Everything You Need to Know About Security Camera Systems
Security Cameras and CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) camera systems are available everywhere. Which are good? Which should you choose? Quality camera systems must meet the needs of the customer’s specific situation and budget. We wanted to shine a light on security cameras and save you time trying to figure out all the differences. Building camera solutions that meet the needs of our customers require a security advisor who is highly trained, up to date with all the current technology and has immense attention to detail. Thorn Security offers no-charge security camera needs analysis, so reach out to us and schedule your no-charge, no-obligation security assessment.
Security camera systems are available in many different approaches as far as how they are powered, how they communicate, where they record, quality, capacity and more. These are the basics any security camera shopper should know:
Cameras Need Power:
Power is normally provided on lower end camera systems by batteries or power plugged in to a regular electrical outlets. Higher end camera system almost always receive power via PoE(Power over Ethernet). PoE systems have the advantage of receiving both power and communication over the same single cable.
- Batteries need to be charged or replaced and cameras tend to be located overhead making access more difficult. How easy will it be to maintain battery power and how often will you need to get the ladder?
- Cameras using a power plug need a receptacle nearby. Receptacles are often located for convenience at knee or waist level. Can someone easily unplug your camera or cut the power supply? Do you have electrical outlets in soffits over-head already? Or will you need to hire an electrician?
- PoE systems use a single cable which provides both power and communication. These cables need to already exist or will need to be fished to where they are needed. Thorn Security is a wiring specialist for both PoE and security wires, while also offering full Red Seal certified electrical services, so we do it all. Tip: Fishing wires is like mudding drywall, leave it to the professionals!
Most all security camera systems need communication which tends to be supplied one of two ways:
- Wireless via Wi-Fi connectivity: This is a very convenient communication supplied wirelessly to your home or business network. From there, the communication may upload video data to the cloud, or to an onsite recorder. The Wi-Fi communication may also be used to allow users to connect to the camera and monitor them remotely via a smart phone app or internet connected computer from anywhere in the world.
- Wired connectivity via PoE: PoE supplies both power and connectivity to the camera via one cable. The advantage of wired connectivity is many, but most importantly it provides a significantly more reliable network connection. We all see Wi-Fi connections drop from time to time, slow down or require routers or devices to be rebooted – this just doesn’t happen with wired connectivity. When cameras are deployed for reasons of safety and security, most organizations use PoE to ensure an extremely reliable connection. Note: Wired connectivity is always better if you have the choice! The reason Wi-Fi connectivity is commonly used is normally due to the expense or difficulty in getting wires from one central location in a home or business to all cameras.
Camera Video Storage:
Cameras capturing video normally store video somewhere, which is normally onboard, in the cloud, or on a recorder.
- Onboard storage records video within the camera device normally on a memory storage card which can have varying capacities.
- Cloud storage uses the cameras communication to upload video as clips to secure storage somewhere out on the internet. This cloud storage is free for small amounts of storage, or is paid service for larger quantities or longer retention. This storage detail isn’t always clear when you purchase the camera – so buyer beware, especially when buying Consumer Grade cameras.
- Recorders offer onsite recording – basically hard-drive storage onsite which may be DVR’s(Digital Video Recorders), SVR’s (Streaming Video Recorders, or NVR’s(Network Video Recorders). These recorders offer local storage and should be secured safely within the property. Lockers are available to reduce likelihood of tampering. Buyer beware – just because the cameras record to a recorder, doesn’t mean the recorder is good quality. Sometimes consumer grade cameras are bundled together with recorders at very low prices – you get what you pay for when it comes to electronic security. Be thrifty with something less important, otherwise having cameras really isn’t that important!
Camera Storage Space:
Storage space decides how much video can be captured before video storage is overwritten. The amount of space you need for storage depends on quality of the captures, whether 24/7 or based on activity or events, frame rate of capture and more. Consumer grade cameras tend to offer days or weeks of storge while lifestyle or professional systems can retain up to years of activity from multiple cameras.
I will speak more about this later, but we divide security cameras in to three different grades:
- Consumer grade cameras
- Lifestyle grade cameras
- Professional grade cameras or CCTV
Cameras don’t see like human eyes where everyone basically sees distances the same. Cameras all have lenses and every lens see things differently. Some lenses offer a narrow field of view while others offer a wide view, ultrawide view or even 360 degree view. Some security cameras offer varifocal lenses which allows adjustment of the field of view. Varifocal lenses are manually adjusted at the time of installation while others are motorized zoom lenses which allow users to optically zoom in the camera at will. Lenses are always chosen based on distances, installation location and what you want to see.
