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Security Basics

Types of Security Cameras — and When to Use Each Type

Posted August 20, 2020 by Cove

If you’ve ever shopped around for different types of home security cameras, you know firsthand that there are seemingly endless options to choose from. Some cameras are used exclusively in business settings, while others are used residentially. With so many choices, it can be overwhelming to learn about and choose among all the different types of security cameras.

This article is a quick guide to several types of security cameras and their uses. While we do not sell all of the cameras explained in this guide, the ones listed here are commonly used and helpful to know about. Keep reading to learn more about motion-activated, infrared, game, window, floodlight, doorbell, cellular, indoor, outdoor, wired, wireless, CCTV, box, dome, turret, PTZ, bullet, IP, NVR, DVR, and PoE cameras.

Home vs. Commercial Security Cameras

When it comes to security cameras, homes and businesses have distinct needs. For example, while homeowners may prefer to have conveniently compact, battery-operated security cameras that won’t be a wired eyesore in their home, businesses need larger, more obvious cameras to monitor larger spaces and deter retail theft. Business owners might also find it inconvenient to have to change the batteries in their security cameras on top of everything else they have to do. What’s more, companies require more expensive and sophisticated features in their security cameras than a homeowner would ever need, such as vast storage and data encryption capacities.

That’s why we’ve grouped the camera types below into residential and commercial categories. Keep in mind that all of the following cameras may be used by homeowners or businesses, but we’ve distinguished them based on where they are most commonly used.

Features of Home Security Cameras to Consider

As you browse the various different types of security cameras below, keep in mind what your top goals and priorities are for your home or commercial security camera. For instance, if you have a persistent loiterer who keeps showing up around your home uninvited, you might be most concerned about picture quality and storage capacity that allows you to save video footage and get a clear image of the person’s face in order to help law enforcement identify the individual if they ever cause trouble. Some other features to consider include:

  • Motion activation

  • Field of view

  • Speaker and microphone

  • Pan-tilt-zoom

  • Facial recognition

  • Geofencing

  • Wired or wireless

  • Night vision

  • Wi-Fi connectivity

  • Smartphone app

  • Durability and design

  • Cost

Common Types of Home Cameras

The following types of home security cameras are most often used in residential settings, as their features and price points are more in line with homeowner needs.

Floodlight Cameras

An outdoor floodlight camera combines the functionality of a floodlight and a night vision security camera into one convenient device. During the dark hours of the night, floodlight security cameras will shine a bright light on the area where motion is detected, which acts as a deterrent to prowlers and would-be burglars. At the same time, these types of house cameras will usually have the functionality to connect to your home Wi-Fi and allow you to view a live stream of the motion as it’s happening.

Although they are more commonly found in homes, these devices are also sometimes used by commercial establishments and can be useful for illuminating driveways, warehouses, parking lots, and other spaces that would otherwise be dark and difficult to navigate at night.

Motion-Activated Cameras

Motion-activated cameras constantly monitor the area in which they are positioned, but they only record footage when they detect motion. This eliminates unwanted surprises, decreases crime, and increases your peace of mind. The motion sensor inside of a motion-activated camera uses infrared technology to detect movement within its field of view. Read more on infrared technology in the section below.

Another type of motion-activated camera technology determines whether or not any movement has taken place by comparing pixels in images it captures of its environment. This type of camera utilizes motion sensor lighting. Whenever the camera detects a drastic enough change in lighting (like a person's shadow), its sensor activates, and it begins recording footage. Whenever your camera's sensor is activated, it will start recording video and send an alert to your security system's control panel.

These types of house cameras today also come equipped with apps you can download on your mobile device. This means you can get real-time notifications as your camera detects activity.

Infrared Cameras

Infrared cameras use infrared technology to detect motion and heat. This technology is common in most types of security cameras. Infrared sensors are found in almost every type of security camera, most especially in conjunction with motion-activated cameras. The light above a certain spectrum is undetectable by humans, and most animals aren't capable of noticing it either. Cameras that transmit infrared light emit little (if any) glow, making detection nearly impossible. The more stealth you want your camera to have, the higher quality your infrared emitters should be.

