Tips for Selecting a Video Security System that Meets Your Needs

A good home surveillance system should deter criminals, protect you when you're home, alert you to events, and provide rock solid evidence should something happen. All the while, your security camera system should be easy to install, easy to use and definitely earn you some bragging rights of being able to say, "They picked the wrong place to mess with."

Unfortunately, many people purchase a video surveillance camera system blindly from a consultant, dealer or website and often have regrets.

To make sure that doesn't happen to you, this guide shows how to select the right video surveillance system for your application. It will provide you key points to consider that will uncover your true needs, and help you select the right gear to match your needs and your lifestyle.

Security Camera Locations

The number one question people ask when buying a video security system is "How many surveillance cameras do I need?" That's a great question, but I've got to tell you from personal experience – it doesn't matter how many or few security cameras you have. It only matters that you identify who is coming and going and that you document their activities while visiting your facility.

1. Identify the suspect

If you have limited funds, then I highly recommend that your surveillance system is able to clearly identify people as they come and go. Odds are that if something happens at your home or business that is noteworthy, you'll know about it. And the only question you need to answers is: "Who did it?" If you know who is coming and going, figuring out "who" is in most cases very simple.

To achieve good identification of people or vehicles, you must identify the choke points in your business and the likely avenues of approach. By choke points, I mean areas of your home, business or property that anyone or thing wishing to gain entrance must pass through.

Good examples are obviously doors, windows, gates, parking lot entrances etc… Video security cameras dedicated to watching these choke points will put the bad guy's mug shot in your hands before you even have to involve the police.

I would also recommend that you think like a criminal for just a minute. If you were a burglar, how would you enter your home or property? Would your approach be different during the day than at night? What areas on the property are least visible to your neighbors? The results of this exercise will confirm the number of security cameras you need to rest easy and will likely surprise you.

2. Document Activity

For a business, having sufficient video security cameras in place to provide an overview of activity is usually not an option. There are simply too many instances that call for documentation of what happened. An easy case in point is shoplifting. By law in most states, a suspect must be observed actually concealing an item and leaving the threshold of the building before the activity is considered a crime.

Additionally, and many times more importantly, documentation of activity in your home or place of business will help to protect you from prosecution for "Slip and Fall", and other litigious activities that may occur on your property.

At a residence, using surveillance cameras which view a wide area often provide some very valuable clues beyond identification, such as the direction of travel, a vehicle description, identifying accomplices and neighbors that may have witnessed the crime. In many cases, you can gain many of these important details with as few as four additional cameras located around your house.

Safety is another popular reason to have security cameras providing overviews of your property. It's quite a comfort to be able to watch children at play in the pool, trampoline or yard knowing they are safe and having fun at the same time.

3. Create a sketch

When I'm consulting with customers, I prefer to use a sketch of the property - even if it's a location I'm familiar with. A simple hand drawn sketch will work but if possible, one drawn to scale will help even more. This sketch is useful for determining field of views for your security cameras, ensuring an overlap of coverage if desired, or for getting a second opinion from a consultant.

So, as you are surveying your property and picking video surveillance camera locations jot them down on your sketch, you'll be glad you did.

Video Security Cameras

After you've first narrowed down where you will need home security cameras, you've also made it very easy for yourself to figure out which of the thousands of surveillance cameras will best suit each location. Here are some things to consider in making your selection near bullet proof:

Camera lens

Selecting security cameras with the proper lens size is by far the most critical decision for obtaining clear suspect identification. A camera suited with the right lens will yield great results - even when used with modestly performing cameras.

Lens sizes are measured in millimeters. The bigger the number, the more telephoto or zoom capability the security camera will have. To give you an easy to use reference – one of your eyes has about the same field of view as a 3mm surveillance camera lens – or roughly 90 degrees.

So, when you are surveying a camera location, closing one eye will generally tell you what a surveillance camera with a 3 mm lens will see. Using a lens with a higher millimeter (focal length) will get you a tighter shot.

For a more scientific approach, measure the distance between the camera and the area to be viewed. Next, measure the width and height of the area to be viewed. Type this information in our lens calculator - it will provide the recommended lens size for your application.

Today, some of our more popular security cameras come with built in varifocal lenses. These varifocal lenses are sometimes called zoom lenses, and cover a wide range of popular focal lengths and housing styles.

If for some reason there is not a ready made camera available that meets your exact needs, then it will be simple to pair a traditional security camera with a CS-mount lens for your application.

