How Do Doorbell Cameras Work?

How do doorbell cameras work? We’ve used our decades of tech, home security, and safety experience to answer all of your questions about how doorbell cameras work. From installation to preventing hacking, we’ve got you covered.

What to look for in a doorbell camera

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How do doorbell cameras work?

Nest Doorbell
Our Rating
4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5
$179.99
Pro Bullet e911
Pro Bullet Works with Google Assistant

Info current as of 09/13/2021. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change†.

Video doorbell cameras are considered smart doorbells because they don’t just chime. They do a number of useful things to keep you safe:

  • Send push notifications to your phone when someone’s at your door
  • Notify you when someone is stealing your packages
  • Provide two-way communication with people at your door
  • Call 911 with a push of a button (this feature is common but not always available on doorbell cameras)
  • Alert you when a person or a package is on your porch or in your yard

Do doorbell cameras record all the time?

Ring video doorbell outside of front door

Image: Ring

Yes and no. Most doorbell cameras don’t record 24/7. They record only when the camera is triggered. Then, they send a notification to your phone so you don’t miss the clip.

There are a few cameras that do record all the time. Our favorite is the Nest Doorbell. When you sign up for Google’s Nest Aware Plus subscription plan, the camera will record 24/7 and store footage for up to 10 days.

How long do doorbell cameras record?

Generally, doorbell cameras record until they don’t sense motion anymore. Some cameras, like the Ring Video Doorbell 4, record a few seconds before a triggering event so you can see what led up to the trigger moment. 

Say someone steals something off your porch. Those extra seconds before the porch pirate steals your package could tell you what direction the person came from. This could be an essential clue for the authorities. 

How are doorbell cameras powered?

Ring doorbell solar charger
Solar Charger for Ring Video Doorbell
$49.99
Pro Bullet Weather resistant
Pro Bullet Easy to install

*Amazon.com list price as of 09/15/2021 at 1:42 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.

A doorbell camera can get power through existing doorbell wires or a rechargeable battery pack. Some, like Ring Doorbells, have solar panels you can attach so you never need to charge your smart doorbell manually.

Which one you choose depends on your needs. If your home doesn’t have doorbell wiring, or you just don’t want to deal with wiring, then battery-powered or solar are your best bet. If you don’t like charging a battery every few months, then a wired doorbell or solar doorbell is for you.

Can doorbell cameras be hacked?

Yes, just about any tech can be hacked. The key to thwarting hackers is selecting a smart doorbell camera with encryption and two-factor authentication for its app and online portal. Also, remember to make your passwords strong. Here are some tips for protecting your camera from hackers.

What is two-way audio?

Two-way audio means that the camera has a speaker and a microphone. You can talk to people at your door, and they can speak to you, even if you’re not at home. When someone rings the doorbell, you can use the app to turn on two-way talk. 

There are so many uses for this feature. If you have a cold and don’t want to spread it, you can tell the delivery person to leave your grub on the porch. When a stranger comes to your door, you can ask what they want without opening the door and exposing yourself to potential danger. Or use two-way talk to call your kids in from playing outside.

Light Bulb
Choose noise cancellation

When purchasing a doorbell camera with two-way talk, be sure to look for a video doorbell cam that has noise-canceling features. The sound will be much clearer.

How far can a doorbell camera see?

Video doorbell camera systems can see anywhere from 5 to 50 feet in front of them. While longer distances seem better, there are some downsides. If your city or state has laws against filming sidewalks or roads, a shorter distance is better.

What is field of view?

Image: SafeWise

Field of view is a measurement of how much of an area the camera can "see" in width. When shopping for any type of security camera, you’ll see this term a lot. 

Most top doorbell cameras have a field of view from 155° to 180.° The larger the number, the more porch or yard area the doorbell camera can see. A doorbell camera with a wide field of view can double as a whole-yard security camera.

Do doorbell cameras have night vision?

Yes, some (like the Skybell Doorbell) even have color night vision. We find that it’s easier to identify visitors with color night vision because the footage tends to be clearer.

Do doorbell cameras need Wi-Fi?

Yes, doorbell cameras need Wi-Fi to function correctly. Without it, you won’t get to use all of the doorbell camera’s nifty features like two-way talk, video, or push notifications because it won’t have a signal to send to your app. Most will still chime like a regular doorbell, but that’s no fun.

Are video doorbells easy to install?

