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Best outdoor security cameras 2021

Best outdoor security cameras 2021
(Image credit: Nest)

The best outdoor security cameras are designed to give you great peace of mind, whether you want to keep an eye on your car or are simply looking for a great way to monitor who is around your home. We’ve gathered together the best outdoor security cameras, including wireless and wired-in models, so you can select the best outdoor security camera system for your home.

When it comes to choosing the best outdoor security camera for you, budget is a key factor, and the outdoor security cameras on this list range in price from about $150 stretching to $400. The premium models tend to come with higher video quality and a wider range of features, but if you only need simple monitoring you can save money by opting for one of the cheaper outdoor security camera systems, like the Nest Cam Outdoor. For top range features, the Arlo Pro 3 is a great choice, it’s pricey but still offers good value.

Another factor to consider is video quality. For tip-top video quality, even at night, look for an option with a 4k sensor, like the Arlo Ultra. While this does mean you may need to consider cloud storage options for larger file sizes, you will be secure in the knowledge that the footage is the best it can be. 

This list contains a range of both wired and wireless outdoor security cameras systems, but for other ways to protect your home, take a look at our guide to the best wireless security cameras.

1. Arlo Pro 3: Best outdoor security camera overall  

Arlo Pro 3 camera front

(Image credit: David Ludlow)

Arlo Pro 3

Best overall outdoor security camera

Resolution: 2K HDR | Camera lens: 160 degrees | Night-vision: Yes | Recording options: USB, Free cloud | Two-way talk: Yes | WiFi: Yes

High-resolution recording 
Two-way talking function  
Streaming disables some features  
Battery life is dependent on camera positioning  

The Arlo Pro 3 outdoor security camera is a fantastic product and has been well-designed to keep your home and possessions safe. This outdoor security camera comes with an impressive 2K camera resolution and its lens can move 160 degrees to capture anything in its path. 

This outdoor security camera can be monitored via an app and you can operate it on a free cloud or if you want to store your videos, you’ll need a subscription to Arlo Smart Premier - which starts at $2.99 and costs more depending on how many cameras you have and if you want to up the recording resolution to 4K. 

Once your camera detects movement it will start recording but you’ll have to think carefully about where to position your camera because if it’s pointing at a busy area, you might end up with drained batteries quicker than you’d hope. You can power the camera by a cable too though. 

The Arlo Pro 3 features color night vision and offers a great range of choices in its app - for example, you can choose which type of notifications you get and you can up the resolution for crystal clear recording. 

2. Nest Cam IQ Outdoor: Best quality

Nest Cam IQ Outdoor

(Image credit: Nest)

Nest Cam IQ Outdoor

Best quality camera

Resolution: 4K sensor (1080p recording) | Camera lens: 130-degree | Night vision: Yes | Recording options: Cloud via subscription | Two-way talk: Yes | WiFi: 802.11ac

4K sensor produces excellent video
Continuous recording with Nest Aware
Doesn’t flood you with motion alerts
Comparatively expensive
Nest Aware subscription required to be really useful
Can’t use scheduling with Home/Away Assist

The 4K sensor in the Nest IQ Outdoor makes it ones of the best wireless quality security cameras we've tested, both for day and night vision images. The 130-degree field of view is decent and you get a two-way talk functionality that's ideal for warding off would be burglars. The 802.11ac WiFi and wireless build make it easy to install and setup on your home network. You will have to spend a bit more for the full cloud storage functionality but with smart alerts that means less pestering on your cell phone app, meaning it's usually worth the extra spending. 

3. Arlo Pro 2: Best overall

Best wireless security camera

(Image credit: Arlo)

Arlo Pro 2

Best overall camera

Resolution: 1080p | Camera lens: 130-degree | Night vision: Yes | Recording options: Cloud via subscription, USB storage | Two-way talk: Yes | WiFi: 802.11n

Easy to install
Can record video to USB storage
Excellent camera control via app
Magnetic mount makes installation easy
Activity zones require permanent power
Night-time footage is fuzzy

The Arlo Pro 2 offers all the excellent app features that the 4K Ultra gives you, only for a far more affordable price. You still get full 1080p quality which is enough to identify individuals clearly in the day and still enjoy pretty decent night time footage. 