One way infrared technology is used is to detect blocked signals. If an object crosses in front of the signal a motion sensor emits, it will alert your security system's control panel and send you a warning that there could be suspicious activity taking place at or in your home.

There are also cameras that utilize infrared technology to detect heat, thus activating the motion sensors when there is a sudden change in temperature in the camera's field of view. You may know this as a thermal camera. These types of home cameras are especially useful for detecting body heat. You can adjust your camera settings so that your infrared sensors don’t react every time your pet walks through your kitchen.

Infrared sensors also aid with night vision. Crime and suspicious activity don’t take place exclusively during daylight hours, so a security camera that has night vision technology is good to have for your home. Cameras with night vision utilize infrared lights to capture clear footage, even in the dark. Once it starts getting dark, a camera with night vision switches to night mode, relying on infrared illuminators to capture well-exposed photos or videos of its surroundings.

Infrared Camera

Infrared cameras use infrared technology to detect motion and heat. Infrared technology is common in most types of security cameras.

Infrared sensors are found in almost every type of security camera, most especially in conjunction with motion activated cameras. Light above a certain spectrum is undetectable by humans, and most animals aren't capable of noticing it either. Cameras that transmit infrared light emit little (if any) glow, making detection nearly impossible. The more stealth you want your camera to have, the higher quality your infrared emitters should be.

One way infrared technology is used is to detect blocked signals. If an object crosses in front of the signal a motion sensor emits, it will alert your security system's control panel and send you a warning that there could be suspicious activity taking place at or in your home.

There are also cameras that utilize infrared technology to detect heat, thus activating the motion sensors when there is a sudden change in temperature in the camera's field of view. You may know this as a thermal camera. These cameras are especially useful for detecting body heat. You can even adjust the settings for your camera so that your infrared sensors don’t react every time your pet walks though your kitchen.

Infrared sensors also aid with night vision. Crime and suspicious activity don’t take place exclusively during daylight hours, so a security camera that has night vision technology is good to have for your home. Cameras with night vision utilize infrared lights to capture clear footage, even in the dark. Once it starts getting dark a camera with night vision switches into night mode, relying on infrared illuminators to capture well exposed photos or videos of its surroundings.

Wired Camera

Wired cameras are the oldest form of security camera. They rely on wires to get power. Wired security cameras are the oldest, longest standing form of security camera. These cameras have two important wires: one that connects to a power source, and another that connects to your home’s landline. Cameras that monitor through the landline do not need batteries but do require professional installation. These cameras typically store footage on a memory sd card that is found inside of the camera.

Wireless Cameras

Wireless security cameras differ from wired security cameras in that they do not require a connection to your home’s landline to function. Instead, they connect to your internet via Wi-Fi. Contrary to what their name may lead you to believe, though, wireless security cameras still require a physical wire that connects them to a power source.

The cord that powers a wireless camera plugs right into your wall, so it is essential that these cameras be placed near an outlet. This can potentially limit placement options around your home. Most wireless camera models have backup batteries, so they can still perform their function in the event of a power outage. Since they connect to your home’s Wi-Fi, wireless cameras can upload videos to your online storage.

In the event of connectivity issues, however, wireless cameras can also store footage on a local memory card. Since this type of camera does not have to connect to any landlines, you do not need professional installation help to start monitoring your property.

Wireless cameras come in indoor and outdoor varieties. Wireless outdoor cameras are weather-resistant and tend to have a long battery life, so you can set them and forget them for quite some time. On the other hand, wireless indoor security cameras are great because they are minimally invasive, meaning you don’t have to drill holes in your walls or ceiling to install them, and they won’t create wire clutter that spoils your interior decor. You can easily install them within minutes and place them practically anywhere.

Cellular Cameras

Cellular security cameras, which can be used in homes and businesses, are a wireless form of surveillance that uses a cellular network to transfer data instead of the internet. Cellular cameras have pros and cons, but they run on the same network as your mobile phone and minimize the risk of your system being hacked through your internet connection. This makes them a safe option for at-risk homes and businesses, and because they are powered by batteries rather than a wire, you can count on them to remain active even during power outages.

