Surveillance and Security Camera Buyer's Guide
Today’s security camera system equipment is smaller, less expensive, more sophisticated, and is packed full of features. This is great for you as the consumer as you have more high quality options at your fingertips than ever before! However, there are a ton of options and it can be very confusing telling the difference between two particular products if this is your first time dealing with the security industry.
You’re going to come across a lot of terms, types of products, and information that you might have never heard of before, but that’s okay! We’re here to help out with that and make this process easy for you. If you have any questions while you read this guide, give us a call at 800-997-8460 and we’ll help however we can!
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Security cameras come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and types with each kind of camera having different sets of features for different environments. Select one of the options below to learn more about each type of camera.
This section will help you understand basic camera specifications and their effect on the performance of the camera.
Analog camera resolution or picture quality is measured by the number of horizontal lines the sensor chip in the camera provides and is called "TV lines of resolution" or TVL. Naturally, the higher the TVL the better the quality of the image.
- Standard Image Quality: 380TVL - 420TVL.
- High Image Quality: 480TVL - 520 TVL
- Very high Image Quality: 540TVL - 700TVL
Infrared LEDs allow security cameras to see in dark areas by flooding the area with infrared light. This light reflects off surfaces in the area and is picked up by the camera's sensor chip which allows the camera to see as if the area was lit by visible light.
- # of LEDs: The more LEDs, the better a camera can see in low light environments.
- Illumination Rage: Refers to the maximum distance at which an object is visible at night.
Vandal resistance is in reference to whether or not a camera is reinforced with a hardened plastic or metal housing so that it is more ruggedly built. If a thief or burglar wants to get on your property bad enough, they will try to damage or break your cameras so they are not seen.
Indoor VS Outdoor Cameras
CCTV Cameras use electrical components that are senstive to the elements. If water or dust gets inside of your camera, the quality of your video feeds will suffer and your camera may even stop working. Weather proof housings help keep moisture and dust where it belongs, on the outside.
If you are installing a camera outside and it is not in a weatherproof camera housing, you will defintely want to double check the camera specs to make sure that it is weather resistance rated.
There are many different levels of weather resistance that range from minimal protection all the way to airtight, waterproof enclosures and all of our outdoor cameras are fully weather resistant.
Color VS Black & White Security Cameras
Color cameras are the preferred choice for most security systems. However, black and white cameras are slightly cheaper, more sensitive to light, and can see better in darkness.
Infrared (IR) security cameras switch to black and white mode during low light conditions to improve their night vision and return to color in good light conditions.
IR cameras have gained popularity because of their flexibility and become the standard type of camera installed in systems today.
CCTV Camera Lenses
Naturally, lenses are on every security camera and have a dramatic affect on the area that the camera can monitor. Installing a security camera with the wrong type of lens can make that camera's video feed of little use.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind when shopping for cameras is the smaller the lens' focal length, the mm spec, the wider your field of view will be.
For example, a camera with a 50mm lens will have a very narrow field of view (FOV) and be able to focus on objects far away while a 3mm lens will have a wide FOV and be more suited for short range monitoring.
Varifocal vs. Fixed Lenses
A fixed lens is a lens that has a set focal length which you'll see as a 'x'mm spec. These lenses are only capable of viewing people / objects / areas a set distance away from the camera which will affect where you can install the camera.
A varifocal lens is a lens that has an adjustable focal length which you will see as an 'x-y'mm spec. This allows the lens to be adjusted to view people / objects / areas at a distance of your choosing, grants you more flexibility with camera placement, and gives you more control on the focus clarity of that specific camera.
Each type of lens will aid in the capture of video regardless, but the varifocal lenses allow much more flexibility in the installation of a security camera system and allows you must more control over the quality of your video feeds.
CCTV Camera Lenses
There are many security cameras available and it would be impossible to cover them all in this guide. Security cameras produce images using CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) or CCD (Charge Couple Device) sensor chips. The size of the chip is normally 1/4", 1/3" or 1/2". As a rule of thumb, the larger the chip size, the higher the quality of the image produced and the higher the price. As technology has advanced, higher density 1/4" and 1/3" CCD chips can now produce as clear of an image as the older 1/3" & 1/2" chips.
Most cameras have the industry standard 3.6mm lens that provides roughly a 72 degree field of view. Figure 1.2 shows some popular lenses and their respective field of view:
Some cameras come with a varifocal lens so the focal length can be adjusted. Please visit our Lens Comparison Tool to learn more about lenses and field of view.
