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The In-Depth Guide to Outdoor Cameras

Jul 15, 2021|

It used to be that outdoor security cameras were only really used for businesses or homes of the rich and famous.

Today, however, technology has come a long way, making outdoor cameras available for home and budgets of all sizes.

With so many choices, it can be difficult to narrow down the right camera for you. This guide will help you understand the different types of outdoor security cameras and features available.

father and daughter washing car with outdoor camera in the background
Outdoor Cameras are your eyes to the outside of your home.

Outdoor security camera basics

When it comes to security cameras in general, they can be broken down by indoor, outdoor, and doorbell cameras. There are some key differences between indoor and outdoor cameras to keep in mind.

The type of materials used to make and house the camera is one of the main differences. Outdoor cameras need to be able to withstand more extreme temperatures, rain, and snow, so they are typically housed in weather-proof casing. Indoor cameras, on the other hand, are more lightweight and don’t need to protect against the elements.

Where to place outdoor cameras

The placement of your outdoor cameras is key—after all, they won’t do much good if they’re not capturing what’s really going on around the outside of your home.

But before you can decide where to put them, you need to determine what you want them to keep an eye on. Some of the most common things people use their outdoor cameras to keep an eye on include:

  • Monitoring the back of the home, which may be more vulnerable
  • Keeping an eye on outbuildings, like sheds and garages
  • Viewing side or basement entrances, which may be more vulnerable to break-ins if they’re hidden from view
  • Monitoring your driveway, fences, or the perimeter of your home
view of outdoor camera mounted
Mount your outdoor camera to view any area outside of your home.

Where you mount your camera will also depend on other factors, including:

  • Video quality. Ideally, an outdoor camera will have a higher resolution (at least 1080p). A camera that has lower resolution will need to be placed closer or lower to the areas you want to monitor.
  • Range. The camera’s field of view will also help determine placement. With a camera that has a wider range, like 180 degrees, you’ll have more flexibility for placement.
  • Camera housing. Most outdoor cameras are weather-proof, but that’s not the same as waterproof. If you live in an area that gets a lot of rain or extreme temperatures, make sure you don’t expose it to the elements without the proper protective housing.

As a general rule, some of the best places for outdoor cameras include views of:

  • Doors and windows (These are the two most common entry points for break-ins.)
  • Garage and driveway
  • Outbuildings such as sheds or detached garages, which may house expensive tools
  • Any area you want to see day or night, such as animal kennels or ponds

As you scope out your property and decide where you want to put your outdoor cameras, you might realize you need multiple cameras to cover all areas you want to keep an eye on.

Hidden vs visible?

Another factor to consider when deciding on camera placement is whether you want your camera visible or hidden. There are pros and cons to each:

  • Hidden cameras may catch a burglar or vandal in the act simply because they don’t know they’re being watched, and a savvy criminal can just choose another way to break in if they see a camera. Hiding your camera also won’t interfere with the aesthetic of your home, if you don’t like the way visible cameras look.
  • Visible cameras, on the other hand, provide one of the most powerful deterrents for burglars—one study of incarcerated burglars found that the majority looked for things like surveillance cameras and security signs when deciding whether to break in and were more likely to skip homes with cameras.

Ultimately, the decision to hide your camera or keep it in plain view is a personal preference. But like the study above shows, the mere presence of one can help prevent a crime on your property before it even begins.

Let’s be neighbors.

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Wireless outdoor security cameras vs wired

When it comes to what powers outdoor security cameras, they’re either wired, wireless, or a combination of both.

Wireless outdoor security cameras are either battery or solar-powered. Because they are not hardwired to the home, they can be moved around to different locations as needed, providing a bit more flexibility. They are also simpler to set up.

There are disadvantages of wireless cameras, too. Some wireless cameras don’t offer continuous recording, in order to save battery life. Depending on the camera’s capabilities, it may use up batteries very quickly, which can be costly in the long run. And unless you are proactive about changing the batteries when they wear down, you run the risk of your camera not functioning when needed. Solar-powered cameras can also run into issues if you don’t have enough sun to keep it running.

