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The Ultimate Security Camera Buying Guide

Dec 10, 2020|

Security cameras are a staple in any home security system. Once primarily used by the very wealthy or famous, security cameras have come a long way in recent years, and now they're better and more affordable than ever.

With so many options on the market, it pays to do your research before you buy. This guide will tell you everything you need to know to choose the best security camera for your home.

Different types of security cameras

Most security cameras fall under two main categories: indoor and outdoor. Although they both provide the same function—to allow you to see what’s going on in a certain area—and share similar features, there are also specific differences.

The main difference between indoor and outdoor security cameras is the type of environment they’re designed to withstand. An exterior camera should be water and weatherproof. It is usually made from sturdier components or may be housed in a weatherproof cover.

Indoor cameras, on the other hand, don’t have to deal with harsh weather conditions and are usually more lightweight than their outdoor counterparts.

Within these categories, there are also a variety of cameras that serve various functions.

Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro and Spotlight Pro.

Indoor security cameras

Indoor security cameras are made to focus on the interior of your home. Indoor cameras have a wide range of features, from basic, no-frills surveillance cameras to more detailed, higher-end cameras with advanced capabilities. Some of these features include:

  • Wide-angle lenses, designed to capture larger areas.
  • Microphones that allow you to listen to the area your camera is covering.
  • Motion-activated cameras that trigger recording when motion is detected.
  • HD-resolution for clear pictures.
  • Infrared night vision
  • Remote viewing via an app or tablet, so you can check footage throughout the day.
  • Notifications when motion is detected.
vivint indoor camera
Indoor cameras can help you keep an eye on your home from anywhere.

Depending on what you need your camera for, you can also find indoor security cameras that provide specific features more suited to your particular needs.

  • Nanny cam. The nanny cam is a surveillance camera designed to keep an eye on a childcare provider in your absence. Unlike other indoor security cameras, nanny cams are typically hidden or placed in a discrete location so parents can get an idea of how the sitter or nanny acts when they don’t believe anyone is watching. Nanny cams can be hidden in everyday objects such as a clock or teddy bear.
  • Pet cameras. Many pet owners wonder what their pets are up to during the day. Pet cams, which have exploded in popularity in recent years, allow doting pet parents to check on their fur babies throughout the day. Many also include pet-specific features, including the ability to dispense treats.
  • Baby monitors. A baby monitor is placed by a child’s crib or sleeping area, allowing parents or caregivers to check on them throughout the night or while they sleep. These types of cameras have a wide range of features depending on your budget and needs. Some baby monitors can monitor the temperature in the room, play white noise or lullabies, or connect to special monitors that track an infant’s breathing or movement patterns.

Many indoor home security cameras have enough features to be used interchangeably, so your camera can double as a nanny cam or pet monitor.

Outdoor security cameras

Outdoor security cameras tend to be pricier than indoor security cameras, mostly because of the weather-resistant materials needed to withstand the elements and fluctuating temperatures.

Just like indoor security cameras, exterior security cameras have a wide range of features, depending on your needs and budget. These include:

  • Motion-activated cameras that begin recording after sensing movement.
  • Continuous recording cameras that constantly record.
  • Wide-angle lenses for greater coverage.
  • Infrared LED night vision.
  • HD resolution for clearer pictures.
  • Microphones that allow you to hear and speak to people on the premises.
  • Advanced features like Vivint’s Smart Deter, which detects lurkers and plays a warning tone to let them know they’ve been spotted.
  • Remote viewing via an app on a smartphone or tablet.
vivint outdoor camera pro
Don't miss anything that happens on your property with the Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro.

Outdoor security cameras can be further divided by specific location, including:

  • Doorbell cameras. Also known as porch cameras, doorbell cameras are embedded into the home’s front doorbell. Some feature motion sensors that capture visitors to your front door or entryway, so you can see who is on your porch whether they ring the bell or not. Most doorbell cameras also feature a two-way talk function, so you can speak to the visitor and answer the door without actually opening it.
  • Floodlight camera. A floodlight camera combines the security features of motion lighting and surveillance cameras. When motion is detected, the floodlight shines a bright light on the location, and the camera begins recording. This not only provides a better picture for recording but can also scare away potential intruders.

