Picking the best security camera for your needs

A primer on indoor cameras, outdoor cameras and video doorbells.

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April 21, 2019 4:30 PM
Sarah MacReading/Wirecutter
Sarah MacReading/Wirecutter

By Rachel Cericola

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full blog on picking the best security camera for your needs here.

Despite what I tell my son, I really don't have eyes in the back of my head. But I do have Wi-Fi security cameras with smartphone apps, which allow me to keep tabs on him, as well as my dog, my car, the front door, and the yard. And like me, cameras aren't perfect at all tasks. Picking the right one (or two, or three) depends on what you want to do with it. Outdoor cameras can withstand the elements but may need an electrical outlet or periodic battery recharges. Indoor cameras can keep an eye on things in your home but are limited when it comes to catching package thieves. And doorbell cameras let you pretend to be home when you're not. Here are some of our favorite ways we use security cameras, and how to pick the best camera for your needs. (Note that a few states restrict the use of biometric technology such as facial recognition, a feature in some cameras, so be sure to confirm your local laws before making a purchase.)

Deterring crime

If you're worried about what's going on in your neighborhood and around your property, get an outdoor camera. Look for a camera that can capture lengthy recordings and doesn't leave gaps in between clips—a common pitfall. Clear night vision is also a must, and adjustable motion sensitivity will cut down nuisance smartphone alerts triggered by every passing car. If you don't have an outdoor outlet or a large yard, look for a camera with a rechargeable battery, which makes placement easy—just know that if there's a lot of activity, you will be charging the camera often.

Keeping a watch on pets

Some pets have separation anxiety when their owners are away, and some just like to eat socks, trash, and anything else that isn't encased in concrete. An indoor security camera with a wide viewing angle allows you to watch what Fido and Fluffy are doing while you're away. Most cameras also have two-way audio, which is useful for yelling at them to get off the sofa.

Tracking the kids

Although it may sound Orwellian, indoor cameras can help you monitor your kids by notifying you (via smartphone alerts) whenever the cameras detect motion, such as when the kids are coming and going. Just aim the camera at the door. Cameras with two-way audio allow you to greet them (and remind them about homework and other chores), while cameras with facial recognition can distinguish between family members and the dog walker. Also, consider some type of video-clip storage, unless you plan on watching for alerts 24/7.

Monitoring remote locations

For people who own a vacation or rental home, an outdoor camera can alert you in real time to prowlers, raccoons, or storm damage. An elderly parent's home is also a good place for a camera (with their consent, of course); for that situation, choose an indoor model that supports live viewing and two-way audio, so you can chat with your parent or a caretaker.

Screening guests

Want to know who goes there? A doorbell camera can show you who's on your porch whether you're right behind the door or thousands of miles away. Doorbell cameras can also send alerts when they detect motion or if someone rings the bell, allowing you to answer accordingly—the visitor has no idea if you're home or not. If you're worried about who you might miss if you can't answer the smartphone alert, look for a camera that saves recordings to the cloud so you can access them remotely.

Nabbing porch pirates

A doorbell camera is ideal for keeping tabs on deliveries to your front porch because you can get notified when a package arrives or even converse with the delivery person. Pick a camera that has motion detection (and a way to adjust it to prevent nuisance alerts), since delivery drivers don't always ring the bell. The main drawback to this style of camera is a relatively limited view, since they are intended only for patrolling your front-door area. For a wider viewing angle or coverage of a specific spot like the driveway, the back door, or the side of the house, consider adding an outdoor camera as well.

If you think your home monitoring needs go beyond just a few cameras, read our guide to the best do-it-yourself security systems.

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