2021 Commercial-Grade IP Security Camera Guide
By Raymond Shadman
Custom Video Security, President
This post answers the most common questions on how to choose an IP security camera in 2021.
For security camera brands, I prefer Dahua because (when purchased through Custom Video Security) they have a 5-year warranty, 1-year advance replacement, and direct technical support from the manufacturer.
- Camera style:
- The bullet is generally desired when viewing parallel to the wall. Some (but very few) are IK08-IK10 impact/vandal resistant. Bullets are also better for installation from poles and/or for viewing license plates.
- Domes have the best aesthetic look in my opinion. They generally are always vandal-resistant, unless they are indoor domes, which are usually made of plastic instead of metal. They are meant for viewing in front or not too far to the side of the wall. Unlike bullets, they cannot easily view parallel to the wall where it’s installed unless you add a wall-mount, in which case the dome would be pointing down instead of away from the building. If not using a wall-mount in an uncovered outdoor area, ensure waterproof installation using silicone, or use the right accessory to limit the chance of rain entering the device or its connector over time. In some cases, a built-in microphone is included.
- Eyeball/turret style is the best of both worlds with easy manueverability of the camera while maintaining a desirable aesthetic. The flat face is similar to the bullet and has an advantage over the dome because it does not distort images. I have never seen a vandal-resistant eyeball/turret. In some cases, a built-in microphone is included.
- A PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) camera can remotely pan left and right, tilt up and down, and zoom in and out. Some cameras are PT only. Most are PTZ with the “mini PTZ” typically offering between 3x-12x optical zoom while the standard PTZs typically offer between 16x-40x optical zoom. There are several desirable features of a PTZ camera, which we can discuss on a project-by-project basis. The Dahua 1A404XBNR 4x Mini PTZ with SMD and Perimeter Protection analytics with built-in AI to differentiate between humans and vehicles vs. everything else. The perimeter alarms transfer to Milestone XProtect with Dahua’s AI metadata plugin. This was our most popular camera of this week and this month with a total of 79 pcs sold in the past 30 days. I don’t see posted compatibility with Milestone, but there are other PTZs with similar features that are listed as compatible.
- If using any conduit, a junction-box camera will be required. We generally recommend junction boxes for all cameras, even when not using conduit. It’s basically a waterproof box to house the RJ45 connector. Mounting options are typically included in the cameras’ datasheets and generally include j-box, wall mount, ceiling mount, in-ceiling/flush mount, pole mount, and corner mount.
- Angles/lenses/FOV. You can see the actual angles in the camera’s datasheet. Look for HFOV (horizontal field of view) or vertical/diagonal numbers.
- Most cameras are wide-angle, as they are used for perimeter coverage. The wider the angle, the fewer blind spots. Wide-angle focal lenses are generally classified as 2.8mm or 3.6mm. The lower the number, the wider the angle. Keep in mind, fewer details will be available when digitally zooming in.
- To see something specific such as license plates on a driveway, a motorized varifocal zoom lens is recommended.
- We offer free camera design maps similar to these so that our customers know what kind of angles and coverage to expect before buying our recommended cameras. This eliminates surprises and returns.
- Resolution: most people think that the higher the resolution, the better. This is not always the case. High resolution allows for more details to be seen when digitally zooming in. It can also allow for a wider angle or area of coverage (less blind spots). Higher resolution requires more bandwidth and storage and a higher-throughput server with a better CPU and more RAM. This can be mitigated with more efficient codecs such as H.265 or H.265+, although smart codecs generally don’t work when analytics are enabled. Additionally, H.265 requires more processing power. To effectively view cameras above over 1080P, a 4K monitor with sufficient NVidia GPU is recommended for the server and client machines. Higher resolution cameras will be outperformed at nighttime by lower resolution cameras with lower lux ratings.
- Starlight or ultra low-lux cameras can see color in darkness as long as there is minimal ambient lighting. Ambient lighting can be a traffic light, street light, porch light, moonlight, etc. Certain starlight cameras have backup infrared LEDs to switch to black and white mode when there’s not enough ambient lighting. Dahua classifies these as Starlight+, and the lux rating is generally 0.005 Lux or lower. Dahua’s Night Color series cameras are the highest-performance of their catalog, but there are no backup LEDs, so only use them when there is a 100% chance of ambient lighting. Here’s a customer’s comparison between a 4K (8MP) infrared camera and a 4MP starlight+ camera.
I highly recommend you use a specialized camera at each location and not just a one-size-fits-all for all your cameras. If you do prefer to use one camera, I recommend the Dahua N53AJ52 5MP starlight+ PoE turret camera. We just installed about a hundred of these in for a large multi-building HOA in Century City.
I have not included wireless cameras in this guide because they are not considered commercial-grade or professional. See more information on using wired security cameras for wireless applications.
Compatibility with a specific VMS or recorder should always be considered, along with any specific types of desired analytics. Choose Onvif-conformant cameras for widest compatiblity, or check the VMS’s compatibility list. Ensure format compatibility whether IP or analog.