Read/Watch Before You Buy: Security CamerasDecember 30, 2020
Today on the hookup I’m going to help you make sense of the hundreds of different options you have when it comes to home security cameras and help you make the best decision for your use case, budget, and level of expertise.
Over the last 15 years I’ve gone through half a dozen camera systems, and since starting this youtube channel I’ve tested close to 100 different home security camera options. There’s no one size fits all solution out there, but some are much better than others and there are a few must have features like like person detection that you absolutely shouldn’t go without. In this video I’m going to explain the pros and cons of each camera type and give you my top picks in each category so you can feel happy and secure with your investment. There are no sponsored cameras in this video, so all opinions you’re about to see are based 100% on my experience testing and using these camera systems.
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Lets start with the most popular and newest technology in cameras: Battery powered wireless cameras. This category includes popular companies like Ring, Blink, Reolink, Eufy, Arlo, and a lot more.
You should choose battery powered cameras if you want fast and easy installation, you want to occasionally view your cameras through a phone app or on your echo or google home devices, and you don’t mind the tradeoff of motion based recording only with no option for continuous recording or viewing.
As I said, the major strength of these cameras is obviously their ease of setup. You can go from opening the box to fully set up in less than 15 minutes without crawling around in your ceiling or hanging messy wires on the walls.
Inevitably their ease of use comes with some drawbacks. First, Battery powered wireless cameras more than any other solution rely heavily on the cloud for recording and processing of motion events, and unfortunately, more and more, this cloud reliance comes with monthly subscription fees which I personally hate not just due to the increase in cost, but because it allows the business decisions of these companies to affect your already purchased and installed cameras.
Second, these ARE battery powered cameras, so charging is an inevitability unless your camera is mounted in a location where you can also install an aftermarket solar panel which are available for most of these cameras, but of course that comes at an added cost to the already expensive systems.
Third, in order to extend their batteries as much as possible these cameras only wake up during motion, so if you are hoping to have a constant feed playing on a monitor or record 24/7, it’s just not possible. and Last, and this is an important one, lithium batteries do not like the cold, and since these cameras are trying to be as low power as possible you can’t rely on the heat of the electronics to keep them warm. Most of these cameras list -4 degrees Fahrenheit, -20 Celsius as their minimum operating temperature, so in cold climates you might need to take these down during the coldest months or risk damage.
Noting those important shortcomings I love that these systems have made security cameras available to less techy users and I trust them enough that I’ve installed them at my parents’ house 1000 miles away. Within this category my overwhelming recommendation is the EufyCam line of cameras. Not only has EufyCam has held to their no subscription, local recording policy without exception, but their image quality, resolution, and battery life are best in class. Within the EufyCam Lineup I’d specifically suggest either the EufyCam 2C or 2C Pro if you don’t mind the white LEDs that are used for color night vision, or the EufyCam 2 or 2 pro for more traditional infrared night vision. The main difference between the pro and non pro models is the resolution which is 1080p on the non pro models, and twice that on the pro.
Resolution aside, the real must have feature on these devices is person detection that will help you differentiate between moving branches or shadows, and actual people, which means you can reliably use these cameras to get notifications on your phone. At this point, I have a hard time recommending any camera system without person detection, especially if you’re going to use notifications, so within the EufyCam lineup these are the cameras you should choose, and these are the ones to avoid.
Next is doorbell cameras. Doorbell cameras are the right choice for you if you want to keep track of your package deliveries, talk with visitors using the 2 way intercom, and occasionally view your doorbell camera on a phone app or your echo or google home devices.
Doorbell cameras come in two main varieties: Wired, which use your existing doorbell power wires, and battery which are for those of us who are unlucky enough to not have an existing doorbell. In either case my recommendation is the same: The Eufy Battery 2K Doorbell, which offers great 2 way audio, on device person detection, local recording without a monthly fee, and nearly 6 months of battery life. If you do have an existing doorbell you should still choose the Eufy Battery 2K doorbell over the wired one because you can hook up your existing doorbell wires to keep the battery charged and control your chime and it has important difference of recording to the Eufy Home Base unit instead of to a memory card on the device like the wired version.
