WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
How’s the View?
Even though 1080p is generally the standard resolution for cameras we’ve tested, there are benefits to cameras with higher resolution sensors. Few home security cameras have optical zoom lenses, but almost all have digital zoom, which crop and enlarge whatever the camera is recording. The more megapixels a camera sensor has, the more you can digitally zoom in and still be able to see things clearly.
Besides resolution, consider the field of view as well. All security cameras have wide-angle lenses, but not all angles are created equal. Depending on the lens’ field of view, it can see between 100 and 180 degrees. That’s a big range in terms of the camera’s vision cone. If you want to watch a large area, you should consider a camera with a very wide field of view. The ability to mechanically pan and tilt the camera is a great asset as well.
Most security cameras use Wi-Fi, but not all rely on it exclusively. Some add Bluetooth for local control and easier setup through your smartphone, while others incorporate separate home automation networking standards to interact with other devices, like Zigbee or Z-Wave. For most cameras, all you need to do is follow instructions on an app to connect them to your home network.
Once your camera is connected, you’ll almost certainly be able to access it through your smartphone or tablet. The vast majority of home security cameras today have mobile apps, and many focus entirely around those apps for doing everything. Some have web portals as well, which add flexibility for accessing your videos and alerts from anywhere.
The videos your camera records probably won’t be saved on the camera itself. Most home security cameras use cloud services to store and offer remote access to footage. Some models have microSD card slots so you can physically pull the video from them when you want to review footage, but this is a rare feature.
Keep in mind that not all cloud services are alike, even for the same camera. Depending on the manufacturer, your home security camera will store different amounts of footage for different lengths of time. This service is often a paid subscription on top of the price of the camera itself, though some cameras offer free cloud storage to varying degrees. Cloud storage service is usually offered in tiers, letting you choose between keeping footage for a week, a month, or more.
Most security cameras simply send you a notification when they detect any type of activity. Others can identify who—or what—is causing the commotion. The Nest Cam IQ and Nest Cam IQ Outdoor offer face-recognition technology, for instance. They automatically zoom in on people who enter the field of view, and send alerts when a face is recognized (they also tell you when an unrecognized face is spotted). These technologies help eliminate needless alerts.
What’s the Best Outdoor Security Camera?
If you want to monitor the rooms of your home, there are plenty of options. If you want to keep an eye on your driveway, backyard, or front porch, you need to be more choosy. Not all home security cameras are rugged enough to be mounted outdoors. You need a camera that’s waterproof and can stand up to rain, snow, and sun, and survive the extreme temperatures of summer and winter. Our current favorite camera for outdoor surveillance is the Netgear Arlo Pro 2. The Ring Spotlight Cam, meanwhile, also works as a bright outdoor light.