13 Different types of security cameras
For the past few years, security camera has been an essential part of the security and safety of both home and business. But it is a daunting task to choose the right one for your needs. There are many different brands and types of security cameras with different technologies and designs for different uses. The technical jargon is also quite confusing. Manufacturers are misusing the industry terms to gain more search exposure and traction for their products.
To help you clear things out and make better choices, I made this guide to explain all the major security camera types that are available on the market, each with its pros and cons. This might be the most complete guide you will ever see. Now let’s take a deep breath and dive in.
Security camera vs. surveillance camera: are they the same?
Security camera and surveillance camera are the two most generic industry terms and are often used interchangeably. Here is the difference. A security camera is used to detect and record people’s activities to prevent crime. A surveillance camera, more often than not, serves the purpose of monitoring an area.
Usually coming with motion detection features, a security camera can notify you instantly when it detects unusual scenes. If the user verifies the scene as a crime, he can take immediate actions to deter or stop the criminal.
Surveillance cameras are just for recording. The surveillance footage is for crime-solving after the fact. If you need immediate responses to incidents, you have to hire human personnel to watch live streaming in real-time.
In fact, a camera could be either a security camera or a surveillance camera depending on how you use it.
Security cameras by locations
The first thing that most people need to decide is the location where to install the camera – inside or outside the house.
The housing of outdoor cameras is weatherproof to withstand elements like rain and snow. The weatherproof grade is indicated by the IP rating. A good rating for a camera ranges from IP65 to IP67. In some regions, the temperature can be as low as -20℃ or as high as 60℃. Hence an outdoor camera needs to work properly under extreme temperatures.
Outdoor cameras are also likely to be tampered with. So, they are made of stronger materials like aluminum and mounted in a more secure way. The durable design makes an outdoor camera heavier and more expensive than an indoor one. Some outdoor cameras have a wider dynamic range or even high dynamic range to adjust to changing lighting conditions. This feature can avoid underexposure in shadowed areas or overexposure under bright sunlight.
Since the outdoor camera is more about crime prevention, a built-in siren is a must. Some come with motion-triggered lights, which can deter burglars during the night.
An indoor security camera is usually smaller in size, more light-weight, cheaper and can be placed anywhere you like inside the house. The design is more elegant and less obvious to blend into the room.
Other than the durability design, most indoor and outdoor cameras from the same manufacturer share the same features. People can use an indoor camera facing outside through a window to monitor the yard. Outdoor cameras can also be used inside the house.
Security cameras by types of data transmission
CCTV cameras, also known as analog cameras, send video in analog signal format via coax cables to a DVR (digital video recorder). The DVR stores the video by converting the analog signals to digital signals.
An IP camera both captures footage and converts footage into digital files inside the camera. They can work as standalone cameras with a separate IP address. The storage device for IP cameras is an NVR (network video recorder). They can also save the video in a DVR or an inside microSD card.
Now let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of the two types of security cameras.
IP cameras have a clearer vision
IP cameras overall have higher resolution than CCTV. However, it is not true like some said that the resolution of CCTV is limited to 720P. Some CCTV cameras can already record video up to 4K.
The frame rate of CCTV is lower than IP. If there is a lot of motion in front of a CCTV camera, the video may look grainy or blurry. You can digitally zoom in the video of an IP camera to get more details of an object or person. But you cannot do this on CCTV footage. Moreover, IP cameras offer a larger FOV (field of view) than CCTV. This means fewer cameras are required to monitor a specific area – saving the overall budget.
Both are getting cheaper
One CCTV camera used to cost less than one IP camera. However, the price difference between them is getting smaller. You can find both types of security cameras under the price from $30 to $50.
IP cameras are smarter
Since IP cameras transmit digital signals, they allow for video analytics like motion detection or AI image recognition. With a WiFi connection and open platform, they can be easily integrated with other smart home devices for more control possibilities. In recent years, IP cameras are getting even smarter with easy-to-use APP and cloud storage. Currently, you cannot find those smart features on a CCTV camera.
