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In today’s busy world you don’t have time to check on your employees and customers every single second. And what to do when something happens? Only a closed-circuit television (CCTV) or a security camera can “tell” the most complete story and give you evidence to act upon.

There are many CCTV cameras out there and it’s so easy to get lost in the enormous amount of information available with all the different features and specifications.

In this article, we will guide you through different options and ratings that are used to classify your camera:

  1. Camera type
  2. Analog or digital CCTV?
  3. DVR or NVR?
  4. Video storage
  5. Cables and signal output
  6. Power source
  7. Image quality (resolution)
  8. Field of view (FOV)
  9. Types of Lenses
  10. Zoom (Optical vs Digital)
  11. Night Vision (Infrared)
  12. Frame rate – FPS (frames per second)
  13. Motion-activated recording
  14. Range of motion
  15. HDR (high dynamic range)
  16. Real-time (live) view
  17. Alerts and notifications
  18. Two-way audio
  19. Shared access
  20. Geofencing
  21. Housing
  22. Weather resistance
  23. Installation
  24. Warranty

1. Camera Type

Let’s start with what type of camera you think you need:

Bullet Camera

This is a common cylindrical camera, which is great for a specific area where no tilting or panning is required.

Dome Camera

This camera is also called – an eyeball camera. It is a great vandal-proof camera that offers a 360° view. Some dome cameras can also pan, tilt and zoom via remote control (or automatically), while others are stationary. Even though it’s a great outdoor camera, you can find it commonly used in commercial establishments, like stores and restaurants.

Turret Camera

This camera is sometimes called a “mini-dome” or a “flat-faced dome camera”. This is a very popular camera that is used both indoors or outdoors, with current models being powered by POE. Another technological value gives this camera – EXIR, which stands for EXtended InfraRed. EXIR Turret cameras are capable of better and more even illumination in dark conditions.

Pan Tilt Zoom Camera (PTZ)

This camera does exactly what its abbreviation PTZ stands for – it pans, tilts, and zooms, either automatically or by remote control. Interestingly enough, this camera is also popular for conferences and TV production studios.

PTZ is a great camera for highly secured areas with many cameras because it can pan, tilt and zoom to give you all the necessary information that other cameras could have missed.

2. Analog or digital CCTV?

Here are the most popular technology choices:

Analog security camera

This type of camera will record footage and send it directly to a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) via a coaxial cable. DVR then will convert your analog video into a digital version.

After that, the video could be either viewed on the monitor, which is connected to DVR or it could be sent to a computer network, which will allow you to view it remotely. These cameras typically cost less and there is no wireless capability.

Also, analog signals can’t be encrypted, which means there is an opportunity for easy hacking.

Digital (or IP) security camera

This type of camera records the analog image and immediately converts it into a digital one. The main difference between analog and digital security cameras is the resolution that they can handle.

Digital cameras have a much higher resolution range and better quality video.  Since your video stream is already digital, it could be sent directly from a camera to a computer network (while bypassing the DVR system) by using Ethernet (CAT5e / CAT6 cables).

If desired, your video could also be sent to NVR (network digital recorder) or a computer monitor (directly from the camera). IP digital security cameras have built-in encryption for the safety of your data.

3. DVR or NVR? 

Now, let’s discover which system is better for you:

DVR (Digital Video Recorder)

This type of recording system is used for analog cameras and its data is transmitted over coax cables. It captures, compresses, and converts analog signals into digital.

DVR also serves as “intelligence” behind the camera and has many useful functions, such as motion detection and e-mail alerts. After the analog signal is converted to digital, it can be broadcasted over a computer network (if the modem and router are connected) and you could access your video remotely via a mobile app.

NVR (Network Video Recorder)

Similar to the DVR system, NVR  captures, compresses, and records each camera’s signal. Data to this system is being sent by CAT5e or CAT6 cables directly from the camera.

NVR recorder is also quite “intelligent” and provides features like fast forward, search, zoom, and more. This recording system should only be used with IP security cameras since it does not convert analog signals.

It can also broadcast your video over LAN (or the internet) for remote viewing.

4. Video storage

Following are our recording options:

Video recorder

Both DVR (Digital Video Recorder) and NVR (Network Video Recorder) units are considered to be a “local” storage option and will store your data without any monthly fees. The hard drive capacity for these units can be quite large with an option to add more drives.

They are designed to work harder than normal systems, so the footage will be available whenever you need it. However, they do not store the full amount of data for a long time and you can set up the number of days it holds it before overwriting.

These are generally wired systems, but there are some wireless options available.

Internal memory card

This type of memory option is limited due to its small available sizes (64GB to 128GB). If you are interested in this type of storage option, look for a camera with SD card recording capabilities.

Works great if your camera records only motion-activated video.