You should choose the EufyCam 2K doorbell over the ring doorbell because there’s no monthly fee, better person detection and most importantly, because it records to the base station in your house and not to the cloud, it will still record if there’s an internet outage, which the ring doorbells cannot do.
The next category of camera is powered outdoor rated wifi cameras. You should use these cameras if you hate charging batteries, you want a functional security camera on a budget, and you don’t mind running long power cables to your camera.
Cameras like the WyzeCam V3 and Reolink Lumus seem pretty tempting based on their super low prices and more than adequate performance, but to me they are in a strange no-mans land as far as security performance. The main downside to these cameras is that unlike the EufyCam battery cameras that communicate directly with their home base, these cameras rely on your home’s WiFi to transmit video, which can be an issue since the cameras are outside and may be far away from your wireless access points. I have to admit the WyzeCam V3 delivers impressive performance for its insanely low price, but it still seems strange to me to need to buy a long USB cable to plug it into a nearby outlet, like what happens if someone just walks up and unplugs it?
Floodlight cameras also fall into this powered WiFi category, and you should consider a floodlight camera if you already have an existing outdoor light where you’d like to add a camera, and you are comfortable working on mains voltage.
For the floodlight cameras I’ve tested the ring floodlight which is impressively bright with functional person only notifications, but unless you are going to fully invest in the Ring ecosystem and pay the $10/month for unlimited cameras on your account, I think paying $3 a month per camera is absurd, and as I mentioned, it is fully reliant on your home WiFi, and if it goes down you won’t be able to save any of your video clips during that time. That being said, you also shouldn’t buy the Eufy floodlight since it hasn’t been upgraded to support person detection, which sucks if you’ve already got other Eufy products.
In fact my recommendation for a spotlight camera is the EufyCam 2C or 2C pro with the Wasserstein floodlight mount which has a USB port to keep the camera charged, giving you a person detection floodlight camera that you can use with the Eufy app.
The next step is wiring both the network and power for each camera and you should choose a wired NVR package if you want an all-in-one solution to record and view your cameras 24/7 and you are willing to run wires from the network video recorder, or NVR, to each of your security cameras.
A few years ago it was still common to see security camera packages using “Siamese” cables that carried power and video on two different connections, and occasionally you can still find them on ultra low budget systems which I wouldn’t recommend, but for the most part cameras have transitioned to fully digital signals that are connected to a central network video recorder or NVR using an ethernet cable. A single ethernet cable carries both power and data using something called power over ethernet or PoE.
The major drawback of these camera systems is always installation. You’ll need to pick a secure and centralized location to place your NVR and then run ethernet cables up your walls and through your crawlspaces to get your cameras where you want them. If you’re building a new house, you can plan for this and have your builder run cat6 cables to all possible camera locations, but for some older houses running new wires is nearly impossible.
My current recommendations in this category are the Reolink NVR packages with AI person and vehicle detection. The two systems pair an NVR with a 2 terabyte hard drive with either 4, 5-megapixel cameras for $439, or 4, 4k-cameras for $559 which are both super reasonable prices for what you’re getting. With these systems you can view the live feeds right out of the NVR’s HDMI output, record 24/7, view your cameras and recordings on the NVR, Reolink Phone App, or Web Interface and use AI person detection for recordings and notifications. The new NVR has a completely revamped user interface that is miles ahead of the competition and the Reolink mobile app is by far my favorite of any PoE camera manufacturer.
Another related option that I hadn’t seriously considered until recently was using these cameras without any centralized NVR. The reason I hadn’t considered it was that the mobile apps for these IP based cameras are generally pretty terrible, but Reolink’s new AI person detection line in combination with their mobile app has shaken things up. By installing an SD card in each camera and powering them with a power over ethernet switch you can get a little more flexibility about where you need to run your wires because instead of going back to a single central location you can just place multiple PoE switches throughout your house to power different groups of cameras.
For just a few cameras, this solution could work, but there are a few downfalls you should be aware of: First, SD Cards aren’t really made for the constant writing of data that a security camera generates, so if you’re planning on recording 24/7 it’s not out of the question for SD cards to fail causing you to lose all of your recordings. And second, because these will utilize an app to view the cameras, it’s not as easy to hook up a TV or a monitor for a constant live view. Another problem with NVR systems and this stand alone option is that you tend to get locked into a specific ecosystem, which leads me to UniFi Protect.
