All You Need to Know to Buy a Security Surveillance System
"Technology" is one of those buzzwords that’s floating around so much these days it’s basically a sea of its own. A catch-all term for virtually anything that’s more advanced than the wheel.“Technology” represents a lot – it might stand for a ten-year NASA project where they used advanced mathematics to get a satellite to land on a circumnavigating comet. Yeah, that’s technology. But so is a toaster that lets you know your toast is utterly burnt and if you don’t do something about it you’ll have to use the pin-pull fire extinguisher beneath the cabinet (also a piece of technology).
For us peasants and dummies, technology is really about making our tangibly better. We trust it to do us well, and we keep receipts for when it doesn’t. The surveillance industry is merely just one facet of technology, no different in purpose than what a toaster offers. And, truly, no more complicated in function and use. How often do you think about a toaster? Probably not often. Not even when it’s in use (cue burnt toast). But it does its job anyway, plugging along while you continue about your morning routine or late-night snackfest.
A security camera can provide a similar feeling for security is about feeling good, too. It’s about the idea that there is an eye on things. “Eye on things” is pretty ambiguous. What we really mean is eye on… property, loved ones, pets, business, etc. Security cameras can be used for virtually anything you want. Hell, it can provide an eye on your toast if you need it to (we don’t recommend this, but if you want a toast-camera, we can probably think of some answers). They’re really just eyes – glassy, unblinking eyes that can remember everything they see, memory space permitting.
This comprehensive guide will take you on a tour of all things surveillance. We will show you the types of security cameras out there, the pros and cons of the equipment, what would be appropriate for you, and a ton of other things.
Wait, do I need a surveillance system?
Every business and home has unique security requirements. Identify your requirement first.
- Do you want to monitor your cash registers and employees?
- Do you want to keep your property safe from thieves?
- Do you want to keep your loved ones safe at all times?
- Do you want to monitor visitors?
- Do you want to know the shopping pattern and preferences of your customer?
- Do you want to keep track of your inventory?
- Do you want to prevent shoplifting and catch those who are doing it?
- Do you want to ensure that restricted area security is being maintained?
- Do you want to increase employee productivity and give them accurate feedback?
- Do you want to keep vandalism at bay?
- Do you want these bullet points to go on forever?
The simple truth of the matter is that security cameras have a lot of applications. Whether or not you need a system is dependent on a lot of things. A surveillance system can be designed for a small home just as well as it can for a corporation located in a giant skyscraper with armed guards and evil laughter in the halls. Like we said, cameras can go anywhere and for anyone. Again, a similarity to toasters…
Introduction to Surveillance Systems
As there’s such a large range of price brackets, we believe there is truly a security system available to everyone. However, consumers should be wary of bottom-bin prices, particularly those coming from box stores. What’s this, a camera seller taking a shot at the competition? Yeah, sure. Be as cynical about our approach as you want, but the simple fact is that these stores sell bunk systems that are so low in quality that, inadvertently, they still end up driving business directly through our doors. So many people come to us with the exact same story: I bought security cameras from a box store and they all suck.
So don’t take the long way around to get the system that’s right for you – we haven’t spent ten years in the business just by being lucky. We provide the best products for the best prices. We take our customers’ trust seriously.
And what kind of systems are out there? What’s actually available? The most basic surveillance systems will be comprised of at least one camera, a monitor, and a couple of wires to link everything together. Yeah, that’s pretty much all it takes. It can also be comprised of hundreds of cameras, video recorders, dozens of monitors, security guards, and spy-sniffing attack dogs. (We do not sell dogs, of the attacking variety or otherwise.)
We have a come a long way from the very expensive and simplistic surveillance equipment of the last two decades. Before buying a video surveillance system, you need to fix a budget, you need to decide on the number of cameras you want, where you want it mounted, indoors or outdoors, and the preferred storage system.
