Security Cameras: How Do They Work?

Security Cameras How Do They Work?

Concerns about safety can be extremely worrisome. Using traditional locks on doors and windows to safeguard your property, yourself and your loved ones can feel like a small measure in some situations, especially in high-crime areas, or for the elderly or vulnerable. While nothing is 100% effective, security cameras can offer some additional safeguards to safety around the home or workplace.

There are a range of options in terms of camera size and surveillance quality, but what they all do is provide a video image of what is happening where the camera is pointed. Technology surrounding camera capabilities is rapidly evolving, even allowing for remote viewing and control through mobile devices in some cases.

When considering using a security camera, it’s beneficial to consider exactly how they work, what you want to capture, and what types of cameras and features are readily available.

Wired vs. wireless

Cameras are either wired or wireless, and have different capabilities based upon their recording capacities. You should consider which type of camera you need based upon the particular set up you will be using and how visible you prefer that they be; even the presence of cameras have been shown to be a deterrent to break-ins, vandalism and other criminal activity.

Wired cameras can be complicated to install, but they have higher quality recording as they don’t rely upon competing signals in the air. Analog cameras are directly connected to a digital video recorder using transmission cables that then save the video to a hard drive. In this system, the DVR is responsible for conversion, storage and streaming of video, as well as motion detection and notifications. This is the most common type of camera, and typically less expensive because the DVR is responsible for the “work.”

Wireless technology is growing by leaps and bounds and is certainly the way the industry is moving. Wireless security cameras are electronically less complicated as they include a built-in transmitter to send video as opposed to a wire, but have to compete with internet and other devices in the area. While wireless cameras work via radio signals, they still need to be plugged in to a power source (electric or battery) to operate, but don’t have unsightly cables and connectors to conceal. The radio transmission is picked up by a receiver, which is then connected to either a monitor or recording device, or a combination of the two.

Obviously, any camera is susceptible to tampering by those who want to evade detection, but wireless cameras have the advantage of no wires that can be cut or disconnected. However, wireless cameras can be more vulnerable to interference from weather conditions and other devices. Any internet-enabled camera is also subject to being compromised by hackers.

Some systems use IP, or “internet protocol” cameras. These are wireless surveillance cameras that contain web server applications allowing you to access them from smartphones, laptops or computers. They differ from analog systems in that the camera itself is the DVR, so each camera can also compress video and digitize images to stream over a local area network (LAN) or the internet. The benefit of an IP camera is that it’s easy to add additional cameras to the network, but they require a huge amount of bandwidth and storage, and are more expensive to employ.

Indoor security cameras

Whether you are considering installing a camera inside a workplace or your home, the first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with federal and state laws governing cameras in your area. Laws will vary depending upon whether or not the camera is concealed or visible, whom you are recording, and what you plan to do with the recordings. Also, there is a distinction between visual and audio recordings in many states. It can’t be emphasized enough that you need to adhere to the letter of the law where surveillance is concerned.

In a public workplace, a surveillance camera can act as a deterrent to theft, ensure the safety of workers and fair treatment of customers. Cameras are usually located on ceilings or walls, and are connected to a central system that then sends footage back to a monitor. Unlike television that is broadcast, this closed-circuit (CCTV) system sends a closed signal to the monitor, allowing viewing by the connected equipment only. Typically these cameras have wide-range viewing in order to surveil an entire room, hallway, or office. VCRs can be connected to this type of system to record for future reference.

Hidden cameras can be used inside a home without the consent of visitors, but again, be sure to consult state laws and/or an attorney surrounding their use. In a workplace, there is not a firm set of laws governing the use of concealed cameras, but most employers elect to notify employees of the presence of cameras (which can act as a deterrent to illegal behavior by itself) both for legal and ethical reasons. Hidden devices can be concealed in a clock, fan, smoke detector, or other household item, and are overwhelmingly Wi-Fi devices because of their clandestine nature.

Types of cameras

Whether intended for personal or professional use, here are a few commonly used types of cameras:

  • Dome cameras can be used both indoors and outdoors, and are perfect for monitoring large areas because of their wide range
  • Infrared cameras are used when lighting is inadequate, and can produce clear images even at night. They can be used both indoors and outdoors
  • IP/Network cameras can be viewed from a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or other device, but are susceptible to interference and can be vulnerable to hackers
  • Hidden cameras became known as “nanny cams” because they are small, concealed cameras used to keep an eye on babysitters or caregivers when issues arise or abusive behavior is suspected
  • Dummy cameras are decoys that don’t record at all, but can act as a visual deterrent to potential criminals just by their presence.


Whatever your specific purpose, be certain to select the camera and system that will accomplish what you need it to do, and also, always be informed about the laws and expectations surrounding the use of security and surveillance cameras in order to best protect yourself and your property.



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