What’s the Difference Between Surveillance Cameras and Security Cameras?

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Perhaps you’re a business owner looking to install security cameras in your establishment. Or you’re a homeowner and you want to increase the security around your home. You may be wondering what’s the difference between surveillance cameras and security cameras.

People use both types for similar purposes, that is to monitor and record activity in a specific area. However, you should understand the few subtle differences between the two to help make an informed decision.

the difference between surveillance cameras and security cameras

The Difference Between Surveillance Cameras and Security Cameras

The terms surveillance and security are often used interchangeably when referring to camera systems. Both are very generic descriptions that imply nothing more than a typical security camera. Regardless of linguistic nuance, some people still consider there to be a difference between surveillance cameras and security cameras.

What is a Security Camera?

Most people imagine a security camera and probably think of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras. The term CCTV is most commonly associated with analog cameras. Low-voltage dc wiring similar to television cables is what generally powers analog cameras.

CCTV cameras work within a closed, wired network. The cameras are connected by cables to a recording device, usually a DVR or hard drive, and captured video is stored on the hard drive.

Most modern systems are connected via a digital connection. Digital systems most often connect using an ethernet cable, similar to what you use to connect a desktop computer to the internet.

The ethernet cable connects to a digital video recorder or a network switch, and the network switch connects to the video management server.

With added computing power, modern digital security cameras come with a slew of added capabilities, such as video analytics, motion detection, dropped items, picked-up items, and facial recognition.

What is a Surveillance Camera?

On the other hand, surveillance simply means close observation of a person or place for the purpose of information gathering. So any security camera can be used for surveillance, and any “surveillance” camera can be used as a security device.

Perhaps the most important distinction is that surveillance cameras are typically used by law enforcement and private investigators as tools to help with information for casework. Homeowners and businesses use security cameras to document activity on their properties and to prevent crime.

Another important difference is that security cameras are usually posted in plain sight to make people aware of the camera’s presence. Law enforcement often uses hidden or covert surveillance cameras to gather information without anyone else knowing the camera’s location.

Many cities have begun installing surveillance cameras on street corners and rooftops to prevent crime and document incidents occurring within city limits.

Types of Surveillance Cameras

There are many types of surveillance cameras, each with unique benefits and drawbacks.

Here are some of the most common types of surveillance cameras:

Bullet Cameras

outdoor bullet camera with IR night vision

Bullet cameras are one of the more popular types of surveillance cameras. They’re named for their long, cylindrical shape. Since they’re typically small enough to conceal, bullet cameras are most often used in covert surveillance operations.


-Easy to install

-Can be installed just about anywhere

-Relatively small size

-Good field of view



-Can be easily vandalized

-Not easily concealable

-Fixed angle, cannot be remotely controlled

Dome Cameras

dome cameras

Dome cameras are another popular type of surveillance camera. They get their name from their dome-like shape and are often used in both indoor and outdoor applications. Dome cameras are less likely to be vandalized than bullet cameras because they are more difficult to damage.


-Can be used indoors and outdoors


-Built-in IR/night vision

-Dome disguises the cameras angle to onlookers


-Limited field of view

-Difficult to install

-More expensive than bullet cameras

Covert Cameras

covert cameras

As the name implies, covert cameras are designed to be hidden from view. Many covert cameras can be disguised to look like normal commercial or house products to avoid being detected (i.e. garden rocks, light bulbs, fire alarms, electrical junction boxes, etc.)

This is a key advantage of covert cameras – they can monitor an area without ever being detected. This allows for a greater level of surveillance without alerting people to the camera’s presence.

Covert cameras can be used for both indoor and outdoor surveillance applications.


-Can be disguised as other objects

-Can be used indoors and outdoors

-Hidden from view


-Limited field of view

-Not good as a crime deterent (because they’re likely hidden from view)

-More expensive than bullet and dome cameras

Infrared Cameras

IR security camera with red indicator light

Infrared (IR) cameras are designed to capture images in low-light or no-light conditions. IR cameras use infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, to illuminate an area. This makes IR cameras ideal for night-time surveillance applications.


-Can be used in low-light or no-light conditions

-Easy installation

-Good image quality


-Can be difficult to use indoors (because of multiple reflective surfaces)

-IR cannot penetrate glass

-More expensive than other types of cameras

-Limited field of view

Thermal Cameras

thermal imaging camera

Thermal cameras are a type of infrared camera that detect and measure heat signatures, which is the infrared energy emitted by most things in nature. The thermal camera then turns this heat signature data into an electronic picture for you to view on a digital monitor.

Because thermal cameras don’t operate by detecting light waves, they can see in complete darkness and can even penetrate smoke, fog, and other obstacles.


-Can be used in complete darkness

-Can penetrate through smoke, fog, and other obstructions

-Works well in day and night

-Low maintenance compared to other camera types


-Higher sticker price than other types of cameras

-Cannot distinguish faces in the video

-Limited field of view

Pan-Tilt-Zoom (PTZ) Cameras

pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera

PTZ cameras are surveillance cameras that can be remotely controlled to pan (i.e. move left or right), tilt (i.e. move up or down), and zoom in or out. PTZ cameras are often used in large indoor or outdoor areas where a fixed camera would have a limited field of view.


-Good field of view

-Can be manually controlled

-Can cover large areas when actively monitored by humans

-Can be programable for patterned movement


-More expensive than other types of cameras

-Shorter life span than other cameras (becuase of many moving parts)

-Require more maintenance

-Can be ineffective when not monitored by humans

Types of security cameras

There are two distinct types of cameras for home security: indoor and outdoor. Within these categories, there are numerous subcategories of security cameras, such as wired and wireless, battery-powered and AC-powered, floodlight cameras, and doorbell cameras.