Since this camera is cloud based you'll be pleased to hear it comes with seven days of free storage, for free, for life. Yup, that means anything that happened within the last seven days is stored there for you to scroll back and view. This makes the camera stand out against rivals like Nest where a subscription is needed for such a privilege. Activity zones are a nice touch but you will need the camera in mains power mode to take advantage of this feature.

4. Arlo Ultra: Best 4K wireless camera

Arlo Ultra

(Image credit: David Ludlow)

Arlo Ultra

Best 4K wireless camera

Resolution: 4K | Camera lens: 180-degree | Night vision: Yes | Recording options: Cloud via subscription, microSD storage | Two-way talk: Yes | WiFi: 802.11ac

4K sensor produces detailed video
Completely wireless
Smart alerts reduce notifications
Doesn’t record 4K video out-of-the-box
Positioning is important to save on battery 
Magnetic mount makes the camera easy to steal

The Arlo Ultra is a tip-top 4K camera that offers superb quality video footage both during the day and at night. This is a great option for those that want enough quality at night to actually faces of people in shot. You will need to either store that video locally using microSD or pay for a cloud option.

While the cloud activity zones are useful for fewer notifications, positioning the camera carefully is the only way to preserve battery life.

5. Nest Cam Outdoor: Best for simplicity

Nest Cam Outdoor

(Image credit: Nest)

Nest Cam Outdoor

Best for simplicity

Resolution: 1080p | Camera lens: 130-degree | Night vision: Yes | Recording options: Cloud via subscription | Two-way talk: Yes | WiFi: 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11a/b/g/n

Easy to install
Continuous recording with Nest Aware
Doesn’t flood you with motion alerts
Easy to steal or knock down
Relies on subscription service for advanced features
Scheduling doesn’t play nicely with geolocation

Granted, there are newer, higher-resolution outdoor cameras but the Nest Cam Outdoor is a great choice for people who don't need 4K resolution. You get features like continuous recording, high-quality 1080p video, gentle alerts and simple installation which make for less hassle all round. This camera manages to find the sweet spot between all the important areas of price, quality and features.

6. Foscam FN3108XE: Fully wired solution

Foscam FN3108XE-B4-1T

(Image credit: Foscam)

Foscam FN3108XE-B4-1T

A fully wired outdoor security camera system

Resolution: 720p | Camera lens: 75-degree | Night vision: Yes | Recording options: 1TB hard drive | Two-way talk: No | WiFi: No

Good video quality
2 year warranty
Doesn’t record audio
Some distortion
Could be easier to set-up

The Foscam FN3108XE is a full wired outdoor security camera system, so this is something to consider. However, it comes with four cameras and a 1TB hard drive. In our tests, we found the 720p daytime video to be good, with decent levels of contrast at every distance we tested. At night, and while there was limited graininess in its recordings, there was noticeable blurring when capturing movement and a tendency to wash out details on objects close to the camera with its powerful infrared lights. For peace of mind, the Foscam FN3108XE comes with a two year warranty, while the system uses Ethernet cables to both power and get video from its cameras, which makes it easier to set up than most wired systems. However, the Foscam lacks any sort of audio recording capabilities.

How easy are outdoor security cameras to install?

How easy wired or wireless solutions are to install depends on whether you choose to go with a wired or wireless solution.

The latest wireless outdoor security cameras simply have to be positioned where you want them as they’re powered by rechargeable batteries, and provided you’re in range of your wireless route, it should be a pretty painless set-up. Battery life is also pretty good, lasting one to two months between charges, but the downside is that footage is only recorded as short clips when motion or sound is detected to avoid draining the battery. 

Some WiFi cameras offer wireless connectivity, but will require a power supply, making setup a bit more of a chore as you’ll have to drill through walls, but able to record 24/7 if required.  

Full wired solutions require you to run cables to send both a feed to what’s known as a Digital Video Recorder (DVR) or Network Video Recorder (NVR), as well as power each camera. Footage is recorded to an internal hard drive in the DVR or NVR, and depending on the size of the drive, you can record continuously should you wish to.

Because you’re having to install cables and drill through walls, setup can take time. If you’re not comfortable doing this, it’s best to get a wired solution professionally installed.

What type of weather can outdoor security cameras handle?

