The first key choice to make when planning and installing a video surveillance system is choosing the type of camera that will best suit your needs.
While video surveillance cameras once provided grainy and nearly unusable footage, high definition and megapixel cameras have changed all that. HD cameras now provide businesses with a crystal-clear view of everything it is recording, and the size of the cameras, their viewing resolution and the ability to display a variety of viewpoints, including wide angles and narrow views, have all improved dramatically. This allows you to zoom in, after the fact or live, and see the face of the person visiting your location or even read the license plate on a vehicle in a parking lot.
When choosing a camera, even businesses with small footprints should consider options that are commercial-grade rather than purchase from a discount store. In other words, rather than buying cameras that are made for residential home use, opt for commercial-grade cameras that will stand up to extensive wear and tear from the elements. Commercial-grade cameras will be more expensive but will be built with higher grade components, include higher resolution capabilities, and may have additional options included for adjusting light and motion sensitivity features.
Additional thought needs to be given to those cameras installed on building exteriors or areas that have a lot of inherent dust, such as warehouses. The lighting outside your building, as well as the position of the sun rising and setting in relation to the camera positioning, should be considered when choosing your exterior cameras. Outside cameras, especially those intended to record 24/7, should have self-adjusting low-light and infrared capabilities.
For indoor cameras, size and appearance are considerations. While many business owners want to keep a low profile and keep their security system features from being obvious in appearance, FFL should actually benefit greatly by letting its visitors know that all activities are being recorded.
IP Cameras vs. Analog Cameras
There are two primary types of cameras that can be wired into a video surveillance system: internet protocol (IP) cameras and the traditional analog cameras. IP cameras are the more modern type, and while they tend to be a little more expensive, they offer a number of features analog cameras do not. There are also wireless IP cameras available that require little more than mounting, but those can be less secure than wired connections. (If you choose wireless, you’ll need to make sure the signal cannot be easily intercepted or hacked, and that might mean you seek a company specializing in such systems for installation). Resolution and frame rate are the key differences between IP and analog cameras:
- Resolution—IP cameras are far more powerful than analog cameras, usually shooting footage of between one megapixel and five megapixels. That makes for incredibly clear image quality compared to the grainier analog footage, which runs around a half-megapixel. IP cameras also generally have a larger field of view than analog cameras, which means they can “see” more activity and, thus, provide more recorded video from each camera. This is one of the most important considerations when selecting a camera. For a sharp image, you’ll want a camera that can shoot at least in 720p high definition, and that means an IP camera. If you want to guarantee that your camera will have a clear, identifiable image, you don’t want to cut corners here.
- Frame rate—Video is simply a series of still images stitched together to create a motion picture. The lower the frame rate, the less frequently a still is taken, resulting in choppier footage. For reference, “real time” is typically measured as 30 frames per second.
There are a number of camera designs available. Some of the more common ones are:
- Bullet cameras, which are the rectangular boxes you might see protruding from a wall on an arm
- Dome cameras, which are often attached to a ceiling and housed in a tinted cover
- Pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras, which offer adjustable fields of vision via remote control. Depending on your particular security needs, you’ll want to consider which types of cameras to use in outfitting your system.
In addition to these design types, cameras are also made specifically for either outdoor or indoor use. If you plan to use cameras outside, make sure you purchase models that are weatherproof. Otherwise, water or dirt can interfere with the quality of the video feeds or, worse yet, short-circuit the camera. Be sure to understand what level of protection from natural conditions your security camera offers.
Many security cameras are capable to shoot in what is known as “low-light infrared,” enabling them to capture clear footage in dark conditions. These cameras rely on infrared LED lighting to cover the camera’s field of view. Unlike humans, the camera can see this infrared light, so when those wavelengths reflect back, it’s as if the camera is shooting footage in an illuminated room. The more infrared LEDs a camera has, the better it can see at night. If capturing footage in the dark is a priority, such as in receiving docks or a dark sales floor, make sure your camera has plenty of IR LEDs. In the least, your cameras should all be able to auto-adjust to current lighting conditions. This means that the camera should have capabilities whereby the iris of the lens, or micro-chips that control light sensitivity, adjust accordingly to whether lights are on, dim, or are turned off. Similarly, backlight adjustments should automatically adjust with such events as sun shining unexpectedly through windows.
Audio recording in conjunction with video recording can be an option for some camera models. For those that do offer this capability, some can enable two-way audio, so that a person watching the camera on the other end can communicate with a subject in the camera’s field of vision.
Unlike analog cameras, IP cameras can provide video analytics, which allow for mobile notifications and automatic recording if there is movement within a camera’s field of vision. This is particularly useful for times when your business is closed and you want to know if someone is moving around inside the premises after hours. You can configure the system to highlight events such as that and send notifications directly to your smartphone, along with recorded footage of the event. Additionally, many systems allow for alarming triggers, which can send a signal to your burglar alarm system. Some systems also offer a direct, one-touch connection to local law enforcement.
That concludes my explanation of today’s security camera features. In my next article on this subject, I’ll discuss DVR and NVR recording technologies available today.
Do you have questions about your current security system setup? Contact Patrick Shay at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the NSSF Retail Security website. Remember, too, that NSSF has a company it works with that provides discounts on security camera and burglary alarm systems to NSSF Members. To learn more, log in the Members-only side of www.nssf.org and view your available Affinity Member Benefit Partners.
John Bocker is an NSSF Security Consultant Team Member and the Managing Director at JB Group, LLC, based in Denver, Colorado. JB Group specializes in providing businesses with security, firearms, risk management and integrity advisement. Visit www.jbgroupco.com or call (720) 514-0609 for more information.