You will also find options in terms of resolution, camera lens coverage, video surveillance storage, Analog and IP cameras, wired and wireless, color, and black and white images, cameras made for license plate capture, cameras for long range and for short, cameras with housings that can resist powerful weather elements or extreme temperatures, cameras you can pan-tilt-and-zoom, cameras which will show a large fish-bowl view and… well, there are a lot of different kinds of security surveillance equipment. If any of this is new to you, then keep on reading. We’ll try our best to go over the options available to you.
Indoor and Outdoor Cameras
The most basic of distinctions: is a camera indoor or outdoor. While many outdoor cameras can work just as well indoors, no indoor camera should be installed outdoors. When a camera is outside, it is at risk to damage from dust, rain, and other inclement weather conditions. While outdoor cameras are prepared to handle these difficulties, an indoor camera will be quickly overwhelmed.
Click the above article for a more in-depth look at IP and IK protection ratings. Basically, the ratings show how protected a product is from inclement weather conditions as well as physical damage. An indoor camera typically does not bother with either – it is rarely at risk, after all. An outdoor camera will have high ratings, comparatively speaking.
Should I ever use an outdoor camera indoors?
Yes. Although this isn’t often recommended, there are times when a camera with outdoor qualifications would see use indoors. A factory floor where condensation, chemicals, or similar elements are around, then an outdoor camera would be better suited. Indoor warehouses where large doors are often open will typically use outdoor cameras, as the outdoor weather slips in through the open gate. A subtler application of a camera using outdoor protection ratings indoors are places like prisons or schools (the pairing is coincidental…). A prison is very likely to have unruly individuals who might try and take a shot at a camera, and school are very likely to have unruly individuals who might try and take a shot at a camera.
What Exactly Are Wireless Cameras?
Well, for starters, many aren’t actually wireless.
Whoa, look at that for honesty!
Yeah, many wireless cameras are simply not wireless. The issue is power – if a wireless camera operates with a lithium battery, then it is unlikely to stay powered for any solid length of time before it simply shuts down from a lack of juice. This relegates most true wireless cameras into picture-taking tools that snap shots whenever an event is triggered (such as motion detection or something crossing a pre-designated line).
While most wireless cameras are powered with cables, they are wireless in the sense that they do not utilize a composite or Ethernet cables to connect them to a video recorder. Instead, the data is sent wirelessly through the air. This is a great tool if you do not want too many wires running all over the place, either for better concealment or simply cutting down on the complexity of a large system.
Why are Pan, Tilt, Zoom Cameras Ideal for Outdoor Locations?
Pan-Tilt-Zoom cameras, known as PTZ cameras, are cameras that are excellent for when you need a large range of motion in your surveillance system. PTZ cameras are the most flexible of security equipment with powerful onboard motors gearing them up for any scenario or setting. While most cameras are largely static in their positioning, a PTZ camera can always be moved to get the best view possible, to track objects, and zoom in or out – sometimes all at the same time.
Having up to 360-degrees of pan and/or tilt, as well as very powerful optical lenses, PTZs also tend to be rather expensive. At the same time, they’re also capable of doing ten cameras’ work all by themselves. Because of the versatility, PTZ’s are very favorable in both outdoor and indoor locations, though are typically best in the former where long range and maneuverability is key.
One of the best things about PTZ cameras is their ability to respond to alarms or triggers. While other cameras passively cue these alerts, a PTZ can immediately begin tracking the issue. Say someone passes through a no-go zone. While other cameras would record the instance on the timeline, a PTZ camera can record it and automatically begin following this person of interest.
Do PTZ Cameras Function When the Power Supply Goes Out?
This is something not every PTZ camera vendor will tell you. You do need a battery backup for your security system. You need around 1000 VA or more of battery back up. You also want the ability to plug at least 2 things into the battery-backed outlets provided, which would be your DVR and camera power supply.
Should I get a PTZ Camera?
PTZ cameras are some of the powerful – and therefore expensive – cameras around. Like most folks, we get a little giddy at the thought of most powerful, and some might even get a little giddy at owning something deemed the most expensive. However, PTZ cameras aren’t always the best solution for everyone and everything. We do not recommend PTZ cameras for simple home security, for example. A large PTZ camera staring down your hallway like some sort of optical cannon is probably not the best, most efficient, or budget-friendly solution to something a simple dome camera can handle. But what if your property has a good amount of acreage…?
