Top 10 Questions About Buying A Security Camera System

by Jennifer Spears – Security Systems Design Engineer

Rugged Cams

So you own a business or property…and you just got broken into…again!  The desire for security cameras has just gone from a want, to a necessity, in the time it took you to call the police, and they, (as nicely as possible) told you there is still NOTHING they can do for you.

At this point you are mad, scared or downright ready to throw in the towel. You probably feel like it is all up to you to prevent it from happening again.  You are ABSOLUTELY correct!  Unfortunately in this day and age crime is on the rise, and only security cameras can give you a 24/7 presence that criminals not only notice, but fear.

After making the decision to bite the bullet and get a surveillance camera system for your business, I bet you’ve done a search on the Internet hoping to find that one link that answers all your questions and tells you exactly what you need.  Yeah, good luck on that!  There is so much out there, and so many companies, good and bad, that can offer security cameras to you.  It takes hours and hours to filter through it all and separate the need to know, from the not what you are looking for.

I have customers call in everyday overwhelmed with information and underwhelmed with the response they are getting from the companies they are calling.  Well, have no fear! I can very simply narrow down the questions you have and help point you in the right direction.

Without further adieu – Here are the Top 10 Questions I am asked on a daily basis for what a business needs in reference to security cameras.

Question # 10.  How far and wide of an area will the security cameras see?

Answer  – How far a camera will see is based off of truly one thing – how big your lens is, and in this case size really does matter!  The larger the number the farther away you’ll be able to see.  So for example – if you have one of our Blaze cameras with a 3.6mm lens the area of sharpest focus is around 12’ away from the camera (this is also true of our low profile fixed lens Indoor Infrared Camera, the SlimPro-IR ).  But if you have a Fortress-700 camera with a 6-50mm lens, then the focus moves to around 75’-100′ away from the surveillance camera when the lens is zoomed all the way.

Now, how wide a security system camera will see is based off of two things – The image sensor and more importantly the lens.  The two most common image sensors are 1/4” and 1/3”.  The larger the number the better. It will let more light into the picture and give you a slightly wider angle of view.  The lens has a bigger impact on the angle of your cameras though.  As in our example in #10, a 3.6mm lens will see almost 80 degrees wide, if you put it in the corner of a room you’ll see pretty much the entire room.  Now a 50mm lens will only be around 5 degrees wide.  Think of it this way, if you zoom in with a camcorder you can see farther away but your scene gets narrower.  It’s the same scenario for security cameras.  A lot of people also want to know if there is a camera out there that can see perfectly clear at 5’ and at 200’ at the same time.  No there is not.  Pan-Tilt-Zoom Cameras (PTZ’s), such as our LongRanger, can zoom in and refocus electronically, but it is still one focal distance at a time.

Question # 9.  Do I need an infrared security camera?

Answer  – If your surveillance camera is inside, it depends on whether or not you want to be able to see at night, and if you routinely leave any lights on after you close.  Some facilities are like Fort Knox when it comes to outside security and you have to have Presidential clearance to get inside.  The security cameras inside are only used to watch employees or processes, and after hours surveillance isn’t needed at all.  In this case a regular hi-resolution color 550ICM security camera is perfect.  No point in paying for something you don’t need.

For outdoor security cameras, infrared is great.  Infrared LEDs can illuminate an area on its own with no other light source.  So if you have a surveillance camera with LEDs, like our TruBeam, then even in a pitch black parking lot or alleyway you’ll still be able to see (Our newest Infrared Camera, the Black Night-700, is an even better choice for this).  The Black Night Camera lights up people and objects like a Christmas tree.  Most LEDs have a faint red glow to them, so yes people might be able to see them.  I always think this is preferred because it would be much easier if you deterred people from messing with your property, as opposed to filing a police report, locating, and then prosecuting them after they’ve done something bad.  Having lighting with your cameras is wonderful, but what happens if your power goes out?  See # 8.

Question # 8.  Do I need battery backup for my security camera system?

Answer – YES YOU DO!!  You want an Uninterruptible Power Supply with around 1000VA or more of battery backup.  You also want the ability to plug at least 2 things into the battery-backed outlets provided.  Those two items are your DVR and your camera power supply.  So if you have a power outage your security cameras will still get juice and your DVR will still be recording.  The higher the VA rating – the longer your unit will stay powered off the battery.  Also make sure you get an automatic reset UPS.  This means if the power is gone for long enough to completely exhaust the battery, and it dies too, you want the UPS to turn back on as soon as power is restored.  Most UPS’s have non battery powered outlets as well, but still give you surge protection.  This is very handy.  You want to keep your security monitor plugged into a surge protected outlet but you don’t want it draining your battery if the power goes out.  From our H.4 DVR all the way up to our Megapixel HD DVR’s – having a UPS is normally a requirement for a valid DVR warranty. Besides, it’s just smart to have.

