How to Choose the Right Home Security
What Is the Best Security Camera for Outside?
If you’ve ever had a package stolen from your porch or had a car broken into while parked in your driveway, there’s a good chance that the perpetrator was long gone before you even found out you had been victimized. There’s an even better chance that you’ll never know who committed the deed. If this sounds familiar, it might be time to invest in an outdoor security camera.
These rugged smart home devices, designed to withstand rain, snow, and extreme temperatures, typically connect to your home Wi-Fi network and allow you to view live video footage of activities occurring outside of your house. They’ll also send an alert to your phone when someone or something is out there, record video of the event, and depending on features, let you talk to whoever is on your property, all without ever having to open your door (or even be inside your house, for that matter).
Read on to find out what features to look for when choosing an outdoor security camera, and to check out our top picks. Note that a number of the cameras on this list are suitable for use both indoors and out. If you want a model that’s geared specifially for keeping tabs of what’s going on inside your home, head over to our list of the Best Indoor Home Security Cameras.
How Do Outdoor Security Cameras Work?
Most smart outdoor security cameras use a Wi-Fi radio to connect to your home network, allowing you to access them from anywhere using a mobile app. But there are also models that can use wired Ethernet, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, or a proprietary wireless technology to connect to a mobile app or a dedicated hub.
Wi-Fi cameras are easier to install than their wired counterparts because they don’t have to be located near an Ethernet port and don’t require wiring. Battery-powered Wi-Fi cameras are the easiest to install because you can put them just about anywhere (as long as they can connect to your router) without having to snake a power cable into your home to plug into an outlet. These types of cameras typically use rechargeable batteries that can be easily popped out and taken indoors for charging with a USB cable, but they tend to drain quickly in colder weather. Bluetooth cameras are also easy to install, but you have to stay within 40 feet or so to connect to them with your phone.
Look for an outdoor Wi-Fi camera that can connect to either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz radio band to alleviate network congestion. If you’re having trouble getting a good signal outside, try pumping it up with a wireless range extender.
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What Type of Weather Can Outdoor Security Cameras Handle?
Any outdoor camera worth its salt must be able to withstand exposure to the elements and should carry an IP (Ingress Protection) rating. IP ratings contain two digits that tell you just how well the camera will hold up under most weather conditions. The first digit following the IP prefix tells you how resistant the camera is to the ingress of solid objects such as wind-blown dust and ranges from 0 (no protection) to 6 (total protection against dust and dirt). The second number tells you how resistant the camera is to moisture and ranges from 0 (no protection) to 9 (protected against close range, high pressure spray downs from all angles).
Most outdoor security cameras have an IP66 rating, which means they offer complete protection from dust ingress and can handle water jets from any direction, but shouldn’t be immersed in water. They’re typically safe from rain, snow, heat, and cold.
What Resolution Do You Want?
There’s no use in having an outdoor security camera if you can’t recognize who or what the camera is looking at. A camera that captures video at 720p will usually offer a fairly sharp picture, but 1080p video offers more detail and is the most popular resolution for these devices; it doesn’t require lots of storage capacity and can be viewed on nearly all phones, tablets, and PCs.
Cameras that capture 4K (Ultra HD) video are also available, but you’ll need a very strong network connection to stream it without experiencing choppiness or lag, and you’ll need lots of room to store recorded video, which may result in expensive cloud storage fees.
No matter the resolution, try to choose a camera with a relatively wide field of view (viewing angle) and make sure it can capture clear night vision video. Most cameras use IR (infrared) LEDs to deliver black-and-white night video, but there are a few out there that use white light to deliver full-color night video. Look for a camera with a night vision range of at least 30 feet.
Do You Need Motion and Sound Detection?
Nearly all outdoor security cameras are equipped with a motion sensor that will trigger the camera to record video when motion is detected. The sensor can also initiate a push alert to your phone when activity is taking place, and some will also generate an email alert. For an extra layer of security, look for a camera with sound detection that can let you know if somebody is out there even if they’re out of range of the camera lens and the motion sensor. Fair warning: You’ll probably have to tweak the sound sensitivity settings to avoid alerts from barking dogs, loud cars, and other random noises.
If the camera has a microphone for sound detection, chances are it has a speaker as well and offers two-way audio communication that allows you to speak with (and listen to) whoever is outside. This comes in handy when dealing with annoying solicitors and can be used to scare off porch pirates and other unwanted visitors. For more ways to see and communicate directly with whomever is at your door, check out our list of the Best Video Doorbells.
How Do Security Cameras Store Video?
Recorded video can be stored in a number of ways. Many cameras offer free cloud storage for a limited number of days (typically seven) before it is overwritten or deleted, while others are strictly subscription based. If you require more than a week’s worth of video storage, you can subscribe to a 30-day plan and not have to worry about losing important footage before you’ve had a chance to review it and download it.
If you’re concerned about privacy and would rather not store your video in the cloud, look for a camera equipped with a microSD card slot so you can store it locally. A few cameras will even let you save video to a portable USB or NAS drive, but these devices are few and far between.
And if you want the ability to go back and see everything that’s been going on around the outside of your house, look for a camera that offers a CVR (Continuous Video Recording) plan where the camera is always recording and will store up to 30 days of 24/7 video in the cloud.
What Else Do Outdoor Security Cameras Work With?
