Everyone likes to know that their home is secure and that everything and everyone is safe while we’re gone. In years past, that meant using a CCTV system to record, but few had remote access or alerts.
The alternative was an IP camera which required a computer science degree to install and configure for access over the internet, and therefore few people bought them. These days servers and the ‘cloud’ are used to make it simple to set up a camera and view its video feed from anywhere in the world.
Update 13 July: Latest entry - Netgear Arlo Q
You also benefit from cloud storage with some cameras, so any evidence is save online and is safe from thieves who might steal your camera.
To help you choose the best security camera, we’ll explain the key features to consider.
Whether you’re looking for an easy way to check on your children and pets, or a motion detection system for intruders, you’ll find the right camera for your needs.
How to choose a connected home security camera
Most home security cameras perform the same basic functions – they detect an event, record the event and send you an alert – but they don’t all do it in the same way.
Certain cameras go beyond those basics and some can be mounted outdoors. Don’t forget to read our reviews to find out how each camera works in practice and whether its day and night video quality is good or not: don’t rely on a manufacturers specifications or claims.
Alerts: You should get notifications on your smartphone when your camera detect events. Without watching the live feed constantly, this is the only way to keep tabs on your home in relative real time. Depending on the camera, it may send text alerts when it detects motion, sound, a face (known or unrecognised), or all three. Some can send alerts to multiple people, usually anyone else in the household using that product’s app; others will send emails in addition to text messages as a fail-safe in the event you can’t access your mobile device.
Cloud recording: Many manufacturers now offer cloud storage plans with their camera. They record video to a server in the cloud and store it for 24 hours to a couple of weeks. Sometimes offered free, these cloud plans typically require a monthly subscription, but may be worth it both for their convenience and if you want constant 24/7 recording. Some subscription services record video only when motion is detected and they're not infallible and may miss an event. With 24/7 recording, like CCTV systems, you can rewind and watch any point in time (back the limit of your subscription). Bear in mind that some cameras - Nest in particular - only allows recording if you subscribe. If you don't you can't record anything and you'll get only alerts.
Facial recognition: Netatmo is the only manufacturer we know which offers facial recognition. It does work, but not as well as you might hope. It can also take a long while before the camera can accurately identify people. It's used to alert you when specific people are home - useful for keeping tabs on kids - and also avoiding unnecessary alerts as it can warn you only when an unknown person is seen.
Local storage: Some cameras include memory card slots so you can store video on the device. We like this option as it can eliminate the cost of monthly storage fees. The downside (if there isn’t any cloud storage option) is that if a thief steals your camera, he takes the video evidence with it.
Apps: All the latest cameras can be accessed (some even set up) via a smartphone or tablet app. In addition to offering a way to view the camera’s live feed, apps often let you adjust settings and turn on and off recording, motion detection and more. Often you'll only be able to customise notifications, adjust motion and sound detection sensitivity, and set detection areas via the web portal, but it's great if you can do this in the app.
Motion detection: Motion detection is one of the most desirable features in a security camera. Built-in sensors pick up movement within the camera’s field of view and trigger video recording. Because these sensors are sensitive to any movement – event a shift in lighting or leaves blowing outside a window – it’s important the system also offers the ability to narrow the range of detection, adjust the sensor’s sensitivity or otherwise customise this feature to cut down on false alerts. Some don't offer this and, generally, should be avoided.
Night vision: Most burglaries happen after dark, so this feature is nearly as important as motion detection. Technically, most home security cameras support infrared LED illumination, versus true night vision based on image intensification or thermal vision. Some camera’s will switch to night vision automatically in low-light conditions, while others allow you to customise when and how it should be activated. This won't work through windows, as you'll just see a reflection of the infrared LEDs.
Pan Tilt Swivel : Most security cameras – including all those reviewed here – can be manually tilted and swivelled to focus on a certain viewing area, but this is a purely set?it-and-forget it feature. A true pan/tilt camera is equipped with a motor so that you can move its lens – or even follow a moving object if you’re watching a live feed – using its app or browser-based app.
Resolution: No amount of security video will help you if it’s blurry, jittery or otherwise distorted. Look for a camera that offers the highest possible resolution. Most currently offer 720p (often referred to as ‘high definition’ or HD), but some newer cameras are coming out with 1080p (often referred to as ‘full HD’). Keep in mind higher resolution cameras use more internet and Wi-Fi bandwidth and battery life. Many cameras also offer a software zoom feature (which is not the same thing as having a physical zoom lens).
