The Best Outdoor Security Cameras
How We Reviewed the Best Outdoor Security Cameras
37 Home security cameras considered
6 Outdoor security cameras tested in 2019
3 Top picks
We’ve spent many, many hours researching and testing home security cameras to bring you all the information on what will work as reliable sets of eyes on your home. Taking stock of technical specifications — like two-way talk, 1080p, weather durability ratings, as well as features like — interoperability with other third-party devices and ease of use, we can confidently say our top picks deliver.
The Best Outdoor Security Cameras: Summed Up
|Arlo Pro 2|
How we chose the best outdoor security cameras
We applied the same key criteria we used to evaluate home security cameras in general: clear imaging with 1080p resolution, wide visibility ranges (around 130 degrees), mobile alerts, night vision, motion detection, two-way audio, ample room for third-party integrations, and secure encryption methods. It’s true — your web-connected security cameras can be hacked, but reputable companies (like our top picks) are typically always updating software and security measures to keep your data from ending up in the wrong hands.
There is one key factor we homed in on in the tech spec department that we didn’t have the bandwidth to elaborate on before: strong weather ratings. An outdoor camera should be able to withstand extreme temperatures and elements. To make sure these cameras would be fit for anyone, in any part of the world, we turned to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association’s (NEMA) standards for outdoor electrical equipment enclosures and looked for solid ratings (for example, at or above IP-65). Generally, this means the product was tested and withstood a good amount of water and dust intrusion to a certain degree.
Overall usability and interoperability
Not only did we test for installation ease, we also took special note of how the cameras worked with our wireless connection and functioned with the mobile app. We checked to see how long the live feeds buffered (if at all), and made sure the motion detection ranges lived up to their marketing claims. A camera with clear imaging isn’t enough — it has to be user-friendly and customizable, so that you don’t receive notifications every time your pet graces the motion sensor. The customizability shouldn’t cause you to sacrifice a sense of security, either — it’s a fine line, and we dug in to see which cameras straddled it best.
One of the quickest ways to know whether certain devices will be easily integrated into your smart home is to check the wireless protocols it uses. For this reason, we looked for products that could be connected to various smart home devices for automation potential. Mitchell Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance said that Z-Wave in particular allows devices to expand and communicate outside the home:
“For example, customers could configure their Z-Wave-based smart home to turn on the outdoor lights when the sun goes down or set a geofence rule that turns them off when you pull into your driveway so you never come home to a dark house. Understanding the protocol within your devices can help customers combine their outdoor tech with the solutions in their home for a more complete experience,” Klein said, in a statement to Reviews.com.
Home security integrations
It’s also worth investigating how the security camera other home security system devices. For example, even the most advanced — like the Google Nest IQ Outdoor with facial recognition — can’t trip an alarm if it doesn’t recognize someone or scans for a “burglar.” Right now, this technology is left for you to manage: While Google Nest will let you know it doesn’t recognize someone, it’ll be up to you to act. Because of this, we made sure the notifications could be customized, useful (read: not too stress-inducing), and that the camera itself didn’t unwittingly ask you if your spouse was a stranger after clarifying on several occasions. Granted, for the first few weeks, this will happen, as the algorithm needs to learn all of the different faces coming and going.
Facial recognition aside, it’s important for your security camera to have room for integrations, as abode CEO Chris Carney told us via email.
"Outdoor rated security cameras and lighting solutions are excellent additions to your home but to be most effective, they should be tied back to your home security system."
CEO and co-founder of abode home security
Carney said that some products that send you notifications as to someone lurking outside your home still require action on your part. But when part of a home security system, these insights can be used for more immediate action.
“When integrated with a full home security system like those offered by abode, you can leverage the information collected by those external sensors to have your home react to a potential threat by making sure the garage door is closed and all doors or windows are shut.”
Our top picks either come with internal sirens or can be used with an existing home security system to provide your home with robust protection — or at least the option to wield insights and use them to further protect your home when the time comes.