Battery-Operated Cameras

Battery-operated cameras are wire-free and powered only by batteries. These types of home security cameras are truly wireless, and their footage can be uploaded to an online storage system or saved locally on a memory card. Battery-operated security cameras are the easiest type of camera to install; all you have to do is put batteries in, turn the power on, and position each camera where you want it. The placement possibilities are endless. Untethered by wires for connectivity or power, battery-operated cameras can be set up as far from your home’s outlets as you like.


PoE Cameras

While some technologies in this article are commonly used in places of business, PoE cameras are more frequently found in residential areas. PoE stands for “power over ethernet.” A PoE camera requires a single ethernet cable to connect the security camera to a camcorder. The security camera captures the footage, and the camcorder stores it. The ethernet cable powers the camera and allows the two separate devices to communicate with each other, thus enabling one to take video footage and the other to store it.

Since a PoE camera only requires a single ethernet cable, this camera type is easy to use and requires minimal installation. There won’t be tricky wires that you have to worry about tripping over or tucking away. All you have to worry about is where to place your camera for the most optimal vantage point of the area you want to monitor.

Since people usually want more than one solitary security camera in their home, a PoE camera system will likely require a PoE switch. PoE switches are devices with multiple ethernet ports. Multiple ports help the device support multiple cameras. A PoE switch is also compatible with an NVR, meaning you can connect all your devices to one location. The PoE port can connect your cameras and NVR so you can more easily manage both your security devices and footage.

You do need access to a router in order to use PoE technology. A router makes your cameras visible on an IP network and ensures that the NVR will be able to connect to the internet. Not all network switches support PoE cameras, so you may have to buy one specifically for this purpose if you have decided to use a PoE camera system in your home.

Since your PoE camera connects directly to your ethernet, the image quality of these types of house cameras is superior to others. The ethernet connection means that the cameras can capture footage at a higher bandwidth than cameras with wireless connections are able to manage. PoE cameras are excellent at capturing facial features and small details like license plate numbers.

While PoE cameras do an amazing job of capturing video footage, they do have some downsides. They are harder to install than wireless cameras. They do require the use of an ethernet cable, and for some, a single wire is one wire too many.

Game Cameras

Game cameras are outdoor cameras that were invented to assist hunters in tracking wildlife. These types of home security cameras can be used for hunting and around your house to keep your property safe.

Game cameras are battery-operated, weatherproof, and use infrared technology to capture footage with remarkable speed. Many types of game cameras are available, so whether you want the ability to take photos, film videos, or capture a time-lapse, these gadgets have you covered. There are also varying storage options, including wireless and memory cards.

Game cameras capture high-quality photos upon detection of motion within their line of sight. This motion sensor makes them ideal for capturing footage of unwanted activity on your property. A game camera can be a valuable addition to your security system if you have a current, persistent security problem like a recurring trespasser that you want to catch on film.

They can also be used in anticipation of future problems, like if you want to be sure you have footage if someone were to ever break into your house. Photos taken by game cameras offer excellent image quality and resolution on both bright days and cloudy evenings. Infrared night vision will help capture the best nighttime images.

Window Cameras

Second only to doors, windows are the most easily accessible entrance to your space. A determined intruder can force a lock, break the glass, and shimmy inside. Safeguarding your windows is just as important as safeguarding your doors. One excellent way to protect your windows is to use a window camera. This camera can monitor movement around your home and keep a record of suspicious activity taking place on your property. A window camera can also record an intruder’s face if they decide to enter your home through the window.

There are many types of window cameras. Some use motion detection while others use thermal sensing technology. You can also use window cameras inside or outside. If you want to use a window camera indoors, though, it’s probably best to avoid a thermal camera. An indoor camera that is placed extremely close to a glass window pane will experience some flux in temperature as the seasons change. Windows today are insulated, so the weather outside will typically have a minimal effect on the inside of a building, but insulation weakens over time. A window that has old insulation can experience more drastic temperature changes and can even collect condensation inside.