Field of View
The field of view (FOV) is the height and width of the picture size produced by a lens. FOV can be adjusted by using a different lens on your camera. There are two basic types of camera lenses: fixed focal (or monofocal) and varifocal (or zoom). FOV of a fixed focal lens can not be adjusted. FOV of a varifocal lens can be adjusted. Varifocal lenses are usually more expensive. Figure 1.3 illustrates the FOV of various lenses.
|Detailed Lens Chart
||6.4 X 8.6
||12.9 X 17.1
||32.1 X 42.9
||64.3 X 85.7
||96.4 X 128.6
||128.6 X 171.4
||4.5 X 6.0
||9.0 X 12.0
||22.5 X 30.0
||45.0 X 60.0
||67.5 X 90.0
||90.0 X 120.0
||3.0 X 4.0
||6.0 X 8.0
||15.0 X 20.0
||30.0 X 40.0
||45.0 X 60.0
||60.0 X 80.0
||2.3 X 3.0
||4.5 X 6.0
||11.3 X 15.0
||22.5 X 30.0
||33.8 X 45.0
||45.0 X 60.0
||1.5 X 2.0
||3.0 X 4.0
||7.5 X 10.0
||15.0 X 20.0
||22.5 X 30.0
||30.0 X 40.0
||1.1 X 1.5
||2.3 X 3.0
||5.6 X 7.5
||11.3 X 15.0
||16.9 X 22.5
||22.5 X 30.0
||0.7 X 1.0
||1.4 X 1.9
||3.6 X 4.8
||7.2 X 9.6
||10.8 X 14.4
||14.4 X 19.2
||0.4 X 0.5
||0.7 X 1.0
||1.8 X 2.4
||3.6 X 4.8
||5.4 X 7.2
||7.2 X 9.6
||0.2 X 0.3
||0.5 X 0.6
||1.2 X 1.6
||2.4 X 3.2
||3.6 X 4.8
||4.8 X 6.4
By knowing the object distance and the required target area, you can determine what lens is going to give you the best image.
For example, using the chart above for a 1/3-inch format camera, viewing an object at a distance of 50 feet with a target area of 15 feet by 20 feet, scan down the "50 feet" column to the stated target size; scan left to see that a 12mm lens is required for that area.
Auto Iris VS Manual Iris
Auto iris lenses are a fantastic choice for outdoor surveillance where light is constantly changing. The iris for these lenses automatically opens and closes according to the amount of ambient light so that your video feeds are not affected by the change in lighting conditions.
Manual iris lenses are well suited for areas with consistent lighting like shopping centers, schools, libraries, and offices because the iris only needs to be set once during the installation of the lens. Manual lenses are less expensive than their auto counterpart since they do not come with the auto-adjust mechanics, but are more limited becuase of that distinction.
Network IP Cameras
Analog security cameras have long been the standard type of camera used in surveillance systems, but IP cameras have surged in popularty over the last five years. When IP cameras were introduced, they were prohibitively expensive and didn't produce noticeably greater quality videos than analog cameras did.
However, as the technology has become more readily available and more surveillance companies have invested in developing this technology, IP cameras have dramatically increased in quality and decreased in price which has made them more affordable than ever!
IP Camera popularity is on the rise and it is estimated that over 60% of all security camera systems sold over the next few years will be IP based. The advantages of IP cameras over analog cameras are below.
Higher Resolution and HD Video
Megapixel IP cameras can capture High Definition Video (HD Video) and provide greater detail improving identification. A 2 megapixel camera is an excellent choice for capturing license plates and can cover a 24 foot wide point of entry or exit.
When monitoring an area, a megapixel camera provides superior image quality compared to analog cameras. We illustrate this below by comparing an analog, 1.3MP, and 2MP image, the license plate in the 2MP image can be easily identified when zoomed into, but this is not the case at an analog resolution.
When you need a clear shot of what a person looks like, a megapixel camera image can provide a level of detail that can't be matched by an analog camera. The improved pixel count also allows for the use of ePTZ technology.
Electronic Pan/Tilt/Zoom (ePTZ)
Zoom has always been available with analog cameras, but is often slow and can only be used on live video as events occur and you can't zoom in for more details with a PTZ camera.
