What to Look for When Buying a Home Security Camera System

Do you want to buy security cameras for your business or home but don’t know where to start? Are you feeling unsure about finding a new home security camera system? If that’s the case — you’ve come to the right place.

A long time ago, I was in the same position as you. I had no idea which reviews to trust or who to turn to for advice. I also didn’t know which types of home security camera systems even existed or which features I actually required.

Now, after years of thorough research, I’ve successfully created the ultimate beginner’s guide to security cameras. I want to share this knowledge with all of you so that the next time you go shopping, you don’t feel overwhelmed. Without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Types of Home Security Cameras Systems

Types Of Security Camera

Before you settle on any home security camera system, think about where and why you’re installing it. For example, do you want to ward off thieves and burglars from your business? Maybe you need it to monitor your kids or pets while you’re away from home?

Answering such questions is a crucial step toward knowing what to look for when buying a home security camera system. Also, you’ll be able to determine exactly what type of home security camera system you need.

Indoor Cameras

installing an indoor video CCTV cameraIf monitoring the inside of your home or business is your top priority, you’ll have to choose from four different types of indoor cameras:

  • General indoor cameras — Most general indoor cams are plug and play systems that you can install in minutes. They also usually come as wireless or hardwired systems. Some of the features that general indoor cameras have include: motion detection sensors, night vision, two-way audio, and smart notifications.
  • Nanny cams — These cameras come as hidden or exposed types and they’ll help you keep an eye on your family members or the people working in your home. They’re perfectly legal, as long as you don’t install them in any private spaces, like bathrooms.
  • Pet cams — If you want to know what your pets are up to while you’re away at work, pet cams might be the best option for you. Some of them even come with unique features like laser lights and treat dispensers.
  • Baby monitors — Most baby monitors on the market right now have the basic options like pan, tilt, and zoom, as well as audio. Nowadays, you can also buy those that can play lullabies or have humidity sensors.

Editor Sidenotes: Are you looking for an outdoor security camera that is reviewed and recommended by experts? here is our guide on the best outdoor wireless security camera system with DVR as we dig deeper into each product and share with your the insights and data we found.

Outdoor Cameras

Camcorder outdoor useTo secure the entire perimeter of your home or record any burglars or thieves, you need to get outdoor security cameras. Even though their purposes might seem straightforward, they also come with a wide variety of features and functions.

The three most common types of home security systems for the outdoors include:

  • General outdoor cameras — These will be your first line of defense against burglars. You can get them with different video resolutions, useful features, and weatherproof certifications. They usually have a much wider field of view than indoor cameras and help you capture your entire home.
  • Floodlight cameras — Floodlight cams have built-in motion sensors and as soon as those go off, the cameras will flash a beam of light. On most newer models, you can adjust the sensitivity settings, so that they aren’t triggered by pets or trees.
  • Video doorbell cams — If your packages haven’t been making their way to you, you might want to install a video doorbell cam. A smart doorbell will help protect your entryway and the setup process is usually fairly easy. In case your package ever gets stolen, you’ll have video evidence to show the police and help them catch whoever did it.

CCTV Cameras

If you’re considering buying CCTV cameras, you need to be aware of how they work and what the best environment for them is. By figuring out these things, you’re one step closer to knowing what to look for in a home security system.