Record to a PC

You can download a special software that is designed for this particular purpose, however, your PC or MAC needs to be on all the time without any interruptions like an update, or a restart.

If you really want this function, you can get a dedicated computer with a professional software package, but it is very expensive.

Cloud storage

Some cameras will allow you to store your data on their cloud server free of charge, just check for how much storage space they give you and for how many days they would keep your footage.

Of course, you can always purchase more space and they would like you to do it. This is a great option if you do not want to keep your precious data locally, where someone could physically tamper with it or even delete it.

You can access your cloud storage remotely from an app, exactly the same way as you would your local storage.

How much storage to get?

Well, it generally comes down to the image quality (resolution) desired, compression, and frame rate. Below is an example of how much space you may need to get (approximately).

There are also storage calculators available online to do a more precise job for you. Don’t forget, if you only do partial (not all day) recording, you will need less space.

Image quality (1 camera, 1 day) Compression of H264 & Frame rate of 30fps Compression of H265 & Frame rate of 30fps
1MP 22.12 GB 15.49 GB
2MP 44.24 GB 30.96 GB
3Mp 44.24 GB 30.96 GB
4MP 44.24 GB 30.96 GB
5MP 66.36 GB 46.45 GB
6MP 88.47 GB 61.93 GB

5. Cables and signal output

There is a big difference in wire quality available: HD security cameras over coax

If you are trying to replace an older CCTV camera that uses coax cable to run its video signal with a newer HD version, then this is a great option for you! Getting this type of system will reduce the cost of upgrading with an opportunity to get picture clarity up to 4K (resolution).

  • HDCVI cameras are proven to be more reliable and hassle-free (than some IP cameras).
  • HD-SDI cameras are also known to have a lot more camera and signal issues than HDCVI.

IP cameras over a network cable

Network-based cameras use cables such as CAT5e or CAT6 to transmit data. The resolution for IP cameras can be quite high – 4K+, which surpasses HD security cameras.The setback of this type of camera is that it can only use a short, 100m (or 328ft) cable. If you need to use a longer cable, PoE (Power over Ethernet) extender will be necessary, but unfortunately, it may take some power away from your camera. So if your camera wattage requirements are greater than 12 watts, you will have to stick to a 100m (328ft) cable.4-in-1 cameras

These cameras have an output for 4 signal types: HDCVIHDTVIAHD, and Analog (CVBS). Best quality wire

This type of wire is made fully out of copper, which is the best conductor. Any of the wires can have more or less copper in them. If you choose more copper, the quality of the wire will be higher, but it will also cost more. For the longest distance without signal interruption, you will need to use full copper wire (either coaxial cable or CAT5e / CAT6).

Lower quality wire

This type of wire is called Copper Clad Aluminum (CCA), which means that it only has copper along the circumference, with aluminum at the center. This is a lower-cost wire that is suitable for short, less than 300ft wiring for coax wire, and less than 150ft for CAT5e or CAT6 cable.

6. Power source

There are many different options on how to power your equipment:

Battery-powered

Very popular feature right now because this allows you to place a unit in places where cable wiring is not easily possible. If you don’t use that particular unit during the whole day (may just every time the motion is detected), batteries can last for quite a while.

Batteries don’t always come with the purchase, don’t forget to check on that and always keep extra batteries at hand. A great option for places where finding an outlet nearby is a problem.

Solar power

This camera is great for remote areas where running wires for your camera could be a challenge. Also, if you want to participate in a “pollution reduction” movement, a solar-powered camera could be your “green” security solution!

Panels of solar-powered security cameras collect solar energy and after certain manipulations turn it into electrical current that your solar camera and rechargeable batteries could use. During the day, direct sunlight is being used to power the camera and at night (or on bad weather days), the camera will be running off batteries that were charged prior.

Hardwired

This option usually requires professional installation (unless this is your profession and you have all the right tools). When choosing a security camera, keep in mind that you will need good cabling and a power source nearby for this option.

Power-Over-Ethernet (POE) adapters

These adapters are built into the camera itself and could be connected to the POE switch directly by Ethernet cable for the power source and data transmission simultaneously. Older cameras do not have a built-in POE adapter.

Power-Over-Ethernet (POE) switches

These switches could serve as a power unit for your POE IP cameras and at the same time connect them to the networking or recording devices, such as NVR. It could also be used for cable extension.

Power distribution (or supply) box

Use this power option if you need to connect multiple security cameras (more than 4) and have them neatly organized. Some power supply boxes have a battery backup, which means if the electricity goes out, your cameras will still run.

7. Image quality (resolution)

The resolution of the camera is measured in megapixels (MP for short) and usually is offered in 1MP, 2MP (1080P), 3MP, 4MP, 5MP, 6MP, and 8MP (with 8MP being the best quality).

