Monday, November 5, 2018

What is the best camera for X?

I see that question posted a lot. Often just "What is the best camera?".


It really depends on what you are monitoring and the features you need to do that. If you are just looking for a motion alert about anything will do. Note outdoors that will likely include things waving in the breeze or reducing the sensitivity and or marking to the point you miss a lot. But if you actually want to be able to have video usable by the police or (even more usual in my case) see what caused some damage and find how it got there to do it or where some critter is hiding, you need to have the right equipment in place before it happens. And that takes some thought. Preferable leaning to the overkill side given lenses get dirty and odds are you will not think of everything that will happen that you will want footage of after it does.

Once you start looking you find WAY too many posts and even news reports where someone only discovers the video they have is basically worthless after something has happened. Then as mentioned at the start I see almost daily posts just in one Facebook group alone, much less other groups from people asking which camera or even camera / NVR bundle is best with little of no mention of what they are trying to monitor. There seems to be a common myth that there is a best best cam that is also best in every situation. Better it do a bit of planning up front for the best match to your situation and get the footage you want latter. Even then you will probably want to add or upgrade cams once you see what you get. Especially the way prices are dropping per megapixel.

Think of it like buying TV(s). If you are cool with watching TV on a phone then the stream quality does not matter much. If instead you are coming from a 25 inch analog TV to a 40 inch 720p looks awesome but a get you see 1080p you will never go back. Though 4K is probably overkill till you are ready for a larger screen as well. But for TVs HDR (kind of analogous to color low light sensitivity in cams) is probably more significant to most than 4K. Though to get HDR you generally need to buy a higher end 4K TV.

Things to take into account:

If you are looking for some examples of what actual footage from several models of cameras look like check out my playlist of security camera examples.

Use the above to figure out the minimum specs you need to get usable video.

This why I currently have online are a mixture of brands and models. See my compare sheet.

To find the best camera(s) you need first by gathering the answers to most of the above then ask that question again and or do a bit of research.

Again plan on wanting more once you know what you have been missing you can easily want to cover every inch. I started with a tower cam on a rotor so I could see what the dogs were barking at without having to go to the right window or maybe even outside to see. Even with all my cams I  still have spots I want to add cams.

This whole blog is me documenting what I learned from what I've tried, what worked and what didn't despite of or confirming other's claims. And hoping to spare others some of the pain.

Adding this which should be pinned to the top of every security cams group.

FIRST figure out the specs you need for each camera location THEN start looking at models. You might be OK with Wyze cams or need $10K worth of gear to do what you want. The important part of that is what YOU want. I currently have 61 cams online and I'm still adding and doing upgrades but that is me. I'm covering multiple buildings plus acreage and I have critter issues. Some are OK just seeing something is moving on their phone.

The basics for usable footage (not just motion detection):

  • Any bundled system is just a starting point to learn on. 
  • Read NVR specs with skepticism.  For example supports 16 cams might mean only recording on motion or recording 24/7 but with not motion detection or 16 lower rez cams than the ones it is bundled with comes with much less the max rez it says it supports.
  • Any cam looks OK on a phone. The question is can you see the level of detail you want to see at the distance you want to see it by zooming in after the fact (assuming you are not monitoring your PTZ cams 24/7).
  • Avoid analog, battery power and WiFi cams and recording only to the cloud where you can.
  • Record 24/7 somewhere. This means no battery powered cams.
  • 4K will not let you see farther. it is for getting more detail in the designed range. 
  • An unmonitored PTZ cam can not reliably cover the same area multiple fixed cams can.
  • Any cam that is not auto focus has a fixed range where objects are in focus. This is called depth of field. This range can be large or small depending on the camera design. Google it for more info. 
  • Sample night vision shots mean little without knowing what external lighting might be affecting the result. Compare shots between cams taken at the same time of obviously the same view are the best.
  • Put your cams and NVR on a UPS.
  • Most of the people posting in groups only know the one thing they bought often with little or no research other than asking a vague question in a Facebook group. I would not call myself an expert even with all the stuff I've tried. This analogy an installer told me sums it up perfectly. "I have to explain to my clients that if you have only ever ridden a horse and someone gives you a small compact car, you are gonna think it's awesome purely because you don't know you can get a Range Rover or a Truck for the same money." Then there are the ones trying to sell you what they sell. They might not even be pros. You definitely need to take the source into account and factor in bias and scope of experience.


  1. I added a bit more to make it more of starting point for those just getting started.