With megapixel IP cameras, you can zoom, pan, and tilt on live footage and your previously recorded video! The NVR software allows you to select a video clip and zoom in on any part that you want. This lets you catch all the details regardless of when the video was recorded!
Wider Camera Coverage
One of the factors that has contributed to the explosive popularity of megapixel IP cameras is their ability to provide wider coverage and more detail on a per camera basis. A single 2-megapixel IP camera can cover an area 6 times greater than an analog camera. With a 2-megapixel camera potentially taking the place of 6 Analog cameras, the installation costs can be significantly reduced.
This is especially true for fisheye IP cameras that come with a special fisheye camear lens. This type of camera records everything in a 360° view and comes in models up to 5 megapixels for high definition video resolution. One single fisheye IP camera can cover a 3,000 square foot warehouse with ease!
Lux & Light Sensitivity
The light sensitivity of a camera is measured in Lux and this is the standard specification you will see that defines how well a camera can see in poor lighting conditions.
If a candle is one foot away from an object, it throws one foot candle of light illumination onto the object. This is about 10 "Lux" and is the unofficial definition of Lux. The luminescent value of Lux tries to relate the energy per unit area falling on a surface to what the human eye perceives.
We've compiled the table below to give you a better understanding of the concept.
||100,000 - 130,000 Lux
|Full daylight, indirect sunlight
||10,000 - 20,000 Lux
||200 - 400 Lux
|Very dark day
|Moonless clear night sky
Home Security Camera Systems
Our homes are our havens; it’s where we feel safe and comfortable. If a thief or burglar breaks into our home, they don’t just take our things, they take our peace of mind and that can't be returned to you.
Installing a simple two or four camera home security system around your house will make thieves and burglars think twice before coming near your property. Every surveillance system sold by ApexCCTV is smartphone enabled and configurable to let you remotely view your cameras anywhere in the World with your iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone.
We have a wide range of complete home security packages that were specifically designed with everything you need to keep your home secure without breaking the bank!
Security Systems for Businesses
If you own your own business, then you know all about the tiny little details that come with running a successful company. You have to worry about your employee’s showing up on time and doing their job while they’re there, theft by customers and employees alike, inventory shrinkage, and providing a shopping experience where your customers feel safe and confident.
Keeping a solid grasp on all of these issues while managing your company can be too much for one person to handle. Adding one of our affordable and easy-to-use security camera systems to your business is the first step in the right direction. Video surveillance isn't just for the huge companies with deep pockets anymore. We have a wide selection of complete security camera packages that are plug and play straight out of the box!
License Plate Recognition (LPR) Cameras
License plate recognition cameras, also known as LPR cameras, are an advanced type of security camera that is built specifcially to give you the clearest image of license plates as they enter or leave your property. These cameras come with special infrared (IR) cut filters that cancel out ambient lighting and poor weather so it gets the clearest image possible!
These cameras can do more than just capture a license plate and store it to an easy to use database. LPR cameras are used at our location to track our freight provider, employee punctuality, and we have it hooked up to an I/O card to trigger the lights at the employee entrance after hours!
Having a high definition LPR camera system will help capture time stamped, high quality video of vehicles and this evidence is extremely important in legal / criminal trials. LPR cameras are ideal for border patrol, parking garages, perimeter security, shipping hubs, government buildings, and public transportation.
Benefits to LPR Cameras
- Razor sharp video at high speeds
- Capture license plates day or night with ease!
- Easy-to-use management software
- Configurable alarms that send alerts to your phone or e-mail
- Can be hooked up to an I/O card to trigger other devices; door locks, lights, gates, etc.
Video analytics is an industry term for software features and it covers a wide variety of useful functions from missing object detection to tampering alarms. Using a digital video recorder or network video recorder with analytics is like driving a fully loaded car, you may not need all of the features, but they sure are nice to have!
The biggest benefit from using video analytics is that you don't have to sit a person in front of your security monitors all day watching video feeds in case something goes wrong. By putting in a little bit of time configuring your settings, your DVR or NVR can do all the work for you while you spend your time doing things that are more important to you!
Video Analytics Features
- Missing Object Detection: Detects when an object goes missing and sends an alert
- Motion Detection: Detects motion and cues the DVR to record
- Unattended Object Detection: Detects when an object is left and sends an alert
- People Counting: Counts the number of people or objects entering / leaving an area
- Scene Change Detection: Detects when a camera's field of view is changed and sends an alert
- Face Detection: Detects facial features and saves the image to a thumbnail index for quick recall
- And many more!