Another key element in an outdoor security camera is having options when it comes to cloud storage. One of the main reasons you may want an outdoor security camera is to produce evidence in the event someone steals a package from your driveway, front porch, or manages to break into your home. So, if you somehow forgot to pay a monthly cloud storage fee or simply didn’t want to pay at all, what kind of buffer does the company provide, and how long will it store any crucial footage during this time? These are just a few of the questions we asked, and some companies are certainly better than others in this area. But we made sure there was at least some window of opportunity to recoup footage without a bill.
The ability to store video clips is also important in alarm verification, as false alarms waste time and money. “98% of the [alarm] triggering is false, so you want to capture that 2%, and you want to make sure that 2% has a video to verify, and you can send that video to the emergency responders,” said Joe Liu, president and CEO of Home8. “And then you get this prioritized response — meaning that once you have evidence, they have to come out,” Liu said.
The 3 Best Outdoor Security Cameras
- Google Nest Cam Outdoor -
- Google Nest Cam IQ Outdoor -
Most Advanced Technology
- Arlo Pro 2 -
Google Nest Cam Outdoor
Why we chose it
Good for (Google Nest) home automation
The other advantage to a Google Nest system is that everything is neatly stored into and controlled via one app, including your Google Nest Thermostat, security system, video doorbell camera, smart lock, and any other Google Nest-powered products. This doesn’t mean your Outdoor Cam will trip a Google Nest Secure alarm if an intruder walks by its sensor, but it will send you snippets of exactly what happened when the alarm was triggered to your email. (Note: All Google Nest Cams do this if you have a Google Nest Secure system.) Because of this feature, it might also be worth considering coordinating the placement of door and window sensors with your cameras to better capture the root of any alarm triggers.
There are instances where you might have to operate your Google Nest Cams in a completely different app than the one you use for your home security system (like ADT, Frontpoint, Vivint, or Ring, to start). This can be a pain point or a non-issue, depending on what you can handle, but there are a few brands out there, including abode. that will let you integrate Google Nest Cams into their systems.
Like all Google Nest Cams, we were impressed with the image quality. All of our top picks offer 1080p high-resolution streaming, so we were able to see everything we needed without significant obstructions to clarity, even at night. In fact, this camera streams in the same quality as its IQ counterparts (the only strikingly different features are the IQ’s 4K zoom functioning and facial recognition capabilities). So if you’re looking for all of the basic features in an outdoor security camera, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Strong (yet flexible) design
This camera is extremely simple to install and only set us back a little over 15 minutes. You simply nail the base to an outdoor wall, and the camera stays put via magnetization. We’ll admit — we were a tad wary as to how well this would hold its own in a thunderstorm, but were surprised by the strength of the magnet. This design also gives you the flexibility to easily adjust the point of view.
The caveat, however, is that the magnetic design might make it slightly more vulnerable to tampering. Google Nest suggests concealing the power cable or drilling a hole through your wall to wire the camera to an indoor outlet, which, in turn, might help prevent someone from successfully yanking it off the base. (We didn’t go to these lengths, but it sounds promising.)
Points to consider
As mentioned in our security camera review, we had some connectivity issues with this one that forced us to reconnect to our WiFi a couple different times. This isn’t a major problem, but the camera would go offline for a couple hours, subsequently costing us precious time (and footage) while we tended to the rebooting.
Free cloud storage options
In order to save video footage, you’ll have to purchase a Google Nest Aware subscription (which is priced per camera). Without it, you only have three free hours of video storage — a pretty weak buffer when compared to some competitors’ offerings. Wyze, for example, gives you two full weeks of free video storage to download. If you don’t want to pay, the likelihood you’re able to capitalize on that three-hour window could be pretty slim or nonexistent (especially if you’re busy and can’t stare at the live feed 24/7).
