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Outdoor Security Cameras: The 2019 Buying Guide

Outdoor Security Cameras: The 2019 Buying Guide

Outdoor security cameras are an important investment in protecting your property. Whether you’re trying to find out who keeps stealing your packages, secure your company campus, or monitor your home while you’re away or asleep, outdoor security cameras can give you peace of mind.

But how do you choose the one that’s right for you? That depends.

Some cameras are discrete or hidden, so intruders are less likely to notice they’re being watched. Others are obvious, so their presence can serve as a deterrent for criminal activity.

And there are huge variations in price. You can get something functional for under under $100, but you’re probably looking at about $200 per camera (and they can easily cost more). Plus, many outdoor security cameras require a monthly subscription, which can add hundreds to your cost over the next few years.

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through the factors you should consider when buying an outdoor security camera, and then we’ll look at some of the best ones out there.

For starters, here are some of the questions you should ask while shopping:

  • How will you access the footage?
  • Will you be able to see everything you need to?
  • Where are you installing it?

Let’s talk about accessibility.

How will you access the footage?

Maybe you want an outdoor security camera that notifies you immediately when it detects motion. Maybe you just want to have the footage available for later review. How your camera stores the video it records can have a big impact on how soon you’ll know who did what, and what other features you can expect. It can also have a big impact on price.

Cloud-based storage

When your camera stores video in the cloud, you usually don’t have to worry about running out of space. It also opens the door to important features like mobile apps, live streaming, and instant alerts, because your camera can connect to other devices. 

Unfortunately, cloud-based storage also tends to mean your camera is going to have a monthly subscription cost, so you’ll have to work that into your budget.

Additionally, if you’re installing your camera in remote areas where you have a poor internet connection or no internet connection, that can inhibit your camera’s ability to function properly (or at all).

Built-in storage

If your outdoor security camera has built-in storage, that usually means you can only access the video if you have physical access to the camera. These devices can often hold hundreds of hours of video, but you’ll definitely want to make sure it can hold enough to last several days.

Motion detection can stretch out how long that storage lasts, because then your camera will only record when there’s movement, and it’ll continue recording for a fixed amount of time after the movement stops.

Some cameras come with loop recording, which means they record over the old footage when there’s no storage left. With loop recording, you’ll never “run out” of storage, but if you can’t access for footage for a long time (like if you go on a lengthy vacation), you might lose some important video.

Note: Some cameras with built-in storage are “wifi enabled,” which means they can still give you remote access to the footage, and in some cases more advanced controls.

Mobile or web-based app

A lot of outdoor security cameras will come with an app, which you can access remotely from a mobile device or computer. Like the cameras themselves, these apps are not created equal. Some let you actually maneuver your camera. Some let you live stream your feed. And some are so clunky and cumbersome that they make your camera frustrating to use.

If the mobile app is the main way you interface with your camera, a good mobile app can make a bad camera good, and a bad one can ruin an otherwise useful camera. The main features you should look for in a mobile app are “instant alerts,” remote control, and live streaming

Instant alerts may come as push notifications directly through the app or automatic emails. Remote control allows you to maneuver the camera directly from the app. And livestreaming lets you monitor your security camera’s footage in real-time. Some outdoor security cameras may also allow two-way audio through an app, so you can talk to people through the camera. (You can tell the delivery person where to put a package, or let a trespasser know you’re watching.)

Live streaming

Live streaming is one of the most valuable features to have in an outdoor security camera. Whether you’re home or not, you want to know the moment there’s something sketchy going on outside. If it’s something worth calling the police about, you don’t want to wait until after-the-fact. You may even be able to discourage or investigate the undesirable activity.

A good outdoor security camera with live streaming capabilities should also have instant alerts and motion detection, so you get notified whenever your camera detects activity. Ideally, it will also send you a picture of what it captured, to help you decide if it’s worth going live. (You don’t want to check every time a bird or squirrel runs in front of the camera.

