How to Buy the Right Security Camera System for You

Question number 1: What resolution do you need?

This is the most important question about your surveillance system and the biggest determining factor as to the quality of your system.

Resolution is the difference between a conviction and a blurry image.

Here's the 3 basic types of surveillance systems that home and business users consider (and even higher end ones for military and governments):

Each was taken with the man about 10 feet from the camera. Mouse over each for a description:

Question number 2. How Much Setup do You Want?

Installing it Yourself will Save about 60% of the Total Cost.

You Can Afford a Beautiful HD System for about the Cost of Installing a Low-Quality One.

Our Admiral HD Systems

NVR systems are better because the cameras have their own processors, making them true digital cameras. They are easier to install since they just use one cable with POE. Since they have their own dedicated processors they tend to have video analytics, higher resolutions, and can scale to hundreds of cameras with POE switches if you need to. You do unlimited distance with POE switches. You integrate them with additional services because they are ONVIF (The Open Video Interface Format) conformant.

Analog, AHD, CVI, TVI, and SDI Systems

DVR (including Analog, AHD, CVI, TVI, and SDI technologies) are cheaper and are digitized by the recorder's processor. They have two cables: video and power. They sometimes come with wall plugs for the cameras, but that leaves them with no surge protection. You really need to install power distribution box like this one to protect them. You probably need a electrician since wiring the distribution box is like wiring a fuse box. Because there's one processor doing all the work of digitizing the cameras, they are often limited to small systems or lower resolution.

The industry has transitioned to IP cameras. We discourage the installation of any new BNC based systems. If you have a quote that is cheaper than ours - especially one from an installation company that has been resistant to change, please check to see what type of system they are quoting you. We have a separate guide on why we Don't Carry HD-SDI, AHD, or CVI, but Do Carry IP and TVI because of hacking and quality concerns. There's been a lot of firesales in the industry lately to sell off inventory with known security issues. You may also want to read our report on Best Practices for preventing IOT Security Camera Hacks as it talks about how many of these cheaper system have been compromised lately.

Question number 3: Do you need fixed lens, adjustable lens, or PTZ lens cameras?

Fixed Lens cameras have a wide angle lens (with models at 109, 75, and 68 degrees)

Varifocal Lens cameras have adjustable angles and levels of zooms

PTZ cameras are controlled with a joystick (either physical or on-screen)

Since this is a complicated topic, we've created a thorough explanation of the 4 types of zoom.

Question number 4: Where are you going to mount the camera?

Most beginners think that they want a glass dome camera instead of a bullet, because they think that a dome camera does something special or different - many people confuse dome cameras and PTZ cameras because of their similar shape.

For the vast majority of our cameras (and just about everyone else's), the only difference between a dome camera and a bullet camera is the body style. You can usually find bullet and dome cameras that have identical specs.

Bullet or turret (we'll get to that in a second) cameras are easier to install in almost all circumstances. In many situations, dome cameras require you to drill upwards to mount them (as they are most often mounted to the ceiling/soffit) and that's always going to be harder on your body, harder on your eyes as you will get dust or insulation in them, and more difficult to secure than drilling in a screw parallel to the ground in the way that you do with a bullet or turret camera. You also don't have to remove the glass dome to mount a bullet or turret camera, which means you don't ever expose them to humidity, risk getting your fingerprints on the inside of the lens, or forget to fully tighten the glass dome back on again. Believe it or not, but the vast majority of our returns are people who bought a dome camera and realized later how much easier a bullet is to install.

There are often difference in one bullet model vs another dome model, such as angle of view, level of zoom, resolution etc. However, with the exception of some speciality cameras (that we cover in the more expanded version of our "Dome vs Bullet Camera" Guide), those difference are usually not the result of their shape. You can usually find dome and bullet cameras with similar specs.

Mounting to a Wall?

It will probably be easiest to use a bullet or turret camera

but you can also use a dome camera (some models may require a wall bracket).

Hanging from the ceiling / soffit?

It will probably be easiest to use a dome or turret camera

but you can also a bullet camera.

The Detective 4.0 - 26DV4 The Deputy 2.0 - 26DF2

Turret Cameras - A subset of Dome Cameras that are as easy to install as Bullet Cameras

Traditional Glass Dome cameras are less than ideal for outdoor use as they have a tendency to trap moisture in the lens. Because you have to remove the outer glass dome to mount them, you can trap moisture and fog up the lens if you install them on a humid day. Most SCW "Dome" models are turret domes which are easier to install and less prone to these issues. Turret Cameras are dome-like in their body shape but don't require opening up their area where the electronics are located to mount them.

Most Turret Cameras can be mounted like a bullet. However, the odds are that you're going to put bullet cameras outdoors and turret cameras indoors.