Security camera designs

Security cameras have different designs for varying needs and functionality, such as placement, discreteness, and area to capture. Some of the different types of designs you might see as you research security cameras include:

  • Bullet. Called bullet cameras based on their cylindrical shape that resembles a bullet, this is probably the type of camera you immediately picture in your mind when you think of security cameras. This design mounts on an interior or exterior ceiling or wall.
  • Dome. Like the name implies, dome cameras are shaped like a dome and mount on ceilings. The security camera itself is housed within a dome-shaped device. These camera lenses also rotate and often provide a wider viewing angle. These are often found in commercial businesses like hotels and restaurants because of the discrete, tamper-proof design.
  • Turret. A turret camera is similar to a dome camera in shape, but it doesn’t feature protective housing. Rather, turret cameras can rotate freely from the base. They also blend into surroundings well but don’t tend to have the long-range that bullet or dome cameras have.
  • Pan/tilt/zoom. A PTZ camera allows the person monitoring the camera to control the movement or position of the lens, depending on the area they need to see. Panning is the side-to-side movement, tilt is the up and down movement, and zoom is the ability to zoom in. PTZ cameras are best-suited to monitoring large areas or real-time monitoring from a dedicated security team.

Ultimately, the design of your camera will depend on the area you’re monitoring, whether or not you want a visible or discrete camera, and whether you are monitoring a home or commercial property.

Security camera power sources and connectivity

Your security camera’s power source will be an important consideration when choosing a camera. Your power source will influence where you place your cameras and whether you will need professional installation or additional wiring.

Wired vs wireless—which is best?

The most common types of power sources for security cameras include:

  • Wired. This type of security camera is either hard-wired into your home or plugged in. Hardwired cameras are in a fixed position, and cameras that are plugged in can be moved to different locations as long as there is an outlet to plug it into.
  • Wireless. Wireless cameras don’t have wires, making them easier to move around. Wireless cameras can be either solar-powered or battery-powered. Solar-powered cameras are primarily powered by solar with battery backup, while battery-operated cameras have batteries that must be replaced or recharged regularly.

Whether you want a wired or wireless camera depends on a variety of factors. A hardwired camera will be the most limited in terms of location, but if you know you aren’t going to move it, then it could be a good choice. Outdoor cameras are typically well-suited to hardwiring, but they typically require more complicated or professional installation.

A plug-in security camera may also be a good choice if the areas you want to monitor are always close to an outlet.

Wireless cameras will require batteries, so you do have the additional expense and effort of changing or recharging batteries occasionally. However, wireless cameras offer the most flexibility in terms of location.

vivint outdoor camera pro installation
As you're looking at security cameras, consider the differences between wired and wireless options.


Connectivity refers to how your camera will connect to a network and stream and save footage. Connectivity falls into two main camps.

WiFi (IP)

Most home security cameras now connect to a WiFi network that allows users to access and control their cameras via an app. You can view footage, receive notifications, and access the camera’s features all through your phone. This provides the greatest flexibility and access.

WiFi or IP cameras run on your network, so it’s important to have enough bandwidth to support your cameras. Footage can be stored in the cloud or on your device.


A traditional analog camera is not connected to the Internet. Instead, it records and stores footage to a micro-SD card or hard drive, which can then be viewed on a computer. The obvious disadvantage to this type of security camera is the inability to live-stream footage or receive notifications.

However, this doesn’t mean analog cameras don’t have their place. In a location where WiFi is unavailable or intermittent, analog cameras will be a better choice. Dashboard security cameras for vehicles are also typically analog.

Traditional analog CCTV cameras transmit video through a coaxial cable instead of WiFi. Cameras include HD over Coax, which provide HD quality footage (up to 1080p) with analog transmission.

As a general rule, most homes rely on WiFi with cloud storage for their surveillance camera needs. These types of cameras are readily available, affordable, and use your existing home internet.

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How to choose a security camera

Now that you know the basics, how do you choose the best security camera for your home and family? Use the following questions and steps as a security camera buying guide to help you find the perfect fit.

1. Decide how you'll be using the camera

First, decide the primary functions you want for your camera. For an indoor camera, you might want to keep an eye on your kids while you’re at work, or perhaps you want a camera that captures a certain entry point.

For an outdoor camera, do you want your camera to provide a visual deterrent to anyone who might come onto your property with bad intentions? Or do you want a camera specifically dedicated to your front porch?

2. Choose your camera type

Once you know what you want to use your camera for, you can narrow it down by the type. This could be an indoor camera with two-way speakers, a doorbell camera, an outdoor camera with wide-angle viewing, or all of the above.

3. Pick your power source

If you want an indoor security camera that doubles as a baby monitor, a wireless camera will be your best bet. If you want an outdoor camera that’s placed higher up on your home but don’t want to have to change the batteries, a hardwired camera will be the better choice.

vivint indoor camera
Another important consideration is the power source for your cameras.

4. Compare cloud storage plans

Some cameras have limited cloud storage plans, or they offer streaming only. In order to get the most out of your camera, you’ll need to be able to access your saved footage. As you compare cloud storage plans, make sure you have enough to save and store footage for all of your cameras.

For example, if you have only a doorbell camera, a smaller plan will probably work. But if you want to store footage from three outdoor cameras, a doorbell camera, and a couple of indoor cameras, you will need a storage plan large enough to handle all of it.

