One thing that tends to divide camera based security systems, and their users, is how the cameras are powered.
So what are the pros and cons of battery powered security cameras compared to those that need plugging in, are there situations where one makes sense over the other and are there any real pitfalls to look out for?
The majority of higher resolution IP type security cameras on the market today need to be plugged into mains power. In contrast there are some systems that give you the option of using battery powered cameras.
Let’s take a closer look at the features of both types of cameras
Mains powered security cameras
These generally run on DC electricity at lower voltage, normally 5, 12 or 48 Volts, and so come with a transformer. The most common transformer type is a wall plug, kind of like the ones that you may use to charge your smart phone.
Although cameras will come with a set length of cable attached to the transformer, cable extensions can be used, with one proviso. As the cameras use DC power, voltage drop can rapidly become a problem with the issue being worse at the lower voltages.
Assuming you are using extension cables with suitable thickness wire (thinner wire will have higher losses), then you should be able to extend 5V camera cables to 5 – 8m, 12V cameras cables to 30 – 50m, and 48V camera cables to 100m+.
Another option that almost all mains powered cameras have is to use “power over ethernet” or PoE. This can be particularly useful for outdoor cameras, where your WiFi signal may be too weak to give a reliable data connection. You can run ethernet cable (Cat5 or Cat6) from your router to the camera, and also power the camera down the same cable.
Battery powered security cameras
Obviously these cameras take batteries, but the types of batteries they use can vary.
Regardless of the type of battery that a camera takes, you should have the option of using rechargeable batteries. Keep in mind that the rechargeable versions of batteries are often lower voltage than the non-rechargeable equivalent, resulting in the rechargeable batteries not lasting quite as long. It’s also worth noting that the manufacturers of some battery powered cameras don’t recommend using rechargeable batteries and using them can cause warranty issues.
Pros and cons of battery power
The obvious benefit of having a battery powered camera is that it is truly wireless, or what some may call ‘cable-free’. With batteries and a WiFi connection, you don’t need any cables running to the camera at all.
This lack of wires makes the cameras easier to place (you don’t need to have a power point near by), and you can change their location relatively simply.
This freedom from wires does have a downside though. The batteries will power the camera wherever you place it, but, particularly when it comes to outdoor cameras, your WiFi signal may not be good enough to give a solid data connection. Also, the weaker the WiFi signal, the more power the camera uses to maintain a connection.
To get round this, battery powered cameras tend to use a motion detection system, where the camera only turns on and collects footage when a built-in sensor detects movement.
Also, it’s not possible to do continuous footage recording with video security systems that rely on battery powered cameras. With battery powered cameras that use motion sensors to turn the camera recording on and off, they may do approximately 5 minutes or so of recording per day. So let’s say that a battery lasts between 2 to 5 months in a camera, which seems to be what most users find depending on make and model of camera, this means you’d only get the equivalent of 5 to 13 hours of continuous recording. Certainly not enough if you are in a residential or business setting where you want alert footage and continuously stored CCTV footage.