Residential outdoor security cameras were once reserved for the well-to-do. Thanks to advancements in technology, outdoor video cameras became more affordable in the past decade and accessible to many. These aren’t your basic wireless cameras. They offer state-of-the-art features such as infrared night vision, high-resolution video, movement sensors, and other tech that make it possible to monitor your property whether you’re just inside or away for the weekend.
For the uninitiated, these high-tech monitoring devices can quickly become confusing. This guide breaks down features to consider when shopping for the best outdoor security camera. Learn about why these recommendations are among the top-performing models available.
- BEST OVERALL: Arlo Ultra – 4K Wire-Free Security 1 Camera System
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: EZVIZ Security Camera Outdoor 1080P Wifi
- BEST WIRED: Reolink 4k PoE Security Camera System
- BEST HIDDEN: Panasonic HomeHawk Outdoor Wireless Security Camera
- BEST SMART TECH: Google Nest Cam Outdoor 2-Pack Outdoor Camera
- BEST WITH SIREN: Ring Floodlight Camera Two-Way Talk and Siren Alarm
- BEST WITH SECURITY SERVICE: SimpliSafe Doorbell
Types of Outdoor Security Cameras
One of the most significant differences between the types of outdoor security cameras is whether they are wireless or hard-wired.
Each camera is directly connected to a power source and the internet using a cable. A hard-wired security camera system uses a recording device and as many as four (or more) cameras, maximizing your ability to monitor your property. Since hard-wired cameras have a constant power supply, they can run 24/7 without draining batteries.
These systems can be more difficult and time-consuming to install as they involve running wiring from the cameras to the base unit on the home’s interior.
Wireless models use a battery or standard electrical plug for power and connect to the internet via a wireless router. Since they do not involve running wire from the cameras to a base unit, they are much easier to install.
Some wireless cameras are truly wireless, running off a rechargeable battery, while others must be plugged into an outdoor outlet. Wireless cameras that use a battery cannot run 24/7. To maximize battery life, they use sensors that turn the camera on when triggered by motion or sound. A wireless camera’s batteries can last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on how often the camera operates.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Outdoor Security Camera
Understanding how outdoor cameras work is crucial to picking the right one for your home. Below are some of the factors to keep in mind when shopping for an outdoor security camera.
Smart Home Compatibility
Many outdoor cameras offer smart home integration with support for systems such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit. Smart home outdoor security cameras allow you to access footage from the camera on a wide variety of devices, including from a computer, smartphone, and even the screen on a smart refrigerator.
This powerful capability allows you to see who’s knocking at your door while you’re on vacation hundreds of miles away or in the house. When integrated into your smart home network, security camera systems can work in concert with other smart home devices that open locks, adjust thermostats, and turn lights off and on.
Connectivity and Security
There are different options for connectivity depending on your choice between a hard-wired and wireless system. Many outdoor security cameras connect to your home via WiFi, enabling you to access the camera from a variety of smart devices. Other devices use Bluetooth technology. Hardwired systems use ethernet cables for connectivity.
Visible vs. Hidden
Outdoor security cameras can be visible or hidden, depending on whether you’re using the camera as a deterrent or to catch trespassers. Since statistics show that thieves tend to return to homes they’ve already burglarized, a hidden camera can allow you to catch a repeat offender in the act.
Visible cameras have the advantage of deterring would-be trespassers. Burglars or vandals are much more likely to bypass your house for unprotected homes if it’s clear they will be filmed. A visible camera will also cover your property better than a hidden camera with an obstructed view.
While outdoor security cameras may prevent crime from occurring on your property, they can also identify trespassers or burglars, making the camera a valuable law enforcement tool. That only works if the camera offers a high enough resolution. Outdoor security camera resolution ranges from 720p to 4K.
Most quality security cameras for homes offer 1080p, which is 1080 pixels tall and 1920 pixels wide. Higher-end systems use high-definition 4K, which is 3,840 pixels wide by 2,160 pixels tall. The higher the pixel count, the clearer the resolution.