5. Consider your privacy

Any device that connects to the Internet has the potential to be hacked. Luckily, there are plenty of ways you can keep your cameras and their footage safe. Choose cameras with security features such as:

  • Strong data encryption to prevent unauthorized access.
  • A reputable, transparent company that specializes in security cameras.
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6. Know your must-have features

It's a good idea to list the features you absolutely want in your security camera. For example, you may want an indoor camera that has a microphone with two-way talk. Or, a doorbell camera with proactive package protection might be a must-have. Knowing exactly what you want and need will help you narrow down your choices.

7. Set a budget

Security camera pricing runs a wide gamut, from around $20 for a bare-bones indoor camera to more than $1,000 for a high-tech, commercial camera loaded with features. Compare the pricing of various cameras and set a budget. You can get a number of high-quality, feature-rich security cameras for an affordable price. If you want to buy a whole-house security camera system, you may want to purchase cameras one at a time as you can comfortably afford them, or look for a company that provides no-interest financing on their equipment.

Home security and automation

If you want to take security a step further, you can also consider home security systems with cameras.

Like security cameras, smart home security systems have a wide range of features and capabilities to consider. When looking for home security systems with cameras, keep the following in mind.


When it comes to home security, monitoring refers to the active monitoring of your security system's status as well as the response to certain events. Security systems are either self-monitored or professionally monitored.


With a self-monitored security system, you monitor everything. For example, if a burglar alarm is tripped or the smoke detector goes off, it’s up to you to call the police or the fire department.

This type of security system typically provides a lower monthly cost, since you do not pay for an outside agency to monitor your system. However, this route includes a number of disadvantages. If you are not home when an alarm goes off, there will be no one to call 911 in an emergency. Or, if there is an emergency and you are home, your focus will be getting your family to safety rather than calling for help, which could result in a delay in getting a first responder dispatched to your home.

Professional monitoring

A security system with professional monitoring provides continuous monitoring of your home around the clock. If an alarm sounds in your home, the monitoring company will immediately be notified. They will contact you as well as emergency personnel on your behalf.

Professionally monitored systems provide greater peace of mind, taking the burden off of you so you can focus on ensuring your family is safe in case of an emergency.

vivint 24/7 professional monitoring
With a Vivint smart security system, your home will be monitored around the clock.

Recording and storage

Cameras record footage either through DVR or NVR:

  • Digital Video Recorders (DVR): DVR systems typically work with both digital and analog cameras and process your camera’s footage into a hard drive or internal memory card. The footage is streamed to a recorder via coaxial cables.
  • Network Video Recorder (NVR): This type of system works with IP cameras, storing and recording video footage directly on the network.

Once the video footage is recorded, it is then either stored locally or on the cloud.

Local storage saves footage to an internal memory card that can be removed and saved to a computer. This type of storage does not have the same security issues that cloud storage might have, nor does it require a monthly fee.

Cloud-based storage stores video footage in the cloud, the same way your cellphone might store your photos or music. This storage typically comes with a nominal monthly fee but allows you to store much more data without having to worry about saving it to a computer.

Smart home app

One of the benefits of a complete smart home security system with automation is the ability to control and access your entire home security system via a single app.

Through an app, you can view your live or recorded camera footage, arm your security system, lock your doors, and much more. Simply put, a smart home app keeps you connected to your security cameras and your home at all times.

vivint app
Control your home from anywhere with the Vivint app, no matter where you are.


When it comes to security camera installation (and home security installation), you have two choices—DIY or professional installation.

If you are installing standalone security cameras, such as a plug-in indoor camera or a doorbell camera that replaces your current doorbell, you can probably do it yourself just fine.

However, if you don’t know how to install home security cameras, or you have a more complicated setup with multiple cameras that you want to connect to your smart home security system, professional installation is the way to go. Hardwired security cameras and outdoor security cameras in particular will benefit from professional installation that may require additional wiring and drilling.

Professional security camera installation not only ensures that the cameras function properly and are placed in the appropriate location, but also that they integrate properly with your home security system.

Key takeaway—it pays to research

Ultimately, choosing the right security cameras for your home will require a good deal of research. Your needs, wants, and budget will all play a role in the camera you choose. Taking the time to evaluate what you really need will help you choose a camera that will bring you and your family complete peace of mind.

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Questions? Leave it to the pros. Contact our Smart Home Pros today at 800.646.1469 for a free quote and let them help you choose the perfect security cameras.

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Vivint Systems & Services

System supports up to six cameras subject to sufficient WiFi speeds. Without a Vivint services plan, product and system functionality is limited (including loss of remote connectivity). Speak to a Vivint representative at the phone number in this offer for complete equipment, services, and package details, including pricing and financing details. Products and services in Louisiana provided by Vivint Louisiana Commercial Certificate #58280. See Vivint license numbers here.