1. Choose Your Camera Type
The type of camera you’ll need depends on where you want to place it. If you want to place one inside your home, there are many home security camera options. If you want one outside your home, you’ll need to decide whether you want a wireless security camera or a video doorbell.
For monitoring a front or back door, consider a video doorbell because it can be powered through your doorbell wiring. If you want to monitor another area of your property, you’re better off with a wireless security camera. Keep in mind that while all video doorbells are designed to survive the elements, not all wireless security cameras are weatherproof. So be sure to check the specs of a camera you’re considering if you want to put it outside.
2. Pick Your Power Source
Battery-powered wireless security cameras and video doorbells offer the most flexibility in terms of placement in and around your home. Depending on the camera and how heavily it’s used, you’ll need to recharge it anywhere from weekly to once every few months to once or twice a year. Hardwired cameras and doorbells neatly sidestep the recharging problem but may limit your placement options, unless you’re willing to run an extension cord or hire an electrician.
Keep in mind that the power source you use could limit the number of models you can choose from. This is especially true of video doorbells because there aren’t many battery-powered models on the market.
3. Compare Cloud Storage Plans
Before you pick the camera or doorbell you want, be sure to check how much free cloud storage it comes with and how much additional storage costs. Most manufacturers opt for cloud storage—where the footage is remotely stored on a server—instead of memory cards because the video files are large. Without cloud storage, if you miss an alert for a potential intruder you’ll have no idea whether someone tried to break in. Many of these cameras also won’t let you download clips to send to authorities unless you pay up.
The amount of free online storage and cost of storage plans can vary drastically by manufacturer. For example, Netgear’s Arlo cameras come with seven days of free cloud storage, which stores the most recent seven days of motion-triggered video clips. Netgear charges $10 per month or $100 per year for 30 days of storage. Ring video doorbells offer no free storage, but Ring charges only $3 per month per camera or $30 per year per camera for 60 days of storage.
Keep in mind, most of these plans store only video clips triggered by motion, not continuous video feeds. One notable exception is Nest, which offers only continuous video storage (with a 30-day storage plan costing $30 per month). Netgear also offers it at higher monthly rates, and Zmodo gives you both clips and continuous video in its storage plans.
4. Consider Your Privacy
While these cameras provide peace of mind, it’s worth remembering that to do that they provide a view into your home and connect to the internet. If you can watch your home from your phone, it may be possible for someone else to take a peek, too. The manufacturer also may have access to the video.
“There have been cases of companies deploying these with weak security that can be circumvented,” says Justin Brookman, director of privacy and technology policy at Consumer Reports. “Don’t use default credentials. Make sure you set up your own unique username and difficult-to-guess password.” Read our article on creating strong passwords to make sure yours are as hackproof as they can be.
Some cameras also offer two-factor authentication, an additional layer of security that sends you a onetime-use passcode via a text message, a phone call, an email, or an authentication app. You input the passcode in addition to your username and password when you log in. That way, if a hacker cracks your password, she won’t be able to access your camera unless she also gains access to your onetime code. If your camera offers this, be sure to activate it. You can also find more advice in our article on preventing security cameras from being hacked.
These security concerns don’t mean you shouldn’t buy a home security camera, but if privacy is something you’re worried about, you may want to keep these devices out of bedrooms.