A1 Security Cameras has no interest in selling people what they don’t need. For some reason, that just doesn’t keep customers around! What we are interested in is giving you the best solution possible. So if you have any questions pertaining to PTZ cameras and whether or not they’ll work for you, contact us and we’ll be happy to consult you!
Why Use License Plate Recognition Cameras?
License Plate Recognition Cameras (LPR’s) are excellent tools at doing just what the name implies: capturing license plates. Many companies use LPR’s to keep track of who is coming and going. Because license plates are one of the key elements in fighting crime, an LPR is a very valuable tool for a lot of people.
You might be thinking, wait, can’t any camera see license plates? It’s true, in some respect, that any powerful camera could at times detect and possibly read a license plate. But this is not their primary function. A sledgehammer could probably split a block of wood in two, but that is also not its primary function. You need the right tool for the job, and if you want to read license plates we highly endorse getting an actual LPR camera.
An LPR camera will come with distinct shutter speeds and zooms specifically made for capturing and reading license plates. Additionally, they also come packaged with software that is intended to populate captured data into readable fields. Many companies, such as toll road authorities, large corporations or communities with gated entrances, and government buildings utilize LPR’s.
While we don’t typically recommend an LPR for home use, sometimes it is a good solution. People with large acreages or gated homes with lots of coming and going could use an LPR. If so, we highly suggest consulting with us first to, A) Make sure that the LPR is truly what you need, and B) We’ll ensure that the camera is installed correctly and working properly. An LPR can easily go to waste if installed at the wrong height, aimed in the wrong direction, or not properly set up on the software front.
Analog Surveillance Cameras
The old workhorses of the surveillance industry. Analog cameras are typically what people think of when they think of security cameras – bulky looking pieces of equipment with a lot of wires flying all over the place. Analog cameras are not that dissimilar from their networked cousins, they simply use composite wires for communication instead of Ethernet cables.
So wait, is there any reason to buy analog cameras?
Yes and no. Analog cameras are old hat, but they’re also very established old hat. Most companies and many people spent decades of time and resources installing security systems. These systems were analog and continue to be analog. Replacing an entire system with networked cameras is a large investment and not everyone is willing to do it.
Lately, CCTV cameras have stumbled forth into the HD realm with better and better image quality. Unfortunately, many companies are pushing proprietary equipment when it comes to CCTV, meaning there’s a lot of fragmentation in the systems.
Analog cameras are still worth it if you’ve already got a system in place. If you’re starting fresh, we do not recommend analog cameras. IP cameras are often both cheaper and capture higher quality images.
Network Surveillance/ IP Cameras
Network cameras, often referred to as IP cameras, are the most advanced surveillance equipment available. IP cameras work by both power and data down Ethernet cables. This simplifies the cabling as you only need one Ethernet cable to get everything up to speed. Furthermore, IP cameras encode and process the recorded footage on the actual camera, drastically increasing the quality of the images provided. IP cameras are superior to analog cameras and, if you’re looking to start a new system, we highly endorse the usage of network cameras over analog.
IP cameras send surveillance feeds directly to a web browser or video recorder. If linked to a router, they can very easily be accessed remotely through phone apps or other applications such as those installed on laptops or tablets.
Aren’t IP Cameras Expensive?
No. When IP cameras first arrived, they were the most expensive option on the market. However, if you haven’t noticed, many years have passed since their inception. And, just as it is with any tech, all that time has greatly lowered the costs of the products. IP cameras are now, in fact, the cheaper option more often than not.
And there are subtler cost reductions, notably the simplification of cabling. Because IP cameras only use an Ethernet cable to provide both data transfers and power, there is no need for dedicated power cables. This not only cuts down on material costs, as power cables aren’t exactly free, but it also cuts down on installation costs. The time spent installing a network camera is far less than that which is spent on an ordinary analog setup.
Furthermore, you do not need a video recorder to go along with an IP camera. They work just as well with software installed onto a computer, access through phone apps, or even storing recorded footage on onboard memory cards for future access. Because all the footage is encoded directly on the camera, you simply have to take the card out and read it – no need for extra steps!
