Do an Internet search for “surveillance cameras” and you’ll find a dizzying array of products and options with many different price points. We surveyed the current crop of cameras for you and found that most have a lot of the same features and can be had for only $50 to $200. So before you start shopping, think about the features that would fill your camera needs.
- Tilt and Zoom: Some cameras let you remotely control the direction they’re pointing at, which might be important depending on how large an area you want to keep an eye on. Most with this feature will rotate up to 350 degrees, which is like having eyes in the back of your head!
- Wide-Angle Lenses: If you would like to monitor a large area but don’t want your camera to call attention to itself by moving around, look for a camera with a wide-angle lens. These cameras tend to be smaller than their pan-and-tilt counterparts, making them easier to hide.
- High-Definition Video & Photos: With most cameras, you can capture and store high-quality video and photos on an SD card, a cloud service (remote server), a DVR (digital video recorder), or your smartphone or tablet.
- Motion Detection: Many cameras are activated by motion and will start a recording, send an email or app alert to your mobile device, or both.
- Night Vision: Thanks to infrared technology, the ability to see intruders after dark is possible with all the cameras we looked at.
- Free Mobile Apps: Downloadable apps let you watch live video, capture video and photos, and control pan-and- tilt functions on your camera remotely over the Internet.
- Two-Way Audio: This feature makes it possible to communicate with the person you’re watching, allowing some surveillance cameras to double as baby monitors.
- Indoor and/or Outdoor Approved: Some cameras are water-resistant and rated for outdoor use. This can mean the difference between noticing somebody lurking outside and seeing somebody after they’ve already broken into your house.
If you don’t want to snake wires through walls or be limited by the location of electrical outlets, consider a fully wireless camera like the Arlo by NETGEAR. This little camera is small but big on features! It has a built-in magnet so you can stick it on the side of a metal object or attach it to a metal ball mount (included). Video recordings are motion activated and get stored on a cloud server, and the camera sends app alerts or emails to you with links to the video. You can also stream live video on your smartphone, tablet or computer.
The camera is powered by four nonrechargeable lithium batteries that last four to six months. It comes with a base station that you plug directly into your Internet modem, or you can buy additional cameras for $160 each and pair them with your existing base station. Sets of one or more cameras complete with base station are available for $180 to $650. Wireless outdoor cameras from other makers range from $80 to $200.
These full-featured “security systems” are about as good as they get, but setting them up takes a bit of work. They’re hardwired, so you’ll likely have to snake some power and video cables through walls and ceilings to mount the cameras exactly where you want them.
Many of these kits—like the Funlux Home Security Camera System shown here—include multiple high-resolution, fullcolor water-resistant cameras that can be mounted indoors or out, and will record several days’ worth of video on a dedicated DVR. You can also watch live video from any or all of the cameras on a high-definition TV or remotely via your smartphone or tablet.
We’re calling these cameras “partially” wireless. The LeFun C2 and the Conbrov Wf90 shown here connect wirelessly to the Internet via your home’s Wi-Fi router, but require cords for power. Most cameras like these are rated for indoor use only.
The LeFun and others of its type give you the ability to control pan (left to right) and tilt (up and down) via your mobile device. The Conbrov and similar models sport stationary wide-angle lenses. Both of these cameras feature builtin speakers and microphones for two-way audio, night vision, motion detection alerts, and options for recording and storing video. You can also watch recorded or live video from your smartphone or tablet. Similar cameras from other manufacturers cost $35 to $100.
Also called “trail” or “scouting” cameras, game cameras are designed primarily for hunters and wildlife photographers. However, if the spot where you want to place a surveillance camera is in a wooded area without an electrical outlet or Wi-Fi signal, a camera like the Stealth Cam P22 shown here might be just the thing. While it won’t send you alerts or allow you to stream live video over the Internet, this camera—which you just strap to a tree—will capture high-quality photos and video whenever a person or animal walks by, even at night. This type of camera is powered by regular batteries or an external battery box and stores images on a removable SD card that holds up to 32GB of media. When you want to see what the camera recorded, you just connect it to your computer with a USB cable (or plug the SD card directly into your computer or card reader).
Do Fake Cameras Work?
Sometimes a realistic-looking fake camera might be enough to thwart would-be intruders. See the security camera in the first photo of this article? It’s a fake! Made by several manufacturers, they can be had for $10 to $30 for one or more units. The one shown here is the UniquExceptional Fake Security Camera. It can be mounted anywhere and has 30 illuminating LEDs that turn on after dark, making it look even more real. You won’t be able to watch anyone lurking around your house, but a “camera” like this might just prevent a break-in.