  • Bullet Cameras Bullet cameras come as both wired and wireless and they can even be used underwater. What’s more, they’re usually weather-resistant and can withstand extreme conditions. Due to their unique shape and size, bullet cameras can easily blend into any environment. Also, they allow you to store footage to a PC, DVD, or VCR. However, since wireless bullet cameras have to connect to a Wi-Fi network, they can easily be hacked. Furthermore, most of them don’t have an auto-rotate function and often experience transmission problems.
  • Dome Cameras Similar to bullet cameras, dome models also feature a sleek design and you can install them indoors and outdoors. They usually have durable covers and some sort of protective casing on the lens, and they are almost unbreakable. Dome cameras also have wide viewing angles and are tamper-proof. On the other hand, dome cameras can be more difficult to install compared to bullet models. Also, they might not have as many features as the previous type.
  • Pan, Tilt, and Zoom Cameras — For those of you who have a large home or property, the pan, tilt, and zoom cameras have the viewing angle you need. Most of them have motion detection sensors and they can automatically track movement. You can also set them up so that they start recording or saving footage only when someone trips those sensors. Even though PTZ cams are mostly used in airports and retail stores, they usually don’t have a high image quality. In fact, if you want to record in 720 p or higher, you might not want to go for these.
  • Box Cameras — Box cameras are the traditional, rectangular-shaped models that can be installed both indoors and outdoors. You can easily customize their lens or housing to better fit your needs or weather conditions. In fact, you can get either a focal or fixed lens, depending on your filming environment. However, just like PTZ cams, these also don’t offer high-quality video resolution. So if you need to make out the faces of people around your home and property, you’d be better off with either bullet or dome cameras.
  • IP Cameras — Internet protocol (IP) cameras transmit their digital signals over your home network. You can get them as wired, wire-free, and wireless camera options and watch the feed from multiple devices. What’s more, you can easily live-stream the footage on your phone and they usually have tons of different features. One thing to keep in mind about IP cameras is that someone could easily hack into their feeds. Also, their in-video analytic software can sometimes fail for no apparent reason.

Wired, Wire-Free, and Wireless Cameras

an architect who reviews his plan for installing all types of security camera at his clients home

When buying a home security system, you also have to consider what kind of power source you want. These days, you can choose between wired, wireless, and wire-free cameras.

Now, wired systems need an electrical outlet, internet connection, and video transmission to work. They are pretty sturdy and reliable, and the perfect choice for a large home or property.

However, you would need to call for professional help when installing them and they’re susceptible to power outages.

On the other hand, most wireless camera systems come with rechargeable batteries and are fairly easy to install. What’s more, the majority are simple plug and play systems and you can easily put them up or take them down if you move.

I wouldn’t recommend them for large homes or offices as you would also need to buy a Wi-Fi extender. Adding this or an extension cord can seriously drive up the price of the entire system.

Wire-free cameras are pretty similar to wireless ones, except they don’t need a power cord to work. That means they aren’t affected by power outages in the slightest as they have rechargeable batteries.

What’s more, wire-free cameras are extremely easy to install and usually feature a sleek design. However, using several features at the same time can drain their batteries extremely fast.

Editor Side Notes: Are you looking to save up some electricity bills while having a 24/7 security surveillance? here is our guide on the best solar powered security camera as we uncover the CCTV that will help you in saving the bills and still be able to monitor and keep your family safe from burglars.

DIY vs. Monitored

Most people I know are put off buying a home security system because they don’t want to commit to a long contract with a company they don’t trust. They don’t want a video surveillance company knowing everything that goes on in their homes and I certainly understand why.

However, you should know that nowadays you can buy DIY camera systems that are usually extremely cheap and easy to install. What’s more, they don’t require signing a mile-long terms of service agreement.

Instead, with a DIY system, you control which features you want, what resolution you need, and when and how you receive smart notifications. On the flip side, when you get a notification that someone has tripped your motion sensors, you’re the one that has to call the police.

So even though the DIY systems come with a long list of perks, they do have a pretty big trade-off. I would recommend going DIY only if you have your phone with you at all times and can respond quickly to a possible intruder alert.

Home Security Camera System Features

Video Surveillance

Before you can learn how to choose a security camera system for your home, you have to consider which features are important to you.

Nowadays, companies are always trying to one-up each other, so they keep adding different bells and whistles to their home security camera systems. But not all of them might do exactly what you’d want them to.

Video Quality

For the next part of my security camera guide, I wanted to talk about why understanding different aspects of video quality is so important. In addition to high resolution, you have to take into account the frame rates and iris. All of these factors will determine if the perp on your property gets caught.

  • ResolutionResolution is measured in the number of pixels an image has, and it’s usually quoted as width x height. The most popular resolutions for video are 640×360, but the number can go as high as 1920×1080. I know your intuition tells you that the higher the resolution, the better the security camera. While I can’t argue with that, unless you have a wired system or a 12,000 mAh battery, it’s probably not worth it. If you don’t want to charge your batteries every two weeks, I recommend getting a camera with a 720p resolution. It’s still clear enough so that you can make out faces, but it won’t eat up your battery.
  • Frame Rates — Frame rate is the speed at which the images in a video are shown, and it’s usually expressed as frames per second. Even though a higher rate will record a better quality video, it’ll also take up more room in your storage space. The minimum speed to capture video is 24fps, and it’s what TV shows and movies have been using for ages. However, if you want to see more details in your footage, you could go up to 30 fps.


