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Security Cameras Review
What Are the Best Security Cameras?
Before we get into the details of our testing, let's talk about the best security cameras. The Simplicam earns our Gold Award because it strikes a balance that really clicks. It produced above-average scores in the tests we conducted. In particular, Simplicam had the easiest setup with no connection problems, besting other cameras in those tests. While it doesn't match the video quality of 1080p cameras, its 720p video produced great results.
Our Silver Award winner, the Nest Cam Indoor, stands out in terms of video quality and its compatibility with a variety of DIY smart home platforms from Wink, IFTTT, Scout Alarm and more. With a long warranty and strong customer support availability, this security camera was the only one in our review to get a perfect customer support score.
Rounding out the top three security cameras is the Flir FX, our Bronze Award winner. Flir is best known for its high-end infrared cameras, but it also offers home security cameras. The Flir FX is one of three cameras in our review to get a perfect score in our daytime video tests. Similarly, this camera performs admirably in night video tests.
Although these three security cameras were the top performers in our tests, the other seven in our tests have notable traits too. Ultimately, no home security camera is perfect, so the best camera for us may not be the best for you. We invite you to read our test experiences below and the reviews for each model to find the best security camera for you. You can learn about the various types of security cameras at the bottom of this article.
How We Chose Security Cameras to Test
We chose indoor cameras, since recording the inside of your house is a good start for your first camera. Each camera in our review connects via a mobile app and Wi-Fi for simpler setup and more freedom to place it where you want. We also chose for the reviews to focus on fixed cameras with a wide field of view, at least 80 degrees, so it can monitor an entire room from a corner.
Each security camera in our review offers motion detection, notifications, and online resources such as FAQs and tutorials. Additionally, you can mount every camera on a wall or ceiling as your needs and the length of the power cable require. Since these features are in every camera, we don't factor them into our scores, but it's important to know they're available.
Although price doesn't play a role in our scores, we chose cameras with similar pricing between $90 and $200. In terms of features and quality, this is a step above cameras in the budget security camera category. Cameras in this price range have 720p HD video resolution or greater and night vision, essential attributes in modern security cameras.
What We Tested
Though we explain our tests in depth throughout this guide, the bulk of each camera's final scores rely on four measurements of quality: video, audio, ease of use and connection.
Our hands-on testing is designed to simulate normal, real-world experiences with the security camera. We got test models on loan from manufacturers and through retail purchase. The manufacturers have no input on our testing methodology, and we do not share our rankings with them prior to publication.
Video is the most important aspect of a security camera, so good performance in this category is one of the defining factors in our scores. Our video tests looked at security camera performance for both day and night scenarios.
In our daylight tests, we wrote a phrase on poster board and placed it 16 feet away to help us compare the video quality of each camera. With this setup, we also used two different levels of light: natural light with the lights off and natural light with the lights on.
For the most part, the security cameras had better video when the lights were on than with natural light alone. In fact, the Flir FX and Foscam C2 had the best performance when lights were on. However, the Nest Cam Indoor and the D-Link DCS-2630L had better daytime performance in low-light testing.
Aside from looking at the overall daytime quality of security cameras in the above conditions, we took a separate look at the clarity of each camera. Clarity depends on resolution, focal length and the quality of the video sensor. In our clarity test, the biggest factor was resolution by far. Cameras with 1080p instead of 720p showed much more detail.
There was subtle variation among the cameras. The Flir FX, D-Link DCS-2630L and Netgear Arlo Q offered the best clarity among 1080p cameras, while the Simplicam was the best among 720p cameras.
Our daytime testing concluded with an evaluation of how each camera handled motion. While some cameras, such as the D-Link DCS-2630L and the Netgear Arlo Q, show movement very well, some others showed a noticeable amount of lag and image degradation. Internet connection is often a factor in lag, so motion is more of a problem with live video feeds. Recordings show less lag than live streams do, but it can happen.
To record video at night, many security cameras use built-in infrared LEDs that capture footage in complete darkness. Nighttime videos don't have the same level of color or detail as videos recorded during the day. To confirm this, we used the same poster from our daytime tests and found that no cameras showed the lettering.
Because video at night differs substantially from daytime recording, we mainly evaluated the brightness of the nighttime picture. The scene in front of the camera was more detailed on cameras with brighter video. In the night tests, our top security camera was the Belkin NetCam HD+, which illuminated our test room better than other cameras.
Our audio tests were very simple: We looked at whether the audio was clear and loud. Some cameras were very loud but difficult to understand. Other cameras gave us clear audio that wasn't very loud, making it harder to figure out what was going on. The Foscam C2 produced the best audio among the cameras in our review, with no distortion.
Every camera in our review comes with a microphone that records audio, and only one of them doesn't have a built-in speaker. This speaker lets you talk to anyone near the camera using the mobile app. This is helpful as a baby video monitor.
Ease of Use & Connection
To determine ease of use, we looked at installation and the mobile app. For installation, we followed the user manual and made note of any problems we had during setup and if we contacted customer support for a fix. Cameras that quickly connected to our Wi-Fi and required fewer steps to set up scored well.
Because of a short setup that didn't require much effort, the Simplicam was the top security camera for installation. The Samsung SmartCam HD Pro was the runner-up with a relatively painless setup process.