Video Recorder Equipment
There are 3 basic types of video recording equipment: PC-based Digital Video Recorders (DVRs), Standalone DVRs, and network video recorders (NVRs). Each of these video recorders has their own strengths and the proper selection will help you get the most out of your system. Knowing which one is more suited for your location will not only help you save money, but help you get the absolute most out of your system!
PC based DVRs are easier to use, more flexible, and come with software that provides live view, remote access, and other administrative features that make your DVR more than just a recorder. One thing that makes PCs stand out over standalones is that you can add more cameras to this type of digital video recorder by using a different DVR card setup. However, one thing to keep in mind is that these units usually cost more than standalone DVRs because of the high performance components.
PC DVRs are essentially a standard PC with a DVR capture card installed to convert the video feed from your security cameras into a file to be stored on the hard drive. However, some people are under the misconception that any personal computer with a DVR card will do the job, but it isn’t a simple "plug and play" situation. Many crashes, system lock-ups, and instabilities can be blamed on computers that do not have enough processing power for handling multi-camera video processing.
Our PC-based DVR systems use name brand components and are hand-built by veteran CCTV technicians in our state-of-the-art lab. After a PC is built, a second technician performs a 72 point inspection of the system to ensure that every setting is correct before it is cleared to ship.
The surveillance system you get from ApexCCTV is preconfigured and plug and play ready so the only thing you need to do is connect the cameras to your DVR! Our PC DVR parts and labor are covered by a 1 Year Warranty and free lifetime technical support!
Standalone DVRs use Linux based operating systems that are designed to run just the DVR software. Standalone DVRs are not as feature-rich as their PC counterpart, but are a solid alternative for those less comfortable with PCs or for locations where a the use of a PC is inconvenient.
Our extensive line of standalone DVRs are versatile enough to cover most homes & small businesses with ease and come with software that provides live view, remote access, camera control and other administrative functions. However, some of the entry level models may not offer remote access.
Network Video Recorders (NVRs)
Network video recorders, or NVRs, are video recorders designed to function specifically with IP cameras. These systems feature high performance components that capable of processing video from numerous multi-megapixel cameras simultaneously.
For the most part, a NVR is very similar to a DVR except that an it does not need a pricey DVR capture card to record video. Because of that you will find that the PC based NVRs are a good deal less expensive than their DVR counterparts.
Like our DVRs, every one of our PC based network video recorders uses name brand components and are hand-built by veteran CCTV technicians in our state-of-the-art lab. After the PC is built, a second technician performs a 72 point inspection of the system to ensure that all the settings are correct before it is cleared to ship. The surveillance system you get from ApexCCTV is preconfigured and plug and play ready so the only thing you need to do is connect the cameras to the NVR! Our PC NVR parts and labor are covered by a 1 Year Warranty!
Wired VS Wireless Security Cameras
Wired security cameras are the best choice since they provide the highest video quality, no interference, and are less expensive than wireless networks. They can be installed hundreds of feet away from the security DVR system without a tiny drop in performance. Figure 1.1 shows a typical connectivity diagram.
You do not have to power the camera locally with wired security cameras since siamese cable provides video and power in the same cable. This lets you connect your cameras to the DVR and power them remotely. We have a large inventory of wired security cameras and siamese cable pre-cut to commonly used lengths as well as on a spool. For runs longer than 700 Ft., we recommend using CAT5e cable and video balun connectors. Using this method, the video signal can be transmitted up to about 1,300 Ft.
Wireless cameras are rather expensive and not as reliable as wired systems. Most wireless systems are Line of Sight (LOS) so if any object , be it a swaying tree or a flock of birds, passes between the transmitter and the receiver, the wireless signal will be interrupted and your video quality will be affected. Remember that wireless security cameras still require power to operate so they will have to be powered locally.
Your first line and most important of defense is around the border of your property. If you can make thieves, vandals, burglars, or invading mongolians think twice about whether or not it's worth entering your property, you've already won. No one wants to be caught on camera doing something foolish or illegal, it's human nature.
Setting up a visible perimeter of security cameras or even setting up keycard / keypad access to your building will make sure that only the right people are allowed in. If someone is foolish enough to break in, then you've got them on camera and are ahead of the curve.
The main goal is to stop intrusion before it happens by turning away the threat.
