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Glossary and Concepts   |   Beginner's Guide to Surveillance Service   |   Service Comparison

The Beginner's Guide to Security Cameras & Surveillance Service

If you are new to security and surveillance service, you are likely to be overwhelmed by the amount of information to digest. The FAQ below can help you quickly learn some basic ideas/concepts about this service, and lead you to a well-informed decision that will meet your specific requirements.

We have recently created a lot of Tutorial Videos and Setup Guide Videos. We strongly recommend watching a few videos based on your needs.

What is the main difference between Home Security Services (like ADT) and Surveillance Services (like CameraFTP)?

Traditional security services use door sensors and infrared based motion sensors to detect break-ins. When a break-in is detected, it will trigger an alarm and automatically notify their monitoring center, which can further escalate the alarm. The drawback is clear: There is no camera. The monitoring center cannot see what happened (and you probably don't want them to see for privacy reason). By the time somebody arrives on scene, the intruder could have fled. Even if the intruder is spotted later, you may not have any evidence against him.

Camera based surveillance / monitoring service is different. You can monitor the scene in real-time. If you don't have time to monitor the scene, you can record the footage. When a motion is detected, it can send an alarm to you, and you will be able to see what happened very quickly. The recorded footage can be used as evidence.

Shall I choose an analog DVR security system, a network based DVR (NVR) System or just a few standalone IP cameras?

Analog DVR systems use old technologies. They require BNC video cables and analog cameras. They are bulky and not flexible. There is no reason to choose such old technologies. So you only need to choose between an NVR System and a few standalone IP cameras.

1. NVR System
2. Multiple IP Cameras
3. Multiple IP cameras
with Cloud Recording
Video Storage Centrally recorded and managed by the NVR system Usually no video storage; or SD card if camera has SD card slot Record to one (or more) cloud account
Camera Selections Proprietary cameras designed for the NVR Cameras from any vendor Cameras from any vendor with cloud recording capability
Connect to TV/Monitor Yes No No
Easy-to-setup Yes No No

Do I only need CCTV-style live view, or data recording as well?

You need both live view and data recording. It is not possible to watch multiple live views 24x7. Moreover, you need recorded data for evidence if something happened.

Can it send motion alerts? If so, do I still need data recording?

Most IP cameras and NVRs can send motion alerts. It is certainly useful to receive an alert when a motion is detected or an alarm is triggered. However you still need data recording.

There are a few reasons:
  • (1) An alert is not always in real-time and it is not reliable. You may not receive it if:
    • You are not in your mobile service area;
    • You don't have your phone with you;
    • Your phone is powered off or lost.
  • (2) An alert only contains very limited information, which may not be enough to provide the full picture about what happened.
  • (3) Too many false alarms. It is very hard to only send true alarms. Wind, cloud, sound, pets or birds can all trigger alarms.
  • (4) If a scene is busy, motion alerts are usually not useful as you will be overwhelmed. On the other hand, you will need a large storage to store the alerts.
  • (5) In case you need continuous recording, motion alerts certainly cannot meet the requirement.

Shall I record footage locally or to the cloud?

Local recording is certainly better than not recording; and local recording usually costs less than cloud recording. However, local recording may not be secure as an intruder can easily destroy your camera and the recorded footage. Cloud recording is safer in that sense, and it has another advantage of allowing you to access your recorded footage from anywhere, without exposing your camera in the Internet.

Do I need image (snapshot) recording or video recording? What are the differences?

Image recording and video recording are very similar. A camera can periodically take a picture of the scene. When these images are played continuously, they look just like video.

Example of image recording at 1 image/2sec with CameraFTP Viewer

Example of video recording at 3 fps with CameraFTP Viewer

The main difference is the frame rate. Image recording usually has a much lower frame rate; otherwise, the bandwidth usage will be too high; image recording also does not support audio recording. Old cameras (MJPEG cameras) are cheaper, but they usually cannot support video recording. If you only need high resolution images but low recording/uploading frequency, image recording is better than video recording; if you need to monitor a scene with fast-moving objects (e.g. cars), and you need to record all events, then you should use video recording. Due to the bandwidth requirement, it is recommended to use low resolution if your FPS is high.

Video recording usually requires H.264 encoding to reduce the video file size and the network bandwidth. Some IP cameras may support audio recording, if so, the encoded H.264 video will also include audio. Video recording usually offers higher frame rate so the video is smoother, esp. when there is motion in the scene.

Can a camera record audio? Shall I record audio?

Most indoor cameras have a built-in microphone. If the camera can upload video, usually it includes audio. So it is mainly a privacy question for you to decide. You probably can exclude audio recording in the camera's configuration page.