According to a recent study by the University of North Carolina: 60% of burglars move on to a different target when they see security cameras. Outdoor cameras should be obvious, to deter crime, and indoor cameras should be low profile, to stay out of your way.

Question number 5: How are you going to record the cameras?


DVRs record Analog, AHD, CVI, TVI, or SDI cameras in standard definition and come in 4, 8, 16, and 32 channel versions.

Although some DVRs can record multiple types of BNC standards (Analog, AHD, CVI, TVI, or SDI), most cannot.

DVRs connect via BNC Siamese cable (both a coax video cable and a power cable wrapped in one plastic coating).


NVRs record IP cameras in HD and come in 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, and 128 channel versions.

NVRs connect via Cat5 Networking cable which both powers the cameras and transmits the video.

When you use an SCW NVR, the cameras plugged into the back of our NVRs are not visible on your network. The only way to access the cameras is to connect to the NVR's subnetwork. This has several advantages: (1). Unlike PC Recording, when plugged into the back of the NVR, the camera's video feeds do not slow down your main computer network. (2). Since they are on a subnet, your cameras are not visible on your computer network or to outsiders. You can connect to the NVR remotely and log in and the use the NVR as a bridge to watch the cameras. (3). They self-heal - if they crash or lose power, they automatically start back up recording again because the recorder is the OS.

PC Based Recording

Although still used in some of the largest CCTV installations, Microsoft effectively killed PC recording when it released Windows XP's automatic updates feature (which has been present in nearly every version since then). Having your recorder reboot in the middle of the night is the worst case scenario for security. It just hasn't been worth it since then.*

pc recording

*If you really want to do PC recording, here's what you will need to do to get the same level of service our NVRs have. (1) Switch your hard drives - normal PC Hard Drives will overheat, you have to use Surveillance Grade Drives for 24/7 operation. (2) set up a VLAN and VPN (3) disable your Anti-virus Software. (4) disable Windows Update. (5) Write a startup script that starts the program on reboot, so that if you lose power, it starts recording again.

Cloud Based Recording

Some subscription based companies have started offering cloud video recording. They charge you monthly.

cloud recording

Cloud based recording only works if you have internet connection. If you lose internet, you lose video. This is its largest drawback. This makes cloud recording a great backup in case your NVR is stolen, but a poor primary recording method.

The other challenge for cloud recording is scale. Most cloud cameras are designed for single camera installation. 1080P video takes between 5Mbps to 2.5Mbps (this depends on how recently your camera company has updated their encoding version). The average internet upload speed in the US is under 5Mbps. This means that many people either can only do cloud recording for 1 or 2 cameras, or have to lower the resolution, frame rate, or restrict recording to events to be able to send the video to the cloud.

SCW solves this data limitation by our Snapshot feature which uploads a series of HD images to your own FTP location when certain criteria is met (like intrusion detection or if a camera cable is cut). This is free since it uses your server. SCW will also be launching an optional cloud backup service in late 2018/early 2019 if you really need off-site backup and don't have your own server.

Question number 6: What features do recorders have?

Features vary wildly across the industry. We can't speak for anyone else's devices, but here's what our DVRs and NVRs can do.

watch on

Email Alerts
Video Content Analysis : including Motion Detection, Line Crossing, Intrusion Detection, and Face Detection
Remote Footage Download
1 Click Firmware Update
Online Viewing through a Web Browser
USB Backup
VGA and 4K HDMI Out
Alarm integration (16 channel Admiral Pro units and larger)
Mac and Windows Desktop Apps for Multi-Site Monitoring
iPad, iPhone, and Android Apps

Question number 7: Who do you trust?

There's a lot of promises in this industry, that just don't line up with the facts. We've recently created a guide on the Top 13 most common swindles in the surveillance industry.

Exposing the Surveillance Industry Shortchange:

The Top 13 latest ways that sneaky marketing execs in the surveillance industry get you to throw your money away and get nothing for it.

Here's the advantages you get, by shopping with us.

No Risk Purchasing
30 Day Money Back Guarantee

Free Shipping
As long as you spend $250 or more,
We'll ship it to you free with UPS Ground

Free Viewing Software
View your system or multiple systems over the internet

SCW's Totally Free Support
100% Free. 100% of the time.

Industry Leading Warranties
3 years for all our Cameras and Recorders!

smartphone apps

iPhone and Android Apps
Watch over your assets from anywhere.

When you are ready to go shopping, use the navigation at the top of the page to find the type of product you need. You'll also find more great guides like this one, under the cameras, recorders, and systems drop downs.

Not sure what you need? Check out these sample floorplans.

Or ask us to build a custom system specifically for you: