4 Reasons Why You Need a Security System With Cameras

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If we made a list of the most useful products for home security, security cameras would easily claim the top spot. Naturally, this makes them a worthwhile addition to any security system that supports them, right? For folks looking for our advice on upgrading an existing alarm system with security cameras: go for it! It's a great option for anyone who has the budget for new equipment and a higher monitoring fee.

But if you're trying to decide whether to commit to a new security camera system, you should consider whether it fits your needs before making such a large investment. Let's explore the pros and cons of using a security system with cameras to help you make an informed decision.

pro Strong audiovisual deterrent
pro Help detect and identify intruders
pro Document the items taken
pro Video verification can reduce false alarms
con Usually requires the most expensive plan
con Most expensive devices sold by providers
con Camera selection depends on the provider
con Harder to install than sensors
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Four pros of using security cameras with your home alarm system

Although most of these benefits apply to standalone security cameras, they still bring unique perks to a home security system.

1. Strong audiovisual deterrent

The mere presence of a home security camera sends an unmistakable message that someone's watching or recording you. It's possible to enhance this uneasy feeling by installing the camera in a location with high visibility, which provides a clearer view of events. Many security systems work with cameras using a bright spotlight for nighttime deterrence. That's often enough to discourage impulsive burglars looking for an easy target.

Looks alone won't stop someone with stronger motivations and more experience, so most security cameras include audible components like sirens and two-way audio to reinforce the message. For example, Vivint's lurker detection plays a sound and lights up to scare away uninvited guests.

2. Help detect and identify intruders

A surveillance camera's biggest strength is the ability to record footage for later review. Every frame contains loads of information, like actions, clothing, and physical characteristics, that can help identify a careless burglar. With many security systems, the camera triggers your alarm when detecting an intruder—giving you and the monitoring center valuable warning time.

That said, most modern security cameras use a built-in motion sensor to trigger recording when someone enters the field of view, so they may not capture the whole event.

3. Document the items taken

A security camera system can't always prevent a burglary but it can help you spot the items a burglar took. Whether you record everything or the burglar turns off the camera, you can compare older recordings with the aftermath to see what's different. This comparison is why we recommend placing cameras in common areas of your home where you're likely to keep many of your possessions. With the recordings, you'll have an easier time filing police reports and insurance claims.

4. Video verification can reduce false alarms when available

Video verification means the monitoring center can review recent recordings when an alarm triggers to verify that you need assistance. While the preceding three benefits apply to all security cameras, video verification is the only feature unique to home security with professional monitoring.

In contrast, alarm systems without video verification will check with you when an alarm goes off but err on the side of calling emergency responders when you don't reply—an unverified alarm. Unfortunately, many police departments won't respond without a verified alarm. Still, if the police arrive at your home without a legitimate emergency, they'll probably fine you for a false alarm. Depending on where you live, that can be very costly.

But here's the kicker with video verification: it's rare among residential security providers. To our knowledge, only ADT, ADT Self Setup, Arlo, SimpliSafe, Ring, and Wyze offer some form of video verification.

Helpful terms to know

Before we jump into the cons, we need to define two terms for how a security system approaches cameras: camera-first and system-first. For example, a camera-first brand starts designing and selling security cameras before offering security systems, and vice versa for system-first brands. The differences between these strategies become clearer when you know to look for them.

Check out our in-depth explainer below for more detail.

Four cons of using security cameras with your home alarm system

Despite the tangible benefits of pairing cameras and security systems, there are a few drawbacks: camera costs, camera selection, and installation requirements.

1. Usually requires the most expensive plan

Adding cameras to your system often means choosing the provider's most expensive monitoring plan. Most camera upgrades typically cost around $10 to $20 more per month than standard monitoring—roughly $120 to $240 annually. This price helps cover cloud storage costs and camera-specific services like video verification. (It contributes to a healthy profit margin as well.)

The script flips with camera-first brands offering standalone camera plans—they treat monitoring as an upgrade, so there's usually only one plan available.

2. Most expensive devices sold by providers

Security cameras are more complex than most other security devices (like sensors) and command a higher price, and most providers treat cameras as premium devices. That said, security system camera prices vary based on the camera type, budget category, and professional installation.

Here's what you can expect to spend for the main types of cameras:

  • Indoor cameras: $80 to $100
  • Outdoor cameras: $150 to $200
  • Video doorbells: $150 to $200

Other variables that affect camera price

  • You can find cameras under $100 with some budget DIY brands—like Wyze, SimpliSafe, and Abode—and even outdoor security cameras and video doorbells.
  • Expect to pay at least $100 extra per camera with professional installation, like on Vivint or ADT. The higher equipment price helps supplement installation fees but doesn't replace them.
ADT installation fees

We're unsure how installation fees change with cameras on ADT—the only major brand without a flat installation rate—so it's important to ask for this information when buying a system.

