Why Use an IP Camera?
The top performers in our review are the Simplicam, the Gold Award winner; the Nest Cam Indoor, the Silver Award winner; and the Flir FX, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing an IP camera to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 products.
You can't be at home to protect your family and property 24/7, and that's why home surveillance becomes such an important addition in your home. When you choose the home security solution that's right for you, there are several factors to consider. One of the best options is an internet protocol camera, better known as an IP camera.
An IP camera is a digital video camera that sends data via a Wi-Fi or networked connection. Compared to the classic closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance solution, IP cameras typically offer live streaming of video, notifications of events in or around your home, better image quality, fewer cable requirements, remote control over the camera, settings, and two-way communication.
We've looked into a variety of home security options to help you keep your home safe and smart, so if you're ready to upgrade to a fully smart home, read about home automation systems. These hubs are base platforms for controlling thermostats, security cameras, garage doors and more. There are also smart locks and smart lighting controls, which gives you even more control over the security of your home.
If you're up for a DIY project, IP cameras are the ideal solution for you to monitor your home – whether you want to check on your pets while they're home alone, keep an eye on your children when they get home from school, or check on nannies, housecleaning crew or other workers to make sure all is well. If you need more comprehensive monitoring, a home security system with door and window sensors is a smart choice. When you need a cloaked camera, a nanny cam or hidden camera can give you the monitoring you need in an inconspicuous package.
If you're still asking yourself, "Why do I need an IP camera?" then read our articles about IP cameras where you can find more uses for a wireless IP camera.
Types of IP Cameras
At its essence, an IP camera is a webcam. All IP cameras let you stream live video via the internet which is then broadcast to an app that you can check on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Not all IP cameras are the same, of course, so you need to decide what your needs are so you can choose the IP camera that's right for you.
Most IP cameras are wireless and send data by a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection, which is convenient and means you can place the camera anywhere in your home as long as it's near a power outlet. However, wired options transfer video by an Ethernet cable, which means the connection is more stable and likely faster, but the camera must be near your internet router or you have to run a cable to the camera's location.
The IP cameras we tested are fixed cameras, which means they must be physically moved to give you a different view of a room. Most of the cameras have wide fields of view, so they can be placed at one end of a room, and many of them can show you most of the room you're surveying.
Surveillance of any area outside requires an outdoor IP camera. These are essentially the same as a regular fixed IP camera, but they have protective housing to keep the lens and other pieces dry and safe from weather.
IP Cameras: What We Tested, What We Found
The best IP cameras come equipped with a variety of common features. You should look for a camera with no less than 720p video resolution because any worse resolution compromises the clarity of the video. It should record in color to make it easy for you to identify what someone is wearing or details of a scene – black and white video leaves many unanswered questions. All of the wireless IP cameras we tested come with a free mobile app for either iOS or Android operating systems – even one we reviewed offers app support for Windows phones. And all of these cameras require that you plug them into an outlet with an included power cord; although, one of the top-rated IP cameras can go cordless for up to four hours thanks to its rechargeable battery.
In our testing, we focused on testing each camera's video quality – during the day and at night – and audio quality. We also looked at certain specifications that increase a camera's performance, such as frame rate, field of view, digital zoom, motion detection and sound detection.
Video & Audio
An IP camera with low video quality isn't as useful with one with high video quality, so we made sure that the top 10 IP cameras we include in our review are worthy of being considered the best. The Flir FX performed during the daytime better than any other camera we tested. We turned on two lights with 40-watt incandescent lightbulbs – one behind the camera and one in the room we surveyed. The result was clear, crisp video and smooth movements. It also responded with little to no lag whenever there was movement, which means you could easily watch a live stream of video and know that it's real time. We set up a poster board with a printed phrase in the style of an eye chart 16 feet away from the camera. Most of the cameras let us see enough detail to read the top three lines, but a few, like the Flir FX and Nest Cam Indoor, let us read the top four lines. Not all cameras performed quite as well. The Y-Cam Indoor HDS had decent clarity, but it also had a 17-second delay whenever there was movement. Slow response time like that can be the difference between catching someone in the act of something and them getting away.
We also tested each camera at night with absolutely no light – not even ambient light from a television or laptop. In pure darkness, all of the IP cameras were able to show us what was going on in the next room. Invisible LEDs, or infrared LEDs, can illuminate a room with a near-red light that's not quite visible to the naked eye, but cameras can pick it up just fine. The Belkin NetCam HD+ gave us the best picture in utter darkness, though none of the cameras we tested were able to show us small details, like the small lettering on the poster board.