Google Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
Why we chose it
If you’re looking for a top-of-the-line camera when it comes to technology, this is it. All Google Nest Cams offer “person alerts” with a Google Nest Aware subscription, which distinguish between animals (or the wind) and humans. This helps cut down on misleading alerts (and, perhaps, your blood pressure), but if you want to refine this functionality even further, the Google Nest IQ Cams use algorithms and 4K sensors to detect specific faces.
A snapshot of the Google Nest Cam IQ Outdoor’s picture quality from our tester’s backyard.
It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a feature that you can use at full will today. In fact, customers in Illinois will not have access to this feature at all. Earlier this year, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that users could sue companies that collect biometric data without explicit opt-in consent under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act. Check what your state requires in the biometric arena, and a good rule of thumb might be to always let people know the camera is scanning or learning their faces.
Responsive motion sensitivity
Our tester was impressed with how intelligently this camera responded to motion and cut down the spray of needless alerts every time the wind blew. Granted, the placement of this camera could have had something to do with the minimal amount of alerts (being in the backyard with presumably less activity than the front with people coming and going). We will say this coincides with Google Nest’s level of customizability offered when it comes to motion sensitivity — and the facial recognition even further refines the accuracy of the alerts. The Google Nest Aware subscription comes with a feature called Sightline (that might look like an overwhelming info-dump to some, although clearly not in our example below), but there is where you will find every recorded incident, even if you didn’t receive a notification. You can also set up a feature called “Activity Zones” that lets you pinpoint specific areas you want your camera to keep a close watch on.
The in-app view of Google Nest Sightline
The IQ Outdoor Cam requires some hardwiring, and it isn’t connected to the base through a magnet, virtually eliminating any opportunity for an intruder to (easily) dislodge it from the wall. However, this will require a decent amount of additional installation time, but if you’re concerned about the possibility of tampering, this might be a better fit for you than the Google Nest Cam Outdoor. (You can still adjust the point of view, but it is sturdier and a tad more difficult to manipulate than the Google Nest Cam Outdoor.)
Points to consider
We ultimately didn’t put this camera in our top picks for the best home security cameras, because we didn’t feel as though the added features really necessitated an extra $100 on the market right now. Especially when the Google Nest Cam Outdoor and Indoor stream at the same quality as their IQ counterparts. Then again, if you’re looking for cutting-edge technology, the IQ series will certainly provide.
Arlo Pro 2
Why we chose it
While our tester didn’t try these outside, the Arlo Pro cameras are built for both indoor and outdoor use, and the design doesn’t overtly lend itself to one function over the other. In fact, it upholds an IP65 rating, meaning it can withstand the rain, sun, heat, and cold temperatures. This versatility means you can place one inside near valuables and one outside in front of your driveway. The real advantage lies in the lack of wires — so if you want a camera that can be more easily concealed, this might be the one.
Cloud storage options
The Arlo cameras don’t save significant cloud storage buffers for a higher price tag. In fact, you can get up to seven days worth of free storage with these cameras — giving you plenty of time to recoup footage from an incident that occurred while you were at work for several hours and away from your phone.
The Arlo Pro 2 comes with a 100-decibel siren built into the base, and you can establish boundaries for events that trigger it and those that don’t. You can control this remotely (if you see something on the CVR recordings), or select a number of motion or sound settings for free and customize even further with an Arlo Smart plan. The motion sensitivity levels can be adjusted on a 100-point scale — our tester tried 80/100, and even her 10-pound dog’s head movements triggered an alert. The responsiveness is promising, but if it’s too much, you can always scale it back.
Points to consider
Technically speaking, the wire-free functionality isn’t all that free, as you still have to place the hub at least 300 feet away from your cameras. Depending on the size of your house, this could be a limitation.
