The Guide To Security Camera Types


Bullet, dome, covert, outdoor, varifocal and night vision are just some of the common types of security cameras. And, we haven't even discussed camera housing yet! Many security system DIY-ers lose so much on their investment due to choosing the same camera for every location, and ending up with little to no real security in the end. At GenX we are experts in camera selection and integration, but we feel the customer must still be educated on the equipment. So, please read on for a great comprehensive guide from electronichouse.com on security camera types and the housing they can require, then give GenX Security a call for a custom approach to selection, layout, installation and integration.


Selecting a security camera is simple, right? If you want a camera that follows people as they move, you want a pan/tilt/zoom or PTZ camera. Otherwise you want a fixed camera. Right?

Well, yes and no. PTZ and fixed cameras used to be the only types of surveillance cameras out there, but today it can get a lot more complicated. There’s a difference between the type of security camera and the type of housing or extra features you can add to it.

Types of Security Cameras:

  • Fixed

  • Pan/Tilt/Zoom (PTZ)

  • Virtual PTZ or 360-Degree

Types of Security Camera Housings:

  • Outdoor

  • Dome

  • Bullet

  • Discreet

Extra Features:

  • Resolution

  • Day/Night

  • Infrared

  • Varifocal

  • Remote Zoom

  • Auto-focus

  • Wireless

  • Thermal Imaging

I often say we’re in the “golden age of cameras.” Cameras are uniformly good at the basics, but by over-simplifying things you may not be making the best choice for your home.

This guide will outline some of the variations on those two themes, and suggest some enhancements that you might want to consider. The chart below shows some common, popular features of security cameras available among the three basic camera types:


Choosing the Right Security Camera

Fixed Camera

At the heart of the matter is the fixed camera. It is positioned to capture an image and can be optimized for the application with different housings and features as we’ll cover later.

With few moving parts, fixed cameras are inherently more reliable than PTZ cameras and they are always pointing in the intended direction.

PTZ Camera

PTZ cameras are revered for their ability to pan, tilt and zoom in on a subject as you control the movement remotely via an app. This is a specially designed fixed camera wrapped in a cocoon of motors and gears which allow an operator to remotely move it.

Higher end cameras may have a greater zoom range, with 32X being fairly common. A higher zoom range is helpful when you are covering a large area, but isn’t always necessary.

While a PTZ camera will follow a person or object through an area, they do have a few disadvantages. A PTZ camera may be set to automatically patrol an area, but they are oftentimes most effective when manually controlled.

Also, the greater the magnification being used, the smaller the area being covered, which means the camera my miss something important.

360-degree Camera

This has led to a third type of camera, the virtual PTZ or 360-degree camera. Comprising this camera are several high resolution fixed cameras in a single (usually dome) housing. The images are stitched together and you can zoom in after the fact, up to the limits of the cameras being used.

Because all of the images are being recorded, it can face in all directions and can be a great surveillance tool. The biggest challenge facing 360-degree camera acceptance is that they are often oversold as a universal solution. Few rooms allow an unobstructed field of view in all directions, so you are generally not utilizing the full field of view.

A standard fixed camera can easily be paired with a lens to give it a 120-degree to 140-degree view, and many rooms are better served with cameras in corners which only require a 90-degree field of view. Still, in the applications where this type of camera is needed, it can really shine.

Choosing the Right Housing

After selecting the type of camera, the next step is choosing a camera housing. With a PTZ camera you are pretty much limited to indoor or outdoor, as they are mostly dome cameras except for a limited number of specialty applications.

Outdoor Housing

Outdoor cameras will be more weather resistant and include heaters and blowers to allow for environmental variances.

Dome Housing

Dome housings are designed to conceal the orientation of the camera, with some doing a better job than others. When someone can’t tell which way the camera is pointing, they often assume it is pointing in all directions. So, a fixed dome camera covering a door at the end of a hallway is assumed to be covering the entire hallway—a good way to deter trespassers.

Bullet Housing

We’ll call the cameras that resemble a box on a post bullet cameras, named for the sleek cylindrical shape that many of them possess. This type of camera clearly show the direction of orientation and generally provide a better picture.

The front of the housing is close to the camera lens, which minimizes reflections and makes it easier to keep clean. They are a deterrent as well, although not as effective as housings that mask the orientation.

Discreet

Sometimes you want to hide the entire camera by using covert or discreet housings. These can be designed to look like something else (smoke detector, motion sensor) or nothing at all, with pinhole lenses or flush mount lenses mounted on a wall or ceiling.

These are not designed to be deterrents but are often preferred by architects seeking to achieve a certain aesthetic within a space.

All types of housings can be made to be vandal resistant, a step up from weather resistant. These types of housings (most commonly the dome type) are designed to withstand unfriendly environments while still providing a usable image.

Choosing the Right Features

Once you’ve selected the camera type and form factor, consider these features:

Resolution

The possibilities are varied, with resolution being the most common upsell. Resolution is measured in millions of pixels, or megapixels. The higher the resolution, the more space required to store the images, and the processing power needed to manipulate those images.

For perspective, an old analog camera is about 1/4 megapixel, your giant HDTV screen is a little over 2 megapixels, and the highest resolution projected image in your local movie theater is called 4K and has 8.8 megapixels.

Higher resolution cameras do not respond as well to low light situations as lower resolution cameras, so, it is possible to buy more resolution than you need and needlessly drive storage costs up and performance down.

Low Light Performance

Cameras with day/night capabilities switch into a different mode in low light situations, with various technologies allowing the camera to see in near total darkness.

Cameras with infrared illuminators provide their own light source, allowing better images in dark areas as well. As previously mentioned, be prepared to sacrifice some resolution to get better low light performance.

Special Lenses

While varifocal lenses have always been popular, allowing an installer to manually adjust the image magnification, many fixed cameras now come with remote zoom and focus. This allows the user to adjust the camera without physically going to the camera site

Advanced Options

Beyond features and functionality, there are other considerations such as wireless signal transition, ultra-high resolution, thermal imaging, explosion proof housings and more.

While the proliferation of available options can make the selection process more difficult, the good news is that no matter what your application is there’s likely the perfect tool for the job — for far less money than you might have thought possible just a few years ago.

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