All of the IP cameras in our review have at least 720p video resolution, which means the image you see has 720 vertical lines, and it is considered high definition. The majority of IP cameras we tested have 1080p resolution, which results in a sharper image, but there's more that goes into quality video than resolution.
Cameras with higher frame rates produce smoother video, so you can expect an IP camera that has a maximum of 30 frames per second (fps) to show video with movement that seems almost seamless, except that's not the only factor. Your internet speed and the connection that the camera has to your Wi-Fi are other reasons why your video may be smooth or choppy.
It's also important to consider what you're using your IP camera to survey. If you're using it as a baby video monitor, you may not need an extremely wide view because the focus is your baby's crib. However, if you want to keep an eye on your front door and living room, and even a portion of another room, you want an IP camera with a wide field of view. The D-Link DCS-2630L has a 180-degree view, which is on par with your own view of a room, and it's the widest field of view of any camera we tested. On average, you can expect about 100 or more degrees of view, like the Simplicam, our top-rated IP camera. On the low end, the Y-Cam Indoor HDS covers about 87 degrees of a room diagonally, which equates to about 80 degrees horizontally – this is a bit like putting blinders on and removing your peripheral view.
Digital zoom is an important feature when you need to see a closer view of a scene. This type of zoom doesn't actually move the lens but lets you zoom in on a particular part of an image the way you might in Photoshop on your computer. The image should not degrade in clarity. The IP camera that lets you zoom in the most is the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro at 10x the original size. The average for the IP cameras we tested is 8x, but even 3x is enough to get a close-up of someone's face.
Motion detection is vital when you use an IP camera for security. Movement can trigger a camera to start recording, and when the movement stops, the camera ceases recording. This is a feature that not only saves you space on your microSD card or cloud storage space but also means you can browse events only and not have to sift through hours of footage like you would with continuous recording. All of the IP cameras we tested let you set your camera up to use motion detection.
Half of the IP cameras we reviewed include sound detection, too, so it starts recording an event when there's noise that it picks up. This is helpful when the camera's field of view can't capture what's happening in the room, but you can review the footage that's recorded to hear what took place.
Only one camera in our IP security camera review doesn't come equipped with two-way talk – the Y-Cam Indoor HDS. All of the other IP cameras let you speak from your app, which is then transmitted to the IP camera for those near it to hear what you've said. They can then respond, and you can hear it while viewing live video and when you playback the recorded video. Two-way talk is a vital feature when you use an IP camera as a baby video monitor.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the IP cameras in our comparison on loan from the companies and through retail purchase. The companies had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Choosing an IP Camera?
A top-performing IP camera is great to have, as long as you can easily operate it. For that reason, we tested each camera's ease of use and the convenient features it includes. An IP camera with a solid warranty and customer support that fits your lifestyle is also important to consider.
When we say you should choose an IP camera that's easy to use, we're not just talking about how easy it is to set up once you get it out of the box – although we measured that. It's just as important to pick an IP camera that quickly and painlessly connects to your Wi-Fi and has an intuitive app so you can get started recording and viewing video right away. Also, once you have your camera connected, it's important that it stays connected, so we also made note of each camera's connection quality and how often it dropped connection while internet was working.
Regardless of how great an IP camera is, without a guarantee that protects your purchase if there's a defective part, it wouldn't be worth the investment. We looked at what each manufacturer offers by way of warranty and support.
Operation & Convenience
Most IP cameras come with few extras in the box. You usually get the camera, sometimes a microSD card, a power cord and instructions. For the most part, each of the IP cameras we tested is plug and play, so you can quickly connect to Wi-Fi and start recording video within minutes. The Y-Cam Indoor HDS requires you to plug the camera into your router with an Ethernet cable first, register an account online and then download the app. Although the Flir FX is easy to set up, it requires that you charge it for 20 to 30 minutes first, which is inconvenient.
The Netgear Arlo Q is relatively easy to set up, and it works seamlessly with the app, but our testers didn't get a Wi-Fi connection set up immediately. Resetting the camera one time was all it needed and then it worked. It's important that the app be intuitive and easy to operate because this is how you control your camera and view video. Icons should be universally understood, and commands should be quick to access. Two of the best apps are the Oco and the D-Link – both were intuitive, and the D-Link lets you view details, such as frame rate, resolution and bit rate, anytime.
Another consideration is the quality of connection with each camera once you have it up and running. The majority of the IP cameras we tested maintained a connection with our Wi-Fi, but a couple of them dropped a few times, such as the Y-Cam and the Samsung. We double-checked the Wi-Fi connection each time to ensure it wasn't the internet that was the issue, and in each test, our router and internet connection were as strong and stable as ever.