Will you be able to see everything you need to?

Obviously, it would be really disappointing to invest in a security camera only to discover that the footage it captures won’t serve your purposes. Three of the big things you want to think about here are video quality, night vision, and field of view (FOV).

Video quality

If your security camera’s videos are pixelated, you’ll usually still be able to tell what happened. But good luck determining who did it. Whether you need to submit your video as evidence in a police investigation or you just want to identify a package thief on social media, it’s a lot easier to track people down when you can clearly see their faces.

1080p HD is the gold standard for video quality on outdoor security cameras, but 720p can get the job done, too. The more clear your video is, the more useful it will be when you need it. So this isn’t an area where you want to cut corners.

Field of view

With a limited field of vision, even a well-placed camera may have trouble capturing everything you want to see. Anything less than 90 degrees is going to be tough to use for outdoor security. Ideally, you want a wide-angle lens. A fish-eye lens works as well, but it distorts the image, so it’s best for close-range cameras, such as a doorbell camera.

Keep in mind: if a security camera has remote control functionality, field of vision becomes less of a concern because you can pan or tilt the camera to cover a larger area.

Night vision

It would be pretty frustrating to get a notification that something was happening on your property, jump into the live stream, and find yourself staring at a black screen. Without night vision, your outdoor security camera will only be useful in well-lit areas. Thankfully, this is a pretty standard feature in cameras that are specifically designed for outdoor security. If you’re trying to use a hidden camera for outdoor security, this is something you’ll need to pay special attention to.

Where are you installing it?

One of the biggest factors that determines what features you’ll need is the context you’re using your camera in. An exposed outdoor security camera in a remote mountain area with poor wifi and lighting will have different needs than a camera that’s covered by a roof and monitoring a well-lit space.

Here’s what to think about in terms of location.

Does it need to be weatherproof?

Weather can drastically change how long your camera will last. If you’re camera is going to get rained on, it needs to be waterproof, or it won’t last. And if you get a lot of pollen or dust in your area, you want a dustproof camera. Don’t just choose a good camera. Choose a good camera that will last.

Should it be covert or overt?

Depending on where and how you’re using your camera, you may not want people to know it’s there. A highly visible security camera may act as a deterrent to crime, or it may just  “give away” your defenses, allowing people to discover blindspots and slip past undetected, or else conceal themselves better. An overt camera that’s easy to access from the ground may also be vulnerable to theft or vandalism.

So depending on where you’re installing your camera and how much of your property it can see, you may want to think about getting a hidden one.

Is the area well-lit at night?

You don’t always need a camera with night vision to monitor your premises at night. You just have to make sure the area you want to see is well-lit. If it’s not, be sure to look for a camera with night vision or an infrared mode, and confirm that the night vision range will meet your needs. Security cameras have a shorter range at night. A lot of them can only see a maximum of 30 feet, and some have a much shorter range.

Do you have wifi?

In more remote areas, you have to take what you can get when it comes to internet service providers. In some cases, you may not have any options at all. So depending on where you’re installing your camera, you may need to avoid ones that save video to the cloud, and keep in mind that some features (like live streaming and remote access via an app) require wifi.

How is it powered?

Most outdoor security cameras are hardwired, so installation takes a little work. You want your security camera to run 24/7, and it’s a pretty permanent installation–so while it’s not as convenient to set up, this is usually the better way to go.

That said, a wireless security camera is always going to be more convenient to set up. If you’re not confident in your electrical skills and don’t want to hire a professional, a battery-powered camera may be the right choice for you. Additionally, some battery-powered cameras come with a solar-powered charger. This makes your camera more conspicuous, but it means you won’t need to change out the battery or worry about it dying when you need it.

Now that we’ve covered the main things you need to consider, let’s look at some of the top outdoor security cameras on the market.

