How to Choose a Security Camera System - Buyers Guide

New to cameras? Start here

Looking into a security camera system for the first time can be a daunting task, and most people aren't even sure where they should start. This guide is geared towards an individual who wants to secure their home or business but doesn't necessarily know all of the questions to ask or what to look for.

I'm going to break this into several sections so it's easy to skip to the section that applies to your needs. The first thing we need to know is if this is a brand new install, or a retrofit of an existing system. If it's a brand new system I recommend going with an IP camera system, which have better features, clearer pictures and the cable is future proof for upgrades down the line. If we're dealing an older analog system that you are looking to retrofit with newer technology you still have options with HD over coax systems, which take the existing RG59 wire (assuming it isn't damaged) and allow you to get HD quality images through that old wire. You will find additional information and a video about High Definition analog systems vs newer IP systems here: Analog vs IP Security Cameras

Most common questions asked during initial CCTV installation

Proactive Security Cameras has been installing security cameras in the Dallas / Fortworth area for 25 years, and with over 7 years of personal experience in this industry I am going to go over the core areas of importance that every person needs to consider.

Camera Placement

Whether it's for your home or business the first thing you need to understand is what you're protecting. If it's for your business is it to protect against theft, to monitor inventory shrinkage, or protection from insurance fraud? There are endless reasons as to why you would need to have a security camera system installed. But knowing the core issue and what you're trying to protect yourself from is the first step since you can design a security camera system around that problem. The number 1 tip I give to every customer when they are designing a security system for their home or business is to not stretch a camera to do more than 1 job. If you want to see the front door of your home and the front yard do not try to stretch a single camera to do both, you'll end up not really doing either very successfully.

Once we know what we are watching (doors, cash registers, product, machines, general coverage, etc) we move onto the style of the camera, the field of view required and resolution. Honestly all 3 of those are individual conversations because they are equally important, though I often lump them together because you simultaneously pick all 3 when you choose a camera. Essentially what we are talking about is how the camera will look and mount, the clarity of the picture and the field of view (how wide the picture is) of the camera needed. If you need assistance laying out your video surveillance system we can help. Click here to submit a layout of your home or business.

Camera Style

Lets start with Dome vs Bullet. To break it down quickly Domes are generally preferred indoors and on homes because they are aesthetically pleasing and are great cameras for general coverage. Bullet cameras are generally used on outdoor commercial applications and in specialty areas because they offer more mounting options than Domes do. There is a lot more to it than that but that will at least give you a basic idea. We made an entire video and wrote out an entire blog on this specific topic, you can find that here: Bullet vs Dome Cams

Cameras Field Of View

A cameras' field of view is an extremely important thing to consider when picking a surveillance system. Different models produce different fields of view, which you can find by looking at their specifications. You really don't need to get too specific when it comes to this, really all you need to know is if the camera produce a wide angle (85 – 120 degrees) or a narrow (45 – 80 degrees) field of view. If you want the camera to have a general coverage shot of your front yard a wider angle camera would be preferred, whereas if you are wanting to keep an eye on something specific like a cash register, a narrower field of view would be handy. Most cameras on the market come with what we call a “fixed focus” lens which means the field of view is static and cannot be changed. There are some cameras that are available that feature a variable focus lens (vari-focal for short) where the field of view can be changed from a wide shot to narrow depending on the needs of the camera. If you would like additional information on that, we made an entire video and blog about this very topic. You can find it here: Field of View Guide

Cameras Resolution

Resolution will be our next topic. There are a lot of different resolutions on the market today, everything from low resolution analog to ultra HD IP camera systems. This really isn't too bad nowadays because nearly every system you'll find will be some form of HD. Higher resolution simply means there will be more detail captured so you'll be able to make out faces and other details at greater distances. Honestly you should get the highest resolution that your budget can afford, it will pay for itself time and time again. Something to watch out for when looking at the resolution offered by a company or manufacturer is the difference between a “Display Resolution” and “Record Resolution.” If it says it “Displays in 4K” that only means that the picture you're looking at on the screen is in 4K, not that it captures that image in 4K. It's very common for a company to sell you cameras that display in 4K but only record in 1080P. This is important to understand the difference because playback is what we use as evidence. If you want to know more we went very in-depth with a video and written blog here: Understanding Video Resolution

