6 Best Outdoor Security Cameras (2021): For Homes, Businesses, and More – WIRED

There is a lot to consider when you are shopping for an outdoor security camera. It can be tough to determine which features you need, so here are some important questions to run through.

Wired or battery: Wired cameras usually require some drilling to install, must be within reach of a power outlet, and will go out if the power does, but they never need to be charged. If you buy battery-powered security cameras, the installation is easier, and you can pick the spots you want. They usually run for months before needing to be recharged and will warn you when the battery is low, but that does mean you have to remove the battery, or sometimes the entire camera, to recharge it, which typically takes a few hours. It’s worth noting that you can buy solar panels to power some battery-powered cameras now, which gives you the best of both worlds.

Video quality: You may be tempted to go with the highest resolution video you can, but this isn’t always the best idea. You can see more details in a 4K video, but it requires much more bandwidth to stream and more storage space to record than Full HD or 2K resolution. Folks with limited Wi-Fi should be cautious. You will generally want a wide field of view, so the camera takes in more, but this can cause a curved fisheye effect at the corners, and some cameras are better than others at correcting for distortion. An important feature, particularly if your camera is facing a mixed lighting location with some shadow and direct sunlight (or a street light), is HDR support, as it can prevent light areas from blowing out or dark areas from losing detail.

Connectivity: Most security cameras will connect to your Wi-Fi router on the 2.4-GHz band. Depending on where you intend to install them, you may appreciate support for the 5-GHz band, which enables the stream to load more quickly. Some systems, such as the EufyCam 2 Pro, come with a hub that can act as a Wi-Fi range extender. Bear in mind that you shouldn’t install a security camera in a location without a strong Wi-Fi signal.

Subscription model: Most security camera manufacturers offer a subscription service that provides cloud storage for video recording. It isn’t always as optional as it seems. Some manufacturers bundle in smart features such as person detection or activity zones, making a subscription essential to get the best from its cameras. Always factor in the subscription cost and make sure you are clear on what is included before you buy.

Local or cloud storage: If you don’t want to sign up for a subscription service and upload video clips to the cloud, make sure your chosen camera offers local storage. Some security cameras have MicroSD card slots, while others record video to a hub device inside your home. A few manufacturers offer limited cloud storage for free, but you can usually expect to pay somewhere around $3 to $6 per month for 30 days of storage for a single camera. For multiple cameras, a longer recording period, or continuous recording, you are looking at paying between $10 and $15 per month. There are usually discounts if you pay annually.

Placement is important: Remember that a visible security camera is a powerful deterrent. You don’t want to hide your cameras away. Also, make sure the view isn’t peering into a neighbor’s window. Most cameras offer customizable zones to filter out recording or motion detection for areas of the camera’s frame. If you buy a battery-powered camera, remember that you will have to charge it periodically, so it has to be somewhat accessible. The ideal placement for security cameras is around seven feet above the ground and angled slightly downwards.

False positives: Unless you want your phone to ping every time your cat wanders onto the porch or when the neighbor’s dog runs through your garden, consider a security camera that can detect people and filter alerts. 

Night vision and spotlights: Outdoor security cameras generally have infrared night vision, but low-light performance varies wildly. You always lose some detail when light levels are low. Most night vision modes produce monochrome footage. Some manufacturers offer color night vision, though it is often colorized by software and can look odd. We prefer spotlights as they allow the camera to capture better quality footage, and the light acts as a further deterrent to any intruder, but they aren’t suitable for every situation and drain batteries faster if not wired.

Camera theft: Concerned about camera theft? Choose a camera that doesn’t have onboard storage. You might also want to consider a protective cage and screw mount rather than a magnetic mount. Some manufacturers have replacement policies for camera theft, especially if you have a subscription, but they usually require you to file a police report and have exclusions. Check the policy thoroughly before you buy.

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