If you're looking for a security camera that can see more than most, the choice can be bewildering. There are different technologies: do you want PTZ and or hemispheric? There are one-off or ongoing costs. There are varying levels of AI to help you monitor them. This guide will introduce the key terms and highlight the best options in each category.
Most outdoor security cameras are mounted looking in one direction, but using technology like PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom), a single camera can look all around in every direction. That means you can then monitor a location with fewer cameras.
PTZ cameras can also offer a stronger deterrent effect since the movement of the camera – the pan and tilt especially – is visible to intruders (or those lurking nearby). The quiet sound of the motor might be enough to keep your home safe, as well as get the best possible view of a suspect.
Other 360 cameras might not have any moving parts, using fish-eye lenses to offer a wider perspective. Some even combine the image from several fixed cameras for maximum resolution. Both approaches have the advantage (or disadvantage) of being more discrete and are useful for monitoring a location and keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior.
Some cameras can be connected to your own base station – perhaps an NVR using PoE (Power over Ethernet), while others can be controlled from your phone and store events in the cloud which you can check later. 'Events' is the standard term for moments when a camera is triggered as it detects motion – this saves you from scrolling through hours of video, as was more common in the past. A cloud service almost invariably comes with a subscription fee, so you'll need to factor that into a purchase.
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Reolink's 832A series hits a lot of the key points on any sensible wish list, including a true optical zoom. You can decide how far you want since there are 5x and 16x versions on offer; both zooms offer the change to see a lot of useful detail given the 4K camera's resolution.
There are three spotlights, and the night vision is illuminated at up to 190 ft (58m) with powerful infrared lights. The camera can be set to pan endlessly, or put on a patrol (from preset views). It is compatible with Google Assistant and has both a siren and two-way-talk for communicating in different ways with intruders.
This can be installed and operated remotely with a phone, or be part of a complete Reolink system with NVR, which in turn can be monitored using Windows, Mac and other platforms. It is also ONVIF compatible (the Open Network Video Interface Forum sets the standard for the interface between different IP-based security devices).
The Dekco DC5L is a budget device with a solid feature set. It is capable of tracking human movement, has LEDs for full-color night vision, and has a higher-than-many 2K resolution. The IP66-grade weatherproofing should reassure, though the casing's design certainly reveals its reliance on 2.4GHz Wi-Fi with the pronounced antennae.
The cost of entry isn't high, and nor is it compulsory to establish high ongoing costs. An SD Card slot means you can record locally – either 24x7 or event-based. You'll need to provide your own 8-128GB card though. The night vision modes – infra-red, color (lights on), and alarm (lights and siren) – are easy to understand and choose between too.
Dekco's only received its angel funding in 2021, so it isn't the most established company, but they have a working app called CloudEdge. The main issue is that latency does make it hard to re-position the camera accurately, which isn't unique to the brand. We do like that, once set up with the brand's own app, you can switch to the open Onvif.
Using a fish eye lens and a 5MP CMOS, this camera can see 180-degrees in both directions (the same view as most 360-degree PTZ cameras). It has the advantage of fewer moving parts and (if you like that kind of thing) more discretion, making it well suited for monitoring. At first you see the fish-eye view, 1920x1920, but you can switch to a cropped 1080P feed with on-screen buttons to pan and tilt.
The camera features person and motion detection, as well as night vision thanks to the IR lights subtly built in at quarter intervals on the rim. It comes with two lens covers, one suited to indoor operation and the other outdoor. There is even a special tool in the box for cleanly replacing the dome without scratching it. It is IPX4 weather proof and IK08 vandal proof too.
UniFi Protect is an NVR system, so you'll need that to operate this camera. On the plus side it is subscription-free and 'adopted' quickly by the system thanks to the PoE connection, and remote access is available via iOS/Android apps.
With three panels of LED floodlights delivering 3,000 lumens of light, this pan-and-tilt security camera will illuminate your property and act as a powerful deterrent. The three panels can be folded directionally to suit your purposes, too, and the light will reach about 40ft (12m) – better than most floodlight security cameras even before you acknowledge the ability to move the lens.
Eufy make great play of the device's usability without a recurring subscription, and it includes on-camera AI which can distinguish people from other moving objects and follow them (but may, on occasion, thing of a dog as a human). If someone tries to sneak up on the camera when it is looking the other way, the PIR sensors will detect them and the camera will turn to face them.
The camera is 2K, which means you can zoom in digitally and see a good degree of detail even though the device has no optical zoom. The Eufy app allows for control, not only of the camera direction, but the brightness and color temperature of the light panels.
Copying an idea popularized by phone camera designers, this Reolink builds in two cameras to offer hybrid zoom onto the capable pan/tilt mechanism. This presents a broader view of a scene, while the hybrid zoom can quickly track a moving subject and present an image at up to 6x.
Both video streams can be viewed side-by-side on the Reolink app, while the smart detection can distinguish people, vehicles, and pets (though the latter is in beta). A speaker and microphone enables two-way-talk. An extra feature some photographers might enjoy is timelapse recording – great for construction sites.
There are wired (using PoE) and Wi-Fi versions of the camera on offer. The WiFi version features external antennae, and can use both 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, but still requires power. Recordings can be continuous or event-based, and saved to a local MicroSD card (80 hours takes 256GB), a Reolink NVR or an FTP server, providing a lot of flexibility.
For a bigger business where you need to monitor a location using high-end AI, this is an excellent choice. The housing contains four cameras that can be positioned on an internal rail – it is possible to overlap views with one camera zoomed in and another offering a wider perspective, or corner-mount for a 270˚ view and aim the last camera downward.
There is built-in IR illumination, though a color image is visible in anything over 0.2 lux. On the other hand, there is no built-in microphone; two-way-talk as taken for granted by home users isn't an option here.
This, after all, is a system focussed on serious uses. On which note, although there is built-in MicroSD storage, the Axis also includes AI for monitoring fences and the passing of certain points and even detecting loitering on-board. Responses like turning on lights or alarms can be programmed as part of a full system.
Swann call the flashing light alerts on this series of cameras as 'enforcer' and it certainly is very unsubtle, with a built-in siren and alternately flashing police car-like lights. It also sports two spotlight LEDs to illuminate the dark for color night vision, and you can talk to anyone you see via two-way-talk.
It can be used like other smart security cameras. The pan and tilt can be controlled via the Swann app, to which you can also receive alerts. The system can recognize faces and vehicles, so alerts can be set to avoid false positives. A PIR sensor also helps here, but is front-mounted so points the same way the camera does. It feels like a camera designed to be aimed in one direction most of the time, but occasionally re-directed.
Something else a little odd about Swann is that, unlike many tech firms, they hail from Australia. They sell around the world, but sometimes via unexpected channels; in the US their own retail page is on eBay.
• We've tried a complete Swann system in our Swann AllSecure 650 review