A camera iris controls how much light comes through your camera’s lens. When the light hits your camera, the iris sends it to the image sensors, where it gets recorded and creates a video. You can usually pick between:

  • Fixed — With this one, you can’t adjust the opening that lets the light in. In fact, a fixed iris only works in environments where the lighting is always the same.
  • Manual — By physically moving the iris, you can adjust the camera’s opening and let more light in. However, unless you want to disassemble the entire system to change it, it’s best you set it up while installing the cameras.
  • Auto — An auto iris will shift the opening on its own based on the amount of light it’s receiving. Even though it’s more expensive than the two previous types, it’s usually crucial for outdoor cameras.
  • P — The “P” here stands for “precise” because this iris combines the functionality of the auto with your camera’s software. Thus, it can create a high-quality video and a wide viewing angle.

Security Camera Range and Field of View

Field of view of a CCTVAnother key part of your security camera specs is how wide the camera range or viewing angle is.

Now, if you’re only buying an indoor security system, it doesn’t need to be too wide. In fact, you can usually get away with an 80–100-degree field of view.

However, if you’re installing it outdoors, the range needs to be much wider so that you can see your entire property and home. You need to look for security cameras with pan, tilt, and zoom capabilities or wide-angle lenses. There are also a lot of cameras that have a 360-degree field of view and can capture larger properties.

Also, you should always look for the distance the device claims to reach. For exterior use, anywhere between 65–100 ft should be far enough. But some companies now offer an extended view, so keep an eye out for that.

Video Storage

Different home video security systems can have all kinds of video storage options and you need to figure out which one works for you before buying a new one.

Hard Drive — Most wired systems save their footage on hard drives that are usually built into your computer. Of course, if you have a higher resolution system, you can also get an external hard drive and amp up the storage space.

Now, all hard drives are packaged with security systems that can be either digital or network video records:

  • DVR — This system connects to analog cameras using BNC connectors and a coaxial cable. You can power your cameras with one power supply each or use a multi-camera power source.
  • NVR — On the other hand, an NVR will connect to your cameras using an Ethernet cable. You can use it to power multiple cameras at the same time.

The main benefit of saving footage on a hard drive is that it doesn’t need internet access. You can easily plug your phone or device and backup or retrieve the footage any time you want.

Also, unlike with cloud storage, no one can hack your hard drive and alter or delete your footage.

Using a hard drive instead of cloud storage can also be the cheaper option. Even though most companies offer free storage at first, if you wanted to upgrade, you’d have to pay a monthly subscription fee. Keep in mind that the fee could set you back a couple of hundred bucks.

On the other hand, buying a 5-terabyte hard drive would be a one-time purchase of around $100.

That being said, the one huge drawback hard drives face is that they’re susceptible to physical threats. They can easily be stolen, misplaced, or damaged by fire and water.

Memory Card

In addition to cloud storage, some companies might provide you with built-in memory cards. They work similarly to hard drives so you’d always have a physical copy of the footage from your home security camera system.

However, they have much less storage space than hard drives and cloud storage. Every time they fill up, you have to take them out and replace them with new, empty ones.

So even though memory cards cost less than hard drives, taking them out every few weeks can be a real hassle. What’s more, they’re also susceptible to physical damage and you could easily lose them.

Cloud Storage

Most wireless and wire-free cams connect to your Wi-Fi network and save footage to the cloud. Depending on how much storage you need, most companies let you upgrade your storage for a monthly fee.

What’s more, you can access the videos on your cloud no matter where you are, as long as you have an internet connection. You can even live-stream footage and see what’s going on in your home at all times.

Unlike with memory cards or hard drives, your videos will be totally safe from any physical harm. But as I mentioned earlier, there is a chance that someone could hack into the feed and tamper with your footage.

Fortunately, most reputable companies nowadays also offer encryption features with their storage. So by paying a couple of extra bucks every month, you don’t have to worry about someone deleting or changing your clips.