Analog vs. IP
In our opinion, there is little debate about which is better – it’s IP all the way. But, that said, that doesn’t mean each doesn’t have some pros and cons to consider. Every surveillance situation is unique in its own ways and sometimes that uniqueness might depend more upon an older tech than something like a network setup.
Analog cameras are wired to recording device such as a DVR or VCR (if we’re going very old-school). They are constantly projecting the images on the TV screen. In a traditional surveillance system, a coaxial cable runs from the camera to the DVR. How far the cable is being run from camera to video recorder is important to note. 330ft is the sweet spot, after which boosters will be needed. If you try and push a feed too far down a coaxial cable line, the image will begin taking on color alternating artifacts or simply lose the feed altogether. One benefit of coaxial cables is that they’re very dependent – there isn’t much short of cutting the cable itself that will stop it from sending the data.
IP cameras send their feeds down Ethernet cables which is a much faster and lengthier solution. The available speed lets network cameras produce incredibly sharp and clear images that coaxial cables struggle to handle. End-to-end digital feed simply makes for more breathing room in quality which is why you will frequently see IP cameras carrying loads of powerful features. A feed can be accessed from anywhere so long as it gets to the central server. The only real drawback here for IP is that it’s possible for the network to go down, and if the network goes down it’s possible the IP cameras will go down with it.
Light and Visibility
Virtually identical. It used to be the case that analog cameras had the upper hand here, but IP cameras have not only caught up but arguably superseded their older camera cousins. Because image clarity is the biggest feature – with larger and larger resolutions – we feel that IP cameras are basically the winner here. Not only do they provide crisp night-vision, but the image itself is much clearer. What good is a day/night feature if the image itself is blurry? Whereas HD CCTV analog cameras tend to tap out at 2MP, an IP camera can go to 12MP/4K resolutions. Many manufacturers are dropping their energies onto IP cameras so this gap between analog and network is only getting wider by the day.
Another aspect that used to favor analog.
IP cameras have simply hit rock bottom in the pricing. The market is incredibly saturated with highly competitive companies looking for their edge. So not only are IP cameras more feature rich than ever, they can be found at bottom-bin prices. That said, there are a lot of throwaway cameras on the market right now and we advise people to be careful in shopping for IP security cameras – that $20 network camera is probably $20 for a reason, and we believe in the adage that you get what you pay for.
Analog cameras have also gotten cheap. It’s just the simple fact that you could often buy something more feature rich for the same price if you go with IP.
Also, IP camera systems are cheaper to keep up to date and install as analog systems require extra cabling.
The Internet is a big, big place accessible from anywhere. IP cameras work on that system – meaning that they can potentially be accessed from anywhere there is internet! This is a huge ability for IP cameras. Coaxial cables, however, begin losing quality over 330ft of distance and will completely lose the image if they do not use boosters for strength.
IP cameras that utilize wireless systems will also require boosters, as a wireless signal can lose its strength over distances and especially if there are competing signals or objects in the way.
How is the Security of an IP Feed?
How is the security of your internet? It’s virtually the same question. It is 100% true that if you leave your IP system unprotected, an outsider can get in and see what your cameras are recording. This is why every manufacturer will tell you: change your darn password settings. Don’t leave it 12345 or ‘password’, make it something unique to you and everything will be alright. The cameras themselves automatically encrypt the feed before sending it down the line, so you just need to make sure the network itself is protected.
Analog cameras, conversely, are completely safe from such hacking. Outside of some super spy Jason Bourne type technology, nobody’s getting into your CCTV footage.
What Surveillance Equipment Does A1 Security Cameras provide?
A1 Security Cameras is the one-stop shop for all kinds of security systems (including predesigned), security cameras, video recorders, and surveillance accessories.
Our security surveillance experts make sure the products you get at A1 are from the best and most reputed brands. Whatever your security need, whatever your budget, you will find it here.