CCTV has less latency
With video compressing and decoding, CCTV cameras almost have no delay in data transmission. Video latency is a common issue on IP cameras, which can be worse with an unstable Internet connection.
IP cameras are more flexible
IP camera is more flexible in terms of installation as it only uses one cable. A CCTV camera requires multiple cables for multiple functions. But IP cameras can wirelessly connect to the WiFi or be powered over the Ethernet cable.
IP camera is easier to scale
A single DVR can connect to up to 32 CCTV cameras. An NVR can connect up to 256 IP cameras. Buying more CCTV cameras means buying more DVRs.
IP Camera is more secured
The video of IP cameras is usually encrypted for privacy protection. A hacker can breach a CCTV camera more easily due to the lack of encryption and authentication.
The above comparison may seem that IP leaves CCTV in the dust. But it is not always the case. CCTV analog has been serving the industry for decades with the technology being quite mature and reliable. They are easier to set up and maintain. CCTV cameras are still widely used by businesses and governments for video surveillance. More IP cameras go into homes and small businesses.
Security cameras by types of connections
Wired cameras are hardwired to the Internet and a power source. The hardwiring connection is often through a POE ( power-over-Ethernet ) cable.
The biggest advantage of a wired camera is reliable connection without signal drops or wireless interference. And you can add many cameras in a single system.
Because it runs too many cables, the installation can be very tricky and may require professional installation. They have to be installed in a permanent location where is near the power source and the router. If you live in an area where power frequently shuts off, wired cameras may not be a good choice for you. A power outage means the camera completely stops working. A solution to this problem is to add a backup battery to the camera.
Wireless cameras are hardwired to a power source but wirelessly connect to the WiFi without cables. They are easier to install and setup with fewer cables. However, when used outdoor, they still need drilling to route a cable into an indoor power outlet. So, these cameras are not good for rented houses. Alternatively, people use a solar panel to power the camera.
The downside of a wireless camera is connectivity issues. WiFi connection drops and transmission latency happen quite often among those cameras. There are many reasons for such issues. The camera is too far from the router. Walls made of reinforced concrete may block some of the signals. Other wireless devices are causing interference. If you connect too many cameras to one router, they are going to compete with each other for the bandwidth. To solve the connectivity issue, this type of security camera often comes with an antenna to boost the WiFi range. Sometimes, I have seen people prefer the POE solution on the wireless camera for a more reliable connection.
Many people think of wireless and wire-free as the same thing. That’s not correct. Wire-free cameras are not connected to any wires and are powered by rechargeable batteries.
This camera is a good option for renters. They are super easy to install and very flexible in terms of mounting locations. They don’t have to be near a power outlet or router. In addition to standard wall mounts, some wire-free camera comes with magnetic mounts. This allows for quick attachment, easy viewing angle adjustment, and removal. Powered by batteries, the power outage is not a concern for wire-free cameras.
Frequently recharging batteries is one of the pains for wire-free cameras. If the monitored area has lots of traffic, the batteries are going to be run out of juice very quickly. Most battery-powered cameras claim their battery life to be half a year but turns out no more than 3 months, even a few weeks. Some have removable batteries but others need to be taken down to plug in to recharge. Easy installation also makes it easier to be stolen.
To conserver power, a wire-free camera stays in sleep mode and only activates itself when detecting motion. It usually takes a few seconds to wake up and is likely to miss out important moments of an event. For the same power conservation reason, wire-free cameras usually don’t have continuous recording and detect motion at a shorter range. And they share the same connectivity issues with wireless cameras. The convenience of being wire-free sacrifices certain features and benefits.
Security camera by types of detection
Motion detection is one of the most important features of security cameras. It triggers alerts and recording only when detecting motion. Motion alerts instantly notify you of suspicious activities without you having to stare at the camera’s feed. Motion-based recording dramatically increases the efficiency of monitoring and storage.