Video Doorbell Cameras

Video doorbell security cameras are one of the most common types of home security cameras. They’re an excellent surveillance option for homeowners who want to keep an eye on their property exterior while at home and away. Most video doorbell cameras are equipped to detect motion near the door and notify you in real-time so you can view a live stream of the motion — whether it be a prowler or just the USPS delivering your mail.

These security cameras allow you to adjust your settings to avoid false alarms, so you don’t get notified by the neighbor’s cat or a passing car. When someone rings the doorbell, most video doorbell cameras allow you to communicate with front door visitors via two-way communication and even save video footage remotely.

Common Types of Business Cameras

The different types of security cameras to follow have features that are most commonly sought-after in commercial settings.

Wired Cameras

Wired cameras, which rely on wires for power, are the oldest, longest-standing type of security camera. These cameras have two important wires: one that connects to a power source and another that connects to your home’s landline. Cameras that monitor through the landline do not need batteries but do require professional installation. These cameras typically store footage on a memory SD card found inside the camera.

Businesses tend to use wired-in cameras because they’re lower upkeep and often provide a more reliable signal — and because they aren’t at the mercy of a fluctuating bandwidth or electromagnetic interference, their video quality is consistently high. Just like wireless cameras, wired cameras also come in outdoor and indoor variations so that commercial establishments can enjoy consistent surveillance inside and outside.

CCTV Cameras

CCTV, short for closed-circuit television, is a type of video surveillance that records and stores video footage in a closed circuit while broadcasting footage to a television monitor. Cameras in a CCTV camera surveillance system are strategically placed to capture footage of every part of the premises.

These cameras are frequently used to monitor the perimeter around or the area inside of a business, but they also have several other uses, such as monitoring traffic, incarcerated persons, medical patients, and high-security establishments like banks, jewelry stores, or airports. Almost all business security camera surveillance systems use some type of CCTV camera. And while not all cameras are CCTV cameras, many of the cameras discussed below do fall into this category.

A CCTV camera monitors events in real-time. It can also record and archive footage to be watched at a later time. CCTV differs from broadcast television because the signals are not publicly distributed. Instead, the monitor receives a signal from the cameras installed around the premises. Additionally, only those who have access to the monitor that the individual cameras transmit to are able to see the security footage those cameras capture.

Box Cameras

A box camera is a type of professional-quality CCTV camera that gets its name from its boxy appearance. All the components of a box camera are highly customizable, making them a popular camera type. Those who use a box camera can design a camera to fit their specific needs. Features that can be customized include the box camera’s level of weather resistance, lens type, resolution, signal type, and whether your camera is wired or wireless. And, since they are so customizable, box cameras can be altered bit by bit as your needs change, even after you have already purchased a camera. This is true even after you have been using your camera for some time. A box camera will typically outlast a bullet camera or a dome camera (both of which you can read more about below).

Dome Cameras

A dome camera is a type of CCTV camera. These cameras can be recognized by their distinctive dome shape and are typically used to monitor businesses. You have probably seen them inside grocery stores or gas stations. The part of the camera that captures footage sits inside of the dome.

If a business uses a dome camera, it is usually mounted on the ceiling or high up on the wall. The dome is sometimes tinted so that the direction the camera is facing can be obscured. This, and the fact that this type of camera is generally a bit more durable, make the dome camera a popular security camera. Since the camera's lens is concealed within the dome, these cameras are less likely to be ruined by vandalism. Replacing a plastic dome is much less expensive than replacing an entire camera.

A dome camera can generally capture a wider angle than other types of surveillance cameras, as it can swivel within the dome and capture a wider range of coverage from each camera position.

Turret Cameras

A turret camera looks and functions like a miniature dome camera with a ball-and-socket design that allows it to swivel and monitor more space than a traditional fixed camera. Turret cameras are long-lasting, popular security cameras used in both business and home settings, but you may be more likely to find them in a commercial setting.