When we buy something, we expect continuing support, and we believe in this notion with our own business. Every purchase is supplemented by excellent documentation, warranty, and technical support from A1 Security Cameras. If you have any issues at all, please feel free to contact us for help!
Here are a few select manufacturers we highly endorse:
What Will Be the Right Camera for you?
Before buying a camera, there are certain parameters and questions you should be thinking about. If you’re not sure, or if a question isn’t covered below, absolutely feel free to call in! We want to make sure you get the exact equipment you need.
What’s the size of the area you need to cover?
Our range of outdoor cameras are quite versatile and allows a user to cover varying range and depth of objects and areas. However, to pin down on the right camera for you, consider the size and distance from the camera of the object you want to cover.
Smaller lenses work best for wider views. A 3.6 mm lens will provide a 29 foot horizontal view at 30 foot distance. A 6.6mm lens will provide 18 foot horizontal view. Basically, if you want a very wide and open shot of the scene, take a smaller lens. A larger lens is more focused and can bring more detail into a picture, but its focus will also be more narrow and see less from a horizontal or wide perspective.
When to Consider Manual Zoom Lens?
When you need to keep monitoring and adjusting the camera view, consider a manual zoom lens. As the name suggests, you can manually adjust the object of focus and zoom in and out as needed. Most PTZ’s have lenses which you can zoom with. An example of a zoom-able lens is the common 2.8~12mm varifocal lens, which can utilize both the very wide angle of 2.8mm as well as the far more focused and narrow 12mm. The option is here all about versatility and utility in your surveillance capabilities.
How Powerful is the Night Vision?
Very powerful. Night vision has been around for many years, but in the past decades has become rather ubiquitous in the security industry. Virtually any camera can have at least some day/night functionality. Night vision often operates automatically – intelligent sensors can pick up a change in lighting and switch to night vision on the fly. More powerful LEDs let users see out to a hundred or more feet, no matter the darkness.
The area or object you want to view or concentrate on should be somewhere in the center of the camera’s night vision range!
While more advanced night vision cameras can handle dark and difficult situations, many cameras use simpler and more cursory technologies. Cameras such as these should keep the object of focus in the center of view for night vision or obscuring hot spots might appear as it struggles to keep objects appropriately lit. Basically, a camera might choose the wrong objects to “light up”, fading the rest into darkness. The more advanced cameras become, the less this issue comes into play. Feel free to call A1 Security Cameras to discuss the functionality of your night vision cameras and which ones will be right for your security situation.
Where Will You Place Your Camera?
Though they are differing categories, outdoor cameras can work fine as indoor cameras. But the reverse is not possible. When you want to place a camera outside, tick the following things.
- Should be resistant to inclement weather conditions (IP rating)
- Should often be resistant to high-energy kinetic impacts (IK rating)
- Should often be survivable against extreme temperatures (hot or cold)
Do you want a hidden camera?
Sometimes users want their surveillance kept hidden away. Often times this is just to put people at ease, to get rid of any perceived tackiness of a camera being present, or they just don’t want others actually knowing the surveillance is there in the first place. A1 Security Systems offers solutions on this front. Security equipment can be hidden away in objects like clocks or even smoke detectors.
If you want to hide a regular camera, here are a very easy alternatives for concealed surveillance solutions:
- Place it in a box of tissues
- Hide it in a plant
- Put it in the book shelves
Exercise these alternatives, hide your camera, capture your intruder and receive great video quality all the while.
What Do You Need to Have a Perfect Surveillance System?
Trick question – there is no such thing as a perfect security system. That’s the honest truth, but we can do our best to get close. Perfection is not often required out of a system, for surveillance deals with a necessarily imperfect world
You will need all of the following to have a fully functioning surveillance system:
- The requisite number of cameras
- Hard drive storage for video footage
- Appropriate power and cables
- Appropriate video recording software and/or hardware
- At least one sort of video monitor to view the footage
You should also ask yourself some questions before making any sort of leap:
- What is my budget?
- What are the lighting conditions I will be facing?
- Will my cameras be indoor, outdoor, or both?
- Do I already have any equipment setup, and if so is it analog or IP?
