Smart home technology has made home security systems cheaper than ever, but it can still cost hundreds to protect a home. As this guide shows, however, it's possible to pick up an internet-connected, high-definition security camera for significantly less.
One of the main ways that savings are achieved is simply by going for indoor designs, which aren't as strong or waterproof, but still work as part of major systems from Blink, Ring, Arlo, and others. There are plenty of choices that will work outdoors too – Wyze has a proven track record for offering extraordinary value, quality products, and a good set of desirable features. The US company’s Cam v3 is even weather resistant for outdoor use, connects to Alexa and Google Assistant, and has color night vision, yet costs just $30.
But there is a limit as to how far your money will go. Generally speaking, cheaper smart security cameras in the $50 range miss out on 4K video, have fairly small imaging sensors, and tend not to have the same artificial intelligence features as more expensive models. So, while most will start recording when movement is detected, they may not all spot the difference between a potential burglar and a visiting cat.
That said, the initial cost of smart cameras is only part of what you need to budget – smarter features are often only unlocked with a subscription service that provides access to video storage and processing facilities.
It has, arguably, been in the interests of the vendors to blur the lines between storage and AI functions, which is why another feature often missing from cheaper cameras is local storage (i.e. a memory card), further pushing you to a monthly subscription. In the case of Wyze, for example, the company’s Cam Plus service is $1.99 a month and makes recordings available to view online for 14 days.
Best cheap security cameras
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Blink is an Amazon company, so naturally, this camera is a good option for those already invested in the Alexa smart home ecosystem. However, while this is a compact and well-priced indoor security camera, most features require a Blink subscription, which costs $3 or $10 a month depending on the plan you choose.
Without paying, the Blink Mini will notify you about movement, then show a live stream for up to five minutes, but the video is not recorded, as there is nowhere for a microSD card, and cloud storage requires a subscription. On the plus side, we like how the camera and its speaker double as a chime for Amazon’s range of Ring video doorbells.
Read our full Blink Mini review for more details
Very modestly priced for an outdoor panning camera which you can re-direct with your phone, this also has all the key 'smart' features like two-way-talk.
The device doesn't have a lingering monthly fee either, but nevertheless provides live alerts to your phone when it detects motion. You will need to provide power as you install it, but the control is via a 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connection.
Don't buy this if you're looking to connect to an ONVIF/RSTP remote recording device, but if you're happy to check clips on your phone or – if needed – access the microSD card from the device itself then this offers recording without a subscription.
Do buy if you're looking for a cheap camera you can fit to the outside of your home and re-direct as you choose. Sure, it lacks the ability to distinguish animals from people, but the value-for-money pricing has nevertheless worn it a lot of positive reviews from customers.
Motorized panning and tilting give this camera a near-360-degree view of its surroundings, helping you view an entire room from one point. The Reolink uses fast 5GHz Wi-Fi, has a 1440p resolution, and includes infrared night vision that works up to a distance of 12 metres or 40 feet. Google Assistant integration means you can ask with a voice command to see a live video feed on your Google or Nest smart display.
The footage is stored locally on a microSD card (not included), so there’s no reliance on cloud storage or a subscription.
Like Wyze, Eufy is another smart home company selling a range of connected products. This wired, indoor security camera features a 2K resolution and artificial intelligence. This helps the camera spot the difference between a person and a pet, and can also identify the sound of a crying child, turning the device into a baby monitor too.
Infrared night vision works to just over 30 feet, and the Eufy’s smart home credentials are strong, thanks to integration with Alexa, Google Assistant, and, rare at this price point, Apple HomeKit. Video can be recorded to the cloud or a microSD card, and a 24/7 recording mode is also available.
This essentially has the same camera as the Blink Mini, but adds a motorized 'pan-tilt' base to give your a better all-round view of a room - offering 350° of rotation, and being able to tilt through 125°. Although this is sold with the camera and base, you can buy the rotating mount as an optional extra if you already own a Blink Mini. The motor is surprisingly quiet - which is obviously a good feature for surveillance. The camera will not automatically follow a moving subject, though, so this is best used for live-view observation.
See our full Blink Mini Pan-Tilt Camera review for more details
Another panning camera, this time from TP-Link. The Tapo has a 2K resolution and night vision, plus artificial intelligence to help tell the difference between a person and a passing vehicle. There’s also a microphone and speaker for two-way audio, support for microSD cards of up to 256GB, and integration with Alexa and Google Assistant.
The Tap also doubles as a baby monitor, but upgrading the artificial intelligence to recognise crying requires a subscription to Tapo Care, which starts at $3.49 a month. This also includes 30 days of cloud storage, notifications with video snapshots and the creation of privacy zones.
A small and simple security camera, the Tapo 2K by TP-Link records in greater than HD, but not the ‘Ultra-high resolution’ mentioned on the manufacturer website. There’s two-way audio and it accepts larger microSD cards than most cameras, at 256GB, which is enough for 512 hours or 21 days of recordings.
This camera works with Alexa and Google Assistant, but lacks more advanced features like activity zones and person detection.
Marketed as a security camera and baby monitor in one, the C1C has a longer infrared range than most others, at about 12 metres or 40 feet. It records at 1080p Full HD, which isn’t as high as some other cameras in this price bracket, but has a simple, compact design and a convenient magnetic base for attaching to different mounting kits.
We like how the C1C accepts microSD cards up to 256GB in size, and while cloud storage is available as an optional extra costing a fairly steep $5.99 a month, the focus here is to opt for local storage instead.
The Abode Cam 2 is a compact indoor security camera with support for Alexa and Google Assistant. It lacks local storage, so you’ll need to pay a subscription to store recordings online, but it benefits from person detection, weatherproofing for outdoor use, and a starlight sensor for full-color night vision.
What we like here is how Abode sells a wide range of devices, making it easy to build up a security system that includes window and door sensors, as well as cameras and motion sensors. This camera doesn’t currently work with Apple HomeKit, but Abode says it is constantly evaluating whether to change this or not.
Why aren't there any Wyze cameras on this list?
Following a security issue reported on Reddit, and confirmed by an employee, we're uncertain about recommending Wyze cameras until we can be sure that Wyze has solved the issues which allowed some users to see into other's homes via a web interface. We're not alone – the New York Times took a similar stance, as they explain.
What is the main cost of smart security cameras?
Over time, if you pay a monthly subscription, this will become the main cost – not the original price of the camera. At about $2-3 per month, you can expect to blast past the cost of a cheaper camera in about 18 months.
Which is the best security camera without subscription?
A lot of cheap cameras can be used without a subscription, allowing you to view the image live on your phone. Examples include the Amazon Blink Mini. If you want to be able to make recordings of events (when things pass the camera), look for one with a microSD card so it can record locally, like the Wyze Cam v3.
How do you choose cheap smart security cameras?
We start by checking our list of the best outdoor security cameras, and the best indoor security cameras, but then look for alternative options which we have tested and others which have good reports from customers. Where we haven't tested the camera, we're careful to check the reviews from those customers on buying sites and reference the real-world functions needed. In this guide the difference between waterproof and not is key, and we are also careful to note what - if any - the long term costs are.
Other useful home security buying guides:
Best outdoor security cameras
Best indoor security cameras
Best floodlight cameras
Best 360-degree outdoor security cameras
Best baby monitor cameras
Best HomeKit cameras
Best PoE cameras
Best PTZ camera
The best doorbell cameras
The best body cameras for personal security