Question # 7.  Do I need fixed lenses or varifocal on the surveillance cameras?

Answer – I get this one a lot, and honestly it depends on the security camera location and preference of the owner.  Incredi-bullets  (our latest 700 TV Lines camera) have fixed lenses that give you a very sharp picture, but no ability to adjust how the surveillance camera focuses.  You can normally point the camera in a different direction, if your hand is on the camera, but what you see through the security camera is what you get.  Many of our Cameras have lenses with a wide range of adjustment, such as our Sentry-700 Dome Camera and our indoor Low Pro ceiling mount cameras, all carry varifocal lenses that give you the ability to manually adjust the zoom and focus on the camera to get the view you need..  So not only can you move it with your hand to aim it at a different area, but you can also change how wide and far it sees.  This can be worth a lot if you are trying to cover wide areas far away, or you aren’t positive exactly what you need to focus on.

Question # 6.  Do I need fixed security cameras or PTZs (Pan Tilt Zoom Security Cameras)?

Answer – Well to start with I’ll explain both just so we’re on the same page.  Fixed security cameras in this instance are cameras that don’t move.  They may have a varifocal lens but they would still be manually adjusted.  You’re hands would have to be on the camera to adjust their view or zoom.  PTZ stands for Pan Tilt Zoom, and these security cameras are electronically controlled cameras that have additional wiring requirements because you can actually adjust them remotely.  The cameras require the same video and power, wire but they also need a twisted pair (Cat5 or Cat6) data wire run to them as well.  Either through a keyboard/joystick controller, your DVR or remote software; these cameras can actually be controlled.  You can adjust the direction the camera is pointing to, the tilt of the module itself as well as how the camera is zoomed and focused.  These surveillance cameras can be a godsend or a waste of money depending on where they are mounted and how they are used.

For most PTZ cameras, such as the Long Ranger, or our weatherproof, waterproof Night Ranger Infrared PTZ, you have preset locations you can save for each camera.  Starting at 8 presets and then up to hundreds depending on what you are using to control it.  Then you can have auto pans and tours and …I digress.  If you haven’t noticed already PTZs are complicated.  They are infinitely settable and difficult to configure for even the seasoned installer.  So if this is your first foray into cameras I would stick with fixed until you are comfortable with your equipment.

PTZ cameras are great and awful for the same reason.  They move.  If you are sitting at your house and manipulating your PTZ security camera through your central monitoring software (CMS) and you leave it looking at your dumpster, and then walk away…what happens when somebody comes screaming around a corner and plows right into your brand new $8000 lighted LED sign. So it’s a good idea to purchase a PTZ surveillance camera that can return automatically to it’s programmed home position after a preset dwell time.  And before you ask – no you can’t turn the camera back after it has been recorded and see what you missed.  Your DVR will only record what your security camera is looking at.  So you can miss things because your PTZ can’t be looking at everything all the time.  On the flip side of that scenario, PTZs can be used to capture supremely important footage.  Say you are sitting at your house again looking around your property. You are about to turn it off and go to bed when you see that same person screaming around the corner.  You turn your PTZ camera around and zoom in to get the plate before they drive away.  The PTZ probably just paid for itself.

One other thing to remember if you buy a PTZ security camera and then leave it sitting in its home position all the time – you’ve just purchased a very expensive fixed security camera.  But if you use it to look around your property every time you log in to look at your cameras, or have it programmed to tour or scan, then a PTZ camera is the right choice.

Question # 5.  Can one surveillance camera work for every location?

Answer – Every property is different, and sometimes each camera location on one property might need a different style, or a different lens.  So if you found a company stating that they have one “end all, be all” security camera that will suit every environment and all customers, hang up the phone.  There is not a security camera out there that is right for everyone or every scenario.  That is why you got 8 bazillion entries when es to holdinyou searched for business security cameras.  Now pick up the phone again and call a company, like Rugged Cams, that offers custom quoting and design for each business they talk to.  They are worth their weight in gold when it comes to holding your hand through the entire process.  (Call Rugged Cams at  1-866-301-2288  and ask for Jennifer, the Author of this article)  Our Hours are M-F 8am to 6pm Central Time (we close 1 hour early on Fridays)

Question # 4.  Can I go with a wireless security camera?

