What Is The Best Resolution For a Security Camera (4k vs alternatives)

The TLDR answer is, the higher the resolution, the better. If you have a 2MP (1080p) camera, zooming in will not reveal any extra detail. Hence if you want to be able to zoom in on faces and number plates while preserving the quality of the footage, having a higher resolution camera is a must.

When buying a security camera, you’ll want to consider the resolution. The higher the resolution, the more detailed your footage will be. We compare 720p vs 1080p vs Vs 4k vs 4MP vs 5MP below.

A lot of security cameras that claim to be high resolution are still unable to capture good quality pictures or videos. Pictures and videos taken by these are often blurry; you can’t even identify an intruder’s face or read license plates.

This makes you wonder, “What is the best resolution for a security camera?” Well, the TLDR answer is, the higher the resolution, the better. But there is more to resolution than this.

What Is Security Camera Resolution?

cam resolution

Security camera resolution is the total number of pixels present in a sensor of the security camera. Accordingly, the resolution of a security camera also determines the number of pixels there are in the image.

The resolution of security cameras is usually measured in megapixels. One megapixel is equal to one million pixels. The resolution of images, however, is usually measured as a spatial resolution which is the height and width of the picture measured in pixels.

For example, a camera with 2 megapixels (MP) resolution captures images that have 2MP resolution. These images have dimensions of 1920 x 1080. These numbers give the number of rows and number of columns of pixels in the image. An image captured by a 2MP camera has 1920 rows of pixels horizontally and 1080 columns of pixels vertically. Multiplying these two numbers, you get the total number of pixels which is exactly 2,073,600 pixels. Spatial resolution is usually identified by the number of pixel rows (picture height), and the number of pixel columns (picture width) is implied and fixed for each resolution. A 2MP image can be said to have a resolution of 1080p.

For security cameras, the most common resolutions are 2MP, 4MP, 5MP, and 8MP. These security cameras capture footage that have resolutions of 1080p, 1440p, 1920p, and 2160p (4K) respectively.

Security Camera Resolution Comparison Chart

The following chart compares different security camera resolutions, their image sizes, and their aspect ratios.

Camera ResolutionSpatial ResolutionNumber of PixelsAspect Ratio
2MP1920 × 10802,073,60016:9
4MP2560 × 14403,686,40016:9
5MP2560 × 19205,017,6004:3
8MP (4K)3840 × 21608,294,40016:9

720p vs 1080p vs Vs 4k vs 4MP vs 5MP: Which to Choose

choose resolution

In every case, a higher resolution security camera is better than a lower resolution security camera. But there are also some nuanced differences that make 4K security cameras better than others.

Image Quality

image quality

More pixels mean better resolution. An image or video captured by a high-resolution security camera is more detailed and has more information. This allows you to identify faces and read license plates even at a distance.

You might be wondering, “4K? Who has a 4K security monitor?” True, no one views security footage on a 4K smart TV. But the primary purpose of this high resolution is to enable you to zoom in or enlarge recorded footage. Zooming in on low-resolution footage does not reveal any more information. It lowers the quality, and you are still unable to see what you wanted to see. A 4K security camera, however, allows you to zoom in without losing quality. (1)

Live Stream Resolution

livestream resolution

You can easily stream footage from a high-resolution security camera on a low-resolution screen. Live footage from a 4K security camera can be viewed on a 4K screen, a 1920p screen, a 1440p screen, a 1080p screen, and so on. Any high-resolution footage can be viewed on a low-resolution screen. You can zoom in on different areas in real-time and still view footage in high resolution if you have a high-resolution camera.

One big issue though to keep in mind is that because of the large size of the data transfer if your using a wifi camera these higher resolutions may cause lag to occur if your internet cannot support them.

Field of View

field of view

As you can see in the picture, a 5MP camera has more pixels than a 4MP camera but only vertically. There is no gain in horizontal resolution. However, for most security cameras, horizontal coverage is more important than vertical coverage. Hence, the extra resolution of a 5MP camera is not useful in a lot of cases.

As you can see in the resolution chart, 4MP cameras are actually 3.6MP cameras but are advertised as 4MP. Lower resolution limits how much you can zoom in before the quality starts to decline. If you have a 2MP camera and your monitor is 1080p, there is no point in zooming. The camera does not have any more detail to offer.

4K security cameras are 8MP. Horizontally, this resolution of a 4K camera is two times higher than both 5MP and 4MP security cameras, allowing you to zoom twice as much and view twice as clearly. The resolution of a 4K camera is also four times higher than a 2MP camera.

Bandwidth & Storage Consumption


Higher resolution cameras deliver higher resolution footage which is composed of more information. This means that a higher resolution camera will require higher bandwidth and more storage space.

What situation is each resolution best for

Having a high-resolution camera can never do you any harm. Hence, a 4K security camera is the ideal choice for every situation. But practically, there are some situations where you do not need a high-resolution camera. For instance, if you wish to place a camera to view the general movement and do not need much detail, a 2MP camera would work for you.

If you do need high-quality footage, but you want the footage to have a higher resolution vertically (you want more vertical coverage), a 5MP camera will deliver footage almost as detailed as a 4K camera.

4MP and 5MP cameras will work for you if you need moderately detailed footage. However, keep in mind that 4MP is actually just 3.6MP, and 5MP does not deliver any better horizontal resolution than 4MP.

Analog Security Camera Resolution

analog camera

Analog cameras send data differently than digital cameras. Since these cameras are derived from old CRT analog TV technology, the resolutions of these cameras tend to be significantly lower than digital cameras. (2)

Analog Security Camera Resolution Comparison Chart

Here is a chart giving the resolutions of different analog security cameras.

Camera ResolutionImage Resolution
QCIF176 × 120
CIF352 × 240
D1 or 4CIF704 × 480
960H960 × 480
720p AHD 1280 × 720 (720p)
1080p AHD 1920 × 1080 (1080p)

High-resolution security cameras are better than lower-resolution alternatives. They deliver more detailed footage, which allows you to zoom in real-time even in recorded footage without dropping the quality of the footage. 4K security cameras stand out as the best choice because of their significantly higher resolution and aspect ratio that is suitable for security cameras.

(1) Zooming in – https://photographylife.com/what-is-zoom-in-photography
(2) analog – https://www.britannica.com/technology/analog-signal

About John Fox

ebbb364ee14268bd3b77496cab3d1d78?s=90&d=mm&r=gJohn Fox has worked as a security consultant for over 20 years. During his time in the industry, he's learned about what it takes to ensure your home and family are always safe.

With Safe Now, he's taken those two decades of experience and decided to share it with others to help them figure out how to make the right choices for their businesses and families.

John writes tips and guides to prevent crimes, as well as product recommendations, and tips for what to do in case of an emergency and how to protect yourself at all times.