How does motion detection work?
There are 2 types of motion detection methods that we should know. One is computer vision which tracks the pixel difference among a sequence of frames in the video. The other is the passive infrared sensor that detects infrared radiation emitted or reflected by objects.
PIR sensor is very power-efficient so it is more often used in battery-powered cameras or doorbells. Since it detects heat which is more likely to be from living things, it triggers less false alerts than computer vision. PIR sensors are also more responsive than computer vision when detecting motion. But that is not to say PIR sensors don’t have false alerts.
AI security camera
AI vision, a more advanced computer vision, is recently brought to security cameras. Unlike motion detection, AI vision actively identifies the shapes of all objects in the video to classify them. It can tell the difference between a person, a pet, a vehicle, and recognize familiar faces. An AI security camera can be programmed to trigger alerts or recording when it detects a person in the video.
Not just eliminate false alerts, AI makes surveillance more insightful and actionable. And it is almost zero latency and far more reliable than motion detection if powered by a decent GPU. In recent years, you can find many high-end cameras are adding AI detection features to take security to the next level.
Security cameras by shapes
Modern security cameras come in various unique shapes. The following 4 shapes are the most common ones. Which shape to choose depends on where and how you use your camera.
In the shape of a rifle bullet, a bullet camera is the most common type of security camera. The obtrusive bullet shape makes it a very effective deterrence. They are commonly mounted on exterior walls or the top of a pole with a fixed viewing angle. If fitted with a universal joint wall mount, the camera can be manually swiveled to get your desired view.
Bullet cameras are generally smaller, cheaper, and easier to install than other shapes of cameras. But they are also easier to be tampered with. Therefore, it is a common practice to install the camera at a height that is out of a person’s reach.
A dome camera includes a security glass dome to protect the camera from vandalism and all elements. They are commonly installed on the ceilings, either vertically or horizontally. As a result, dome cameras are more vandal-proof but more difficult to install. Because raindrops can blur the lens, it is better to use them indoor. Another downside is IR bounce. Over time, dust or debris building up on the lens will cause bounce back which look like small dots around the view.
Dome cameras are less noticeable than bullet cameras. The low profile design is good for places like banks and hotels where people expect no surveillance. Since the direction of the camera is invisible through the dome, it is more difficult for burglars to hide from the field of view.
PTZ cameras are the cameras with the capability of pan, tilt, zoom. These movements can be remotely controlled on the software to expand the camera’s field of view. Another innovation of PTZ is auto-tracking. This technology measures the change of pixels in video clips and automatically pan, tilt, or zoom the camera to follow a moving object.
This type of security camera is often used to cover a large area from a high level. To capture more details over a long range, they usually feature super high resolution and long-range night vision. Being quite bulky, PTZ cameras are good at deterring would-be intruders on your property. Although PTZ costs more than its dome and bullet counterparts, thanks to the expandable FOV, they require fewer cameras to cover a defined area.
Turret camera is a dome-shaped camera but without the glass dome. The lens can be manually swiveled to adjust the viewing angle. Unlike dome cameras, the lack of glass housing makes turret camera free from IR reflection and water condensation. They have no problems in using outdoor and are less likely to attract spider web.
Compared with other types of security cameras, turret cameras are smaller in size, less intrusive, and less expensive. It is like a perfect combination of bullet and dome type. This type of security camera can be equipped with an EXIR ( Extended IR ). As opposed to the traditional ring of infrared LEDs, it is a single IR glass to the side of the lens. This new night vision technology allows for a much more evenly dispersed illumination which creates a rectangular pattern. This will ensure there is light on the edges of the frame and not just in the center.
I hope you stay with me until now and don’t feel too overwhelmed. I tried my best to cover all types of security cameras in one article so you don’t need to read another one on the same topic. Hopefully, you have a rough idea regarding which type of security camera is right for you. Please leave a comment if you still got a question or find a camera type that is missing.