Our Ultimate Guide to Understanding Camera Systems

Our Ultimate Guide to Understanding Camera Systems

We’ve compiled a guide for beginners to help navigate the world of security cameras.

Understanding Camera Systems

A properly designed and installed camera system can go beyond security; it can help optimize operations and safety. With an array of camera types, models, and camera analytics available on the market today, the applications are endless. That’s why we’ve compiled this guide to understanding camera systems.

A camera system is one of the best security measures available for homes and businesses. You can see what is happening at your property in real-time. Furthermore, you can pull up archived footage to view past events. Because you can visually verify incidents, camera systems help reduce false alarms. In addition, they are a proven deterrent to burglars.

A camera system, also referred to as a video surveillance system, is generally comprised of four parts:

  • Video Cameras
  • Connections to Transmit the Video
  • A Means to Store the Video
  • A Way to View the Video

Overview of Video Cameras for Surveillance Systems

There is a huge variety of manufacturers, models, and features available for cameras used in video surveillance systems. Because the variety is so extensive, we are only going to give a brief overview of popular options: 1) Recording Method, 2) Housing, 3) Lenses & Sensors, and 4) Analytics.

Camera Recording Method

There are two common recording methods – analog and digital (also known as IP or network).

IP cameras record digital video. The digital video is then transferred via a computer network to your preferred storage method, such as to the cloud or an NVR (network video recorder).

Analog cameras record images and send them via coax cable to a DVR (digital video recorder). Then, the DVR converts the analog images to digital. Finally, the DVR compresses the digital file to maximize storage capacity on a hard drive.

Analog cameras typically have basic features and have limited applications. Digital cameras generally have greater functionality. Because of their recording method, IP cameras have superior picture quality when compared to analog. Moreover, they can capture clear footage at much greater distances than analog.

Camera Housing

There are typically three environmental ratings for surveillance camera housings: indoor, outdoor, or hazardous.

Indoor-Rated Camera Housing

Indoor cameras are best suited for stable, temperate atmospheres like that of most building interiors. Therefore, you should not place indoor-rated cameras outside.

Outdoor-Rated Camera Housing

On the other hand, outdoor cameras can withstand drastic changes in temperature and precipitation. Their features prevent cracking and moisture damage. Some even come equipped with a shaking feature; the camera physically shakes off water droplets from the housing, giving a clearer view. While they may be used indoors, exterior cameras are not cost-efficient for this purpose because they generally cost more than indoor cameras.

Hazardous-Rated Camera Housing

Hazardous cameras are tough and can endure the most extreme temperatures. They can be placed in hostile environments both indoors or outdoors. There are even explosion-protected cameras whose robust housings are rated for combustible areas. Hazardous-rated camera housings are the most expensive of the three types due to their durability.

Surveillance cameras come in all sorts of sizes and shapes. Here is a brief list of the most common housing shapes and their functions:

Camera Housing Style Camera Housing Function
Box Camera Example Box Widely recognizable form of deterrence; Fixed position; Typically wall mount; Budget-friendly
Bullet Camera Example Bullet Multi-purpose with pleasing aesthetic; Fixed position; Typically wall mount; Cost-efficient
Dome Camera Example Dome Vandal-Resistant; Compact; Fixed position; Typically ceiling or pole mount
Modular Camera Example Modular Perfect for small or unique spaces; Discreet; Fixed position that is easy to relocate and adjust; Can mount practically anywhere
Panoramic Camera Example Panoramic For 180° to 360° field-of-view; Larger size houses multiple sensors; Fixed position; Typically ceiling or pole mount
PTZ Camera Example Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) Manual remote control of direction, angle and zoom; Typically ceiling or pole mount
Positioning Camera Example Positioning Automatic control of zoom, angle and direction up to 360°; Typically wall or pole mount

Overwhelmed by camera options?

We’re here to help! Our experts are trained and certified on the ins and outs of camera systems. Let us design a customized system to fit your preferences, space, and budget.


Camera Lenses & Sensors

There is a wide variety of camera lenses and sensors from which to choose. In fact, there are too many to mention in this article. So, we will only cover some of the basics about lenses and sensors.

A video camera lens filters and focuses light before sending it to a digital sensor. The sensor converts the light waves into an image.

Focal Length

For video surveillance, the focal length of a lens is an important factor. Focal length determines the field of view (the area the camera sees) and the magnification (how large elements will appear). The longer the focal length, the narrower the angle of view and the higher the magnification.


The resolution of a camera refers to the quality and detail in the video image. Generally speaking, higher resolution equals greater detail and quality. Without the appropriate resolution, still images from video will become pixelated and lose detail when you zoom in. However, the correct resolution can capture details important for surveillance such as brand logos or license plate text.

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range refers to the contrast or levels of light in a video. Wide dynamic range (WDR) enables cameras to capture clear video with deep shadows and bright spots. WDR is especially important if the camera is located outside or indoors near a window or door.

Thermal Imaging

Thermal cameras capture images based on the heat radiating from people and objects. Therefore, they are not affected by darkness or poor visibility, like that caused by fog. These cameras only provide grayscale thermal images and are not suitable for capturing details for identification.