Only a handful of IP cameras support home automation platforms, which turn your smart home devices into a well-oiled, automated machine. The Nest Cam Indoor uses its own system, which can sync up with other Nest devices, such as the Nest thermostat and smoke alarm. The Belkin lets you use WeMo, which can help you control smart home-adapted devices, such as lighting, sprinklers and more. You can set up the Oco with the IFTTT smart home service with protocols to have your IP camera turn on when you leave the house or to turn on smart home lighting when it detects movement.
The majority of these IP cameras store footage they record to clouds or manufacturer's servers that are accessed via internet. This means that you can record much more than you would be able to on a microSD and not lose footage, but it also may mean that you need to subscribe to a service in order to view or save your recordings. Flir FX and Foscam C2 are the only IP cameras we reviewed that let you use a microSD or a cloud service. D-Link and Samsung rely on microSDs, so you need to manage your recordings more often or risk losing footage due to overwriting – or else recording may not happen at all if your card is full.
All of the IP cameras in our review offer notifications to your mobile device or via email when motion is detected, so you can easily check on your home at pertinent times. Three of the cameras we tested offer location detection, which lets you sync your mobile device and its global positioning system (GPS), camera and camera app so that when you and your mobile device leave your home, the app signals to the camera to begin recording.
You can expect any of these IP cameras to connect to 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, which is the standard for most routers. A few of them can connect to 5GHz Wi-Fi, which offers a faster connection, but it has a shorter range than 2.4. Simplicam, Nest, D-Link, Arlo Q and Samsung are the five in our lineup that let you choose your frequency.
All of these IP cameras can be mounted on the wall or ceiling, which gives you more counter or table space and a better view from above.
Help & Support
A warranty protects you from the unfortunate experience of buying a defective product. If your camera stops working because of a defective part or workmanship within a year of buying it, you can usually return it to the manufacturer for a repair or replacement free. A couple of IP cameras we tested include a two-year warranty: Nest and Belkin.
You can expect every manufacturer of the IP cameras we feature to offer a variety of customer support options. Almost all of them let you contact customer and tech support by email, and most of them offer phone support. The only one on our list that didn't have a phone number for support was Simplicam, but it offers live chat support on the manufacturer's website. Seven others also offer live chat support.
Storage Options & Pricing
Although we didn't consider the storage options in the scoring of these IP cameras, it's important to know what you get with each unit and what other costs may be involved. If you get an IP camera that uses a microSD card, you don't have to worry about any extra costs. However, IP cams with cloud storage may require that you pay a monthly fee to access your video or to store video for a long period of time. For example, you can operate the Nest Cam Indoor for free and have all of the features available to you, so you can view a live stream of your video, but you cannot save video and watch it later. A 10-day subscription to Nest Aware saves your video for 10 days and lets you watch it later and create video clips that you can share for $10 per month.
On average, you can expect to pay about $10 per month or $100 per year for a cloud storage subscription. Some IP cameras have subscriptions for as low as $3.99 per month, such as the Oco, or for free, like the Y-Cam Indoor HDS.
Our Verdicts & Recommendations
The best IP camera we tested is the Simplicam. The combination of excellent video quality – both during the day and at night – and its ease of use and stable connection to Wi-Fi makes this a great choice no matter what you plan to use it for. Although it doesn't have the highest video resolution, it produced clear video with smooth movement, and it includes most of the features you would want in an IP camera that's used for home security.
The Flir FX is only second best because it's slightly inconvenient and not as easy to use as the top-rated IP camera. It has the best video quality as long as it has a light source, and its nighttime video is on par with the Simplicam. It provides a wider field of view than many of the IP cameras we tested, and it lets you choose whether you want to store your footage locally or in the cloud.
Nest Cam Indoor offers high definition, clear video and decent field of view at 130 degrees. It's also the only IP camera in our review that has its own home automation system, and it is one of the few that can use your mobile device's GPS as a signal to start recording when you leave home.
The most cost-effective choice in our review is the Foscam C2, which is one of the least expensive cameras we tested and has optional cloud storage, so few costs are associated with this IP camera. Belkin offers a low-cost cloud service at $5.99 per month, and it includes a two-year warranty, one of the best available. If you want an IP camera that lets you use the third-party home automation service IFTTT, the Oco is a solid choice.
Whether you use your IP camera for home security, as a fun way to capture family events, or just to keep an eye on your children, pets or elderly parents, you need to choose one that fits for your lifestyle. Read our IP camera reviews to find the right one for you.
Contributing Reviewer: Amy Smith