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Pros and Cons of Security Cameras

July 09, 2018

Information is the backbone of an effective security system. That certainty that your kids are safe, that your dog didn’t destroy the sofa, that a thief hasn’t run away with thousands of dollars worth of valuables.

Video cameras let us stay connected to what matters most in a powerful way, and our smartphones provide us with the gateway to make that connection accessible from anywhere.

Cameras play a major role in a comprehensive security plan, but they should NOT be the only or even the first step.

Pros

Cameras can deter crime.

Cameras serve two primary roles in home defense:

  • Deter would-be intruders
  • Capture video evidence to aid a police investigation

Criminals don’t like being watched when they’re at work. Putting surveillance cameras 12’ above ground level can be really effective at telling people you don’t mess around when it comes to home security.

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To most thieves, security cameras are a shortcut to spending several years staring at concrete walls. Make them visible.

The reason for mounting them so high up is so that everybody can clearly see them from the street, but it’ll be difficult for the burglar to reach up and disconnect the wires.

Position the camera such a way that you’re best able to capture a license plate number or get a clear shot of someone’s face.

Modern security cameras are feature-rich.

Most video cameras manufactured within recent years can do the following:

  • Record sound and video of whatever’s going on in the room
  • Detect motion and sound
  • Send alerts to your smartphone if there’s any unusual activity
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More advanced cameras have superior features like the following:

  • Two-way talk capability
  • Attached motion-sensing flood lights
  • Built-in sirens

Consumer-grade security cameras aren’t expensive.

Though you’d think the features listed above would cost you an arm and a leg, you’re fortunately mistaken. Prices for cameras are much more reasonable than they used to be.

Most cameras manufactured for residential use range between $100–$300, but if you want to buy some really high-end professional-grade cameras (like those you might expect in a bank), those can be several hundred dollars or even thousands of dollars each.

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You can also find something dirt cheap on Amazon for under $100, but with cameras, you tend to get what you pay for. Trying to cut corners on price will likely make it so that you’ll have to buy better cameras down the line to replace them.

Cons

Cameras by themselves do not make a home or business secure.

Security cameras can’t replace a monitored security system—unless you always are able to know what’s happening in your home at any given time, it’s just not possible for you to be on-call 24/7, fully prepared to respond to a disaster the instant it happens.

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There are countless circumstances in which you’d have a tougher time responding to an emergency notification on your smartphone:

  • You’re on vacation in another country
  • You have poor cell reception and no Wi-Fi connection
  • You’re asleep
  • Your phone is out of battery
  • Your phone is on silent
  • You’re on a plane, driving a car, or swimming
  • You are incapacitated or unconscious

The question then becomes: do you have a backup plan for all of the above?

For many people, self-monitoring turns their security systems into a source of anxiety as they can feel compelled to check their cameras constantly whenever they pull out their phones to do something routine like read a text message.

On a self-monitored camera system, it’s up to you to call the police, fire department, or emergency services. The knowledge that the safety of your family and priceless belongings are solely in your hands can be a heavy responsibility to bear.

Cameras can make people uncomfortable.

Privacy is always an important discussion to have when putting up cameras. The feeling of being watched is unpleasant, even when the camera may not actually be recording.

Everyone in your house (and guests) should be made aware what is being recorded and when. When the camera is not in use, the lens should be obscured or turned to face the wall or floor.

If that’s not possible, be clear to all occupants living in the home that the device is only active when the security system is armed at night or when the house is empty.

Some camera brands have security holes that make your data vulnerable.

To protect the videos stored in your cloud storage service, make sure your Wi-Fi network is secure and that you’re periodically changing the passwords on your devices.

The US government is cracking down on cameras that are known to have glaring security holes allowing anyone can access the footage or use the cameras as part of a botnet in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. The recent US House Bill HR 5515 requires that government agencies may not purchase or use Dahua or Hikvision cameras due to these concerns.

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Even though these security holes have been made public for years, these companies have failed to patch the cameras. Dahua and Hikvision responded to the exploits to say that they’d solve the issue, but they’ve made almost no progress in this area.

Should you decide to purchase a camera from either brand, make sure it is on a closed network or behind a firewall. If your cameras are on a DVR which has them on a separate LAN, you’re not at risk.