Though turret cameras look like miniature dome cameras, they do have some differences. In fact, the turret camera is becoming more popular than its counterparts. In contrast, dome cameras have the actual camera stored safely behind a plastic or glass frame, turret cameras have the camera lens and infrared lights on the device’s face to reduce glare. Turret cameras are also smaller and cheaper than bullet or dome cameras, and their unique design makes them less likely to attract spider webs. Finally, it is easier to adjust the angle on a turret camera than on a bullet camera or a dome camera, and turret cameras have a less intrusive design.

Turret cameras are typically PoE cameras because it is difficult to make the camera’s unique structure adaptable to wireless infrastructure. Though it is less common, they can also be IP cameras.

PTZ Cameras

PTZ stands for “pan, tilt, zoom,” describing the different actions the camera can perform. These three unique functions give the PTZ camera the ability to monitor a large area that might otherwise require multiple fixed cameras. A PTZ camera has a variety of uses, including business surveillance, video conferencing, and professional television recording. Though PTZ cameras require fairly minimal installation, you will likely not find one in someone’s home.

At a glance, it may be hard to distinguish a PTZ camera from a dome camera. Both cameras are encased in a tinted, hard plastic or glass dome that obscures the direction of the camera. Where PTZ cameras and dome cameras differ is in their potential. PTZ cameras can perform a wider range of functions, including zooming and remote direction changing.

Another major difference between the two is that while dome cameras are used almost exclusively for security purposes, PTZ cameras have more diverse uses. They are especially helpful for business surveillance, but they are also used for video conferencing, distance learning, and live production. In the TV production world, these types of surveillance cameras have been given the nickname “robo,” which is short for robotic camera. They are used in conjunction with professional cameras in television production.

Bullet Cameras

A bullet camera is a type of CCTV camera that is typically placed outside of businesses to deter thieves. Bullet cameras were not designed to be concealed; they are highly visible and iconically shaped. People who use them in their video surveillance systems want to send the message that they are watching over their property. Their distinct design decreases criminal activity. You will probably recognize bullet cameras from going to grocery stores or other places of business — and especially from seeing them in movies or TV shows. Each bullet camera is usually installed high up on a wall so it has a good field of view and can see long distances.

Bullet cameras are designed to be weather-resistant and are considered best for outdoor use because of their durability and ability to effectively tell passersby that the area is under surveillance. They can hold up against water, and dirt, and their gears and joints are strong, making them resistant to changing angles in strong wind. And, since they have a protective casing, the camera also has a hood over the lens. This reduces the effect of rain droplets and sun glare in obscuring the camera’s footage.

These cameras are the ones burglars usually cover with spray paint when they sneak into a business. And, as you’ve probably seen in the movies, bullet cameras send their footage to a local monitor being surveilled by a security guard.

IP Cameras

IP stands for “internet protocol.” An IP camera is among the many types of surveillance cameras, and it shares live footage via the internet to those who have access to the feed. Since an IP camera uses the internet, those who have the proper credentials to see the footage can access it from anywhere around the world. Stored archival footage can be similarly accessed from a computer or smartphone.

The internet streaming capabilities of an IP camera let viewers remotely control the camera. A viewer monitoring camera footage from across the world can zoom and reposition the camera with the push of a few buttons. For these reasons, an IP camera is the ideal type of security camera for individuals who frequently find themselves gone on business trips, off-site, or otherwise away from their office.

Streaming and archiving video takes a lot of storage space. As an IP security camera captures footage, it also compresses the video it takes. Compressing the bandwidth of video footage makes the transmitting speed faster and the online feed more reliable. It also allows the cameras to capture sharp, high-resolution images.

There are many advantages of using an IP security camera for video surveillance. Since these cameras are compatible with the internet, they can sync with your smartphone to send you notifications if they detect any suspicious movement on your property. However, having an internet connection also means that an IP camera has the potential to be hacked. Although this sounds scary, there is no need to fear. These cameras offer impressive security since they can use encrypted data. IP cameras have higher resolution than many of their competitors and require fewer cables than many security cameras, making setup easier and the mess minimal.

