Our comprehensive testing methodology builds on expertise in testing cameras, televisions, and other connected devices. We focus our tests on how quickly a camera sends alerts to your smartphone when motion is detected—and for video doorbells, when you can see who pressed the bell—as well as its video quality, smart features, data privacy, and data security. These factors can make or break your experience with wireless security cameras and video doorbells.
For the response-time test, we measure how long it takes for the camera to detect movement occurring in its field of view and send alerts to its smartphone app. For video doorbells, we also time how long it takes for a button press to result in a smartphone alert and, subsequently, a live video feed, which is critical if someone is waiting at your front door.
For the video-quality test, we set up a room with multiple resolution charts, everyday objects, and mannequins as stand-ins for people, and evaluate how clear the video is from cameras in good light, low light, and zero light (to test night vision). the engineers designed this test to expose weak spots in the cameras, whether in their sensor, lens, or software. We also add different levels of backlighting to each lighting scenario. All of these tests assess whether you would be able to clearly see people or objects in the frame, such as a potential intruder. The results of these tests appear in an individual video-quality score for each wireless security camera and video doorbell in our ratings.
When it comes to smart features, we assess a wide variety of capabilities depending on the type of home security camera. They may include monitoring zones, person detection, facial recognition, voice and app control (with Amazon Alexa, Google Home/Assistant, and Apple Home/Siri), smartphone alerts, two-way audio, scheduling, and geofencing (which turns alerts on and off depending on whether the device reads that your smartphone and you, presumably, are nearby). All of these features factor into our unique Smart IQ score for smart home devices, allowing you to see which cameras are smarter than the competition.
Due to repeated hacks of wireless security cameras and the growing privacy concerns about video doorbells that record audio in public areas (such as streets and sidewalks), we test all these cameras for data privacy and security. In these tests, we evaluate each company’s or service provider’s public documentation, such as privacy policies and terms of service, to see what claims the manufacturer makes about the way it handles your data. The tests include inspection of the user interface and network traffic from each camera and its companion smartphone app to make sure it’s using encryption, adhering to manufacturer policies, and not sharing your data with irrelevant third parties.
Finally, our test engineers take the results of these individual tests and use them to calculate our Overall Scores for both wireless security cameras and video doorbells.
How to Choose a Home Security Camera
- Choose Your Camera Type
The type of camera you’ll need depends on where you want to place it. If you want one inside your home, there are many home security camera options. If you want one outside your home, you’ll need to decide whether you want a wireless security camera, video doorbell, or floodlight camera.
For monitoring a front or back door, consider using a video doorbell because it can be powered through your doorbell wiring. If you want to monitor another area of your property, you’re better off with a wireless security camera. And if you want to monitor an area that already has a hardwired floodlight, consider swapping it out with a floodlight security camera. Keep in mind that while all video doorbells and floodlight cameras are designed to survive the elements, not all wireless security cameras are weatherproof. So be sure to check the specs of a camera you’re considering if you want to put it outside.
- Pick Your Power Source
Battery-powered wireless security cameras, video doorbells, and floodlight cameras (yes, there are a few options) offer the most flexibility in terms of placement in and around your home. But depending on the camera and how heavily it’s used, you’ll need to recharge it anywhere from weekly to once every few months to once or twice a year. Hardwired cameras and doorbells neatly sidestep the recharging problem but may limit your placement options, unless you’re willing to run an extension cord or hire an electrician.
Keep in mind that the power source you use could limit the number of models you can choose from. This is especially true of video doorbells because there aren’t a ton of battery-powered models on the market.
- Compare Cloud Storage Plans
Before you pick the camera or doorbell you want, be sure to find out how much free cloud storage it comes with and how much additional storage costs. Most manufacturers opt for cloud storage—where the footage is remotely stored on a server—instead of memory cards because the video files are large and the manufacturer can make additional money from the subscriptions. Without cloud storage (or local storage), if you miss an alert for a potential intruder, you’ll have no idea whether someone tried to break in. Many of these cameras also won’t let you download clips to send to authorities unless you pay up.
The amount of free online storage and the cost of storage plans can vary significantly by manufacturer and model. For example, the battery-powered Google Nest Cam comes with 3 hours of free cloud storage. Google Nest charges $6 per month (or $60 per year) for 30 days of motion-triggered storage for an unlimited number of cameras at one location, or $12 per month ($120 per year) for up to 30 days of storage and 10 days of 24/7 video history. By comparison, Ring cameras and doorbells offer no free storage, but Ring charges only $4 per month (or $40 per year) for one camera for 180 days of storage, or $10 per month ($100 per year) for all cameras at one location with 180 days of storage.
Keep in mind, most of these plans store only video clips triggered by motion, not continuous video feeds. But some brands, such as Arlo and Google Nest, offer continuous video storage plans.
- Consider Your Privacy
While these cameras provide peace of mind, it’s worth remembering that to do that they provide a view into your home and connect to the internet. If you can watch your home from your phone, it may be possible for someone else to take a peek, too. The manufacturer also may have access to the video.
There have been cases of companies deploying these with weak security that can be circumvented, Don’t use default credentials. Make sure you set up your own unique username and difficult-to-guess password. Read our article on creating strong passwords to make sure yours are as hackproof as they can be.
More and more cameras are offering two-factor authentication, an additional layer of security that sends you a one-time-use passcode via a text message, a phone call, email, or an authentication app. You input the passcode in addition to your username and password when you log in. That way, if a hacker cracks your password, they won’t be able to access your camera unless they also gain access to your one-time code. If your camera offers this, be sure to activate it. You can also find more advice in our article on preventing home security cameras from being hacked.
These security concerns don’t mean you shouldn’t buy a home security camera. But if privacy is something you’re worried about, you may want to keep these devices out of very private areas, such as bedrooms.
To help you purchase a camera that respects your privacy, we rate each model for data privacy. You can see how the privacy of each camera measures up in our home security camera ratings.