2020 Buyers Guide for Security Cameras

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What You Need to Know About Security Cameras Before You Buy

It wasn’t all that long ago that security cameras were considered expensive and complicated surveillance equipment reserved for high level government and commercial use. Today there’s been a major explosion of security camera use in the residential market.  Thanks to wireless communication and the internet, affordable video surveillance devices have become an inescapable and highly useful part of modern life allowing homeowners to scare off would-be burglars, monitor activity in and around their house, manage their “smart home”, keep in touch with family and friends, and a lot more.

What Type of Camera is Right for You?

First, all security cameras aren’t created equal.  The available options offer a huge range of capabilities and costs, from super-high tech cameras that can track and zoom in on important details to small inexpensive battery operated “critter cams” that you can use to record the comings and goings of wildlife in your back yard.  Here’s the lowdown on some of the most common types of cameras and how they can make your home safer and your life easier.

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Bullet Cameras

Named for their streamlined, cylindrical shape, Bullet Cameras are among the most commonly used and so, are instantly recognized by ordinary people and criminals alike as being a surveillance device.   That fact can both help the camera act as a deterrence to undesirable or illegal behavior but it also can make the camera a target for vandalism.  Moreover, the shape of the camera is designed to let you focus on a very specific view, such as a doorway, driveway entrance, or other location you want to keep an eye on.  Typically mounted on a ceiling or a wall, bullet cameras can be used in both indoors and outdoors where their lens cover reduces glare provides protection from the elements.  The most important thing to remember about bullet camera capabilities is their targeted sight line.  Finally, remember that if you want a broader view of a larger area, you’ll need to install multiple bullet cameras or a type that doesn’t limit the field of vision as much.

Dome Cameras

Less obvious to observers than Bullet Cameras are dome cameras, also known as ceiling cameras, that can be mounted overhead as well as on walls.  Their prime advantages are that they offer a wider view of surveillance areas and are less susceptible to tampering and vandalism than bullet cameras.  Although they are usually used indoors they can also be installed outside to keep a wide-angled eye on front or back yards and large porches.

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PTZ Cameras

Named with an acronym that reflects their ability to pan, tilt, and zoom, PTZ Cameras feature a joystick or software controls that let the operator remotely rotate the lens 360 degrees to track and zoom in on moving people or objects. Ideal for locations that require human intelligence to monitor a large area and then look closer to identify fine details like faces or license plate, the camera can also be programmed to automatically run a variety of preset viewing tours or customized to track specific patterns that will allow you to maximize your coverage area. Although typically more expensive, PTZ Camera can be a good alternative to installing multiple Bullet or Dome Cameras.

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Smart, Voice Integrated Cameras

The hottest trend in security cameras are those that fully integrate with popular devices like Google Assistant, Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Siri, and others to create a completely hands-free smart home security system. In addition, simple voice commands will instantly open the camera app to let you see who’s at your front door, whether your baby has woken up, or what your dog has gotten into while you’re gone. The good news is that the best security cameras that work with these voice-activated devices are relatively inexpensive with prices starting as low as $150. Whichever one you choose, make sure they have strong encryption methods that include SSL encryption, WPA2-AES encryption and are TLS-enabled to safeguard your system from being hacked.

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Want a Security Camera with Special Capabilities?

Shop around. Many of these features – even the sexy-sounding ones — come standard on even the least expensive security camera options.  In addition, other cameras with more advanced features may set you back an extra few hundred dollars or more.  Here’s an idea of what’s available:


  • Infra-red night vision that can “see” in total darkness.
  • Heat and motion detectors that trigger the camera to turn on.
  • Live streaming that sends video right to your phone or laptop.
  • Alerts that will notify you if motion or sound is detected. Some can recognize family members and pets and don’t send an alert unless it is a stranger.
  • Ability to be connected a DVR or NVR recorder.
  • Video storage in the cloud or local storage on a microSD card which may come at an extra cost.
  • A remote-control app you can use to access, monitor, and activate and adjust your security and home automation equipment from your phone, mobile device and/or laptop/computer.
  • Hard wired, wireless, and battery-operated wire-free options.

How much do security cameras and installation cost?

Prices vary, but not too widely. While you can get a simple Ring Doorbell that incorporates a security camera for just $149 or opt for a high end install-it-yourself 4-camera system for as little as $499 from a wholesale retailer like Costco, the average cost of a security system plus installation is $1,350. The low end is about $650 and the upper limit is around $2,000. 


Wireless systems are more expensive in terms of parts, but less expensive for installation.  They cost about $100 per camera while wired systems will run you about $150 to $100 per camera.  If you want an Internet Protocol (IP) system, you’ll pay between $60 to $300.  Closed Captioned TV (CCTV) systems will set you back between $70 and $300.  Fortunately, whatever kind of system you choose will not only help keep you and your family safer and more connected, it will significantly reduce your homeowner’s insurance bill.


With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever to watch out for yourself.  Start by thinking about what you need your security cameras to do and how much you want to spend.  Then shop online or in person to find the system that meets your needs and your budget.

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