3. Camera selection depends on the provider

One of the biggest downsides of adding a security camera to your surveillance system is that you must use the cameras from the provider. Except for camera-first brands that also sell standalone cameras—like Arlo, Eufy, Ring, and Wyze—most security providers sell only a single model for each type of camera: indoor, outdoor, and video doorbell.

A limited camera selection simplifies sales, support, and monitoring for the company, but you must choose from the available models rather than choosing the best one for your needs and budget. You're also less likely to find a floodlight camera or pan-tilt cameras for system-first brands like Vivint, SimpliSafe, and Frontpoint.

4. Harder to install than sensors

We've installed enough home security cameras to know it's a simple process. Still, it's more complicated than a peel-and-stick security sensor installation—especially if an outdoor camera requires a power cord. You'll likely need a drill to help mount your camera securely on a wall or ceiling. Choosing professional installation is an easy workaround, but it may add to your overall costs and isn't always an option for a DIY home security system.

Check our security camera installation guide to learn more.

Three approaches to security systems with cameras and why they matter

Not all camera and system pairings are equal, so let's dig into the details to help you set your priorities when choosing a security system and camera combo for your home.

For some context, a security provider rarely designs the cameras and system simultaneously—it's a "chicken or egg" problem, where one usually comes first. While both approaches ultimately yield similar results, they offer different strengths. Still, some companies bypass this problem wholesale through strategic partnerships. Here's a quick rundown.

Camera-first approach

pro Better camera features and controls
pro Larger camera selection
pro Works with existing cameras
pro Lower prices
con Cellular system backup isn't always available

Notable camera-first brands

Camera-first systems typically come from brands that successfully sell standalone security cameras at retail. Because these cameras work without security systems, the market is extremely competitive. It's perfectly normal for a brand to release multiple new cameras yearly and even sell a range of models for every budget. You're also more likely to see variants like solar-powered, floodlight, and pan-and-tilt cameras.

These brands see security systems and professional monitoring as upgrades for enhancing cameras. As a result, you'll likely see fewer sensor options. But the main drawback is limited support for cellular backup. Of the three brands above, only Ring Alarm offers cellular backup with the professional monitoring plan—Arlo requires an accessory, and Wyze lacks the feature altogether. However, Arlo and Wyze make up for this through video verification, a service Ring lacks—unless you pay a staggering amount for Ring Virtual Security Guard.

System-first approach

pro More experience with professional monitoring
pro Simple, reliable cameras
pro Better security system components
con Cameras don't work without a monitoring plan
con Few noteworthy camera features
con Higher costs overall

Notable system-first brands

A system-first approach means the cameras came after sensors and monitoring. While the cameras aren't necessarily an afterthought, their main purpose is usually to increase revenue by upselling customers to a pricier monitoring plan. These cameras often work well enough, but play it safe by sticking to basic features. Innovative camera features only sometimes bring in customers, making them a risky investment.

In our experience, cameras designed to work with security systems are usually underwhelming compared to standalone home security cameras. A brand that only intends its cameras to work with a system tends to overlook local video storage, robust controls, and smart motion detection.

We understand that compatibility and reliability are important when integrating a camera with a security system, but it shouldn't come at the expense of a great user experience. No matter how hard system-first brands try to design excellent cameras for their systems, they can't keep up with standalone cameras.

Vivint is one of few system-first brands investing heavily in security camera development. Although Vivint cameras don't work without a Vivint system, they manage to offer local video storage and lurker detection. Unfortunately, Vivint also excels at passing its R&D costs along to customers by selling the most expensive home security cameras among security providers.

Partnership approach

Notable camera partnerships

In recent years, some system-first brands have been changing the game through high-profile partnerships—at least at the national level. It's a simple premise: Why design cameras in-house or use a white-label camera when you can draw in customers with a popular security camera's name recognition?

The latest examples of this are Cove and ADT. As far as we know, Cove helped jumpstart this idea by working with some YI cameras at launch—though its current partner is Eufy.

But the gears really started turning when ADT partnered with Google Nest. We were skeptical at first, but ADT's equipment has never been better, and it's the only way to use a Google Nest Cam with professional monitoring. Before this, ADT's cameras were wholly forgettable, and Google's priorities shifted away from the Nest Secure DIY security system. 

We can't say whether this approach will take off with other brands, but it looks promising. Maybe we're putting the cart before the horse, but we can see this evolving into a symbiotic ecosystem where security systems say, "Bring your own cameras." Considering the Matter smart home standard will eventually support security cameras, it's not much of a stretch.

Final word

Security cameras and home security systems are a great combination but often costly. If you have the budget for higher monitoring costs and pricey equipment, we recommend adding a few cameras and a video doorbell to your alarm system. But if you're on the fence, try a standalone security camera to see if it's up your alley.

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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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