Scheduling: Scheduling features allow you to tell the camera to turn on and off, detect motion, and/or send alerts at specified times. This is useful when you, for example, only want to be notified when your children get home from school or just want to monitor your home when you’re away. It also reduces the amount of false alerts.
Two-way audio: While the idea of a security camera implies eyes-on monitoring, the ability to also hear what’s going on gives you a more complete picture of what’s happening on the home front when you’re away. It can also alert you to something occurring out of the camera’s field of vision. This feature can also allow you to speak through the camera, a great tool for remotely commanding an unruly pet or startling an intruder in the act, but be aware that you might need to plug in a powered speaker for this feature to work.
Viewing angle: The camera’s field of view determines how much it can see. As you’re probably monitoring a single room, you want a wide viewing angle. Most current cameras fall in the 130-degree range. These wide angles can sometimes cause image distortion at the edges in the form of a fish-eye effect, particularly when used in smaller rooms, but it’s not like you’re going to use a security to capture snapshots for your photo album.
Web client: Many cameras can be accessed through a web browser as well. This is handy when you don’t have access to your phone or a wireless connection. The web app should closely mirror its mobile counterpart, so you don’t need to learn a whole new set of controls. It may even offer extra features, such as the ability to download video clips.
Re-use an old phone: turn it into an internet security camera
There are some great apps which let you re-purpose that old iPhone or Android phone which would otherwise just sit in a drawer unused.
One of the best is Manything, which is free for iOS and Android (it's in beta on Android - only a small number of devices are supported). We tested out Manything over a couple of weeks using an iPhone 5 and it ran flawlessly. The setup process is amazingly quick and simple: install the app and create a free account with an email address and password. Then, install the app on your main phone and you'll be able to log in and view a live video feed using your old phone's camera. Manything offers a lot of the features described above, including the ability to select an area to monitor for motion, and it will send you an alert when motion is detected so you can check the feed to see what's going on.
Clips of the motion are automatically recorded and saved to the cloud and you can download these on your phone for safekeeping. There's a free subscription option which lets you use one phone and keeps motion recordings for four hours. But if you pay a small monthly fee, you can get a longer video history (including continuous recording) and use more phones to get extra video feeds.
The app is brilliantly designed - the companies below could learn a thing or two about making a decent security camera app from Manything.
There are two disadvantages, though. First, your phone isn't going to have infrared LEDs for night vision, so the system is only useful during the day or if you leave a light on at night. Second, video is recorded at only 480x360 pixels so while it's enough to see what's happening, it may not be enough to recognise an intruder or make out text on the side of a van or its registration plate.
Best home security camera reviews 2016:
11. BT Home Cam 100
- Reviewed on: 3 December 15
- RRP: £99 inc VAT
The Home Cam 100 is relatively cheap, but without the subscription it's little more than a webcam. And even with it, you don't get continuous recording and you can't set an area for motion detection. The app is dated and needs a redesign, and ideally more features. BT also needs to rethink its subscription and offer alternative recording options so owners can take advantage of existing cloud storage they already pay for.
Read our BT Home Cam 100 review.
- Reviewed on: 2 May 14
- RRP: £190 inc VAT
The UCam247-HDO1080 is a big step forward, both in usability and video quality. Because of this, the relatively high price is easy to justify and will be well worth the investment if it, for example, catches a thief in the act. It might be overkill for keeping tabs on your pets, but to protect an expensive possession such as a car, it’s ideal.
Read our UCam247-HDO1080 review.
- Reviewed on: 29 June 15
- RRP: £199 inc VAT
At £199, the Welcome is relatively expensive. But unlike the new Nest Cam, it doesn’t require a subscription so you won’t have any on-going costs. In our experience the facial recognition was about 70 percent accurate, which isn’t ideal. At least the app lets you configure exactly when you get notifications and you can reassure family members that it won’t record clips of them if they don’t want it to. In this respect, it’s smarter than other cameras which record motion without discrimination and don’t have the same privacy features. It won’t prevent someone breaking in to your home as new systems such as MyFox aim to do, but if you’re only bothered about general motion detection there are cheaper options such as the Nest Cam at £159. But if the face recognition and privacy options appeal, it’s by no means bad value.
Read our Netatmo Welcome review.