Unlike the security cameras that you can set-up inside your home, the top outdoor security cameras are designed to withstand exposure to the elements.

Look out of an IP (Ingress Protection) rating, with IP ratings made up of two digits. The first digit rates how resistant the camera is to exposure from foreign bodies on a scale of 0 to 6, with 0 providing no protection and 6 totally dust tight. The second digit refers to moisture protection and ranges from 0 to 8, with 0 offering no protection and 8 seeing the unit protected against prolonged effects of immersion under pressure. 

You’ll find that the best outdoor security cameras have an IP66 rating. This means that the camera offers total protection from dust ingress, while also withstanding powerful jetting water from any direction. 

How is video stored and viewed?

Wired outdoor security cameras need you to connect the DVR or NVR to a TV or computer monitor, meaning you don’t need to be connected to the internet to view footage. Navigation of the interface is done via a USB mouse that comes bundled with the outdoor security camera kit.

Provided you can connect your DVR or NVR up to your internet connection (often requiring an Ethernet cable), more advanced wired systems allow you to view footage remotely on your smartphone or via the web thanks to supported apps.

Most wireless outdoor security cameras favor cloud storage to store video. Cloud storage sees any footage recorded automatically sent, stored and backed up at a secure remote location. This can then be accessed when need, with file encrypted for your security.

Footage is viewed live on your smartphone via an app or on a web page. You’ll find that unless you simply want to watch live video or store a minimal amount of clips over a short period of time, a subscription fee will be required.

Motion detection and alerts

Cameras are clever enough to not only detect motion, but also hear any loud sounds (with most allowing you to tweak the sensitivity), such as windows being smashed. Should a camera detect unusual motion or sound, it can automatically send an alert to your phone. Advanced outdoor cameras are also equipped with face and pet recognition, so it’ll know not to alert you when a family member comes home. 

If you want a camera that can record audio in addition to video, you should not expect this feature to come built in for wired cameras. With most NVR-based systems, a microphone is a separate purchase that only works indoors. Most wireless system though feature two-way audio, allowing you to not only hear what’s going on, but to also speak with visitors or ward off burglars. As for the legality of recording audio, check your local or state laws.

What to look for when buying a wireless security camera

The best outdoor security cameras have a number of features to look out for. First up is the video quality captured, with most now recording in Full HD 1080p, though some still feature lower resolution 720p capture. You’ll also find that some of the latest outdoor security cameras record in 4K and in High Dynamic Range (HDR). These cameras deliver even better detail and clarity, but they do need a fast and stable internet connection to really make use of them, while footage also takes up more storage thanks to the bigger files.

As well as daytime recording quality you also need to think about how night-time footage is captured. Outdoor security cameras use infrared LEDs to record footage when light levels drop. Footage is captured in mono, while the range of what the camera sees is reduced compared to daytime recording, which can be anything from 15ft to 30ft and beyond.

The field of view is another key feature. Most outdoor security cameras have a narrower field of view than wireless indoor security cameras, with some offering just less the 55-degrees of coverage, while others can be much wider at over 100-degrees.

How many cameras do you need?

How many cameras you need really depends on the size of your property. Most outdoor security camera systems are sold as a kit, featuring two, three or four cameras (and in some cases eight). It's up to you to decide how many cameras you need for your home surveillance system, but make sure each entrance point is covered. 

Depending on regulations where you live, you might need to get consent from people you're recording. This is usually as simple as using a sign that says there are security cameras present.

Sometimes you might need to buy additional cameras. For example, it's also possible to buy an NVR that supports up to four cameras but only comes with two. In these instances, you can usually order extra cameras from the manufacturer.

If you're adding wired cameras, it's important to make sure you also get the appropriate cables and to allot some time for installation. Also remember that your video storage might get used up faster, or, in the case of cloud storage, you might have to pay a subscription fee if you’re using more storage.

Smart home integration

Many of the latest wireless outdoor security cameras can be integrated with other smart home systems and gadgets. Some feature support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands, allowing you to view video from the camera on an Amazon Echo Show or Google Assistant Smart Display, while it’s also possible to control smart locks,  smart thermostats, and other devices in your smart home. If you want to do this, check if any home automation systems work with the camera you’re thinking about buying.

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