NVR: Camera Assistance

NVR stands for “network video recorder.” An NVR is a device that works with IP or PoE cameras to store archival video footage. Any time an IP camera captures video, it stores the archival footage in an NVR device so that it can be viewed later. An IP security camera connects to an NVR via a router or network switch. And, just as you can access footage from an IP camera from a remote location, you can use a computer or a mobile app on your smartphone to access the NVR and view video footage.

An NVR system can be either wired or wireless, depending on your preference. They can store footage directly from the network that they connect to. Since an NVR holds special security footage, it should be stored in an area where it is secure but can also have access to the necessary wiring (if you have a wired NVR). Wherever you place your NVR, be sure that you have it set to back up regularly, so you don’t lose any footage.

The number of cameras that an NVR can accommodate will depend on the bandwidth and type of NVR you purchase. If you want a device that can handle many different cameras, make sure to purchase one that can handle the load of multiple cameras.

DVR: Camera Assistance

DVR stands for “digital video recorder.” A DVR is an analog device that works with analog cameras to store archival video footage. Where an NVR stores footage from an IP camera, a DVR stores footage from an analog camera. Years ago, analog cameras used to have to store the video that they captured on videotapes. Since videotapes are no longer a practical means of storing recordings, we needed a new system to capture and hold footage. Since technology advances so rapidly in today’s fast-paced world, analog cameras are becoming less and less popular as the years go by. Many companies still use analog cameras for video surveillance, though, and a DVR allows those companies to have a practical means of storing their video footage.

A DVR does not have an unlimited amount of storage space. When someone purchases a DVR, they indicate the resolution and frames per second they want their camera to capture. The larger the resolution and the more frames per second, the more storage space the footage will require. And, when a DVR’s storage disk gets full, it will continue saving its recordings by taping over the oldest footage on file. If your camera hasn’t captured anything of note, recording over it won’t likely be a problem. But, if you have important footage that you want to keep a record of, you will have to monitor your DVR to make sure that its storage does not get too full.

It is possible to buy equipment that essentially transforms a DVR into an NVR if you are making the transition from analog cameras to digital cameras, but the change requires time and a bit of knowledge about how the cameras work. It may be more convenient and cost-effective to simply turn in your DVR and make the leap to an NVR if you are switching from an outdated camera to something more modern.

PoE Camera

PoE stands for power over ethernet. A PoE camera requires a single ethernet cable to supply power and the ability to store video footage. PoE cameras require minimal installation.

PoE stands for power over ethernet. While some technologies in this article are commonly used in places of business, PoE cameras are more frequently found in residential areas. This type of camera uses an ethernet cable to connect a security camera to a camcorder. The security camera captures the footage, and the camcorder stores it. The ethernet cable allows the two separate devices to communicate with each other, thus enabling one to take video footage and the other to store it. The cable also powers the camera.

Since a PoE camera only requires a single ethernet cable, to supply power and connection to a camcorder, this camera type is easy to use and requires minimal installation. There won’t be tricky wires that you have to worry about tripping over or tucking away. All you have to worry about is where to place your camera for the most optimal vantage point of the area you want to monitor.

Since people usually want more than one solitary security camera in their home, a PoE camera system will likely require a PoE switch. PoE switches are devices with multiple ethernet ports. Multiple ports means that the device can support multiple cameras. A PoE switch is also compatible with an NVR, meaning that you can connect all your devices in at one location. The PoE port can connect your cameras and NVR so you can more easily manage your both security devices and footage.

You do need access to a router in order to use PoE technology. A router makes your cameras visible on an IP network and ensures that the NVR will be able to connect to the internet. Not all network switches support PoE cameras, so you may have to buy one specifically for this purpose if you have decided to use a PoE camera system in your home.

Since your PoE camera connects directly to your ethernet, the image quality of these cameras is superior to other types. The ethernet connection means that the cameras can capture footage at a higher bandwidth than cameras with wireless connection are able to manage. PoE cameras are excellent at capturing facial features and small details like license plate numbers.

While PoE cameras do an amazing job of capturing video footage, they do have some downsides. They are harder to install than wireless cameras. They do require the use of an ethernet cable, and for some using one wire is one wire too many.

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