- If I’m going IP, do I have access to the internet or a network?
Please call A1 Security Cameras for free consultation! We will walk you through everything to ensure that you get the appropriate surveillance system for you.
How Will I Install My Surveillance System?
This is a question we see often. How do you actually get all this damned stuff setup? First off, there are instructions available with most manufacturers’ equipment. Second, we’ll help you! We don’t fire and forget with our sales – if you have any issues with installations, we will gladly walk you through the process. We have installers and technicians on hand who are very familiar with installing systems. If you are having trouble and we aren’t available, there are countless videos online, such as on YouTube, that will help you.
If you’re new to it, just remember: don’t frustrated! Being new to something means a learning curve, but trust us, once you figure out how to do it the first time you will be all set!
Some Quick Tips to Remember
- Drill the hole only as big as the camera. Make sure however that it is big enough to fit the Siamese cable.
- Take special care while drilling through wood and concrete.
- Droptiles also support small amount of weight and caution must be exercised while drilling into them.
- Use industry approved Siamese cables only.
- When you put the cables through the holes, make sure there is enough space and flexibility to connect to the surveillance camera.
- Check your electrical wiring and plumbing before drilling for your surveillance system.
- Do a recheck of your camera angles and views post installation. Be sure about what you will be able to see and monitor with your camera.
We believe in ourselves as a One-Stop Destination
We sell cameras, recorders, lenses, brackets, housing casings, cables, hard drives, baluns, remote readers, infrared illuminators, boosters, splitters, antennas, pre-packaged systems, and more – including warranties for all of the above! We want to be a one-stop shop location for all things related to security surveillance. If you can’t find something on our site, call! Trust us, we’ll get it for you! (So long as that ‘something’ is security surveillance related, of course.)
But we are not just a sales team. We also believe in supporting our customers after the point of sale. We want people coming back. The way to do that is to give the best customer support possible! If you have issues with your cameras, we have an outstanding return system in place. If you need help installing a camera, give us a call! Our staff is technically proficient and will be able to assist you through your troubles.
Can I Upgrade My Security System?
However, there are some hiccups concerning some systems that you need to keep in mind of.
HD-CCTV systems operate based on proprietary technology – HD-CVI and HD-TVI. These types of cameras and DVR’s must go together. You cannot mix a CVI tech with a TVI tech. So if you have a system in place, please make sure that you’re updating it correctly. An HD-CVI DVR goes with HD-CVI cameras, just as a HD-TVI DVR would go with HD-TVI cameras.
The answer is yes. A lot of people want to upgrade their cameras so that they are able to record in high definition. The good news is, you can do this in just a few hours.
You can install an HD-SDI system- High Definition Serial Digital Interface. You can run a 1080p video through a standard Siamese cable. Wiring is not expensive. With this small amendment, there will be a huge difference in your picture quality. HD-SDI systems are extremely powerful and provides incredible resolution.
The minutest of details get captured through these cameras. To upgrade, simply replace your existing DVR with a hybrid HD-SDI DVR. Replace the old analog cameras only in the most important locations.
Get a hang of your video surveillance in the next few days. If you feel the need to make some adjustments to help the system function better, do it. Change things around now and then. Get the best viewing angles.
Once, you get around your system, you will understand, that surveillance systems can be incredibly useful. With a little expenditure you have achieved high levels of security, productivity and mental peace.
Why A1 Security Cameras?
Since our start in 2007, A1 Security Cameras has always taken pride in providing excellent customer service to those seeking video surveillance and security camera systems. We serve a wide range of clients from large corporations and small businesses to private end users and professional installers. Through careful planning and research, we've come to offer one of the largest selections of cameras around. We have over 100 name brand manufacturers!
We are interested in keeping you happy and making sure you come back. While some businesses seek out the quick buck, we here at A1 Security Cameras are in it for the long haul. Whether it is big business or an even bigger backyard, we will work hard to customize the security system that best fits your needs and budget. Looking out for our customers is our job - we only provide the highest quality and most affordable products. That is to say, we offer the best because we believe your family, home, and business deserve the best.