What type of cameras should I use?

Cameras are literally the eyes of a video surveillance system. Here are some tips for you to decide on camera type that suit your usage.

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Cameras are literally the eyes of a video surveillance system. Cameras should be deployed in critical areas to capture relevant video.

The two basic principles of camera deployment are (1) use chokepoints and (2) cover assets.

Chokepoints are areas where people or vehicles must pass to enter a certain area. Examples include doorways, hallways and driveways. Placing cameras at chokepoints is a very cost-effective way to document who entered a facility.

Assets are the specific objects or areas that need security. Examples of assets include physical objects such as safes and merchandise areas as well as areas where important activity occurs such as cash registers, parking spots or lobbies. What is defined as an asset is relative to the needs and priorities of your organization.

Once you determine what areas you want to cover, there are 4 camera characteristics to decide on:
  1. Fixed vs PTZ: A camera can be fixed to only look at one specific view or it can be movable through the use of panning, tilting and zooming (i.e., moving left and right, up and down, closer and farther away). Most cameras used in surveillance are fixed. PTZ cameras are generally used to cover wider fields of views and should generally be used only if you expect a monitor to actively use the cameras on a daily basis. A key reason fixed cameras are generally used is that they cost 5 -8 times less than PTZs.

  2. Color vs Infrared vs Thermal: In TV, a video can be color or black and white. In video surveillance today, the only time producing a black and white image makes sense is when lighting is very low (e.g., night time). In those conditions, infrared or thermal cameras produce black and white images. Infrared cameras require special lamps (infrared illuminators) that produce clear image in the dark (but are significantly more expensive than color cameras - often 2x to 3x more). Thermal cameras require no lighting but product only silhouettes of objects and are very expensive. In day time or lighted areas, color cameras are the obvious choice as the premium for color over black and white is trivial.

  3. Standard Definition vs. Megapixel: This choice is similar to that of TVs. Just like in the consumer market, historically everyone used standard definition cameras but now users are shifting into high definition cameras. While high definition TV maxes out at 2 Megapixel, surveillance cameras can provide ten megapixel or more. Nowadays, megapixel is becoming the standard resolution used in new projects.

  4. IP vs Analog: The largest trend in video surveillance today is the move from analog cameras to IP cameras. While all surveillance cameras are digitized to view and record on computers, only IP cameras digitize the video inside the camera. More importantly, IP supports megapixel while analog does not. This is rapidly driving the adoption of IP within the professional market.
Most organizations will mix and match a number of different camera types. For instance, an organization may use infrared fixed cameras around a perimeter with a PTZ overlooking the parking lot. On the inside, they may have a fixed megapixel camera covering the warehouse and a number of fixed IP cameras covering the entrance and hallways.
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