Motion and Sound Detection
Many wireless and some hardwired video cameras begin recording when they detect sound or movement. This reduces the amount of footage that needs to be saved to the cloud or on a local hard drive. Motion or sound detection also enables the user to check specific times when the camera picked up something of interest, eliminating the need to review hours of security video footage.
Siren, Spotlight, and Security Service
Some cameras include an integrated spotlight and/or siren, which activate when motion is detected. These features should be set for sensitivity; a camera siren that goes off every time a squirrel or the family cat walks by is not only ineffective but will likely make you unpopular with the neighbors.
If you don’t feel like a siren or a spotlight is enough to ward off potential intruders, you can opt to pay for monitoring service. Most monitoring services involve signing a lengthy contract in exchange for hundreds of dollars in hardware, as well as monitoring. If you’re not interested in signing a long-term contract, some companies offer contract-free monitoring services for their systems.
Some security cameras include additional features for protecting your home. These include flood lights that come on when movement is detected, cameras that zoom in and out, and infrared cameras that can “see” in the dark. Some security camera systems also include an option to subscribe to a cloud data storage service for a monthly fee. These services typically save up to a month’s worth of video footage.
Ease of Installation
Many manufacturers of wireless systems offer easy installation as a selling point, keeping the cost of the system down by eliminating the expense of a professional installation. Battery-operated wireless systems that use WiFi connectivity are the easiest for users to install themselves.
Our Top Picks
From multi-camera, high-definition systems to discreet hidden cameras, read on to learn more about some of the most reliable security cameras.
This is one of the more expensive security cameras you can buy, but it proves the old adage that you get what you pay for. With the Arlo Ultra, you get a lot. The camera streams and records video in ultra-high definition 4K resolution. It’s loaded with plenty of useful features, including motion tracking, color night vision, automatic zooming, a 180-degree field of vision, and a spotlight. Once the camera identifies a potential threat, it can activate any of several response features, including an integrated siren, two-way audio, and one-click 911 connectivity.
The Arlo Ultra is operated by a rechargeable battery that lasts up to 6 months on a single charge and uses a magnetic mount. It connects wirelessly to a WiFi base unit that monitors camera connectivity, letting you know when a camera has lost its connection. Cloud storage for video data is available with Arlo’s Smart Premier Plan, which is a subscription service with a monthly fee.
You don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars for a decent security camera. This model from EZVIZ is an affordable option for extra security on your property. It features a 1080p wireless WiFi camera that works with various smart home systems and platforms, including Alexa, Google Home, and IFTTT.
Despite its low cost, the EZVIZ provides a surprising number of features, including night vision, push alerts, and a motion detector that begins recording automatically upon detection. Cloud storage for video footage is available through a paid subscription to Ezviz Cloud. You can even remotely activate a siren and strobe light to scare off trespassers.
For those looking to get maximum coverage from a security camera, there’s the Reolink 4K Camera System, which features not one but four 4K cameras. Each camera has motion sensors that send alerts when movement is detected. If that’s not enough coverage, the system can expand to accommodate up to eight cameras.
Each Reolink camera connects to a central base, which includes inputs for a monitor and router. The base offers continuous 24/7 recording with a two-terabyte hard drive for playback, while an app allows you to access the cameras remotely from a smart device.
The HomeHawk from Panasonic offers an excellent range of view with wide-angle lenses, 1080p resolution, and full-color night vision. The super-wide-angle lens offers a 172-degree view from your front door, allowing you to capture a broad swath of your front yard. With its flat, low-profile look, the HomeHawk camera is unobtrusive.
You don’t need to pay for an expensive cloud service with the HomeHawk. It stores video footage on an SD card that can be removed and inserted into a computer for viewing. The camera is completely wireless with a long-life rechargeable battery. It also features an alert system that texts or emails you when triggered and a two-way talk option for communicating with visitors.
