How To Tell If A Security Camera Is On (Top 10 Ways)

A common question I get after installing a security system is the frequent call from users worried if their security camera is on and how can you tell if a security camera is on. This question usually comes up during or after a power outage or from people trying to protect their privacy and debating whether a camera in their area is filming them.

In general, the easiest way to check if security cameras are on is by seeing if the mounted small LED is lit up, however, if it is not this can still mean it’s on because only half of the security cameras come with these LEDs.

Quick Checklist

Indicator If YesIf No
Is the camera moving/ Panning or tilting?100% chance it’s on (maybe a fake camera though)Move to Next Check
Is there a light in the led?100% chance it’s onMove to the next check
Check Ir Lights for light100% chance it’s onMove to the next check
Use a bug detector to find an electromagnetic signal50% chance it’s on 50% its interference or other circuits100% chance it’s off if no signal
Use a phone app detectorThese apps arent very reliable 25% ChanceThese apps arent very reliable 25% chance
Check WiresIt may still be wirelessIt may still be wireless
Check Wifi ConnectionMay be wired without wifiMay be wired without wifi

Check if the Camera is Moving When It’s a PTZ Camera

PTZ cameras

PTZ cameras or Pan Tilt Zoom cameras are a type of camera that moves in all three dimensions. They are used by law enforcement, security, and surveillance personnel to gain a better view of an area. 

A lot of these cameras are also built on motion sensing technology that makes sure that they follow different areas when they start recording sensitive motion movement. The easiest way to see if these are off is by throwing or putting larger objects in their vicinity and seeing if they move with the motion. Also, some PTZ cameras that do not detect motion and just move around naturally can be suspected to be off when there is no movement.

Usually, you can tell if a camera is a PTZ camera by looking at it. PTZ cameras will have more advanced metal parts and joints that look like they can swivel and move. Also if you’re having a hard time telling the difference you can look at the particular model of the camera [a lot of them say the brand right on top of it] and do a quick search online to see if that particular model is a PTZ camera.

Check the LEDs for Light

CCTV camaera red light

These are the type of LEDs that are fixed in the dome on the front lens of a camera. It should be fairly easy to check these by looking at the LED and seeing if it is glowing. A lot of times it’s actually difficult to see this because sometimes the LED is a very light color. Keep in mind though not all security cameras come with an LED that indicates that they are on or off so the fact that you do not see the light does not mean that it’s not working but as the process of elimination if you do see the light it is certainly on unless it is a fake security camera.

Check for IR Lights

IR lights on security camera

These LEDs produce infrared light when they are powered, which is invisible to human eyes but can be seen by night-vision cameras or other detectors. It’s important to see that there is a difference between the power LED of the camera and infrared lights, the power LED is a normal light whereas infrared lights are not visible at night or to the human eye. One way around this is by taking a photo of the camera at this point your camera should be able to see the actual IR light signal.

Use a Bug Detector


An RF bug detector is a device that detects the presence of wireless signals in the surrounding environment. It works by using an antenna to receive and analyze radio frequencies from wireless devices such as cellular phones, GPS systems, and Bluetooth speakers. (1, 2)

you can easily use these RS detectors to see if the camera is getting an electric current to it. These detectors work by lighting up and producing a small noise once an electric field is more pronounced. By coming closer to your security camera with the bug detector you will see if the lights and sound are increasing and if not it could be a good indicator that there is no power coming to the device and thus it is off.

Use a Phone App Device Detector

phone app device detector

You can find hidden devices around you without any effort with this app! It uses magnetometer readings and notifies you when they are detected. This is a clever and easy-to-use app, when the magnetic field value is higher than usual, the app alerts the user to search for potential hidden electronic devices in the surroundings.

This app can be used to determine if the security camera has a reading coming from it signifying that it is on.

Check the Wires

cctv on the wall outside

A lot of times a security camera may be installed but the installer did not put in the wiring properly or there has been a malfunction or rainstorm that has disconnected. You can look at the camera and track down words following the wires to see if there is any disconnect or damage.

Installing cameras for over 15 years I have seen a lot of instances where this has happened like small animals chewing on the wires or thunderstorms and falling trees disconnecting these.

Check for Wi-Fi Connections

wifi connections

An easy way to find these cameras if they are wireless is by looking for a Wi-Fi connection. Models that have wireless connections will be obvious by the fact that you will not see any wiring coming from them.

Once you have established that the camera is a wireless camera you can use your phone to search for Wi-Fi connections.

It may be hard to figure out which one is from the camera but a lot of times manufacturers will have the brand name within the Wi-Fi connection or you could use the process of elimination and see if there are a bunch of Wi-Fi connections with names like [John’s house] or [John’s Samsung phone]. If there are no Wi-Fi connections around and the camera is a Wi-Fi camera it’s safe to assume that the cameras are off.

Check Your Monitoring System

CCTV monitoring systems

If this is your camera system then one of the easiest ways to check if it is on is by logging into your monitoring system and seeing if the screen is completely black and showing a disconnect a lot of these monitoring systems also give you the ability to do some diagnostics and see if the issue is a power issue at the actual camera or a possible wiring failure further down the line.


Do all security cameras have red blinking lights?

This is a common misconception where people think that because there is not a red light indicating that the camera is on that it means the camera is off. Actually the majority of security cameras these days don’t come with a red light through the red light does scare away some would-be burglars and intruders it is not the norm so do not expect this to give you the answer of whether the cameras are on or not.

Can I tell if the security camera is fake?

The discussion here gets a little harder since fake security cameras are built with the express purpose of not looking fake. There are even some CCTV cameras that have been repurposed to be used as fake security cameras so there would be almost no way to tell if these are fake or not. One of the most popular ways to discern if the camera is fake or not is by looking at the parts to see if they are cheap or decent and by looking at the wiring to see if it leads into the house or is completely missing.

Wrapping Up

Overall there are a ton of methods and a great checklist here to follow if you’re wondering how to know if a security camera is on. You need to keep in mind that if a security camera is on that does not necessarily mean that it is actually recording or not many security cameras can have their memory fall or be sent to standby and still be turned on so this may be another subject to keep in mind.

(1) GPS systems –
(2) Bluetooth –

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About John Fox

ebbb364ee14268bd3b77496cab3d1d78?s=90&d=mm&r=gCertifications: Certified Alarm Technician (CAT)
Education: Denver Security Academy
Lives In: Denver Colorado

John Fox has worked as a security consultant in Denver for over 20 years.
With Safe Now, he's taken those two decades of experience and decided to share it to help people online make the right security decisions for their businesses and families.

John writes security tips and guides, product recommendations, and prevention guides.

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