There are two distinct types of cable that can be used to connect security cameras: analog and IP (internet protocol). An analog camera records video and transmits it directly to a digital video recorder (DVR) through a coaxial cable.

IP cameras are all digital and send signals over ethernet cable to a network storage device, such as on a local server or in cloud storage. Most modern security systems use a hybrid system of both analogue and digital devices.

Analog Security Cameras

analog security camera

Analog cameras are the oldest and most basic type of surveillance camera. They work by sending an electrical signal through a coaxial cable to a monitor or recording device. Analog cameras are simple and easy to use, but they have several disadvantages.

The most significant drawback of analog cameras is that the picture quality is poor. In nearly all cases, video captured with an analog camera will be blurry or grainy. Additionally, analog cameras are limited in their resolution, meaning that they can only capture a certain amount of detail.

Another downside of analog cameras is that they are not very secure. Because the signal is sent through a physical cable, the signal is not encrypted and it can be intercepted and recorded by someone with the right equipment.


-Simple to use


-More durable with longer lifespan than digital


-Poor picture quality

-Limited resolution

-Limited number of cameras per system

-Require more hardware for installation

IP Security Cameras

ip cctv camera with IR

IP cameras are digital security cameras that send signals over a network instead of directly to a recording device. IP cameras have become increasingly popular because they offer a number of advantages over analog cameras.

The most significant advantage of IP cameras is that they have much higher resolutions than analog cameras. This means that IP cameras can capture more detail, and the image will be crystal clear even when zoomed-in. Additionally, because IP cameras are digital, they can be easily integrated with other digital devices and systems.

Another advantage of IP cameras is that they are much more secure than analog cameras. IP cameras use data encryption to protect the signal, making IP camera signals much more difficult to intercept and record than an analog signal.


-HIGH resolution

-Can be integrated with other digital devices

-Very secure

-System can handle many IP cameras


-More expensive than analog cameras

-Requires a network connection

-High bandwidth demand

-Can be difficult to set up

No matter what type of camera you choose, it’s important to use high quality cameras from a reputable brand. Additionally, you should make sure your cameras are properly installed and use secure data transfer.

How to Choose the Right Type of Camera for Your Needs

Your first step when choosing a security camera will be to decide what type of camera you need. Analog may be the right choice if all you need is a simple and easy to use camera. However, if you’re looking for a high-resolution and system security, IP cameras may be the better option.

Consider the Environment

The next step is to consider the environment in which you’ll be using your security camera. Weatherproof cameras are a good choice for outdoor use.

Condensation in humid conditions can damage your camera’s components. When using cameras in a wet or humid environment, make sure to choose a waterproof camera or one that is equiped with good seals and quick-drying technology.

Temperature also plays a part in your camera’s performance. Extreme cold or heat can damage your camera, so be sure to choose one that is rated for the temperature range in which you’ll be using it. You can also choose a camera with a wider temperature range to be on the safe side.

For indoor use, you’ll need to decide if you want wired or wireless cameras. Wired cameras are more secure, but they’re more compicated to install and require a physical connection to the recording device. Wireless cameras are less secure, but are much easier to install.

Additionally, proper lighting is perhaps one of the most important environmental factors that will dictate what type of cameras you install. If you’re using the camera in a low-light environment, make sure to choose a camera with good low-light performance. Thermal and IR cameras are great for low light and night time recording.

Consider Your Budget

Choose a camera that fits your budget, but also offers the features and performance you need.

Analog cameras are generally less expensive than IP cameras but are limited in performance and capabilities. Cost of installation is another important budget concern, since analog cameras require more hardware. On the other hand, IP cameras require network hardware and it maintenance, which may incur additional costs.

A DIY security camera system can save you a lot of money. These systems are typically less expensive than professionally installed ones, and you can customize the components to fit your needs. DIY systems are also relatively easy to install and maintain.

Consider the Features

Once you’ve decided on the type of camera you need, it’s time to choose the right features. The following are the most important basic features of a good security camera system: motion-activated recording, smartphone notifications, high-resolution pictures, night vision, and weather resistance (for outdoor cameras).

Other important coniderations include the camera’s field of view, system storage capacity, and video recording quality.

Field of view is important because it dictates how much area the camera can cover. A wider field of view means the camera can see more, but a wider field of view often comes with a larger, more obvious camera.

The system’s storage capacity is also critical since it will set how long data can be stored before it gets overwritten. A higher storage capacity means the system can store longer periods of video footage, but it also means the system will be more expensive.

Finally, video recording quality is important to consider because it will set how clear and sharp the footage will be. Higher quality video means better evidence in the event of an incident, but it also requires more storage space.


Security cameras are an important part of any security system. There’s not much the difference between surveillance cameras and security cameras, but you should still understand that some people think of them as distinct.

They come in a variety of types, including indoor and outdoor, analog and ip. To choose the right camera for your needs, consider the type of environment in which the camera will be used, the features you need, and your budget.

With the right camera, you can keep an eye on your property and deter criminals.


What is difference between NVR and DVR?

NVR stands for Network Video Recorder and DVR stands for Digital Video Recorder. The main difference between the two is that NVR records video footage to a hard drive over a network, while DVR records footage to a hard drive connected directly to the recorder.

What is the difference between surveillance and security?

Surveillance cameras are typically used to monitor an area for criminal activity or to collect evidence after an incident has occurred. Security cameras are used to deter criminals and to protect people and property.

Do security cameras deter crime? 

Yes, security cameras can deter crime. Studies show that the mere presence of security cameras can reduce crime by up to 50%.

What does CCTV stand for?

CCTV stands for closed-circuit television. A surveillance system can use CCTV cameras to monitor the inside and outside of a property, sending the signal to a single monitor or set of monitors.

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