Whether you want something simple or need a complicated whole-house system, there is a security camera that will work for you.
Home surveillance cameras are more popular than ever before. Whether you want cameras as part of a larger home security system, to use as a baby monitor or even to keep an eye on the pets while you're at work, there are plenty of options available at just about every price point.
But before you buy, you need to think about things like placement, power needs and, most importantly, what type of system to start with: a simple integrated system like a Nest Cam, or a standard IP camera. There are pros and cons to both types and a bit of time spent deciding which is best for you will save frustration and money.
Integrated camera systems
Camera packages from companies like Nest or Netgear's Arlo are available as a complete turnkey system in one box. You'll have everything you need to get a camera in place and monitoring the things you want to monitor without any headaches or difficult installation instructions.
Once installed, you'll have a system that can stream HD video with advanced features like motion detection triggers and zone fencing that works with your smartphone to do things like sending push notifications for motion alerts. The cameras use your home internet connection to stream video to the company's servers where you can monitor things in real time or download clips to save them for later. The companies making these consumer IP camera kits have thought of nearly everything, and it only takes a few minutes to get it all up and running. Additional features like the "Works with Nest" program can even integrate your cameras with things like smart lamps or switches for advanced automation.
What makes installation and setup of these types of cameras so easy are their proprietary nature. They are designed to work very well in limited ways, with little to no flexibility in how you set them up and use them.
Everything is easy because nothing is flexible.
After connecting a camera or a base station to your home network, they are attached to a user account through the company that manufacturers them. You'll notice during the setup process that all you need to do through an app on your phone or a PC is enter your network name and password while the cameras themselves do the rest. Your only options for viewing and storage are the ones approved by the manufacturer, and depending on your needs the hosting plans for camera storage can be pretty pricey. Workarounds from other companies who offer cloud-based camera FTP services exist, but can be complicated to set up and limit the features supported.
Camera systems from companies like Nest or Netgear are great for families who need something that can be easily set up and requires little to no maintenance. The initial high price of the equipment as well as long term expense for hosting services are mitigated by the ease of use and well thought out feature set.
Standard IP cameras
Standard IP cameras are usually a very different experience than an all-in-one-box setup. Instead of a simple camera or cameras designed to work with a specific service from the manufacturer, a standard IP camera is just a camera. It transmits video, both wired and wireless options exist, and it's up to you how to capture and preserve the streams. A typical IP camera setup will have several inexpensive cameras connected to an NVR (Network Video Recorder) on a standalone storage device or a computer system.
These systems can be more complicated to setup than an integrated system. But part of the reason is the number of options you have for just about every piece of the system itself. IP cameras come in many different styles with different mounting options, can use PoE (Power over Ethernet) for a single-wire FHD installation and models with zoom lenses and true night vision are available for special needs cases. Countless hardware and installation options make a standard IP camera an excellent part of a larger automation system and "regular" IP address based stream access means you won't have any trouble seeing what the camera sees.
Standard IP cameras are prefect for anyone who loves to DIY.
The biggest difference between these cameras and an integrated camera kit is the video storage. A basic system like this one from Zmodo comes with four indoor/outdoor autofocus cameras (with IR cut filters for basic "night" vision), a stand-alone NVR storage device and the software to set everything up through a computer on your existing home network. The cost of this system is about the same as a two-camera system from Nest with no additional costs for cloud services or storage.
You also have the benefit of not having video from your cameras in the cloud. Popular use cases for security cameras include children's rooms, bedrooms and other places where privacy is paramount. With proper installation and setup, only you will be able to access your camera recordings, and they are stored on media in your home.
You can also build your own NVR storage devices, and capture and administrative software is available for everyone from the hobbyist to the enterprise. If you have particular needs or just want to set everything up yourself, a standard IP camera system is the way to go.
Which is best?
One type of security camera system isn't inherently better than the other. The easy setup and use of products like a Nest Cam are worth the extra cost and storage service plans for many. Others will be more comfortable keeping their recordings local or have needs better served by a standard IP camera system. If you are using security cameras and have a particular brand you like or any feedback, feel free to talk about it in the comments!