Archive Time

Something that is often overlooked when picking out a surveillance system is the archive time on the recorders. The archive time will vary greatly depending on the number of cameras, the resolution of those cameras, how many frames per second they are capturing and the capacity of the hard drive. We made a hard drive calculator with which you can input your desired days, number of cameras etc and it will tell you what size of hard drive to get with your system. You can find that here: Hard Drive Calculator Link

Cameras Night Vision

Night Vision in cameras is a pretty standard feature that comes equipped with nearly all cameras. With that being said they are not all created equal. How far the IR goes, in what pattern (how wide) and even advanced features such as Smart IR all vary from model to model. Sadly, manufacturers tend to greatly over exaggerate how far their IR's will go. If the box says 100ft it's usually closer to 60-70ft. With that being said the best way you can protect yourself to ensure you're receiving what you actually need is to watch playback of the camera you're interested in. Here at Proactive Security Cameras we have posted a demo shot of each one of our cameras in both day and night time settings so you can imagine what it would look like in your home or business. You can find that information here: What is Infrared?

Cameras Frames Per Second

One of the biggest myths with security cameras is the fact that you need 30 frames per second to be any good, when in reality it's extremely far from the truth. Here at Proactive Security Cameras we suggest 15 frames per second, as when you compare 15 and 30 FPS side by side it's almost indistinguishable, and the only exception to that is if the object is moving at a high rate of speed. Even 10 FPS is just fine for 90% of cameras and uses. There are times when a camera needs to capture at a high FPS, such as a vehicle license plate camera, but it is very situational. Keep in mind that when the extra FPS isn't needed and you lower it from 30 to, say 15 FPS, you will literally double your storage time. You can find additional information and a video here: FPS Guide

Wired vs Wireless Solutions

If you were to believe every ad you see then you would think that wireless cameras are amazing and you would be crazy to install a wired security camera. Wireless does have its' place in the security realm but it's a very situational solution and probably not what most people expect. If a camera has built in WiFi I will almost exclusively tell you to stay away from it, that is, unless it's a baby monitor or a video doorbell. Most people see “wireless” and assume it's easier to install, and in someways they are right. Something people don't realize is that even if the video signal is wireless the camera itself still needs power, so it'll either be battery powered or you'll have to position it near a power outlet. Secondly, because the camera is transmitting a video signal and potentially battery powered they generally have lower resolutions and record in only small clips based upon motion, generally around 30 seconds at a time. After the the 30 seconds it'll stop recording and another motion event will need to trigger before it starts another recording, which is fine for a doorbell camera, but terrible if you're trying to secure around your home or business. Personally, at my home I have a video doorbell for notifications and the convenience of being able to speak to someone standing at my door, but I also have a security camera that records high definition video for longer than 30 seconds at a time. There are other advantages to hardwired cameras over wireless and you can find those in the video and blog we wrote about this very topic here: Wired vs Wireless Surveillance Systems.

Who is going to install the system?

Installing a surveillance system isn't overly complicated but it can be challenging. If you're relatively handy, and comfortable in your attic then this should be a breeze for you. If it's your first time I would always recommend taking a look at tutorial videos and guides available to see tips and tricks when installing. If installation just isn't your cup of tea then you can hire a company to install the system for you. There is a specific security installation license required for the installation of CCTV equipment in most States, and I would stay very far away from anyone that isn't licensed and insured. It's very common for audio/video guys (TV and Sound system installers) to also install CCTV equipment but many of them aren't actually licensed for CCTV work. It's something to keep an eye out for. If you are in the Dallas / Fortworth area feel free to contact us for installations because we are fully licensed through the State of Texas (B09375) and have full insurance as well. You can reach us between the hours of 10am to 6pm CST, Monday through Saturday, at this number: 1-833-521-4830. 

Remote View Capabilities

Virtually every system on the market has the capability to be remotely viewed, but what does that mean, exactly? Being able to remotely view your system simply means that while you're away from your home or business, you could open up an app on your phone, tablet or computer and see a live stream of your cameras. There is a tad more to it than that since it does require an active internet connection to work. To playback HD resolution remotely it does require a certain amount of upload bandwidth at the location of the NVR. To ensure that you have adequate internet speed to support remote view you can visit our HD Calculator and you will find a section listed as “Remote Network Upload Speeds (Main Stream)” and “Sub Stream,” which refers to the upload speed required for smooth video playback remotely.

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