowner needs including visibility for deterring criminals, night vision, and wide field of view.

Section guide

In general, there are only six types of cameras. Of those six, only four are used in neighborhoods. The remaining two cameras are most commonly found in commercial and military locations. 

The type of camera you choose will depend on the features you need, and the overall system you select. Also, it is possible to mix and match security cameras, just make sure your system is capable of working with different camera types. 

Local laws

There are no local, state, or federal laws that prevent the homeowner from purchasing a security camera system. While there are no laws preventing installing security cameras, it is best practice to do the following:

  • Do not point a camera directly into a neighbor’s window
  • Do not shine lights of any kind into a neighbor’s window
  • Let the neighbor know they are recording
  • Show the neighbor the camera that may directly impact them

Recommendation

It is very important to know and understand the laws that apply to your security cameras. Also, while there may not be an criminal laws associated with your security cameras, you may be liable in civil situations. 

In additional to following the local, state, and federal laws, follow the good neighbor principles as outlined above.

Section guide

This section may be the most important section of the buying guide. Check with all levels of government to ensure that it is legal to have security cameras. Start your research with the local government and work your way out. 

Also, I recommend staying up to date with any changes in the law as it applies to personal security cameras. Just because it was legal in the past, does not guarantee that it will always be legal.

How far does the camera need to record at night?

The house sits between two other houses in a residential neighborhood. In addition, the backyard is anchored by 5 other yards, the cameras do not need to have a large night viewing distance. The night viewing distance needs to be no greater than 65 feet.

One possible concern is the lighting for the cameras. Three of the five cameras will be placed around lighting, the other two, however, will not. The lack of lighting will result in a black and white picture that can make it slightly more difficult to identify faces.

One solution is to install lights around the location of the cameras. Another option is to install a camera with a higher number of LEDs that will have a better time picking up objects.

Recommendation

Because the home has neighbors on both sides, it is not necessary to have a camera with a long night vision distance. Finding a camera that has a night vision viewing distance of 65 feet or more should work for this homeowner.

Section guide

You should ask yourself the following questions when considering night viewing distance:

  • What are you attempting to see at night?
  • Why is night viewing important?
  • Do you live in a populated area where the distance between houses is short, or do you live in an unpopulated area?
  • Are there any objects that will block the camera?
  • Are you willing to sacrifice night viewing distance for other features?

What viewing angle do I need?

Due to the number of cameras and the location of each camera, wide viewing angles are not overly important. The cameras will need a minimum of 90 degrees viewing angle to capture and record objects.

What will be important is the height of each camera. Most of the cameras will be placed around 9 feet above the ground. However, at least one camera will be position closer to 10 feet above the ground. The camera overseeing the garage/ driveway will need to be placed higher to provide a better viewing angle of the driveway.

Recommendation

Each camera needs a viewing angle of at least 90 degrees. This should not a problem as we are planning on installing bullet cameras throughout the property. The easiest way to determine the viewing angle needed is to take a picture of the area, then fold a piece of paper to the angle needed. If the paper is shaped like a “V” than a 90-degree camera will work. If the camera is shaped like an “L” then a 90-degree or wider camera will work. If the paper is flat, then a camera that has a viewing angle of 180-degrees or larger will work.

Section guide

Viewing angle is also an important aspect of security camera selection. In general, the wider the better. Here is a quick guide for selecting the right field of view for your needs, no protractor needed:

  • Hold a piece of scrap paper up to the area you want covered. If you don’t have paper, your hands will work as well.
  • If the paper looks like a “V” or “L” a camera with a 90-degree viewing angle will work.
  • If your paper is wider than an “L” but not flat, use a 180-degree camera.
  • If your paper looks like an upside down “U” use a 270-degree camera.
  • If your paper looks like an “O” use a Pan/ Tilt/ Zoom camera.
  • If your paper looks like any other letter, start over.

As I mentioned, wider is usually better, but don’t sacrifice other features for a wider viewing angle.

How will events be stored?

The homeowner would like recordings stored in a safe, secure location. While the homeowner doesn’t mind having the recordings stored locally, they are concerned that the recording device could be taken if a criminal does enter the house.

Another concern is the amount of storage management the homeowner will have to worry about. She has enough experience with computers to know that once hard drives are full, they can no longer store recordings.

Also, the homeowner is a bit hesitant to pay an additional cost to store recordings online because of the additional cost. If there is a free online storage solution, then that is the preferred solution. If there isn’t a free option, she will accept local storage.

Recommendation

Personally, I like having everything stored in the cloud. However, it might be best to have a storage process where things are stored locally on a hard drive, then moved to the cloud. This process can be done manually, or automatically through paid software. The homeowner could use free services if they pan on deleting saved recordings after a few months.

The homeowner also has the option of saving files to a folder, then saving the folder as a compressed folder to save additional space. This method may be too difficult a task to complete without the assistance of a tech-savvy friend.

