A User's Guide to Digital Video Surveillance


Cameras come in different shapes and sizes. Know that this in itself does not affect the picture quality. The shape rather should be looked at in terms of cosmetics, convenience of installation and camera placement. Two cameras with different housings and similar components should perform no different if constructed properly.

Dome Camera

Dome Camera

Dome cameras typically are the best choice whenever possible
  • When the camera is within someone’s reach domes cannot be easily manipulated or vandalized
  • Domes Installs easy in drop ceilings – usually 2 screws
  • Since a dome has a covered lens the direction the camera is pointing is hidden
  • Domes can accommodate infra-red for Night Vision
NOTE: While dome cameras are the installation choice there are limitations. As the domes themselves are typically small you are limited in the size lens available. If you need to focus on long distances which requires a lens of 50mm focal length or greater it will not fit inside a standard dome camera. Dome cameras can be simple plastic ones or metal vandal-proof for public places.


Box Camera

Box Camera

  • When mounting to a wall or any vertical area
  • When viewing long distances where a long lens is required, which would not fit inside a dome or bullet camera
  • When extreme low light conditions are not a consideration
NOTE: If the box camera is within someone’s reach the camera is usually inserted in a protective enclosure. If the lighting is extremely low box cameras can be inserted inside enclosures that have built-in infra-red illuminators but the camera must be infra-red sensitive. Meaning it is able to utilize the infra-red illuminators from an external source.



Infra-red Cameras

  • When there are extreme low light conditions
  • When the camera is not within someone’s reach

NOTE: The distances infra-red cameras can see are based upon its illumination capacity. Infra-red cameras have LED’s, which cast out into the darkness. Realistically, a good rule of thumb (but not an absolute) is figure 1 foot for each LED. Therefore, if a camera has 30 LED’s then it probably can see about 30 feet. There are some newer LED’s called Cat’s Eyes, which have more power, but they are not very common. You would notice a Cat’s Eye by the extra large size of the LED’s. With respect to infrared quality it has more to do with the intensity of the LED's and the distance they cover. One thing to note is that infrared LED's do have a limited life since they are illuminating so they do burn out over time. Just because one camera has more LED's than another does not mean it can cast a longer distance, there are different strengths in the LED's. Unfortunately, again for the consumer it is hard to properly compare.



Bullet Camera

Bullet Cameras

  • When you want the camera to be inconspicuous but not covert
  • When the camera is not within someone’s reach
  • When extreme low light conditions are not a consideration
  • For shorter to middle distances

NOTE: As bullet cameras are small the type of internal boards and lens is limited. Accordingly, the picture quality of the bullet cameras cannot compare with other more traditional cameras, which can have double layer boards and camera function controls.


Covert Sprinkler Camera

Covert Cameras

  • Just as they say, these are meant not to be seen and come in all shapes and sizes from a wall clock to a sprinkler head or smoke detector

NOTE: It is important to check your local laws with respect to surreptitious recording. In some states certain types of covert cameras are illegal. For example, in New York State you are not allowed to install smoke detector cameras. With respect to recording audio, there are very specific laws, which vary from state to state. Some states require all parties consent to recording, while others only require a single individual.


Wireless Camera

Wireless Cameras

  • When connection to the digital video recorder is not practical

NOTE: Remember though wireless is just for the video signal, you still need a method to power the camera.  Wireless cameras can be found in most styles. For the most part wireless cameras require a line-of-sight to function properly. Distances will vary depending upon the strength of the transmitter and receiver, what other devices are in the same spectrum, etc. Realistically, you are looking at distances of 100’ or less on affordable wireless equipment. There are external wireless transmitters and receivers that can attach to any standard camera and make them wireless, but the costs are incredibly prohibitive.


PTZ Camera

Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) Cameras

  • When you want live control of the camera and adjusting the manual pan, tilt or zoom on a fixed cameras is not practical
  • When you want to set up a camera to tour the premises
  • When you want to view several angles from a single camera

NOTE: Pan, Tilt, Zoom cameras cost anywhere from 5x – 10x the cost of a fixed camera. The Pan, Tilt, Zoom camera cannot record or see where it is not looking. You cannot pan, tilt or zoom after it has been recorded (this can only be done with a 360 degree camera). Making a PTZ camera wireless adds thousands to the cost. PTZ cameras can though perform various functions not possible with a fixed camera. You can control a PTZ camera and zoom in optically up to 36x and beyond digitally up to 12x giving zoom capabilities in the 100’s. The PTZ’s have intelligence and can be programmed to perform pre-defined tours and upon the event of an alarm the camera can swing to a specified location before continuing its tour. An operator can override and take control of the camera at any time.


“I have old security cameras can I use them?”

The simple answer is yes, but the newest generation of CCD (Charge Coupled Device) cameras, are much better than their analog predecessors of as recently as 3-5 years ago. You may say, “I spent a fortune on those cameras. They must be good!” Well, is the VCR that cost $2,000.00 two decades ago (not even taking into account its real cost in terms of inflation) better than the one you can pick up at WalMart today for $49.00? The answer is a resounding no. Technology changes and advancements are made. In fact, to the contrary, it is a technologically inferior dinosaur. Much the same can be said for surveillance cameras. Future generations of cameras will continue to improve upon this. Although cameras are called Digital CCTV cameras they are not “pure” digital. So what is different between the analog cameras I bought a few years ago and now? It is most evident in the sharpness, definition and quality of the picture. If you're still unsure, we recommend replacing one or two first and compare the old with the new. Make sure when you compare cameras that you do it as apples-to-apples, meaning it is a similar shot, as lighting and various other conditions will affect picture quality radically.
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