If you’ve ever had a package stolen from your porch or had a car broken into while parked in your driveway, there’s a good chance that the perpetrator was long gone before you even found out you had been victimized. There’s an even better chance that you’ll never know who committed the deed. If this sounds familiar, it might be time to invest in an outdoor security camera.
These rugged outdoor security camera, designed to withstand rain, snow, and extreme temperatures, typically connect to your home Wi-Fi network and allow you to view live video footage of activities occurring outside of your house. They’ll also send an alert to your phone when someone or something is out there, record video of the event, and depending on features, let you talk to whoever is on your property, all without ever having to open your door (or even be inside your house, for that matter).
Read on to find out what features to look for when choosing an outdoor security camera, and to check out our top picks
How Do Outdoor Security Cameras Work?
Most smart outdoor security cameras use a Wi-Fi radio to connect to your home network, allowing you to access them from anywhere using a mobile app. But there are also models that can use wired Ethernet, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, or a proprietary wireless technology to connect to a mobile app or a dedicated hub.
Wi-Fi cameras are easier to install than their wired counterparts because they don’t have to be located near an Ethernet port and don’t require wiring. Battery-powered Wi-Fi cameras are the easiest to install because you can put them just about anywhere (as long as they can connect to your router) without having to snake a power cable into your home to plug into an outlet.
These types of cameras typically use rechargeable batteries that can be easily popped out and taken indoors for charging with a USB cable, but they tend to drain quickly in colder weather. Bluetooth cameras are also easy to install, but you have to stay within 40 feet or so to connect to them with your phone.
Look for an outdoor Wi-Fi camera that can connect to either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz radio band to alleviate network congestion. If you’re having trouble getting a good signal outside, try pumping it up with a wireless range extender.
Wireless vs. wired security cameras
Wireless cameras are easy to install and reposition, but you’ll want to check the battery levels periodically to ensure they’re fully powered. Some battery-operated outdoor security cameras require a small hole to mount the camera outside. Other wireless surveillance cameras come with adhesive mounting tools free from drilling and easy to remove from rental properties.
Wired security cameras may require professional installation and drilling to connect it to a power outlet to power the security camera recording system.
DIY vs. monitored security camera systems
Do-it-yourself (DIY) home security systems can be cost-effective and convenient with online portals and smart technology. But, keep a few facts in mind. Most DIY surveillance systems don’t automatically connect 24/7 monitoring services to always keep you alert. Some come with limited support and may be more expensive in the end.
Monitored home security systems from leading providers offer automatic emergency notifications and services even when you’re away. Your home is always connected to a service to control and support your safety concerns with ease
What Type of Weather Can Outdoor Security Cameras Handle?
Any outdoor camera worth its salt must be able to withstand exposure to the elements and should carry an IP (Ingress Protection) rating. IP ratings contain two digits that tell you just how well the camera will hold up under most weather conditions. The first digit following the IP prefix tells you how resistant the camera is to the ingress of solid objects such as wind-blown dust and ranges from 0 (no protection) to 6 (total protection against dust and dirt). The second number tells you how resistant the camera is to moisture and ranges from 0 (no protection) to 9 (protected against close range, high pressure spray downs from all angles).
Most outdoor security cameras have an IP66 rating, which means they offer complete protection from dust ingress and can handle water jets from any direction, but shouldn’t be immersed in water. They’re typically safe from rain, snow, heat, and cold.
What Resolution Do You Want?
There’s no use in having an outdoor security camera if you can’t recognize who or what the camera is looking at.The higher the camera resolution, the sharper the images. Ideally, you’ll want a 1080p or higher resolution for the best view. A camera that captures video at 720p will usually offer a fairly sharp picture, but 1080p video offers more detail and is the most popular resolution for these devices; it doesn’t require lots of storage capacity and can be viewed on nearly all phones, tablets, and PCs.
Cameras that capture 4K (Ultra HD) video are also available, but you’ll need a very strong network connection to stream it without experiencing choppiness or lag, and you’ll need lots of room to store recorded video, which may result in expensive cloud storage fees.
Keep in mind that if you connect your camera to a digital video recorder (DVR) to record your camera’s footage, it will also need to be HD compatible to have crystal clear photos and videos
No matter the resolution, try to choose a camera with a relatively wide field of view (viewing angle) and make sure it can capture clear night vision video. Most cameras use IR (infrared) LEDs to deliver black-and-white night video, but there are a few out there that use white light to deliver full-color night video. Look for a camera with a night vision range of at least 30 feet.
Clear night vision is one of the most important features for outdoor security cameras. To get the best and brightest night view, consider a camera with infrared (IR) technology to sending bright light through wavelengths. The number of infrared LEDs used in a camera determines how far your outdoor security camera will be able to clearly show what’s outside your home. Look for surveillance cameras that have at least 100 feet or better of night vision. Many models also have a built-in IR cut-switch that automatically enables and disables the infrared technology depending on the lighting conditions
Do You Need Motion and Sound Detection?
Nearly all outdoor security cameras are equipped with a motion sensor that will trigger the camera to record video when motion is detected. The sensor can also initiate a push alert to your phone when activity is taking place, and some will also generate an email alert. For an extra layer of security, look for a camera with sound detection that can let you know if somebody is out there even if they’re out of range of the camera lens and the motion sensor. Fair warning: You’ll probably have to tweak the sound sensitivity settings to avoid alerts from barking dogs, loud cars, and other random noises.
If the camera has a microphone for sound detection, chances are it has a speaker as well and offers two-way audio communication that allows you to speak with (and listen to) whoever is outside. This comes in handy when dealing with annoying solicitors and can be used to scare off porch pirates and other unwanted visitors.
How Is Video Stored?
Recorded video can be stored in a number of ways. Many cameras offer free cloud storage for a limited number of days (typically seven) before it is overwritten or deleted, while others are strictly subscription based. If you require more than a week’s worth of video storage, you can subscribe to a 30-day plan and not have to worry about losing important footage before you’ve had a chance to review it and download it.
If you’re concerned about privacy and would rather not store your video in the cloud, look for a camera equipped with a microSD card slot so you can store it locally. A few cameras will even let you save video to a portable USB or NAS drive, but these devices are few and far between.
And if you want the ability to go back and see everything that’s been going on around the outside of your house, look for a camera that offers a CVR (Continuous Video Recording) plan where the camera is always recording and will store up to 30 days of 24/7 video in the cloud.