Even if a camera supports audio recording, the microphone may not be good enough to pick sounds from 30 feet away, that's why most outdoor cameras don't include a microphone as the scene is usually quite far away. Please check our Supported Cameras List for cameras with great audio recording quality.

For the area that I want to monitor, what image / video resolution should I choose?

For monitoring a door, window or small room, 320x240 image resolution is acceptable.

For monitoring a small room/office (up to 300 sqft), 640x480 is usually sufficient.

For monitoring a large conference room, living room, backyard or front yard, you might need 800x600 to 1280x720.

For high-quality monitoring of a large scene, such as a parking lot, construction site or loading zone, dependent on the size of the area and your quality requirement, you can consider 1080P, 3MP or 4MP image resolution.

Of course, resolution is just one factor; you also need to consider the frame rate, night vision and camera lens quality.

For the scene that I want to monitor, what image upload frequency / video FPS should I choose?

If you want to monitor a scene with slow-moving objects/people (usually indoor scenes), then you can set a low frame rate to save bandwidth and service cost. We usually recommend 1 image/s to 1 image/3s in this case. If you want to monitor a very large site, and if the goal is not to catch every motion, but rather to be able to see what has happened every minute, then you can set a very high resolution and very low frame rate. (Setting high resolution and high frame rate will require a lot of bandwidth). If you want to monitor a parking lot, a drive way or backyard, usually 1 image/s to 1 image/2s is fine. If you want to monitor a local street with a speed limit of 20 MPH, then usually you need 2 fps or higher; to monitor a major street with a speed limit of 40 MPH, you need 4 fps or higher;

Do I need indoor or outdoor cameras? What are the differences?

Usually you will use indoor cameras for indoor monitoring and outdoor cameras for outdoor monitoring. Indoor cameras usually cannot be used outdoor as they are not IP66 waterproof and they may not work well or last long under outdoor temperature and humidity.

Outdoor cameras can be used indoor. If you plan to mount your camera on the wall or ceiling, then the difference is quite small between indoor or outdoor cameras.

Outdoor cameras usually have better night vision; indoor cameras usually support wifi and audio recording.

For indoor cameras, do I need regular IP cameras, PTZ cameras or Nest Cam type of cameras?

There are many PTZ camera models in the market. However, we feel "PTZ" is not very useful. Usually you will just point your camera to a direction that needs to be monitored. Alternatively, many IP cameras support wide or ultra-wide viewing angle, which makes rotating camera unnecessary in most cases.

Nest Cam is a proprietary / closed camera that is locked down with its own cloud service. It does not support any open standard IP camera protocols such as ONVIF, RTSP or FTP. While it is a great camera in itself, the disadvantages far out-weigh advantages, not to mention the cost is very high in both camera hardware and the cloud service.

For outdoor cameras, shall I use PoE, Wi-Fi or regular Ethernet and an AC adaptor?

Most outdoor cameras support PoE (Power over Ethernet). PoE makes wiring much easier. You don't need to wire power cable. All you need is a network cable and a PoE switch/PoE injector.

Using regular Ethernet connection is possible only if there is a power outlet near the camera. Note: If your camera does not support PoE, you can buy a PoE Splitter and Injector to support PoE.

Wi-Fi seems to be better; however it also requires a power outlet near the camera. Moreover, Wi-Fi is often not reliable if the camera is too far away from the Wi-Fi AP, or if the signal has to penetrate thick walls.

So: if there is a power outlet near the camera, Wi-Fi probably is a good option, esp. if you don't have many cameras and the Wi-Fi signal is strong; otherwise, PoE is easier and safer to wire and the network connection is more reliable.

How long can you keep the recorded data?

The max retention length is 1 year. However, you can easily copy your files to a linked DriveHQ account, or download them locally for longer retention.

How long shall I keep the recorded data?

It depends on your own requirements. For most home users, 7-day retention probably is fine. However, if you travel a lot, or if you are monitoring a vacation home or second home, or if you just want extra protection, then you can order a longer retention plan. For businesses, you might need longer retention days for security precaution or for regulatory requirements.

There are numerous IP camera / DVR / NVR vendors, which camera vendor to pick?
There are many camera / DVR / NVR models, which model to choose?

It is a tough question. There are numerous camera manufacturers, brands and models. CameraFTP engineers have tested a lot of them, but it is not possible for us to test all the latest models. We encourage our users, resellers and camera manufacturers to provide their recommendations.

Anyway, if you are a regular user planning to order an IP camera, we recommend that you visit our Supported Cameras List page and find a model that can meet your specific requirement. CameraFTP is not affiliated with any camera manufacturers. We review cameras based on their merits. We mainly use the following criteria:

  • Camera design and build quality;
  • Video/image/audio quality at different times (day, night, low-light);
  • Camera price;
  • Camera features such as WiFi, PoE, Wide Viewing Angle, PTZ, etc.
  • Camera and firmware reliability;
  • Cloud recording capability, incl. video format.