After the one-time installation, the mobile app determines whether a camera is easy to use on a daily basis. We looked for intuitive apps that get straight to recordings, live streaming and basic settings on the first screen you see. This part of the score comes from our experience testing a variety of products at Top Ten Reviews. Of the 10 mobile apps, the ones for the Oco and the D-Link DCS-2630L were the easiest to navigate and use.
A good Wi-Fi connection is a vital part of every wireless security camera, so we decided to make this our final test. We separately connected each camera to our test Wi-Fi network with a video streaming service and a phone connected as well. We tracked whether the connection dropped on any of these devices or the router during the test. If a camera dropped its connection and we still had access through our other devices, we took that into our scoring consideration.
The Simplicam was the only camera to maintain a stable connection throughout the test. Keep in mind that connection depends on the state of each company's servers, your internet provider and your home network.
Other Things to Consider When Buying a Security Camera
Beyond our tests, there are a number of other factors to consider: storage, field of view, digital zoom, smart home platform and warranty. Take some time to see what each camera has to offer so you can choose the best one for your needs.
Video Storage: Local or Cloud?
There are two kinds of storage, local and cloud, neither of which have any effect on our scoring because it boils down to personal preference. The cameras with local storage in our review use micro-SD memory cards to save video footage. This gives you access to your video without subscription fees, though you might have to buy extra video cards or write over older footage on your memory card to keep your camera recording at all times.
Cloud storage generally can hold more video than local storage. The main drawback is that there are often subscription fees, and if you can't reach the company's video servers, you don't have access to recordings. On the other hand, cloud storage is easier to use than local and is more likely to record everything the camera can see.
The Y-cam Indoor HDS is one of the cloud security cameras in our review that offers cloud storage without a paid subscription. With most cloud cameras, though, you can often view a live feed without a subscription.
Field of View & Digital Zoom
If you choose a camera with a very wide field of view, at least 160 degrees, you can expect to see every part of the room in front of the camera. The security camera in our review with the widest field of view is the D-Link DCS-2630L at 180 degrees. A wide field of view, which the majority of the cameras we reviewed have, is anything larger than 80 degrees, and it works best if you mount the camera high in a corner that overlooks the room.
Digital zoom allows you to select part of the video and enlarge it. While this is helpful for getting a closer look at something, the quality of a digitally enlarged video won't match that of the original. The Samsung SmartCam HD Pro has the highest digital zoom in the review at 10x.
Smart Home Platform
Before you make your purchase, check if any DIY home automation or DIY home security systems work with the camera. These systems can use Wi-Fi security cameras to control smart locks, thermostats and other devices in your smart home. Likewise, these devices can tell the camera to record or not, based on your personal preferences. The biggest appeal with these systems comes from using a single app to control all of the smart home devices.
It is common among consumer electronics to find a one-year warranty. Longer warranties give you more time to replace the unit if it stops working due to a manufacturing defect. The longest warranty in our review, found on both the Nest Cam and the Belkin NetCam HD+, is two years.
Types of Security Cameras
While our review deals with fixed, indoor security cameras, there are certainly other options available to meet a variety of needs. For example, you might come across surveillance systems, outdoor cameras, and pan-and-tilt cameras.
IP Camera or Wireless Camera
These terms are synonymous with the type of security camera in our review. They connect to the internet with either Wi-Fi or Ethernet cables and record video locally or in the cloud.
Outdoor Security Camera or Outdoor IP Camera
These are much like the cameras in our review, except that they are optimized for outdoor use. This type of security camera is water resistant and sealed to prevent dust from destroying the electronics inside. These cameras are less sensitive to changes in temperatures due to hot or cold weather.
Pan-and-Tilt, Pan-Tilt-Zoom or PTZ Cameras
These cameras have small motors that allow you to remotely point the lens at a different part of the room. Many of these cameras also have an optical zoom, which is more effective than digital zoom because its resolution stays the same when you zoom in. These cameras are helpful in large rooms where a fixed camera is less effective.
Home Surveillance Systems or CCTV
Unlike home security systems, which can monitor every aspect of your home's security, home surveillance systems have the sole purpose of recording video in your home. These systems include a digital video recorder, or DVR, which saves the footage from multiple cameras simultaneously. The cameras, which can be wired or wireless, don't function without a DVR.
Wired cameras are often compatible with multiple home surveillance system DVR brands, and it is generally inexpensive to add wired cameras to these systems, though you might spend more time and money during installation than you would with the other camera types.
Dome cameras are common in businesses because you mount them on the ceiling for a better vantage point. You can find dome cameras that belong to each of the security camera types listed above.
Doorbell Cameras or Video Doorbells
This relatively new type of security camera lets you see who is at your door. Doorbell cameras often record cloud video and notify you of visitors to your home when you're away. Many video doorbells offer two-way audio that you can use to talk to visitors whether you're at home or not.
Most types of home security cameras use a mobile app and are available at nearly every price point. In general, higher-priced cameras have more features, higher resolution and more durable build quality, though there are exceptions among both high- and low-priced cameras. There's certainly a security camera for every situation.
Contributing Reviewers: Amy Smith; Noel Case