Consumer grade cameras come with the lens they have and once installed you will see whether that view works or doesn’t. With Lifestyle and Professional grade cameras, we choose the lens we want for the specific need. We have all seen video captures on the news where you can’t tell who someone is or can’t make out the type of car. Lenses play an important role in the purchase of security cameras which provide real security.
Video is really just a bunch of photographs in sequence and frame rate is the number of photos per second to create that video. A good frame rate for security video recording is 15-30 frames per second but many camera systems capture at 5 frames per second. Your TV operates with 30FPS(Frames Per Second. The higher the frame rate, the smoother the video, but you will also need more storage to capture that video before your storage is full.
We all know about resolution and always want more but resolution plays an important role in security cameras depending on whether we want to clearly view license plate numbers, make out faces, or clearly count denominations of money changing hands. The higher the resolution, the more storage space required for each minute of video without reducing frame-rate. While we know our i-Phone 14 Pro provides up to 48 megapixel image captures, that isn’t video at 30 or 60 frames per second. With video we hear of captures being in HD (High Definition) or 1080p which really designates the number of pixels in an image. 4K is basically 4X the pixels of HD. Security cameras are available with many different resolutions from 1MP to even 15MP or beyond.
When nighttime falls, the big benefit to security cameras is that many can see perfectly in low light or even complete darkness. Many cameras include IR(infrared illuminators) which allow the camera to see what the human eye can’t. This is a great advantage for both indoor and outdoor cameras, but again, not all IR cameras are the same. Depending on the specifications and the number of illuminators, IR cameras can see clearly from 10′ commonly up to 100′ and beyond. Intruders are still in the dark but we can see them! As long as the IR illumination extends to where they are, we can clearly see them.
Ingress protection or IP ratings, refer to the level of protection offered by an electrical enclosure, against dust and water. The higher IP rating, the greater the ruggedness of a product. Often, we see IP65 ratings which suggests it is meant to withstand falling rain or spraying water but not submersion. Especially here on the West-coast, ensuring your cameras can withstand the elements is important.
More About Security Camera Grades:
1. Consumer Grade:
These cameras can be available as a single camera or sometimes bundled together with a DVR (Digital Video Recorder). These cameras provide mostly wireless communication but still require a power cord unless they are battery operated. Consumer grade cameras may even have remote access or a smart phone app available. These systems are normally provided together with instructions sheets for self-installation and perhaps Youtube instruction depending on the brand. The operational lifespan of these systems tends to be short largely due to price point and installations standards.
Consumer grade cameras are most inexpensive and seem like a good idea because they are inexpensive. Thorn Security does not sell consumer grade cameras. If consumer grade cameras are of interest to you, you’ll find them at hardware stores, wholesales membership stores and even drugs stores with electronic sections. Many brands are now available online from almost everywhere. Note: Security of consumer grade cameras can be an issue where others gains access to your cameras without you knowing through back-end access, hacks or simply improper security firewalls. I would not suggest using consumer grade security cameras in any sensitive areas. If you have a look on Facebook Marketplace, you will find many for sale second-hand.
2. Lifestyle Grade(Managed):
Lifestyle security cameras are normally Security Company grade cameras joined together with security alarms offering some real advantages. These cameras can also be available as a stand-alone video service. Lifestyle cameras can operate via wireless communication through your Wi-Fi network but we are seeing more and more that are PoE which are wired camera systems where communication and power is delivered over the same set of wires.
Lifestyle grade systems can provide notifications immediately upon triggered events. They can record clips on-board, locally or to the cloud and are available in many different camera varieties. These systems include Remote Management Apps for viewing via your smartphone or internet connected computer from anywhere in the world. These systems require a monthly fee for service but offer great value including remote access, cloud storage and managed security ensuring that only you access your cameras and recordings.
Video analytics are also often available allowing notification delivery to you via text, push or email when activity is detected on camera. Analytics software running in these systems can tell the difference between cars, animals and people. Notifications can therefore provide property awareness based on specific criteria like someone walking on your property compared to driving down your driveway, or a cat wandering the neighbourhood. Thorn Security does provide these security cameras solutions and highly recommends them. The best part is that these cameras tie together with your security alarm system providing property security, property awareness as well as quality service and reliable evidence.
3. Professional Security Grade:
High quality CCTV solutions specifically chosen from thousands of products offerings to meet your specific needs. Nearly anything is possible. The key for us is for us to understand your needs and provide the right solution to ensure the camera solution provides you with ongoing reliability and the video evidence you require. Thorn Security camera system specialists will come to the site or work together with you from blueprints and will be looking to answer a whole number of questions before designing your system and providing your quotation. Professional Security Grade is used everywhere reliability and quality is required. While Costco, Staples, London Drugs, Home Depot and many others may sell consumer grade cameras, they only rely on professional grade for their own security surveillance!