Infrared (IR) Illumination

Infrared (IR) illumination is a discreet way for cameras to capture video in the dark. IR cameras provide superior contrast and low noise levels in low to no light environments. In contrast to thermal cameras, IR cameras do capture detail perfectly for surveillance purposes.

Camera Analytics

Camera analytics is a technology that analyzes video. Based on a set of predefined parameters, the software automatically generates a description of what is happening in the video. Analytics can detect and respond automatically to help you quickly address problems. Adding analytics to a surveillance system transforms it into a tool for business optimization. It’s important to note that analytics are only available for IP cameras and do not work with analog.

There are many options available for analytics. Here are some of the most frequently requested analytics.

    • Facial Recognition
    • License Plate Recognition
    • People Counting
    • Line Crossing or Direction Detection
    • Perimeter Defense

Facial Recognition

Mobile Surveillance

Thermal Cameras

Camera System Connections

The type of connections used in a camera system can be based on preference, building type, and network availability. Hardwired camera systems use physical wires to connect equipment. Instead of wires, wireless camera systems use Wi-Fi networks to connect equipment.

Because wireless cameras do not have a hardwired connection, they must transmit data via Wi-Fi. In this sense, a system using wireless cameras is only as secure as the network on which it resides. That means that if a hacker can break into your Wi-Fi network, they can access your cameras and video footage.

Other Camera Features and Equipment


Video cameras can be equipped with audio. Audio options include one-way or two-way recording. With one-way, the camera records the audio of the video being captured. With two-way audio, you gain the ability to remotely speak through the camera to the audience being recorded.


There are several different ways to provide power to cameras. They include plug-in, battery, solar, and power-over-Ethernet (PoE).


A network switch connects multiple devices to the same network. It gives you the ability to control how those devices communicate. In addition, some switches provide power through PoE.


A bridge is a smart, electronic device that securely transmits video to the cloud.

Radar Detection

Radar technology uses electromagnetic waves to detect movement. It provides crucial information about detected objects that cameras can’t – exact position, speed and direction of movement.

Video Storage for Camera Systems

Video storage is an important aspect of a video surveillance system. There are three main types of storage: digital video recorder, network video recorder, and cloud.

Digital Video Recorder (DVR)

A digital video recorder is an electronic device that converts analog video to a digital format, then stores it on a local hard drive. As mentioned above, a DVR must be used with analog cameras. The amount of video a DVR can store is limited to the size of its hard drive.

Network Video Recorder (NVR)

A network video recorder is an electronic device that receives digital video over a network, then stores it on a local hard drive. An NVR can only be used with IP cameras. As with a DVR, the amount of video an NVR can store is limited to the size of its hard drive.

Cloud Storage

With cloud storage, video is uploaded via the internet to a remote data center with massive servers that physically store the data. Many cloud storage options for video surveillance offer redundancy, meaning the data is stored at multiple sites for added protection.

If you have many cameras or want to store a lot of video data, you can add a cloud-managed video recorder (CMVR). A CMVR receives and analyzes the video stream from cameras, then records it locally. It then transmits encrypted video to the cloud data center. Additionally, a CMVR provides buffering for bandwidth management.

Factors for Choosing a Video Storage Method


Because DVRs and NVRs only store video on-site, it is extremely important to make sure they are backed up regularly. If one of these units is damaged or stolen, you could lose all data stored on it. With DVRs and NVRs, you need to manually back up your data. With cloud storage, your data is automatically backed up for you.


When choosing a video storage method, it’s important to consider whether you may want to add cameras to the system later. The hard drives of DVRs and NVRs limit their scalability. You may need to upgrade your existing device or add more. Conversely, cloud storage gives you unlimited scalability that is quick and easy to implement.

Multiple Sites

Home and business owners with multiple buildings and/or locations may benefit from choosing the cloud storage method. Not only can it be easier to manage, but it may also prove more cost-effective than other options.

If opting for the DVR or NVR method, you will be required to have at least one unit at every site. These units will only be able to record video for their location.

Viewing the Video of Your Camera System

How you view your video is just as important as the cameras used to capture it. Whether you have just a few cameras or a large, multi-site surveillance system, we recommend using a video management system (VMS). A VMS is an interface that allows you to view live and archived video.

Top Benefits of a VMS
  • Access via mobile device or desktop
  • Receive push notifications of triggering events
  • Remotely manage all cameras at all locations
  • Quickly switch between camera feeds
  • Easily integrates with camera analytics
  • Control PTZ cameras
  • Allows for multiple users

Keep in mind that a VMS won’t work with analog cameras. With an analog system, you don’t have much of a choice in how you view your video. Because it isn’t connected to a network, you will need to have a direct connection of a computer with monitor(s).

Professional Help for Camera Systems

There really is so much to consider when choosing a video surveillance system for your home or business. Our experts can help make the process simple. Here at NWOSS, we offer free on-site consultations to discover your needs and budget. Also, we evaluate your site to determine the optimum camera type and placement. Then, we design a customized system just for you – cameras, connections, storage, and a means to view your video. Next, our certified technicians will install the system for you. Finally, we provide you with hands-on training of your new system. Furthermore, NWOSS has a top-rated Service Team that can offer technical support anytime you need it.

Contact us today to schedule a Free On-Site Consultation.

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