What Should I Look for When Buying A Security Camera?

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Knowing what to look for in home security cameras can save a lot of time when you come across a sale on a camera you might want. We recommend choosing a security camera that meets some minimum requirements to get the most bang for your buck—learn more below.

Security camera prices

All of the security camera traits we recommend are available for every budget, so we don't discuss prices in this article (aside from a small note for cloud storage plans). Check out our guide to security camera costs to learn what you can expect to pay for most types of cameras.

Security camera video quality

Video quality helps a wireless security camera do its job, but it's a lot more than video resolution. You also need to consider a camera's field of view, frame rate, and night vision quality. Here's what we recommend to get good video performance out of your security camera:

  • A video resolution of 1080p or higher will provide enough detail to tell people apart through their facial features, clothing, and actions. Plus, 1080p resolution looks good on larger computer monitors and TV screens, so you don't need to rely on a small phone screen. The Reolink Argus 3 Pro and its 2K video resolution make a great example of excellent video resolution.
  • A field of view around 130º allows the camera to see a large area indoors and outdoors while keeping subjects a reasonable size within the video frame. You might consider a wider viewing angle around 160º for a video doorbell or outdoor security camera, like the Arlo Pro 4, so you don't need as many cameras for complete coverage of your property.
  • A frame rate of a least 15 frames per second (fps) is a must for anyone wanting smooth motion in videos. Smooth video is less susceptible to motion blur, which can reduce detail even on high-resolution cameras. For results closer to what you expect from a TV, choose a video surveillance camera with 24 fps or higher, like Google Nest cameras.
  • A night vision range of 30 feet or more helps a wireless camera produce bright images after the sun goes down. Most security cameras use infrared LEDs to record in complete darkness. Still, you might consider a model with a secondary spotlight—like the Ring Floodlight Cam—which can deter intruders and provide color night vision.

Security camera video storage

Video recording keeps a history of the happenings around your home—without constant vigilance of watching a live feed or responding to every notification that pops up on your mobile device. Whether you choose cloud or local storage depends on your budget and personal preferences, but here's what we recommend for each type:

  • A local storage capacity of 32 GB or higher (preferably on an SD card) gives you plenty of space to record a couple of weeks' worth of video clips. Cameras with resolutions above 1080p, like most Eufy cameras, should support 64 GB or 128 GB microSD cards if possible. If you have a security camera system with multiple analog cameras, we recommend an NVR of 1 TB or higher.
  • A cloud storage video history of 14 days or more will keep recordings around long enough for you to review and download if something exciting or suspicious catches your IP camera's attention. Storage plans under $4 a month for a single doorbell camera or $10 a month for multiple cameras will keep your monthly costs reasonable. Wyze's $2 cloud plan is a good place to start.

Essential security camera features

While video quality and storage do most of the heavy lifting on security cameras, these features can make your camera easier to use and more effective:

  • A mobile app is the most convenient way to control your Wi-Fi security cam. It allows you to view video footage, receive notifications, and adjust settings for a better everyday experience. It also gives you access to useful features like two-way audio, smart home controls, and sharing camera access with your household. Blink cameras are a good example of a simple but effective mobile app.
  • A motion detection camera makes it easier to manage notifications and video storage. Models with adjustable motion zones and motion sensitivity are enough for most folks, but you can add smart detection if you have the budget. Smart detection uses artificial intelligence to help a smart security camera identify and notify you of the people, animals, vehicles, and other objects it sees.

Optional security camera features

Anything beyond the basic security camera features we mentioned above won't hurt your camera, but maybe your wallet. Here are things that are nice to have, but you don't necessarily need:

  • A battery frees you from stringing power cables during installation, but you still need to recharge it to keep your camera running. Batteries are nice to have on an outdoor camera, but we think sticking to a wired camera is more convenient. (You already hate switching out the smoke detector's batteries, so a power-hungry indoor security camera may be more trouble than it's worth.)
  • A weatherproof outdoor camera is another thing you don't need inside the house, so you can save a few bucks by opting for an indoor camera instead. But you might consider using an outdoor camera in parts of your home without heating, like the garage or workshop.
  • A security system is a great way to boost your camera's skills by allowing it to work with a suite of security sensors and professional monitoring. Still, it'll add a lot to your budget in equipment and monthly monitoring costs. Try getting comfortable with your security camera before making a big investment in a security system.

Head over to our home security camera review and wireless security camera review for our top picks and more tips.

Video: How do wireless security cameras work?

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Compare the best wireless security cameras

Best for
Cloud storage price
Video resolution Icon Tooltip  Dark
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Read review
Best overallStarts at $6.99/mo.1440p (2K) Indoor/outdoor wire-free
Best budget Starts at $2.99/mo.1080p Indoor/outdoor wired
Best for smart home Starts at $4.99/mo.1440p (2K) Indoor/outdoor wire-free
Best tech Starts at $6.00/mo.1080pIndoor/outdoor wire-free
Best indoor camera Starts at $2.99/mo.1920p (2K)Indoor wired

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John Carlsen
Written by
John Carlsen
John is a technology journalist specializing in smart home devices, security cameras, and home security systems. He has over a decade of experience researching, testing, and reviewing the latest tech—he was the Smart Home Editor for Top Ten Reviews and wrote for ASecureLife before joining SafeWise as a Staff Writer in 2020. John holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications, Journalism emphasis from Utah Valley University. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, photography, cooking, and starting countless DIY projects he has yet to complete.

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