Everyone is always asking about UniFi protect. It’s no secret that I’ve been really happy with my UniFi network products with their polished interfaces and high stability and UniFi protect is equally pretty, but in my opinion it’s nowhere near functional enough to justify the price. UniFi protect can run on a cloud key gen2+, dream machine pro, or the new dedicated UNVR, so there’s a chance you won’t need to spend any extra money if you already have one of those products, but the unfortunate downside is that UniFi protect only works with UniFi cameras which are WAY too expensive for what you get. The 4K UniFi g4pro for example costs $449 for a single camera, which is only $100 less than the reolink system that includes 4 4K cameras with AI person detection, an NVR, and a 2 terabyte harddrive. For a similar unifi system you’d need to spend about $2200, and you’re definitely not be getting 4 times the performance.
If you have a dream machine pro or a UNVR and G4 series cameras UniFi protect 1.15 and higher have smart detect built in which provides UniFi’s own flavor of person detection, but even if it rolled out to the entire UniFi line, it doesn’t make up for the fact that UniFi protect only works with UniFi cameras, and UniFi cameras are as a rule, significantly more expensive than their non-UniFi counterparts without a significant performance increase.
The only reason I can think to use UniFi protect for personal use is if you REALLY want to stay within the UniFi ecosystem and money is no object. Other than that I think UniFi protect is aimed at the small business market where an IT professional would come in and install all of the gear, set up the software and then hand over the keys and the bill to management. If you are the kind of person who has a UniFi setup in your house you can do better.
Which brings me to the last option which is the most customizable, powerful and secure, but inevitably the most difficult to setup is mixing and matching different PoE cameras with your own computer based recording software. You should choose this option if you want the best and most secure system possible and words like RTSP, firewall, VPN and VLAN are in your vocabulary.
All the camera systems I’ve talked about so far use a method called P2P to allow you to access the cameras from outside your network. This P2P method means that your camera system has to be connected to the manufacturers P2P cloud at all times to direct your phone app to your home IP address when you request to see your cameras. For exterior cameras in insecure locations this isn’t a huge concern, but I’d personally think twice before installing internet connected cameras inside your house or in locations that you would consider private.
Personally I use Blue Iris which is a windows based NVR combined with AI Computer Vision software called deepstack. My cameras are between 5 and 8 megapixel and are a hodgepodge of brands and models from companies like Dahua, Hikvision, Annke, and Reolink, but my current recommendation for 4K cameras is the Reolink RLC-810A and for budget 5 megapixel cameras. In my system none of my cameras or my NVR are accessible from the internet, and I instead connect to my home network using a personal VPN to view and interact with my cameras. If you’re interested in my exact system I made a video walking through the entire setup process, link to that video and my other camera reviews are down in the description.
One last system type that should at least get a mention are ultra cheap wireless NVR package. For $150 I picked up a 4 camera system where each camera just needs power and automatically connects back to the NVR wirelessly. The video quality is more than acceptable, and the online viewing is handled through the already popular Tuya app, but the reason I didn’t put this solution higher in the list is because there are multiple security issues that would prevent me from adding a system like this to my network. First, the NVR is connected to the internet, but generally these systems won’t receive security updates, so they could act as a point of entry for a hacker to get into your network. And second, the cameras themselves send their data to the NVR over unencrypted wireless, which would allow a knowledgeable hacker to intercept the camera feed if they were in range of the wireless signal, a very unlikely situation, but possible nonetheless.
These low costs systems are incredibly basic, and while you can install a hard drive for motion recording, it isn’t included, and they definitely don’t have person detection. Still, if you just want to VIEW up to 4 non-private, outdoor areas around your house on a TV or monitor without connecting the NVR to the internet, wireless plug in cameras get it done for an unbeatable price.
I know that was a lot of information but hopefully it helped you make your decision on which camera system is right for you. If you have other questions feel free to leave them down in the comments and I’ll respond as soon as possible. Thank you to all of my awesome patrons over at patreon for your continued support of my channel, if you’re interested in supporting my channel please check out the links in the description. If you enjoyed this video hit that thumbs up button and consider subscribing, and as always, thanks for watching the hookup.