Learn about Security Camera Picture Quality and What’s the Best for Your Home

Picture from a security camera with low lightingOne of the main complaints people have with home security cameras is poor picture quality. Most camera makers, however, promote their systems as having exceptional image quality. So what’s going on—are they lying to their consumers? Well, it’s not quite as simple as that. Oftentimes people haven’t set their cameras up correctly or they don’t position them in the right place. For more information about where to place your cameras, read the posts below:

  • 5 Places You Need Indoor Security Cameras
  • Don’t Make The Mistake Of Positioning Your Outdoor Security Cameras In The Wrong Place

There may also be a little sales hype in some of the cheaper systems that tend to over-promise and under-deliver. By that I mean they might say the image quality is high, but fail to add—for the price.

NOTE: You can jump to any part of this post by clicking the links in the table of contents

Table of Contents

  1. About Picture Quality
  2. Field of View
  3. It’s all about the Compromise
  4. Analog Surveillance Cameras Vs Digital
  5. The Conclusion

About Picture Quality

There are two basic things that have the most impact on image quality:

  1. Image resolution
  2. Frames per second

The resolution is simply the amount of pixels that complete the image. You will often see cameras promoted in megapixels. For the record, one megapixel is equal to one million pixels. Usually, the more pixels there are, the better the image quality is, but there can be other factors. A standard TV has a resolution of 480p. A full HD TV will be 1080p. There is a downside to razor sharp images for security cameras though, and that’s one of storage. With super sharp video, storage costs would be high, too high for most people’s requirements.

The second thing that impacts image quality is the number of frames per second or FPS. This relates to how many pictures the camera takes (records) per one second. In real time this number is 30fps. Anything over 30fps will not only cost more but also take up additional memory space and have a major impact on your bandwidth consumption. Needless to say that with security cameras, lower frame rates are sometimes favorable as it keeps video storage consumption lower.[1]

Field of View

Another consideration is the camera’s field of view or FOV, not to be confused with focal length. The field of view is the area the camera can see at any given time. A wider field of view means the camera sees more than with a narrower FOV. The drawback with a wide FOV is that details are not as clear because everything is further away. And the downside to a narrow field of view is that the camera lens captures less area, but what it does record has greater detail because everything is closer.[2]

It’s all about the Compromise

There are some reasonably priced, home security cameras but anyone who buys at the cheaper end will need to compromise. It’s not possible to get superb image quality for just a few bucks—the technology is just too expensive.

In general, the ideal home security camera setup will tick the following boxes:

  • Compact size
  • An acceptable frame rate
  • Decent resolution
  • Maximum coverage
  • Reasonable dynamic range for low light situations

The most important thing of all for your home security setup is cameras that produce images which are clear enough to recognize details. Most of the mid-range cameras will offer good, clear imagery in both night and day situations. Click the link to read about what we think are the top 3 outdoor home security cameras.

Analog Surveillance Cameras Vs Digital

We could pretty much sum this up by saying the image quality of any digital camera is superior to that of any analog system. I will go a little deeper though, just to clear up any misunderstandings between the two. Analog CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) technology was in fact the first video security camera systems to emerge. And yes, they are still around despite the advances in modern camera systems. They’re certainly a reliable and trusted technology despite the drawbacks.

Here are three of the main reasons why analog systems are still used:

  1. Super easy to install
  2. Cost-effective
  3. Dependable video surveillance

A digital video recorder (DVR) takes in the analog signals via coaxial cables (point-to-point), and then converts those analog signals to a digital signal. This data records to a physical hard drive. For now, all you really need to know about analog surveillance cameras is that they provide a poorer image quality compared to IP (internet Protocol) digital solutions. In fact, the best of the best analog home security cameras will still have an inferior image quality compared to the worst of any digital cameras. The closer you zoom in to the footage on an analog security camera, the grainier and blurrier it becomes. We measure the resolution of analog cameras by the quantity of horizontal TV lines. If you’re looking for a reasonable level of image detail, then analog CCTV systems are not for you.

The Conclusion

You cannot simply determine a cameras image quality only by its megapixels. Depending on your setup and needs, it’s possible that a standard VGA resolution is a better solution for you than megapixel and HDTV cameras. There is not a one camera fits all here. You need to consider the entire setup before you can make an informed decision.

The quality of your images also depends on where your cameras are located (indoors or outdoors), available lighting and your expectations. Maybe they point to some light sensitive areas, for example. My suggestion is to write down two lists, what you want from your indoor camera system and your outdoor camera system, where you want to place them (important), and what footage you expect them to record, etc.[3],[4]


  1. http://fitsmallbusiness.com/best-security-camera-reviews/
  2. http://paulbourke.net/miscellaneous/lens/
  3. http://www.slideshare.net/axiscommunications/g-10713949
  4. https://blog.cammy.com/where-to-place-security-cameras

About Mark Bickmore

Hi, my name is Mark Bickmore. I'm an Engineer, who has a keen interest in home security and keeping my family, property and valuables safe from burglars. This website was set up to help me explore the research, facts and myths about burglars and burglary. Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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