If you want to see a reasonable picture at 10ft – use 2MP, at 20ft – use 3MP, at 30ft – use 4MP, at 40ft – 6MP, at 50ft – use 8MP.  Don’t forget that very high-quality video requires more bandwidth.

The following formats are also known under these names:

  • QCIF – Quarter Common Intermediate Format.
  • QVGA – Quarter Video Graphics Array.
  • CIF – Common Intermediate Format.
  • VGA – Video Graphics Array.
  • 1MP – HD or HD Ready.
  • 2MP – FHD or Full HD.
  • 4MP – QHD or Quad HD.
  • 8MP – UHD or Ultra HD resolution

8. Field of view (FOV)

This is a viewing angle of the camera and can go from 90° (narrow) all the way to 180° (wide). The main factor behind the field of view is the size of your camera lenses.

It is also called the Focal Length. Most lenses on security cameras (if not varifocal) range from 2.8mm to 25mm. Cameras with varifocal (adjustable) lenses usually range from 2.8-12mm, 9mm-22mm, 6-60mm, and 5-100mm. Bullet and Dome cameras will sometimes list the focal length of the lens instead of degrees.

Narrow (90°)

The narrow field of view is produced by the camera with larger lens size. Even though the angle will be smaller, you will have a close-up with video footage in greater detail. Consider the area that you would like to monitor. If it’s the front porch or some other tight spot, this is all you really need.

Wide (140-180°)

A wide field of view is produced by a smaller size lens. Your video footage will be larger in how much surrounding area it captures, but everything will look smaller with fewer details.

The following image is for the camera lenses, but it gives you the idea:

9. Types of Lenses

Here is some information on lenses.

Fixed

This is also called a “fixed lens camera”. Well, they actually all come with a fixed lens unless you are buying specifically a Varifocal (or adjustable) lens camera.

Fixed – means that your camera lens cannot be changed, this is why it’s important to decide on the right Feld for View before you buy anything.

Varifocal (manual)

This type of lens you can adjust by yourself with proper instruments. Varifocal cameras are typically useful if you are undecided on your Field of View.

Varifocal (motorized)

This type of lens will make your life much simpler! If you need to switch from a wide-angle Field of View to the narrow one or vice versa, all you have to do is push a button on your iPhone, and voila! You can zoom remotely in and get a clear picture of what is happening. PTZ cameras have this feature.

10. Zoom (Optical vs Digital)

Most cameras have lenses that are fixed and unmovable with the standard being at 84° (which is provided by a 3.6-4mm lens). This only leaves an option to use a digital zoom. On the other hand, if your camera has an optical zoom feature (also called a varifocal camera), you will have the capability of zooming a lot further without losing the quality of detail.

Digital zoom

The higher the resolution of the camera, the clearer will be the picture when you zoom in. Since digital zoom is just a magnification of the picture, the closer the object, the better. You can digitally zoom in and out at any point in recording and even live!

Optical (varifocal) zoom

If you need to be able to recognize a face more than 70 feet away, you will need a camera with a zoom lens! Types of optical zoom include: manual (zooms in with Allen key) and motorized, which could be controlled from either a computer, NVR recorder, or a phone app.

This feature is provided by the lens itself and it works like a telescope. But there are a few setbacks:

  1. When you zoom in, you lose a large portion of the “field of view” around the zoomed-in area.
  2. Once the “zoomed-in” piece is recorded, it will stay this way in recording (unlike digital, where you can zoom in and out as much as you want).

11. Night Vision (Infrared)

If you need to see things clearly in a dark, deduct 5-10ft from the normal viewing distance when light is present. Night vision is provided by the infrared lights (called IR LED), which are invisible to the human eye. This type of video is not great for face recognition. Some cameras activate infrared automatically when the light goes down (called photocell activation).

IR Range

You can choose your range from 50ft to 1000ft.

“No-glow” IR

These are cameras that use infrared wavelengths of 850 nm and 940 nm.

EXIR (EXtended InfraRed) technology

This technology is patented by Hikvision and it offers the most advanced night vision video capturing that you can find on the market today. This extended illumination range takes night-time surveillance to a brand new level!

With images gaining more clarity and visibility is a lot further, EXIR cameras are surely a winner if you need a great night vision recording.

12. Frame rate – FPS (frames per second)

How many frames per second is good for a security camera? Usually, 30 frames per second will give you very smooth video footage even with moving objects. Don’t forget that your bandwidth plays a big role in how smooth your video will be as well.

Low FPS

If your camera footage looks “jumpy”, this is probably because it was recorded at low fps (less than 15fps).

Average FPS

Most cameras now record between 15fps and 30fps.

High FPS

If you need to record fast-moving activities or capture a license plate number, use more than 30fps. Takes more storage space.