Wired cameras, on the other hand, require that you’re hardwired into both the power source and the Internet. As a result, this often requires professional installation or advanced knowledge of wiring, making it a little harder for the average DIYer. The hardwired process makes it more difficult to move as well.

However, wired cameras have advantages over wireless in terms of signal strength and battery usage. Since they don’t require a battery to run, wired outdoor cameras don’t incur the ongoing cost and effort of replacing batteries.

Some companies also offer the best of both worlds with hybrid wired WiFi cameras. These combine the ongoing reliability of wired cameras with a strong WiFi signal strength for connectivity.

Outdoor camera connectivity

Connectivity is another consideration as you search for an outdoor camera. Outdoor security cameras can be either Wi-Fi connected (also called Digital or IP) or Analog.

In the world of the Internet of Things (IoT), most of us are used to devices that connect to the Internet, from refrigerators to doorbells to security cameras. In terms of outdoor security cameras, an internet connection is what enables you to view your camera footage remotely and in real-time. It also lets the camera upload footage straight to cloud-based storage.

However, not all outdoor security cameras use an Internet connection. Analog cameras store footage via an SD card, so you can’t view the footage live unless it’s via a CCTV feed. Otherwise you’d have to upload the SD card’s footage for viewing later.

Analog security cameras are typically used by companies or large organizations that don’t want to risk the potential for security breaches via a WiFi connection, or by people who live in areas that doesn’t get a strong enough WiFi signal for reliable connectivity.

outdoor camera on house through palm trees
A Smart Home Pro can help you find the best spot to mount your outdoor camera.

Recording and monitoring your outdoor camera footage

You can further narrow down analog and digital cameras by their recording and monitoring capabilities, which brings us to another important question to ask: How will you be able to view your outdoor camera footage?

Recording and monitoring will also depend on your camera’s connectivity and whether it is analog or digital. There are two main types of recording capabilities:

  • Digital Video Recorder (DVR). Cameras that store footage directly to a DVR are usually hard-wired, analog cameras. You can view your footage as it records or later, similar to the way DVR records TV programs that you can view. However, this does not allow for remote viewing of footage.
  • Network Video Recorder (NVR). This is what most WiFi, home-based outdoor security cameras use. They can be either wired or wireless. If you want to view your camera footage on your phone while you’re away from home, this is the type of recording capability you will need.

You’ll also want to consider how often you want your camera to record. Continuous recording means the camera records everything, day and night. This requires a great deal of storage space, whether it’s on an SD card or in the cloud.

Smart outdoor cameras

Most home-use outdoor cameras are pretty “smart,” and come equipped with some form of artificial intelligence and motion sensing capability. Your camera should have the ability to sense motion and differentiate between inanimate objects and humans.

Artificial intelligence

One of the coolest things about outdoor cameras today is the ability to differentiate between things like passing cars or animals and people. This way, you don’t get an alert every time a leaf blows in front or your camera or a car drives by your house. However, if you want to use your camera to keep an eye on pets or livestock outside, you can also adjust your settings so they are included as well.

Smart Deter

It’s difficult to talk about artificial intelligence in outdoor cameras without bringing up the Smart Deter feature in the Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro. This technology proactively protects your property and the custom zones you set. If the camera spots a lurker on your property, it plays a loud sound and illuminates an LED ring around the camera’s lens, drawing the lurker’s eyes to the camera and letting them know they’ve been spotted.

Outdoor cameras and privacy

When it comes to anything powered by the internet, people often worried about the potential for being hacked or security breaches.

It’s worth pointing out that anything that connects to the Internet is subject to being hacked. However, you can greatly reduce your risk of compromised privacy with a little background knowledge and by taking basic precautions.