If we found better cameras, we will update our list. You can also order a pre-configured camera if you are not technical savvy.

What are the available IP camera types?

There are mainly:

Regular IP cameras; PTZ cameras; Mini Wi-Fi only cameras; Nest-style closed/proprietary cameras; regular outdoor cameras; mini outdoor bullet cameras; dome cameras.

What are the criteria in choosing an IP camera / DVR / NVR?

The most important part is to determine your requirements.

  • If you just want to monitor your doorway, then you don't need to order a high-end IP camera;
  • If you want to monitor a jewelry store, certainly you don't want to use a low-end camera.
  • For indoor monitoring, usually you want to choose a Wi-Fi camera as you can find plenty of power outlets near the camera;
  • For outdoor monitoring, usually you want to choose a PoE camera with great night vision.
  • If you want a live view monitor similar to a traditional CCTV system, then you can order our NVR. You can either directly use the included tablet touch screen, or connect it to an external TV/screen.

I am interested in CameraFTP, which plan shall I order?

It is mainly determined by your needs.

Your camera also needs to support the specific plan. For example, if your camera cannot upload video clips, then you can only order an image recording plan. Please check out our preconfigured camera models and the supported service plans. You can order it from another vendor and configure it yourself.

Bandwidth requirement is another important factor. For most users, you don't need movie quality video just for security monitoring - the cost and the bandwidth requirement will be too high. We usually recommend a low frame rate, esp. if you have multiple cameras. For image recording, we usually recommend 1 image per 1 to 3 seconds; for video recording, we usually recommend 1 to 5 fps.

Can I do it myself, or do I need a professional installer?

For indoor monitoring, if you use Wi-Fi cameras, then usually you don't need a professional installer. You don't have to mount your cameras on the wall. If you do, usually it is quite simple to do so.

Device configuration?

Configuring an IP camera for cloud recording could be challenging if you are not familiar with IP cameras and if you are not willing to read our online documentations carefully. If you read our documentation carefully and follow the instructions step by step, usually you can configure it yourself. If you are not tech savvy, or if you just want to avoid the hassle, you can order our preconfigured cameras/NVRs.

What viewing methods are available?

(1) Web browser-based viewer for PC and MAC? Does it require a browser plug-in?

Because the recorded footage is saved to the cloud, it is very easy to view your cameras from anywhere. You can use any web browser and log on to, then click on My Cameras to view your cameras online. No Flash, ActiveX / Plug-in is required. (Please note not all cameras can upload .MP4 video clips. If a video format is not supported, then you might have to download it and play it locally.)

(2) Mobile viewer app for iOS and Android?


(3) Other viewer apps?

We also offer a Windows Store app, which works on all Windows 8 and Windows 10 based devices.

In case something happened, and if I need to retrieve the recorded footage for preserving evidence, can I download the recorded footage? If so, what tool is available to download the files? (A mobile app only solution does not work!)

Yes, you can download the recorded footage using any web browser. It supports downloading files one by one, or multiple files using the zip download feature. If you need to download many files and folders, then you can use any FTP client program on Windows or Mac. For example, you can use FileZilla or use Windows Explorer. {show more details / screenshots here }

Enterprise-specific Questions

My organization needs many IP cameras, e.g. 100 cameras, or even 1000 cameras.

(1) Can CameraFTP support that many cameras?

Yes, CameraFTP system is designed to support tens of millions of IP cameras. A single account can have hundreds of IP cameras. With our group account service, you can have thousands of IP cameras.

(2) Can I view all cameras from a single account?


(3) Can I group the cameras in multiple sub-accounts?


(4) Can I set permission for each camera, so that only the specific authorized personnel can access each camera?


(5) We need the best quality cameras. Can CameraFTP support such cameras?

It is dependent on your camera. Most likely we can. We have tested numerous camera brands and models. If your camera supports standard protocols such as ONVIF, RTSP and FTP, usually we have a solution for you. If you are not locked in with a particular camera brand, please visit our supported cameras page. You can find some very high-end cameras there.

(6) We need a low-cost solution. Can CameraFTP offer such a solution?

Yes, CameraFTP is a low-cost leader. With our service, you can fully customize the recording quality and price to fit your needs.

(7) Can CameraFTP offer consulting service on surveillance and recording service?


(8) I am a camera manufacturer / vendor. Can CameraFTP list our cameras on your supported camera page?

If your camera can work with our cloud recording service and meet certain quality requirements, and if you provide a demo unit, we will list your camera in our supported cameras page.