13. Motion-activated recording

Not all cameras have a continuous video recording (CVR) and you really need to check on that before purchasing a camera. Same with motion detection. With either one or both features, you need to do good research on your camera in order to get what you really want or need.

As a keynote for making a decision, remember that constant streaming does take a lot of space and you may end up purchasing several hard drives to accommodate it. In case having a CVR camera is a bit too expensive for you due to the high volume of data, here are some things you could do with motion-activated recording in order to suit your needs better.

Camera’s ability to distinguish

Some cameras can tell the difference between objects and will only start recording when important things start moving (not wind and leaves, for example).

Adjustable motion zones

You can keep your camera focused on certain zones within your camera view by highlighting areas that you want your camera to ignore.

Motion-tracking camera

Some cameras with 360° rotation can actually follow the motion! So if it notices a person running, it is going to actually rotate and follow him. Dome and PTZ cameras are well suited for this. Check out the video below of how the camera follows a person and then goes back to its original position.

14. Range of motion

Since most cameras have a stationary view, there is one type of camera that can change your viewing area. It is called Pan/Tilt/Zoom camera (or PTZ for short).
As the name states, you can easily pan this camera from side to side or tilt its lens up or down. Also, Dome cameras offer a wide range views with a 360° rotation capability. Both could be controlled remotely from your app.

15. HDR (high dynamic range)

Some cameras offer HDR, which gives you a better contrast by increasing peak brightness levels and darkening the darker areas. Cons: It can reduce battery life.

16. Real-time (live) view

This is a great feature that could be used to check on your place whenever needed, remotely. Picture quality varies from camera to camera. This feature could be turned off to preserve battery life.

17. Alerts and notifications

The app can notify you of any motion that the camera detected. If you do not want to get too many notifications, you can choose which area on your camera screen to be notified about (available on some cameras).

18. Two-way audio

Works great with doorbell cameras when you will find a need to communicate with a person at the door, for example.

19. Shared access

If you want someone else to have access to your camera, check if the camera app allows you to add different users.

20. Geofencing

This feature works like a “virtual fence” which allows your camera to perform a certain action (like turn on) when a chosen mobile device is inside or outside a certain pre-defined zone.

21. Housing

It can be either metal or plastic, with plastic being on the lower end of quality due to its fragile nature.

22. Weather resistance

Outdoor cameras need to be waterproof and weatherproof. Extreme conditions may include direct sunlight, heavy rain and wind, and freezing and below-freezing temperatures.

Depending on the camera’s IP (Ingress Protection) rating, it may require a cover for weather protection. The camera’s Ingress Protection rating (for example IP66) is divided by:

  1. The first number – is how well it is protected against solids.
  2. The second number – is against liquids. Check the table above for details.

Every camera has a ranking (published by IEC) of which type of weather conditions it is capable to withstand. Click on the link to download the PDF file with NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) enclosure codes.

NEMA enclosure IP Code
1 IP20
2 IP22
3, 3X, 3S, 3SX IP55
3R, 3RX IP24
4, 4X I P66, IP65
5 IP53
6 IP67
6P IP68
12, 12K, 13 IP54​

23. Installation

So, what are your options for camera installation? Here are some:

DIY (do-it-yourself installation)

If you are thinking about this option, you really need to consider:

  1. If you have enough skills to do this.
  2. If you have the right set of tools to do this.
  3. Do you really want to do this? If you decided to go with this option, many cameras do come with DIY packages and great tech support to help you along the way. Also, many cameras offer video guides

Professional installation

Before turning to your local IT company or a knowledgeable electrician, check if the camera’s package comes with a professional installation option. It could be included in your purchase or you could pay for the service from the manufacturer or company that sold it.

Choose your installation specialist carefully and make sure they installed security cameras before, so they are not learning how to do it on your brand new expensive camera set!

Mounting

Here are some basic rules for proper camera placement:

  1. Do not place your camera behind a window.
  2. Do not let your camera face another camera.
  3. Keep it away from other light sources (street lights, for example)
  4. Keep your camera as hidden as possible and out of reach. If installing it in a public place, close to where people can reach it, is unavoidable, consider a Dome-style camera, which is tough enough to withstand vandalism.

24. Warranty

Always contact customer support first if you have any problems with your camera. They might send you over to a technician, who could solve your problem pretty fast without unneeded hassle.

But if there is nothing they can do, you should take out your warranty and check for the following:

Coverage

Since you are getting an electronic product that can easily be damaged, take your time to figure out what types of defects the factory warranty will cover.

Length of Coverage

You should definitely know how long your warranty will be covering your product if it malfunctions. You can get a pretty clear picture of your camera’s durability based on the length of warranty that the manufacturer offers.

Don’t forget to REGISTER your camera after you purchase it!

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