For sure. Most doorbell cameras install in under 15 minutes, and you typically only need a screwdriver. (Some doorbells even come with screwdrivers.) We’ve found that even people who hate installing stuff find setting up a doorbell camera easy peasy. To give you an idea of the process, check out our guide to installing a Ring video doorbell.

What’s the easiest video doorbell to install?

Wireless doorbell cameras that have rechargeable batteries are the easiest to install. There are no wires to fiddle with. 

All you need is a couple of screws or a strip or two of heavy-duty two-sided tape to attach it to your door frame. We like the tape solution if you’re totally tool-phobic. We’ve had a smart video doorbell attached with two-sided tape on our door for around two years and it’s still holding strong.

What is a motion detection zone?

Motion zones

Image: SafeWise

Motion detection zones prevent the camera from detecting motion in certain areas (to cut down on notifications and recordings). If your camera can see the road, you don’t want it to notify you every time a car goes by. So, you block out the road in your doorbell camera’s settings to keep motion detection closer to home.

What are privacy masks?

Privacy mask

Image: SafeWise

Privacy masks are areas where your camera can’t record. You can set up privacy masks in the camera’s settings. The camera video recording will have a blacked-out or blurred area where the camera is allowed to record. 

To protect other people’s privacy, you may want to set up a privacy mask so your camera doesn’t record your neighbor’s yard or the sidewalk. Masks are also suitable for areas of your yard where you want to protect your own privacy too, like the hot tub area.

Do people steal Ring doorbells?

We couldn’t find any data on how often Ring doorbells get stolen. Ring doorbell theft seems pretty uncommon. If yours gets snatched, Ring will replace it for free. All you need to do is follow Ring’s procedures and file a theft report with customer service.

Is there a doorbell camera without a monthly fee?

Yes, just about all doorbell cameras can be used without a subscription. The catch is that the features are typically very limited. Most brands will only let you view footage live and use two-way talk without a subscription. Saving footage, setting motion zones, and creating privacy masks are often behind a paywall.

What is the best doorbell camera without a subscription?

We like the Eufy Video Doorbell. It stores up to 30 days of footage locally so you don’t need a subscription. Learn more about Eufy in our Eufy Home Security Review.

Can I link a doorbell camera with my smart home?

Yes. You can create smart home automations by connecting a doorbell camera to the Alexa app, Google Home app, or another compatible smart home app. Some home security systems like Frontpoint and Vivint can also create home automations that include doorbell cameras:

  • Connect your Ring doorbell camera to Philips Hue so that your porch light comes on when the doorbell camera system is rung.
  • Use an IFTTT applet to arm your Arlo security camera when you arm your Vivint system at bedtime with just an Alexa command.
  • Arm your Blink cameras when your Abode Security System is set to Away mode using IFTTT

 

Compare the best video doorbell cameras

Product image
List price*
Field of view
Power source
Pre-recorded messages
Learn more
Best overall
Ring Video Doorbell (2nd gen)Ring Video Doorbell (2nd Gen)

155°

Battery or Wired

Icon No  LightNo
Best for emergencies
Arlo Essential Wired Video DoorbellArlo Video Doorbell

180°

Wired

Icon Yes  LightYes
Best extra features
Google Nest Hello

160°

Wired

Icon Yes  LightYes
Best privacy Features
eufy video doorbellEufy Video Doorbell

160°

Wired

Icon Yes  LightYes
Budget pick
Toucan Wireless Video DoorbellToucan Wireless Video Doorbell

180º

Battery

Icon No  LightNo

*Amazon.com list price as of 9/15/2021 at 3:00 p.m. (MT). Read full disclaimer.


†Google, Google Nest, Google Nest Mini, Google Home and other marks are trademarks of Google LLC.

Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product. Safewise.com utilizes paid Amazon links.

Certain content that appears on this site comes from Amazon. This content is provided “as is” and is subject to change or removal at any time.

Alina Bradford
Written by
Alina Bradford
Alina has been reviewing the latest tech for more than a decade and has contributed her insights to CNET, CBS, Digital Trends, MTV, Top Ten Reviews, and many others. She specializes in smart home and security technology, working to make gadgets less mystifying one article at a time. In the early 2000s, Alina worked as a volunteer firefighter, earning her first responder certification. Her activities aren’t nearly as dangerous today. Her hobbies include fixing up her 100-year-old house, doing artsy stuff, and going to the lake with her family.

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