Google Nest Cam Outdoor (NC2100ES)

Price: $199.99 (plus $5 to $30 per month for Nest Aware subscription)

Video quality: 1080p HD

Field of vision: 130 degrees

Night vision: Yes

Storage: Cloud based

Live streaming: Yes

App: Yes

Weatherproof: Yes

Motion activated: Yes

Two-way audio: Yes

Wireless: No

Other notable features: sound detection, works with Nest, instant alerts

Google Nest Cam Outdoor has all the usual features, plus the benefit of sound detection. If there’s a loud boom or nearby noise (such as a window breaking), this camera will start recording, even if there’s no movement in its field of vision.

You don’t need a Nest Aware subscription to view a livestream of your camera and get instant alerts, but you do need it to archive videos. There are three subscription tiers based on how long you want to keep recordings: $5 for 5 days, $10 for 10 days, $30 for 30 days. Additionally, the Nest Aware subscription adds advanced motion and sound detection, enabling your camera to differentiate between different types of motion and sounds, as well as recognize smaller and faster movements and quieter sounds.

Ring Floodlight Camera

Price: $249.00 (plus $3 to $10 per month for Ring Protect subscription)

Video quality: 1080p HD

Field of vision: 140 degrees

Night vision: Yes

Storage: Cloud based

Live streaming: Yes

App: Yes

Weatherproof: Yes

Motion activated: Yes

Two-way audio: Yes

Wireless: No

Other notable features: motion activated flood lights, siren, compatible with Alexa

This Ring model pairs a motion-activated security camera with motion-activated flood lights, which means that while it has night vision, you don’t really need it. If the camera is recording, the lights are on, and you’ll be able to see farther than most other outdoor security cameras. Additionally, it has a remote-activated siren, which is perfect for deterring trespassers and alerting neighbors when you’re not home.

Like Nest cams, Ring cameras require a subscription (Ring Protect) to save recordings and access advanced features. Ring Protect Basic is just $3 per month (or $30 per year) though, and it archives videos for up to 60 days.

NETVUE Outdoor Security Camera

Price: $59.99 (plus $5 per month for AWS Cloud subscription)

Video quality: 1080p HD

Field of vision: 100 degrees

Night vision: Up to 60 feet

Storage: Cloud based and built in

Live streaming: Yes

App: Yes

Weatherproof: Yes

Motion activated: Yes

Two-way audio: Yes

Wireless: No

Other notable features: compatible with Alexa

This camera has powerful night vision and all the features you need to get the job done. Perhaps one of the more unique things about this camera is that it has a slot for a 128GB SD card. So while you can pay $5 per month (or $50 per year) to store video via AWS Cloud, you can also get around that with built-in memory, without losing the ability to go live or get app alerts. So in the long run, this is an incredibly affordable camera with all the features you may need.

Reolink Argus 2 + Solar Panel

Price: $119.99

Video quality: 1080p HD

Field of vision: 130 degrees

Night vision: Up to 33 feet

Storage: Built in

Live streaming: Yes

App: Yes

Weatherproof: Yes

Motion activated: Yes

Two-way audio: Yes

Wireless: Yes

Other notable features: solar panel for continuous charging, works with Google Home, magnet mounted, account sharing

It’s a little unusual for an outdoor security camera to be wireless. It makes installation easier, but you don’t want to have to change out the batteries. But this Argus 2 comes with a solar panel that continuously charges the battery, so it can operate all day, every day, 365 days a year. Up to 10 people can access your app account to view the live stream of your feed. And like the NETVUE camera, the Argus 2 has built-in storage as well as internet-based features like instant alerts. (Holds up to 64GB via SD card.)

Choose the outdoor security camera that’s right for you

While we can point out the features and functionality you’ll find in the best security cameras, only you can decide which ones matter most in your situation. Whether you choose one of these cameras or one of the many others out there, we hope you now have the tools to identify the best one for you.

Looking for a hidden camera? 

Check out our hidden camera buying guide.