Accessories often go overlooked because of how much focus is placed on the cameras and recording servers used in a security system. It's understandable, cameras and recorders can be expensive. It's hard not to focus on them.
Skimping on these smaller items can degrade the quality of those higher ticket items. Maximizing the use of the categories below will help you squeeze out the best quality system possible. Make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck by sweating the small stuff.
CCTV Power Supplies
Every camera requires a power supply whether it's 12v DC, 24v AC, or power over ethernet (PoE). The two types of power supplies are DC and AC as PoE is mainly used on higher end IP cameras and will be discussed in a later section.
Individual power adapters are a solid, inexpensive choice for 1-2 camera projects, but if you have 3+ cameras, a multi-port power supply is recommended. We maintain a large stock of single and multi-camera power supplies at all times.
Most cameras run on 12v DC, but it is not uncommon to find cameras that are AC powered. One thing to keep in mind when you're building your system is that if you cross voltages, power a DC camera with an AC power supply or vice versa, you will overload the camera and cause it to short-circuit. This will void the warranty and leave you with a costly paperweight.
CCTV Cable Types
Most security camera video signals are transmitted using coaxial cables like RG59 and RG6. The most popular cable is siamese cable which is a combination of RG59 coaxial for video transmission and a pair of 22-gauge wires for supplying power to the camera.
This convenient design makes it so that you only have to run one cable per camera. Coaxial cabling is excellent for runs under 600' and comes on spools of 500' and 1000'. Using RG6, you can achieve runs longer than 600', however most CCTV professionals use CAT5e and video balun connectors for long distance runs as they produce clearer and more reliable video feeds.
We also carry a wide selection of pre-cut, plug and play siamese cables that are available from 25' up to 150'. Pre-cut cables are perfect for a casual install or a novice installer.
Video baluns are a type of cable accessory that is an excellent choice for long cable runs. Regular coaxial cable (RG59 / Siamese) is great for transmitting video up to about 600' before the video quality degrades. If you want to run cable any further than that, you'll have to switch over to Cat5 cable and that's where a video balun comes into play.
A video balun has two connection ports to translate the coaxial video signal into a Cat5e signal. Your BNC coaxial cable is hooked up to the "in" connection port and the cat5 cable is connected via the RJ45 "out" port. The video is translated inbetween and transmitted via Cat 5 cable which allows the signal to travel over the ethernet cable for thousands of feet.
There are two types of video baluns, active and passive. Passive baluns are capable of transmitting video between 1-2,000 feet. Active baluns can extend that range up to about 4,000 feet, but they require 12v DC power.
There are dozens of types of BNC connectors that are dependent on the cable run, but, fundamentally, there are three main types of BNC connectors; crimp-on, twist-on, and compression. As you may have already deduced from the names, each type is determined by the method in which it is attached to the coaxial cable.
BNC connectors form a terminal and junction point for the end of your coaxial cable runs so that the cable may be hooked up to either your security camera or security DVR. If you're installing the connectors yourself you'll want to make sure that they are snugly installed so they produce the highest quality video possible. A loose BNC connector is one of the leading causes for fuzzy video feeds.
Overall, there's no difference between the connectors in terms of video quality produced, but the crimp-on and compression connectors are more reliable than the twist-ons since twist connectors are more prone to gradual loosening over time which will in turn reduce the quality of your video feeds as well. Crimp and compression connectors, when installed properly, are set rigidly in place on the end of the cable and are far less likely to degrade over time.
Motion detection is often thought to be a camera function, but it is actually built into the DVR's software. The DVR software analyzes the video frame by frame as it comes in from the camera and when it detects movement in the frame, it will cue the DVR to start recording. This helps make sure that you don't end up recording an empty area all night.
When configured properly, this will dramatically increase the amount of storage on your DVR's hard drive. However, this feature can also cause a DVR to record every video feed, 24/7 if it is improperly configured. When you deal with this feature, be sure to set the sensitivity function to the appropriate level so it eliminates false triggers.
The more sophisticated DVRs allow the user to define areas where motion can be ignored, like the movement of a ceiling fan or a tree branch swaying in the breeze.
Depending on the type of DVR, video from cameras can be displayed on a regular TV monitor or PC monitor. Most PC-based DVRs and recent Standalone DVRs provide both options.
We hope this guide has been helpful to you. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call our knowledgeable staff at 800-997-8460 for expert advice.