Section guide

In general, there are three ways to record events: DVR/ NVR, cloud or SD card. You should ask yourself the following questions regarding storage options.

  • What are the risks to storing files locally (DVR/ NVR)?
  • What are the risks of storing recordings to the cloud?
  • How long do I plan to keep recordings?
  • How much will it cost to purchase new hard drives?
  • What are the costs associated with cloud storage?
  • Where do you place old hardware?

How much are you looking to spend?

The homeowner would like to spend the least amount possible while maximizing their dollar. They would like to spend no more than $500 not including installing for this system. The homeowner is not willing to spend more than $500 for the system needed.

If it is possible to find a security camera system that is less than $500, that is preferred, but $500 is a hard limit.

Recommendation

The price limit should be more than enough to find a quality system for this homeowner. We may need to sacrifice a few features, but we should be able to find a PoE system that meets most of the homeowners’ needs and stay under the price cap.

One option you have is buying fewer cameras and upgrading over time. If you are installing a wired system, ask the installer to run wires to places you plan to install cameras. Then, over time, add cameras to those locations.

Questions to consider include:

  • Is this system upgradable?
  • Am I buying this system because of the cost, or because this system has all features I need?
  • Can I afford to purchase a better system in a few months?

Section guide

It will be possible to find a camera at just about any price with enough shopping. Also, just because it is the most expensive, doesn’t mean that is the best system for you. You should figure out what features are most important to you first, then find a system, instead of finding a system based on cost.

How important is picture quality?

As previously mentioned, video quality to one of the most important features for the homeowner. The homeowner is looking for high definition video quality. While the homeowner may not know the available resolutions, they do know they do not want “yesterday’s technology.”

The homeowner does not care about having 4K. If a system can be installed that has 4K and is less than $500, great, but it is not necessary to have “next generation” technology.

Recommendation

The homework should purchase a high definition camera. These cameras are basically a standard in the industry. While there are still some standard definition cameras available, most of the new cameras on the market should be in HD.

Also, 4K is not a necessity, yet. I am unsure how will 4K works with nigh vision and other features. In addition, 4K quality comes with a premium price. While it will be nice in the future, we don’t need it for this home.

Section guide

As I’ve mentioned, high definition is basically the industry standard. Even within high definition, you will find different resolutions. These resolutions should not matter much because most newer TVs upconvert resolution.

If video quality is very important to you, check the specs of the camera. Some companies will attempt marketing trips to make you believe the video quality to better than it is. Look for words like “near” and “as good as” when making your buying decision.

Also, purchase the video quality that’s the standard now, with the thought of upgrading in the future. I do not know if 4K cameras will last over time the same way HD and Sd have. As of now, anything greater than 4K is a waste of money.

Is the homeowner willing to pay an additional monthly fee?

The homeowner does not want to pay an additional monthly fee. The homework currently pays a monthly fee of other security services and does not want the additional cost.

Recommendation

As I’ve mentioned a few times, the best solution for this homeowner is to use a PoE system with a physical hard drive. Then once per month, compress the files and move them to a free cloud storage. The only problem is that we don’t know how long a cloud storage will remain free. At any time, the cloud provider may decide to reduce or eliminate the free storage option.

Section guide

This section tends to sneak up on buyers. Many people don’t realize that the camera they’ve purchased has a limited free cloud storage option, and to have unlimited cloud storage, they will need to purchase a monthly. This puts customers in a difficult spot because they don’t want to pay for premium services. But it can be too difficult to manually move records from cloud storage to a local drive.

Before purchasing a system, make sure you are aware of additional premium services that are “required” for the system. Also, research the difficulty level of moving records from the cloud to your local hard drives.

Internet connectivity?

The homeowner does not want internet connectivity if possible. They realize that the more things that are connected to the internet, the more opportunity for problems. After a brief explanation, the homeowner realizes that the system must be connected to the internet to enable some of the features that were considered important.

The homeowner is now reconsidering her options for internet connectivity. She has contacted her internet service provider for options to upgrade and change service.

Recommendation

The customer must use a PoE system to take advantage of all the features they are requesting. The homeowner is looking for the following features that must use the internet:

  • Push notifications
  • Live remote viewing
  • Mobile applications

Section guide

Almost all systems have a way to connect to the internet. For example, newer CCTVs have ethernet ports that can be used to connect to the world wide web. If you don’t want your system online, simply disconnect the ethernet cord that connects to your router.

If you are concerned about internet security, take these basic steps to reduce the chances of your security camera system from being hacked.

Final recommendation

Based on all the information provided, this homeowner should purchase a PoE system that has at least 8 channels. Each channel represents one camera. I recommend purchasing a system that has 16 channels just in case you want to add more cameras in the future.

I would not recommend a WIP camera for this come due to the number of cameras needed, and the cost associated with those cameras. While you may be able to find a WIP camera that meets your needs from a cost and camera standpoint, those cameras may lack the features requested.

Section guide

If you follow these steps you should find a system that has the features you need, at the price you want, and make you happy for years to come.

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