- Reviewed on: 7 August 15
- RRP: £169 for camera and £249 for home alarm
So, what do we think of the MyFox home alarm and security camera? In terms of design, it’s by far the best-looking system we’ve seen, with sleek curves and a beautiful aluminium and white theme. It provides you with a holistic, smart home security system that you can continue to add to over time. The camera is clear even when using night vision and the Intellitag is the best break-in detector we’ve used, but for a combined price of £418 plus £3.99/£7.99 a month for cloud services, we think it’s slightly on the expensive side.
7. Piper nv
- Reviewed on: 15 April 15
- RRP: £230
The big question is ‘is the Piper nv worth the money?’ and in a word, yes, it is. The first generation Piper classic was a good entry into the home automation/home security industry, but it was lacking in several areas, mainly with regards to the camera capabilities. Piper went away, addressed those issues and what the Piper nv presents is a holistic way to both secure and automate your home. The camera quality is great, even when streamed over 4G, the night vision delivers a clear picture and it does what it says on the tin. Apart from a few teething problems, we haven’t had any issues with Piper nv in the time that we’ve been testing it.
Read our Piper nv review.
6. SpotCam Eva
- Reviewed on: 24 June 16
- RRP: £159 inc VAT
The SpotCam Eva is a decent camera at a reasonable price considering you get free, continuous 24 hour cloud recording. However, it's let down by poor software which makes it frustrating to control the pan and tilt. More annoyingly, it's painful to navigate through the recorded video via the app, which is buggy and unreliable.
Read our SpotCam Eva review.
5. Nest Cam
- Reviewed on: 14 August 15
- RRP: £159 inc VAT
The Nest Cam is a well-made piece of hardware that delivers great video, even in the dark. However, the apps and website need a better interface for navigating the timeline and the iOS app needs more features, such as the ability to view your marked video clips, and a way to save videos locally or share them online. In order to be a proper security camera, alerts need to be addressed too. Given that other brands will save a seven-day video history for free, the Nest Cam is fairly poor value. And we’d like to see the option to use your own local storage – perhaps a NAS – to record footage if you don’t want to subscribe.
Read our Nest Cam review.
- Reviewed on: 11 February 16
- RRP: £159 inc VAT
Overall I was impressed with the Canary. The camera itself looks good and it allowed me to monitor a large room in my home with a single unit which was sensitive to both movement and unusual sounds. Setting the hardware up could not have been easier, and the app is well designed and incredibly easy to use. The Apple Watch app was also very useful for notifications, as well as allowing me to arm and disarm the Canary. The HomeHealth feature is a bonus, and not typically found in a security camera, so that's a handy extra which makes the Canary better value. I'd like to see the free cloud storage extended to 24 hours, as 12 hours isn't really enough. For anyone after a security camera and like the extras of the siren and air quality measurements, the Canary is a great choice. Best of all, the device has only alerted me to genuine situations that require my attention and appears to have the right balance between privacy and security. The only thing I would suggest for the next device would be that footage is made available to me on my laptop or desktop.
Read our Canary review.
- Reviewed on: 13 July 16
- RRP: £169.99
For a camera that costs £169.99, the Arlo Q offers quite a lot – free cloud recording, night vision, two-way communication and a well-designed app available for iOS, Android and FireOS, providing users with basic home security. It doesn’t feature a built-in siren like some of its competitors, but you have to make compromises at this price point – a camera that features night vision, two-way audio and a siren can cost ~£250. Other compatible Arlo accessories provide users with a system that can be slowly upgraded over time, allowing customers to start with one fairly cheap camera and build the system up from there.
Read our Netgear Arlo Q review.
- Reviewed on: 18 November 15
- RRP: £199 inc VAT
As a package, the HomeMonitor is the best we've seen to date. Image quality could be better (the range needs a 1080p camera), but it's the ease of setup and clearly laid out apps and website which makes it so good. The Nest Cam has better image quality, but the app is flakey and playback performance isn't as good. Plus, Nest Aware costs quite a lot per month for the subscription, without which there's no recording at all. The HomeMonitor cameras are far from the cheapest around, with no subscription costs, they are still good value. The indoor version - the HomeMonitor HDS - is available on Amazon for just £109. That really is money well spent.
Read our Y-cam HomeMonitor HD Pro review.
- Reviewed on: 27 June 16
- RRP: £129.99 inc VAT
The Evo is the best all-round indoor home security camera you can buy thanks to a combination of hardware, software and the free seven-day cloud recording. That combination is hard to get right, but Y-Cam has managed it.
Read our Y-Cam HomeMonitor Evo review.