Security camera styles

The style of security camera you choose is more important than just a fashionable appearance, although ascetics should definitely be considered. Some camera styles are better for specific mounting locations while others may be more universal.

Another important consideration is protection from the elements - both environmental and criminal. Regardless of the style that meets the needs your application, nearly all security camera styles offer similar features – so it should not be a limiting factor.

Traditional security cameras

Traditional type surveillance cameras, such as box cameras or fixed cameras are without a doubt the oldest type (hence traditional) and still are the most popular. There are literally thousands of different lenses available for these fixed cameras that make them useful for everything from home/business security, to border enforcement and even to covert surveillance operations.

There are a wide variety of enclosures available for vandal-proofing and/or weather proofing these video security cameras as well. Also, because these types of cameras are easily recognizable, they act as a good deterrent – which should be a primary objective for most security applications.

Dome security cameras

Dome security cameras have become much more popular over the past few years, and can come equipped with all the bells and whistles, such as a 3-axis internal camera adjustment, a varifocal lens and infrared illumination for night vision.

One reason dome cameras are so popular is that they can be mounted indoors, outdoors, underneath over-hangs, on walls… virtually anywhere.

Their varifocal lenses provide the right field of view for choke points, and their 3-axis positioning options make it simple to obtain the overhead or wall-mounted shot that you desire. Additionally, dome surveillance cameras are less recognizable, as they tend to blend in with the environment, potentially giving you better chances of getting good facial identification.

Bullet cameras

Like dome cameras, bullet cameras, or lipstick cameras, offer nearly every feature you could want in a camera and more, including longer range infrared illumination (for see-in-the-dark capabilities at longer distances) and very powerful varifocal lenses. Most lipstick cameras are best mounted vertically on walls or poles.

PTZ cameras

PTZ security cameras give you the power to remotely control pan, tilt and zoom functions. This allows you to adjust your shot as the action is taking place, and thanks to advanced features offered by most DVRs these days, allows you remotely survey your property from virtually anywhere in the world.

Covert cameras

Even if you're simply looking to deter criminal activity with your video security system, I always recommend augmenting your system with at least one well placed covert camera. Why? Criminals are trained to look for overt cameras at homes and businesses. Visible cameras can be disabled by spray paint, cutting cables, physical abuse, or – they can simply be avoided.

The same cannot be said for hidden cameras – as only you are aware of their location. Covert cameras make an excellent choice for choke point locations, and are available in a variety of readymade forms for both indoor and outdoor needs.

Classic cases of where traditional box cameras simply fail are bank and store robberies. Do the criminals know there are cameras in those establishments? Yes! They could care less about security cameras; a simple hooded sweatshirt takes care of the job.

A covert camera placed near eye level at a door or pathway will overcome the problem and make your establishment or home a place not to be messed with.


As night falls, the likelihood of crime rises, and like you, cameras need proper lighting to see. Most dome and bullet cameras come equipped with built in infrared illumination. Infrared (IR) lighting is invisible to the human eye, but very visible to most security cameras.

In essence, IR has a covert effect – because the lighting is virtually invisible, the camera can be difficult to detect for criminals, who won't know to look away – allowing for better identification. Effective illumination without creating light pollution is also an added benefit of IR illumination – a popular topic recently.

IR will not, however, act as a deterrent. To help scare off bad guys, adding visible flood lighting to your property is certainly worth a pound of cure, and motion detection features will save on electricity and help reduce light pollution.

Whichever lighting option you select, I recommend that you use lighting generously and position it strategically to ensure you fully leverage the power of your cameras.


For analog cameras, resolution is measured in vertical lines, ranging from 380 TV lines, up to 700 TVL for some cameras. For digital (IP) cameras, resolution is measured in pixels. For either technology, the higher the resolution, the more detailed your picture.

Granted, positioning your camera in the right place, finding the appropriate lens and providing light for your camera is more than half the battle. But when it comes to capturing the events at your home or business, you will want every technology advantage on your side. An extra 100 lines of resolution can truly make the difference in law suit avoidance, and in the quick apprehension of criminals.

The law enforcement community concurs with the need for higher resolution security cameras. Unfortunately, they have loads of firsthand experience with disappointed victims of crime, who have invested in cameras just a few notches better than dummy cameras which captured an event that took place, but did not provide a clear enough image to identify the suspect.

In fact, jurisdictions across the country are mandating high resolution security cameras - up to 480 lines of resolution. Thankfully, 480 lines is very common these days - and very affordable.


