If you’ve been thinking about a surveillance camera system for your home or business, let our professional system designers take a look at your space and write up a risk-free quote.

You may know exactly what you want or just have a general idea. Either way, we can make recommendations, source products, install and support the system that’s right for you, start-to-finish.

Before we get started on designing a closed circuit television system for your home, business or property, here’s a few tips for figuring out what is right for your situation:

Assess Your Needs

Different businesses and homes have different needs for cameras. A credit union branch or casino will require a top-of-the-line CCTV system with dozens of high-resolution cameras while a nail salon or deli might only need one camera on the cash register and another on the front door. Some places will only need some dummy cameras, and a “protected by” sign. Even before getting a quotation, it’s important to ask questions like “What do I need from my CCTV system?” and “How will I be using it most?” Is this to help aid in the identification and prosecution of thieves? Is it to stand watch over areas with valuable equipment? Is it to check on your home when you’re away using a phone or tablet?

There may be some things that you absolutely cannot compromise. These are the reasons you’re actually buying the system, and anything else is secondary. For instance, you want to be able to see your front door camera on your TV when you hear the doorbell or you need to clearly see the denominations of bills at your point-of-sale. There may be other features that you’d like, but find out that they add more cost to the system than you were hoping to spend. License plate numbers can be immensely useful as evidence, but a single camera capable of that can cost as much as the rest of the system in most residences.

So how do you plan on using your system?

Once you understand your needs and budget, as well as the capabilities and limitations of camera technology, you’re well on your way to getting the most out of CCTV and you’re ready for the design phase.

Pinpoint Ideal Camera Positions

The worst time to find out your cameras system isn’t all it’s cracked up to be is when something bad happens. Law enforcement hard drives are full of grainy footage of crimes happening on poorly-designed camera systems and feature a lot of backs and tops of heads of distant people. A wide-angle shot of a crime happening right in front of a camera is often useless for investigation and prosecution, while a tight shot of someone hopping a gate where their face is visible for less than a second might be the key to the case. It is important to survey likely points of entry and other places where tight, detailed shots can be set up.

Choose the Right Cameras and Lenses

How do you figure the right camera and lens for the job? Many people purchase a DIY bundle from Costco or Fry’s. These kits generally have four cameras, all with the same wide lens. Wide lenses are good for getting a general overview of a situation, for instance recording a large area of a parking lot or lawn. Unfortunately, if the camera can see hundreds of square yards, dozens of cars, crowds of people, etc. it will not show much detail. These wide views are actually very useful for monitoring, for instance a full-time security guard watching a live view can see all sides of a building and watch multiple areas at once. Unfortunately, most camera systems are not being watched in real time by a person who can react to situations happening on camera. Recordings with wide lenses are largely useless for identification and facial recognition, because they do not give a clear image of the person (or vehicle) and will not be of much help in court.

Verifocal lenses allow cameras to focus on choke-points and other places where faces, tattoos, clothing logos and other identifying features can be recorded, and they allow for complete control of the compromise between viewing a lot of space and viewing a lot of detail.

Higher resolution cameras, such as HD-SDI cameras and IP cameras with resolutions above 1 megapixel are a good way to help with the compromise of showing large areas vs. capturing fine detail. Areas of the image can be zoomed in on for clarity, both in the live view and when looking at recordings. Higher resolution video signals contain more data than lower resolutions and because of this, more hard drive space is required to capture the same duration of video.

Each camera must be considered carefully and a specialized camera may be recommended for certain spots. A wide-dynamic-range camera is good for areas with both dark shadows and bright lights or shots with backlit subjects (Imagine someone walking through a door in a dim office with a bright, sunny day behind him.)  Invisible IR is great for night viewing indoors, but outside the IR light can get lost in the night leaving dark areas around the edges of a scene, so a low-lux camera may be recommended for certain outdoor situations.

Pan-Tilt-Zoom (or PTZ) cameras allow control of where the camera is actually pointing. The camera can move up and down, as well as left and right, often in a complete circle or some fraction of a circle, and can zoom in for tight shots. Generally, these cameras are most effective for live surveillance, but a PTZ can be programmed to visually patrol a large area over and over, which allows one camera to do the job of several. Some higher-end PTZ cameras have image processing built in and can use an on-board computer to search for motion then continue to track the moving objects it finds.

One of the most difficult applications for modern surveillance cameras is capturing license plates. It requires a camera with a powerful lens being in exactly the right place, pointing at a very precise angle and even then, it takes a special high-speed camera if you’re looking at moving cars. Not everyone needs this sort of capability in their CCTV system, but if you do, our experts can help.

Choose the Right Recording Equipment.

Days or even weeks might pass before someone realizes they need to view a recording. Important video might already be gone by the time someone realizes they need to go back and view it if the hard drive is too small.

Some important questions to ask when choosing a hard drive for a CCTV system are “How much hard drive can I afford?” and “How much hard drive space is the DVR capable of having?”, but the most important is “How far back do I need to be able to access recordings?”

Most DVRs can be set to only record when there is motion so, for instance, a store that is open 12 hours a day will record video when the store is busy and full of people during the day, but at night when no one is moving in the store, the video is not being recorded to the drive (unless someone or something is there moving around.) In this situation, the recording capacity is effectively doubled. If you estimate what percentage of the time there will be moving objects in the view of the cameras, you’ll be able to estimate how many days, weeks or even months of video the DVR will be able to store. As a side effect, motion-recording makes playback and search much easier and faster. If you know something happened on camera 3 between the hours of 9pm last night and 7am this morning, even at the fastest playback speed, that might be 20 minutes of waiting for something to happen on screen. With motion-only recording, there’s much less video to sift through.

Even the most inexpensive recording equipment will have network capabilities and will be able to be accessed through a computer browser, smart phone or tablet. Depending on your situation, you may find that 99% of your interactions with your camera system is through a phone or tablet app, so choosing a DVR with a solid and intuitive app can be a good decision.

Talk to Experts

Many people have expectations of CCTV that formed from watching too much CSI: Miami Combine that with bargains on DIY surveillance kits, and one might be under the mistaken impression that this stuff is easy to do and the investigators in the video lab will have your theif caught in the time it takes to say “zoom and enhance”.  It can be a huge waste of money to get a system that is less than you need, just as it can be a waste to get more than you need. Will you be sure it’s installed right and will work when you need it to? Will the money you save make up for the time you spend?

Whether you just need the equipment to install yourself or want our team of experienced system designers, installers and integrators standing behind your system, give us a call.