Answer – Honestly…probably not.  Most wireless security cameras are made for outdoor use and line of sight.  Meaning the transmitter antenna and receiver antenna must be outside of all structures and be able to physically see each other.  The signal will not go through walls very well, and trees swaying in the breeze will cause constant problems. So, if you have anything in the way, then you will either get no picture, or unstable reception.  Power lines and cell towers can kill your picture, as can motors and pumps in the vicinity.  Not to mention anything close to the same frequency band as the transmission.  Cell phones, cordless phones, vacuums, microwaves – you name it.  Don’t forget, you still have to hard wire all of the wireless equipment to power.  The only thing you’re making wireless is the video, so normally if you have to run power wire, you might as well run video cabling along with it. Save yourself some money, and get much better quality video with a hard-wired connection.

Question # 3.  When you say a surveillance camera is focused 10’ away from the camera does that mean I can’t see anything past that?

Answer – No. That means the “Sweet spot” of the security camera is around 10’ away from that particular camera.  Where ever a camera is focused, you’ll be able to see to infinity past that point, but it will get increasingly out of focus the farther away you get from that point.

Question # 2.  Can I get license plates with a security camera?

Answer – That is a loaded question.  Sometimes the answer is a resounding yes, and sometimes no matter how much you want them, you just can’t capture them reliably.  License plates are one of the hardest things to ask a surveillance camera to see.  If you have an area that is around 12’ wide, where all of your vehicles have to filter through, and you can place a TagShot III License Plate Capture Camera within 25’ of the tag, and no more than 30 degrees off center from the plate – then you will get most plates day and night.

But if you have open access to your property that is 4 lanes wide, and customers can come in and out as they please, it will take several security cameras.  Also, if you are 150’ away from the point you want to get plates you’ll be more apt to get struck by lightning than actually capture a plate with even the best License Plate Capture Camera available.

So this one really comes down to working with a company that knows their products, and can explain to you what can be expected in a real life scenario – not just on paper.

And the # 1 question is…

How much will security cameras cost?

Answer – Fixed Indoor Security Cameras normally start at around $59 for a 550ICM and go up to $179 for a Low Pro dome.  Fixed Outdoor Security Cameras like the Incredibullet start at $99 and go up to $300 or so for the top-of-the-line Fortress-700 camera.  PTZ cameras can vary widely from $400 for a simple indoor PTZ camera, up to several thousand for our Night Chaser series cameras.  You can sometimes get all of these kinds of security cameras cheaper but that truly isn’t all you need to be concerned with.  I tell my customers all the time, don’t go down to Costco or Sam’s Club and buy a cheap observation system, because you will get what you pay for.  If you found a 4 camera security system for $200, Congratulations – you’ve just bought a system that will be a very expensive paper weight in mere months.  And that’s if you can get it working to start with, because tech support is non-existent with those security systems.  Getting it on the internet to view it remotely is a pipe dream if you don’t have an IT person on staff Monday through Friday, or a 12 year old nephew with a degree in networking.  So choose a company that provides assistance with getting your security camera system accessible on the network and/or the internet.  Rugged Cams offers unlimited technical support for the life of your equipment.  That is highly valuable to have.

So cost is what everyone is most concerned with, and rightly so.  Just keep in mind – when you get robbed again and the police are there to review your footage, you’ll want to be able to pull up and playback footage easily, so a quick reference guide is what is needed.  That will allow you, in just a few seconds, to see John Doe stealing the set of rims you had parked on a pallet out back.  What you don’t want, is to be on hold for an hour waiting for tech support from someone in India.  Then when you’re lucky enough to stumble on the right footage, the wrong security camera choices you made will make it impossible to tell if you’re looking for a pair of white guys, both around 6’2” and 200 lbs, or a 85 year old grandmother with her dog named Pixie.

These days without good quality surveillance cameras and video proof of the crime, and footage of vandals doing the deed you get nada from your local police department.  So let your security camera system do the work for you.

Remember to do your homework! Find a reputable company that’s been around for more than a few months. Make sure they give you a good warranty, and above all else, provides TECH SUPPORT / TECH SUPPORT / TECH SUPPORT!  The right company will make all the difference.  Remember you want to do this right the first time, and be happy with your new system.  It’s supposed to be an asset – not asinine!

Jennifer Spears is a Security Systems Design Engineer at Rugged Cams, a manufacturer of security cameras and DVR’s for businesses since 1993. (This our 20th Year Manufacturing The Best Security Cameras and Systems on the Planet!)

1-866-301-2288  (don’t forget to ask for Jennifer)