How To Choose the Right Smart Home Security Camera

Home security cameras these days are so much easier to purchase and install. In the past, you normally had to work with a home security company or at least an electrician to do all the wiring around the home and also setup a DVR (digital video recorder).

These days, there are many wireless smart home security camera solutions that doesn’t require any wiring at all. In many cases, all you have to do is mount the camera and connect it to your Wi-Fi and it’s up and running.

But, are they the best solutions?

With anything, there is a give and take. This article won’t get into specific details on each smart home security camera available but I will talk about features that you should think about and consider.

Battery, Solar or Plug-In?

The most convenient is battery operated cameras. I’ve personally got Arlo security cameras around the exterior of the house and they were a breeze to install. There’s a base station that you plug in inside your house and connect that to your Wi-Fi. The cameras are then wirelessly synced up to the base station. After that, you just mount the camera wherever you want it.

Every four to six months, I have to replace the batteries on the cameras. The length of time between each change is mostly dependent your settings for that camera and how much activity it gets. If the camera is facing the street with a lot of traffic, get ready to change the batteries quite often.

It’s inconvenient to change the battery at times based on the locations you may have them mounted at so the next step up would be solar power. Many cameras have options to plug in a solar panel. These cameras still have a battery so during the day, the solar panel will charge the battery and at night, the camera would exclusively use battery power.

Unfortunately for the base Arlo cameras, there is no option to attach a solar panel. There was no Solar Panel option available when they designed the basic Arlo cameras so there’s no way to plug a solar panel into the camera now. The Arlo Pro and Arlo Go cameras have the ability to connect a solar panel to keep the batteries charged.

The only thing is that if you have one with a solar panel option, point the solar panel upwards towards the sky correctly! I know someone who has the solar panel angled downwards and he keeps wondering why his unit keeps running out of power. I’ve told him why but he still hasn’t adjusted the solar panel yet.

Higher end versions of these home security cameras for many of the brands either require or have the option of plugging them in directly for power. The reason for this is for certain features that require constant power and I’ll get into those features later.

It may be inconvenient to route wiring for power, but in many instances, there’s a big advantage for doing so.

I’ve also got the Ring Video Doorbell Pro. The base version is battery operated but since the existing doorbell already has wiring for power, I decided to get the Pro version and I’m glad I did. The biggest reason I love the pro version is one feature that I feel is a must have and another company calls it the “3-second look back”.

Motion Detection

Battery Operated Security Cameras

For most of the battery operated security cameras, motion detection is done with an IR emitter/sensor. These have limitations in terms of the distance it can detect motion, which is why many of the specs will show that it’s only good for about 20ft or so.

If using battery operated cameras outdoors, don’t place the security cams too far from where you want the motion to trigger your camera.

Plugged-in Security Cameras

For most plugged-in security cameras, detection is done through software, not an IR emitter/sensor, so distance really isn’t a factor. The camera is constantly recording footage in the background and motion detection is done by sensing changes in the footage and then triggering the video to output to a file for you to view.

With this type of motion detection, you have greater control of how you want to set it up. You would have the ability to set motion zones so that movement in one corner of the video doesn’t trigger a response, for example.

You may also be able to setup multiple motion zones for different rule sets on what to do when motion is triggered in those areas of the view.

You may also fine tune the triggers so that cars and animals don’t trigger the camera.

Battery operated security cameras have the ability to set motion sensitivity levels as well but it’s not that great and accurate.

I’ve got one of my Arlo cameras set to 100% sensitivity and with me walking past the camera at around 30 feet, it doesn’t trigger the motion detector.

On another Arlo camera, I’ve got sensitivity set to 90% and when a car drives by at around 50 feet away on only the top right side of the camera view, this triggers the motion detector. Kids playing around outside the house on the top edge of the view at around 50 feet away trigger this camera.

With plugged-in security cameras, you have more options on motion detection than you do on battery operated security cameras.

Solar Powered Security Cameras

For solar powered security cameras, they follow the feature sets of a battery operated security camera. The reason being is that for some of the more advanced features, it requires the camera to be constantly recording into the video buffer with software motion detection.

Features that require this cannot be done on battery or even solar powered security cameras because in reality, solar powered is still battery powered. The solar panel really just recharges the batteries in the camera.

3-Second Look Back Feature

The 3-Second Look Back feature that one brand calls it is one of the best features I feel you need.

If you’ve seen some security footage and you know that the footage missed something in the beginning, then you know you need this feature.

With security cameras that don’t have this feature, the way things work is that recording doesn’t start until motion gets triggered, right? Makes sense, of course. But, the recording does not start instantly and there may be a delay of maybe 1 second or longer sometimes, which in that time, you could have missed something already.

With the 3-second look back feature, you’ll never miss a thing. Once motion triggers your camera, your recorded footage actually goes back 3 seconds from the time it gets triggered.

You’re probably wondering how that works since recording doesn’t start until motion triggers it, right? Well, this feature is only available on plugged-in cameras (and if they offer this feature) because with plugged-in powered security cameras, the camera is actually constantly recording into the video buffer. So, once motion triggers the camera, it goes back into the video buffer and pulls the footage from 3 seconds ago and then continues recording from there for you to view.

When I got the Ring Video Doorbell Pro, there was no mention of this feature. However, good thing is that it did have this feature. It’s not available on the basic Ring Video Doorbell since that unit is battery powered.

I was initially confused a bit when I was viewing footage after I installed the Ring Pro. In the recorded videos, I didn’t see the person in view of the camera for a few seconds and so I wondered what triggered the motion. That’s when I discovered this feature and ever since then it’s been a blessing.

For one of my deliveries at home, my Ring Pro captured a delivery personnel throwing my package on the ground. This footage would have been only available with the Ring Pro. Without this feature, it would have missed the action because as soon as the person came around the corner of the garage in view of the front door, she threw it to the ground. She was still a good 15 feet away from the front door.

I’ve seen other Ring Doorbell footage and by the time the recording starts, the person is already at the door. You don’t see the person walking up. You don’t get that extra 3-second before footage. The delivery person just barely came around the corner and threw the package down so the Ring Doorbell would have missed all of that.

With this footage, I was able to get compensated for the damaged packaged quite easily. Nothing speaks louder than being captured on video.

The funny thing is that Ring still doesn’t list this as a feature even though it’s there on the Pro version.

Subscriptions

Depending on the brand of smart home security camera you choose, you may or may not have to pay for hosting your recorded footage.

With Ring devices, you’ll need to pay for a subscription if you want to watch recorded footage. Without a subscription, you can still use the Ring devices to view live footage and talk to the other person at the front door. You just won’t have access to review old footage if you missed an alert.

With Arlo, you get free 7 day recordings up to 5 cameras. If you want to use more than 5, you’ll need a subscription. If you want to keep your recordings longer than 7 days, you’ll need a subscription. But you can easily download any recorded footage if you want to keep it longer than 7 days.

Most other brands follow the subscription model of Ring. Arlo, so far, is the only one I know of that gives you free 7 days of recordings.

Summary

After testing and using multiple brands of smart home security cameras, I actually prefer the plug-in powered smart home security cameras. The main reason is the look back feature and that I don’t have to change any batteries.

For one of my cameras, I always have to get out the big ladder to change the batteries. At this time, I plan to change this basic Arlo camera to the Arlo Pro 2 and have power routed to that location.

Of course, the cameras with the features I want are much more expensive, but in the end they are worth it.

Going with the Ring Video Doorbell Pro instead of the base version, I can say that I’ve already been compensated for the difference in cost from the damaged package of that delivery personnel, which would not have been captured on video with the basic Video Doorbell.

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