Motion Detection Sensors

Detection SensorsOne of the most important features all home security camera systems should have is motion detection sensors. As soon as someone trips your sensors, the system should send instant alerts to your smartphone or email address.

If you don’t want to keep recording all day long, you can set up your system so that it starts recording when it detects motion. It can also begin blasting a high-pitched alarm as soon as it detects something. So if you have wireless cameras or a live streaming feature, you can immediately watch the clips on your browser or app.

However, one of the biggest complaints most customers have about their motion detection sensors is that they’re overly sensitive. They will pick up on dogs and trees swaying in distance and send you a smart notification every time. That’s why a lot of people end up turning off this feature, which is a potential safety risk.

Luckily, as products keep evolving, companies are starting to include features like smart motion zones and sensitivity options. With these, you’ll be able to control exactly what you see and when you see it.

Night Vision

Some automated home security systems will also have a night vision feature and IR sensors. Even though cameras that don’t have it will keep recording during the night, the image quality will be extremely poor.

In fact, in most instances, you won’t be able to make anything going around in your home. So if you want to keep your image quality and resolution in low-light environments, you need a product that has night vision.

Remote Viewing and Live Streaming

I also wanted to include live streaming as part of my home security guide since it’s, in my opinion, one of the most important security camera options.

If you’re not home often but need to see what your kids or pets are up to, live streaming is the only way you can do it.

Keep in mind that live streaming all day will eat up a lot of your battery and fill your storage pretty fast. So I’d recommend using it if you have a wired home security camera system or when it’s absolutely necessary.

The App

When asking yourself what security system you should get, you must never make your final decision before testing and reviewing its app.

With the system’s app, you can control your smart notifications, set up motion zones, and rewatch footage.

Unfortunately, even the best video surveillance company can make an app that’s not up to par. It’ll crash often or you won’t be able to use all of the features, and your home security camera system can easily become almost useless.

That’s why it’s key that, before you buy any system, you check different reviews of the app. See what other customers are saying about it and how well it works for them.

How to Choose a Home Security System — Other Things to Consider

security cameras install

If you want to take advantage of every feature that security cameras offer, you need to think about other factors, like installation and durability.


To start, most wire-free and wireless cameras are fairly easy to install and come as plug and play systems. They usually come with magnetic mounts that you can set up yourself. What’s more, they don’t require any hardwiring or drilling.

On the other hand, a wired home security camera system is more difficult to install and you’d need to call a professional to do the job. By doing so, the cost of your entire system would increase and you might not be able to afford some extra features.


Again, most wireless security systems usually just rely on a Wi-Fi network to work and you don’t need to plug them into an outlet. Also, your footage gets sent to a cloud, where you can watch it anytime you want. You can even share access with others using your app or allow them to live-stream videos.


If you want to install your home security camera system outdoors, it’s key that it be weatherproof. With that said, the companies that sell this type of equipment should have either IP-65 or IP-66 certification. That means your cameras will be able to withstand harsh weather conditions and extreme temperature changes.

The Home Security Camera System Company

Before you commit to signing a long contract with a company you know nothing about, you need to do some research on them. To start, check their previous track record and look at man looking up from working with serversthe customer reviews on their websites, as well as other marketplaces.

You should also contact the company before buying any product from them. By doing so, you can see if they might have any special deals or offers at the moment.

Customer Support

Another great way to learn more about a security company is by contacting their customer support. Since a ton of companies outsources these services to other countries and companies, they might not always be up to par with your standards.

As most companies also have live chats on their websites, you can send them a few questions there and see how quickly they respond.

Wrapping Up

I hope you’ve enjoyed my home security camera system buying guide. If you have, please consider leaving a like or comment down below!

This entire guide entails information about security cameras that you might not find anywhere else online.

As you can see, understanding security cameras and how they work can save you a lot of money and time. In addition to the camera type, make sure to pay attention to the image quality, power source, smart notifications, and storage.

Also, when thinking about what to look for in a security camera, consider your priorities, desires, and environment.

If you only want to install the home security camera system outside, check for IP certification and a wide viewing range. However, if you want to put it indoors, look for the two-way audio features, as well as motion detection sensors.

Lastly, if you’re getting a monitored home security system, make sure you know who your provider is. Select a contract and terms that work best for you and your family and home, without making any compromises.

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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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