A few things to look out for include:

  • Choose a camera from a reliable company and manufacturer
  • Make sure your camera has end-to-end encryption
  • Change your login credentials to something that can’t be easily guessed, such as your last name or commonly-used passwords
  • Use two-factor identification whenever offered
  • Install updates to the camera whenever they are released; these updates often include fixes to vulnerabilities

While the idea of someone hacking into your security camera is unnerving, with these precautions in place, hacks into your system are unlikely.

Features to look for in an outdoor security camera

When it comes to camera features, there are basic features you’ll want to make sure your outdoor cameras include. Some of these features are:

  • Video quality. Most cameras today have 1080p footage, which provides a clear HD-quality view. Some of the more expensive, advanced cameras have 2160p HD, and some lower-end models will be 720p. As a general rule, 1080p will provide the clarity needed for most situations.
  • Night vision. A must for outdoor cameras, clear night vision and a good range will ensure you get a clear picture day or night. Look for an LED infrared camera with an outdoor range of at least 50 feet to get the best bang for your buck.
  • High Dynamic Range (HDR). This is an important feature for outdoor cameras. If you’ve ever taken a video or photo in bright lighting, you may have noticed the picture is completely washed out from the glare. HDR helps ensure you have a clear picture whether the camera is facing sunlight or shadows.
  • Field of view. Your camera’s field of vision is how wide the camera’s footage is. The greater the field of view, the more ground you’ll cover. Unless the camera does a complete, 360-degree pan, this range can technically be up to 180 degrees. However, most cameras don’t reach that, as the outer picture will start to distort. Look for something that provides at least 120 degrees.
  • Zoom. Some cameras offer the ability to zoom in, which is incredibly useful if you want to hone in on a person’s face or license plate number. This falls under the “nice to have” category, and many cameras offer zoom-in features that retain a clear picture.
  • Audio. Doorbell cameras normalized two-way audio in security cameras, and most of the outdoor cameras on the market for home use today also come equipped with microphones and the ability to speak to the person on the other end of the camera.
  • Monitoring. The ability to view camera footage while away from home is important for many people, so make sure you find a camera that has an app that supports remote monitoring of footage, whether live or recorded.
  • Smart home integration. If you want your camera to be part of a smart home, make sure it has the ability to integrate with whatever smart home platform you use.
  • Motion sensors. You’ll also want to look for a camera with a motion sensor that will automatically record or notify you when it senses motion. This helps keep you apprised of what’s happening at home, while also helping save space by only recording when something or someone is in its line of vision.

Some outdoor cameras also go above and beyond the basic features listed above. The Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro, for example, not only provides these features, but also proactively protects your home and property with its Smart Deter feature.

outdoor camera view on car and street
View footage on your Smart Hub or Vivint App from anywhere.

Installing your outdoor camera

You’ve picked out the perfect outdoor camera. Now how to get it up and running? You can either have your camera professionally installed or do it yourself.

If your camera is a truly wire-free, Wi-Fi enabled camera designed to be moved to different locations, then by all means install it yourself. This installation will be little more than mounting it to your home and connecting it to your home’s Internet.

If you have a wired or hybrid wired system or want to connect your camera to your smart home platform, it may require a little more advanced time and DIY skills to ensure the camera works correctly and pairs with your other devices.

In most cases, professional installation is the preferred way to go. A professional installer will ensure the cameras are not only installed properly (which is especially important if there is drilling or wiring involved), but are integrated with your smart home system. They can also offer valuable assistance in determining camera placement. Some companies, like Vivint, include professional installation with purchase.

The bottom line – know what you’re looking for

Ultimately, the outdoor security camera you choose will depend on your budget and individual needs. Once you have a good idea of what you need and what’s available on the market, you can find a camera that will give you peace of mind and security for your home and family.

If you’re still not sure if you need an outdoor home security camera, check out this video for a closer look at the different types of home security cameras and which ones are right for you.

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