Some features are saved for wire connections
it’s important to note that some of the more advanced features are reserved for indoor use with immediate access to an outlet. For example, you can only create specific “Activity Zones” if you plug the cameras into an outlet. These essentially help you narrow notifications to a specific area of interest, like a door or certain hallway. The three second “Look Back” feature is also only available for continuous recording (meaning you have to plug it into an AC power unit indoors). So if you opt to use this camera outside, you won’t have the luxury of knowing what happened three seconds before a triggered event.
Although the camera still offers 1080p, one complaint our tester expressed was the resolution on this camera, reporting a surprisingly “grainy” quality. But if you like Arlo and want a higher-quality camera (and also have the budget), the Arlo Ultra allows for 4K digital zooming, meaning you can zoom in on an event without sacrificing image quality or squinting through graininess. It also eliminates fisheye distortion, so you can get a more accurate representation of your home or yard.
Guide to Outdoor Security Cameras
How to find the right outdoor security camera for you
Think about the areas you want to monitor
Before diving into the outdoor security camera market, you first need to choose the areas you’d like to monitor. Considering the size of these areas is also important, as you may need additional cameras to cover any sneaky, dark hideaways, or areas that might be attractive to someone who might not want to be seen. This assessment also involves a careful calculation of your budget — you want to make sure you’re maximizing coverage at a cost that suits your lifestyle, especially if the company charges extra for monthly cloud storage.
Take stock of the home security system(s) you already use
The home security space can feel a tad disjointed at times, even though marketing terms like “compatible” and “plays well with” are thrown around to satisfy the growing interest in a cohesive smart home/ecosystem. If you’re someone who scoffs at the idea of using three or more different apps to control all of the gadgets in your home, the compatibility offerings for home security cameras should be an area of interest. One place to start the search is to make note of the wireless protocols your existing home security system uses and where your smart speaker allegiances lie.
If you’re starting from scratch, decide how automated you want your home to be and whether you want all of your gadgets to work in harmony. For example, if you have a smart thermostat, lock, or smoke detector, do you want to be able to monitor/control them from a home security app and link them to certain security automations (like unlocking the door when your smoke alarm goes off)?
Go with a product that makes you feel comfortable
By this we mean search for products that claim to dedicate efforts toward keeping your information as secure as possible, as anything connected to the internet is vulnerable to hacking. Headlines of hackers peering in on users via their security cameras have been a not-so-distant reality in 2019, but they also don’t represent the everyday, as long as you follow a set of best practices when it comes to internet use. The chances someone wants your data in particular are pretty unlikely, but we still recommend looking for companies that tout added security features, like two-factor authentication and secure encryption methods as your clips and information travel between the servers (or the cloud). Google Nest, for example, offers two-factor authentication for all of its devices, a feature that can potentially make it that much harder for a hacker to overtake your account.
However, there have been concerns raised by users that indicate Google Nest’s options for two-factor authentication aren’t strong enough (like phone and email) and still just as vulnerable to an attack. But Google — which has now absorbed Nest — has “centralized” on privacy and security in recent months, so changes within the Google Nest sphere are to be expected.
Outdoor Security Cameras FAQ
Where is the best place to put a security camera?
The choice is up to you and depends on what you expect to glean from a security camera. Generally, experts have told us that entryways, areas with high traffic, or known for holding valuables (like master bedrooms) are good places to start. If you have a long driveway or hidden back door, it might also be worth considering keeping eyes on these areas to keep track of who’s entering and exiting at all times.
Do cameras deter burglars?
It’s likely, especially if they’re presented as a package deal with a home security system. In fact, the presence of an alarm system in general might deter a burglar, according to one study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
How secure are outdoor security cameras?
Again, like anything connected to the internet, there’s a possibility that your information could be subjected to unwanted eyes. Security cameras have been of particular interest this year with all of the head-turning headlines about hackers communicating threatening information through the camera. In general, you’re relatively safe as long as you:
- Stick to established brands
- Update your password
- Update software
- Make sure your network is secure
- Use two-factor authentication