For an outdoor camera that does more than record video and send alerts, make sure it works with other smart devices. Many recent outdoor Wi-Fi cameras offer support for IFTTT (If This Then That), an internet service that uses mini programs (applets) that you create to have the camera interact with other IFTTT-enabled devices. For example, you can have a smart plug turn on a lamp indoors or activate an external siren when the camera detects motion.
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands are also finding their way into many of the latest cameras, and allow you to do things like display video from the camera on a compatible smart display. If you have a home automation hub, look for a camera that you can integrate into your smart home to have it work with other smart devices like door locks.
How Much Should You Spend on an Outdoor Security Camera?
Outdoor security cameras are generally more expensive than their indoor counterparts. They can range in price from around $100 up to $400 depending on features. There are plenty of affordable cameras available that offer good video performance, but as with just about any smart device, you’ll pay more for features such as motion tracking, facial recognition, cellular connectivity, time-lapse recording, both onboard and cloud storage options, and rechargeable battery power.
Check out our Readers’ Choice Awards to see which security cameras and brands other PCMag readers trust most. Once you’ve found the camera for your home, check out our tips for setting it up. And for an even more advanced way to keep a set of eyes on your home, both indoors and out, check out our picks for The Best Smart Home Security Systems.
Arlo Pro 3
Pros: Excellent 2K HDR video. Wireless. Integrated spotlight. Intelligent motion detection. Color night vision. Works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT. Easy to install.
Cons: Expensive. Requires a hub. Some features are only available via subscription.
Bottom Line: The Arlo Pro 3 is a wireless indoor/outdoor camera system that delivers stunning 2K video and is loaded with features including an integrated spotlight and siren, smart motion detection, color night vision, and an ultra-wide field of view.
Pros: No wires.
Detailed 4K imagery with a wide field of view.
Color night vision.
AI-based motion detection.
Auto-zoom and motion tracking.
Amazon Alexa, Apple Watch, and Google Assistant support.
Requires a hub.
Some features require a subscription.
Bottom Line: The Arlo Ultra is the first outdoor security camera we’ve seen that streams and records video in stunning 4K.
It’s expensive, but it’s packed with features including color night vision, motion tracking, auto zooming, and intelligent motion detection.
D-Link DCS-8600LH mydlink Full HD Outdoor Wi-Fi Camera
Pros: Sharp HD video. Local and free cloud video storage. Sound and motion detection. Works with other smart devices. Supports Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands. Easy to install.
Cons: Lacks Apple HomeKit support. No microSD card included.
Bottom Line: D-Link’s DCS-8600LH is a weather-resistant outdoor security camera that delivers sharp HD video, has motion and sound detection, offers local and free cloud storage, and works with lots of third-party devices and services.
Ezviz C3W ezGuard Wi-Fi Security Camera
Pros: Reasonably priced.
Sharp 1080p video.
Local and cloud-based video storage.
Supports Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands, IFTTT applets.
Built-in strobe light and siren.
Easy to install.
Cons: Doesn’t interact directly with other smart home devices.
Bottom Line: The Ezviz C3W ezGuard Wi-Fi Security Camera is a very affordable surveillance camera that lets you monitor activity outside of your home.
Hive View Outdoor
Pros: Excellent 1080p video quality. Sound, motion, and people detection. Free and subscription-based cloud video storage. Dual-band Wi-Fi.
Cons: Pricey. Requires hub to interact with other devices.
Bottom Line: The Hive View Outdoor is a weatherproof dual-band Wi-Fi security camera that delivers crisp 1080p video and offers sound, motion, and people detection.
Kasa Cam Outdoor KC200
Pros: Reasonably priced.
Easy to install.
Motion and sound detection.
Sharp 1080p video.
Free cloud storage.
Alexa and Google voice support.
Cons: No IFTTT or HomeKit support.
Doesn’t directly interact with other smart home devices.
Siren could be louder.
Bottom Line: The TP-Link Kasa Cam Outdoor is a reasonably priced outdoor security camera that offers crisp video, free cloud storage, and support for multiple voice platforms.
Lorex Smart Outdoor Wi-Fi Camera W281AA-W
Pros: Easy to install. Sharp 1080p imagery. Dual-band Wi-Fi. Supports Alexa and Google voice commands. Intelligent motion detection. Local storage.
Cons: Doesn’t support Apple HomeKit or IFTTT.
Bottom Line: The Lorex Smart Outdoor Wi-Fi Camera W281AA-W is a weather-resistant security cam that offers sharp HD video, smart motion detection, free local video storage, and dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity.
Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
Pros: Elegant design.
24/7 live video with 4K sensor, HDR, and close-up tracking.
Weatherproof with IP66 rating.
Facial recognition feature requires extra subscription.
Bottom Line: The Nest Cam IQ Outdoor is an intelligent security camera meant to act as the first line of defense in your Nest home security setup.
Netgear Arlo Go
Pros: Completely wireless.
Sharp 720p video.
Cloud and local storage.
Motion and sound detection.
Works with other smart devices.
Requires a cellular service plan.
Bottom Line: The Netgear Arlo Go is a completely wireless outdoor surveillance camera that uses cellular communication to deliver live and recorded video to your phone from anywhere.
Reolink Argus 2
Sharp 1080p video.
Cons: Doesn’t integrate with other smart home devices.
SD card not included.
Siren isn’t loud.
Bottom Line: The versatile Reolink Argus 2 is a weatherproof indoor/outdoor security camera that doesn’t require any wires and is powered by a rechargeable battery pack.
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