The Verdict

While security cameras aren’t a singular solution to anyone’s security needs, homeowners and business owners will likely benefit from the added sense of peace of mind cameras can provide.

A well-implemented camera system is an excellent addition to a professional-grade security system reducing your personal risk while also making your community safer.

How do I choose a security camera?

One of the major obstacles facing buyers is that security cameras are incredibly difficult to compare due to extreme variance in price and features. Reading a spec sheet or a product e-book tells you very little about how well a camera actually performs and whether it will fulfill the specific function you need it for.

It’s not always easy to immediately figure out why a $100 camera is somehow inferior to a $300 camera, leading many people to go on Amazon and buy the cheapest thing that they can find.

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Price is always important when building the right system for our needs. But in our experience working with thousands of customers, the ones who do more research on their camera choices tend to be happier in the long term.

Listen to what past customers have had to say about the device on major review outlets, e-commerce sites, and social media pages. Learn as much as you can about the product and the services that accompany it. Before you make a purchase, consider the following:

  • Video Quality: Anything less than 720p will leave you looking at blobs, but just saying a camera is 720p, 1080p, or 4K doesn’t mean the image is necessarily better. Heavily compressed footage will end up blurry even on 4K cameras. Being able to make out certain features clearly could make all the difference someday.
  • Night Vision: You also want good night-vision (usually referred to as infra-red or IR) range, especially on outdoor cameras. Find user-created videos online that show the camera’s functionality in low-light conditions.
  • Camera Power: You'll have to supply power to your cameras. I suggest wired instead of wireless (batteries). Batteries just add another potential weakness to your system.

    Batteries can die quickly, especially when used in outdoor cameras that pick up lots of movement, and it’s easy to forget to replace them.
  • Field of View: Be aware of how wide of an area you need your camera to capture. Camera fields of view range from 100 degrees to as much as 180. Some cameras are mounted on the wall or ceiling in such a way where you can manually turn them as needed, while others like PTZ cameras can pan, tilt, and zoom via remote control to see a wider area.

    You want the widest angle possible so that the camera covers the most terrain. I have a few older cameras in my setup that are basically worthless because they see so little.

  • Storage: Different camera manufacturers offer their own video storage methods—most camera manufacturers offer free short-term cloud storage, but if you want to store videos on a longer-term basis, you’ll probably have to upgrade to a more advanced data plans.

    Alternatively, you may also be able to store videos on an SD card or USB drive. Some people might be averse to cloud storage because of the monthly fees, the trust you have to place in their privacy standards, data caps, and slow download speeds.

    Think about whether the convenience is worth it to you. If you’re the kind of person who wants their cameras running 24/7 and monitors them closely, cloud storage is less efficient than a DVR or NVR.

  • Smart Assistant Integration: If you use something similar to Google Home, Amazon Alexa, or Apple HomeKit, you should find a camera that will integrate with that system.

  • Camera Locations: Considering where to place your cameras is essential when you want to get the most utility out of each device.

    Think about most likely break-in points (front door, back door, sliding door, garage) and make sure they're within the camera’s field of view. Put the cameras high and as far away from what you want to record as possible without sacrificing image clarity.

    Try putting them on the corners of your house instead of in the middle of the walls. Make it so that they have to get in front of the camera to disable it.

Choosing a security camera is difficult, but as with most things, the best way to go about it is by deciding what features you need first and eliminating every option that doesn’t fulfill all of those needs.

Once you have a shortlist of cameras that all accomplish similar things, you compare the camera’s price, the manufacturer’s reputation, the quality of their customer service, and customer reviews.

Build out a spreadsheet with all of your options. Write down any questions or lingering doubts you have about the product and reach out to the support team to see if they can help. By the time you click that “purchase” button, you should be absolutely confident in your decision.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Home Security and learn:

  • Top 5 misconceptions about home security
  • How to assess vulnerabilities in your home
  • Why home security is about more than preventing burglaries
  • Cutting-edge security equipment: how home security has changed
  • Monitored vs. Self-Monitored Systems
  • Local vs. National Security Companies

... and more!

Download Ultimate Security Guide
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