What is a lux rating? Short and sweet, the lower the number the better the camera will see at night. Security cameras with a low lux rating take full advantage of all available light from flood lamps, street lighting, infrared illumination and more.

A camera with a 0.0 lux low light rating can see in complete darkness (which is usually the case when using infrared lighting).

Digital Video Recorders

The recorder for a CCTV system is truly the heart of your video security system, and will play a pivotal role in your overall purchase satisfaction. Here ere are some quick tips to keep in mind when selecting the right DVR to power your video surveillance system.


The most common mistake I've seen people make over the years when buying a digital video recorder is choosing one with too few channels (or ports for cameras). First time buyers looking to invest in a basic video security system will typically opt for a four channel DVR.

That's completely understandable – as four cameras usually seem more than sufficient to cover entry points and high sensitive areas of an establishment. But all too quickly, people discover the need for more cameras – whether it's adding coverage or adding a covert camera to the system – and end up buying a second DVR.

In many of these instances, the smarter option is a recorder that allows for expansion. I recommend that if you feel you only need four cameras today, consider a security DVR that will accept a total of eight camera inputs – allowing for expansion in the future, simply by plugging in any additional cameras needed. The low price difference between 4 and 8 camera digital video recorders is usually not cost prohibitive.

Frame Rate

Today's computer processing power allows for real-time video recording on all channels of a security DVR. So don't waste valuable money on B-rate recorders that give you just a few frames per second on each channel, leaving you with sub-optimal video evidence and potentially missing a critical part of the action taking place.

To know for certain if a digital video recorder will record in real-time, divide the advertised frame rate (i.e. 480 FPS) by the number of channels (i.e. 16). In this example, each channel is capable of recording 30 frames per second (FPS). 30 frames per second is considered to be real-time video.


For businesses, I always recommend maximizing the amount of memory (or storage capacity) a digital video recorder is capable of using. Here's why… Not only do businesses have to worry about the threat of shoplifting and violent crimes, they need to capture the activities of their employees – who studies show contribute up to 47% of a company's losses.

Employee theft can play out over a period of a week, or sometimes longer. It is truly powerful to retrieve an unbiased account of what happened especially when investing in sufficient memory to store that data. In addition to theft, more and more business owners / managers have been leveraging their video security systems to monitor customer interactions to ensure positive customer service. This stored video can be a powerful training tool in achieving customer satisfaction.

Homeowners should seriously consider the small investment in additional memory as well. However, most issues homeowners face typically surface more quickly, requiring less saved video evidence to review what took place. For instance, if a home has been robbed, most homeowners would be alerted within hours.

I suggest that you carefully choose the memory you need to match your schedule and lifestyle. If you travel a lot, make sure your recorder has enough memory to record events over the entire duration.


An often overlooked feature when considering a system is how well and easily the DVR will playback video. Make sure the digital video recorder you purchase can show video frame by frame which is usually accomplished with a "Jog and Shuttle" feature.

This is very important when trying to capture minute details, such as identifying a face, article of clothing, or license plate that moves quickly across the screen.


Make sure the offloading capabilities of your DVR will match the needs of law enforcement. You should be able to quickly download your video evidence to disc or USB, and be able to provide video in .AVI (or similar) format which allows for playback on almost any computer without the need for special software.

Recording Location

Once you've selected the locations for your cameras, you must determine the best location for you recording gear. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Keep it secure

High on any criminal's list is avoiding and/or eliminating video evidence. To keep a criminal from destroying your security recorder, it should be located out of sight and out of mind, at a minimum. I highly recommend that yours is kept in a secure room, and preferably inside a DVR/VCR lock box.

Keep it close

Make sure the recorder is close to network gear. One of the major benefits of today's video recorders is the ability to remotely monitor. So it makes sense to have your DVR in a server room for businesses or in close proximity to your home's network router to take full advantage remote monitoring.

Keep it powered

Make sure the DVR location is well serviced with power. Keep in mind you also need to have secure power for both your security monitor and security cameras. Also, it's wise to use a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply), which ensures that your recorder and cameras continue to operate during a power outage, and provide protection against brown outs (low supply) and power surges (over voltage, such as lightning strikes).

Connecting Your Cameras

When connecting cameras to your recorder, there are two basic things that must always be done: (1) get power to the camera, and (2) get the video signal to the recorder. Powering your camera is relatively straight forward. There are two general choices to get your video signal to your recorder: wired and wireless.