With plenty of cool extra features and the ability to connect with the Nest smart home line of products, this outdoor camera from Google is a formidable deterrent for trespassers and burglars. Nest connects to your home’s WiFi network, allowing you to view the camera from any Google Smart Device from any location. It includes a 3-megapixel camera, an 8x digital zoom, and night vision, allowing you to capture excellent 24/7 live video regardless of the lighting.
A subscription to Nest Aware saves footage for up to 60 days. A motion activity sensor sends alerts directly to your phone or email, while a speaker and microphone allow you to interact with visitors. This impressive camera uses a magnetic mount or wall plate, making installation a breeze. A 25-foot weatherproof power cable and power adapter supplies electricity to the Google Nest Cam via an outdoor outlet.
This security camera from Ring features two ultra-bright LED floodlights that come on when the camera detects motion, enabling you to see who entered your property. Depending on who your visitor is, you can then choose to engage the camera’s integrated siren to scare them away. The Ring security camera includes two-way talk, so you can see and hear people on your property with the built-in microphone and speakers.
This security camera works with compatible Alexa devices, which will instantly display live video when motion is detected. Through Alexa, you can use voice commands to unlock the door or sound an alarm depending on whether the visitor is a friend or foe. An optional Ring Protect subscription service allows you to save security footage in the cloud.
Perhaps you need the peace of mind of a monitoring service to go with your outdoor camera. SimpliSafe, which offers no-contract monitoring services, uses this doorbell camera with its SimpliSafe system. This high-tech doorbell camera includes two sensors: one that detects heat signatures and another that detects human forms, ensuring that it will only activate when people approach the door.
The camera includes a wide-angle lens that provides broad coverage of the front yard. Footage from the camera is viewable from any smart device. The SimpliSafe doorbell works with most doorbell-wiring configurations and integrates quickly with the SimpliSafe hub.
FAQs About Outdoor Security Cameras
If you’re wondering how security cameras work, if they can be hacked, or whether you can use your camera as a baby monitor, read on to find answers to these and other pressing questions about outdoor security cameras.
Q. How do wireless cameras work?
Wireless cameras use a radio signal that transfers the camera images to a hub located inside your home. That hub connects to your home’s WiFi network, which allows you to view the video via a computer or smart device.
Q. Can my security camera be hacked?
Security cameras can be hacked, but it’s almost always due to a lack of security measures taken by the homeowner as opposed to a deficiency of camera equipment or provider. Follow these measures to protect your camera against hacking:
- When setting up a password for the account, make sure to use something unique. Avoid using the same password from other accounts as hackers often use data breaches from credit bureaus and banks to hack into a user’s other accounts.
- Use two-factor authentication if you can. When you attempt to log in, the camera company or security company will send a one-time security code to your phone that you must enter to access the camera.
- Make sure your camera’s firmware is up to date. Manufacturers’ reputations rely on their ability to keep their customers’ privacy intact, so they’re continually updating their software to plug holes in potential security breaches. By updating your firmware, you get the most secure version of the camera’s software.
Q. Will a security camera work as a baby or pet monitor?
Given that outdoor cameras have cool features such as night vision, movement detection, and sound detection, a security camera may seem like a great option for monitoring your little one. However, while security cameras offer 24/7 video coverage, most don’t provide continued sound coverage. So if your child starts crying, you won’t be alerted by their crying, but rather by an alert tone telling you a loud noise has been detected. The sounds of a crying baby will awaken you from a dead sleep at 3 a.m., but you might sleep through an alert tone.
Q. What is two-way audio?
Two-way audio is a feature that allows you to communicate with a visitor to your home through a microphone and speaker integrated into the outdoor camera. Once the camera detects a person, you’ll be alerted. You can then use your smart device to communicate with the person through the camera.
Q. What is a base station?
A base station is the hub that the cameras communicate with. The camera uses a radio signal to send images to the hub, which then connects to your home’s WiFi network via the router. You can then access those images and any recorded video footage via a computer or smart device connected to the home network.