For permanent installations, I highly recommend hard wiring your cameras, and there are good reasons why this is the most preferred method of connecting cameras. Good quality cabling eliminates video interference, keeps video more secure from interception, and when done right, requires little or no maintenance.

Alternatively, I must say it's a little more work using cable, but I can say with confidence that you’ll be glad you made the time investment.

When choosing your cabling, stay away from many of the cheap DIY cables which degrade over time, can't perform well at high resolutions and aren’t durable during installations. For a professional installation, the consensus is a good Siamese type cable. Siamese cable gets its name from being two cables in one, a coaxial video cable and a power cable.

Siamese cable is available in bulk rolls of 500' and 1000' and cable can also be found in lengths of100' or shorter, with video connectors and power connectors already installed for your convenience.

For a professional cable installation, you will need some or all of the following tools:

  • Drill
  • Caulking
  • Stapler
  • Fishing tape
  • Solder gun (for bulk cable without connectors)
  • Crimping tool (for bulk cable without connectors)


For reasons explained above, I am hesitant to recommend wireless installations. However, there are applications for which running a cable is cost prohibitive, installation isn't quick or easy, or cable needs to be better concealed. For those occasions, I do give wireless a thumb up.

When using wireless, there are three main things to consider:

Interference - Find out if there is any RF device on your property or nearby that will interfere with your video transmission. The most common sources of interference these days are with wireless Wi-Fi routers. If you are using 802.11b or g which operates on the 2.4GHz frequency, then be sure to use a video transmitter which operates on the 5.8GHz frequency or vice-versa if your wireless Wi-Fi router is 802.11a or n.

Obstructions - Wireless transmitters are rated for line of site ranges, for equal comparison. If your application allows both the transmitter and receiver to “see” each other, then you should experience similar ranges as quoted. If your installation calls for transmitting through heavy building materials (such as concrete), then cut the range at least in half.

Power - Although you'll be able to send the video signal from the camera to your recorder with a wireless transmitter, you'll still need to supply power by hard wiring, battery power or solar power. This can sometimes undermine your primary objective of positioning a wireless camera remotely or concealing all wires.

Remote Monitoring

One of the biggest attractions to having a CCTV system is the ability to remotely monitor your property via the internet from a computer or hand-held device that can be half way around the world or just a few rooms over. In addition to live monitoring, you can watch recorded video, backup important video files, receive email alerts of activity and download video evidence.

Given these advanced capabilities, there is no longer a need to dedicate a resource to being on-site to monitor your system and events. This is not only convenient, but allows you to keep your recording gear hidden, safe, and secure.

Because of the bandwidth required to transmit video data, a prerequisite of remote monitoring is high speed internet service, and a router with an available Ethernet port – features offered by most ISPs.

Installation Tips

Test, test, test

The most important tip that I can provide is test all of your equipment before an installation – this applies to your cameras, DVRs, monitors, etc… At a minimum, you'll become familiar with the gear before you're standing on top of a ladder. You also get to prepare your cameras and avoid simple mistakes or common oversights that might occur while on top of the ladder.

Get the right tools

Today's video surveillance cameras are designed for years of reliable operation. With this in mind, you should invest in having the right tools to make the job fast, simple and get it done right the first time. Borrow that extension ladder to position cameras properly – both for the right overview of your area, and underneath eves for ascetics. Make the installation something that you or your business will be proud of.

Leverage support

Remember, if you have a question; call your consultant or technical support contact. Odds are you're not the only person who has had a similar question – and your trusted security provider can help guide you to the best and easiest solution.

Being Prepared

In the event of a crime, you need to be prepared… both by having the proper surveillance equipment installed, and being personally prepared to manage the situation.


Make sure that you and someone you trust are very familiar with the operation of your CCTV system. Almost all incidents require fast action and excellent concentration on your part. So get familiar with key operations, such as burning video evidence onto a DVD. This should be second nature before an event occurs.

Your gear

Check your system at least once a month. In addition to testing critical functions, pull up each camera and ensure they are operating they way you want them to and still capturing the right field of view. Log in remotely from time to time; just so that you are comfortable monitoring your home or business remotely so your coverage doesn't lapse if you need to leave town.

Your supplies

Should a crime occur, having the following supplies close by will make your life easy:

  • Notepad and pen for making notes about details of the event observed by you, others and on video
  • Blank CD/DVDs for burning video evidence
  • Permanent markers for labeling evidence

Regardless of where you purchase your system, I sincerely hope that you find these tips useful. In my experience, being educated and prepared will highly impact the effectiveness of your security system.