Different types of Security Cameras and when to use them

Security cameras come in a range of shapes, sizes, and functionalities that allow them to perform in different situations and settings. Surveillance cameras can be divided into a range of categories including Movement, Size & Shape, Functions, and Housing.

Keep in mind that security cameras can be organized into multiple categories and can include various features.


Fixed security cameras typically stay in the position they are mounted for the lifetime of their deployment. Since the only way to move them is to either reposition or remount the device, fixed cameras are used to make sure that the subject in frame is perpetually on surveillance.

“Fixed” can also refer to the type of lens on various types of security cameras. A fixed lens doesn’t let you adjust the focal length, angle of view, or level of zoom. Nearly all fixed lens cameras have a wide-angle lens. When it comes to security camera lenses, the opposite of fixed is varifocal.

Fixed bullet weatherproof security cameras


  • Applications – Fixed area of focus for continuous recording of a single area.
  • Advantages – These low-cost, uncomplicated security cameras are ideal for most consumers as you can simply mount the camera and point it at a target area, with no adjustments to be made with lenses or motors.
  • Disadvantages – Since these security cameras can only be moved manually, footage just outside of frame will not be able to be captured. Additionally, the only way to enlarge video footage is to zoom digitally, which can cause pixelation at lower megapixel ratings.

A manual varifocal lens has an adjustable focal length. By adjusting the focal length, you can manually select the horizontal field of view of the security camera, allowing you to narrow the field of view to gain more detail of any monitored area. These varifocal lenses can also be motorized, which we will cover next.

  • Applications – Allows you to manually focus on an area from a distance when more detail is required. For example, capturing license plates and other details at an entrance when the security camera is mounted a distance away.
  • Advantages – These adjustable lenses allow you to manually select the level of detail of video recording you desire, only limited by the camera’s megapixel rating and lens.
  • Disadvantages – With a manual varifocal lens, you’ll have to physically take the lens off in order to manually adjust the lens to your desired focal length.

A motorized varifocal lens is sometimes referred to as a zoom lens. These motorized lenses allow you to adjust the focal length of the lens from a user interface on your video management software via your computer or smartphone. Zoom lens adjustments are typically expressed as an optical zoom ratio. For example, 30x optical zoom refers to the difference between the smallest and largest focal lengths or 4.3 mm to 129 mm.

  • Applications – With a motorized lens, you’ll be able to manually, or automatically based on motion, adjust the focal length at any time. This allows you to focus on finer details of objects or people in real-time via a mobile or desktop application.
  • Advantages – Zoom lenses typically have a much larger range of adjustment than varifocal lenses. A zoom or motorized varifocal lens is the next best thing to a PTZ camera, but is typically less expensive.
  • Disadvantages – More expensive than a manual varifocal lens, but zoom lenses will still be hampered by a limited field of view since the security camera itself doesn’t move — just the lens.

PTZ or Pan-Tilt-Zoom security cameras are able to adjust the field of view manually via a remote operator or using software applications to track movement or people. These top-tier cameras have the ability to pan, tilt, zoom and track specific subjects in real-time.

Pan-Tilt-Zoom motorized security camera


  • Applications – PTZ cameras can cover a huge area but are typically used in conjunction with fixed security cameras. Most street cameras in large public spaces today are Pan-Tilt-Zoom cameras.
  • Advantages – Besides the ability to cover 360-degrees of any area, there are plenty of advantages to owning a PTZ camera. These motorized devices can respond to or track intruders by whoever has access to the software. They can also be configured to do manual patterns, or tours, where they can view predefined areas on “autopilot.” Their ability to cover large areas may allow you to reduce the number of cameras in a given area.
  • Disadvantages – Although one of the main advantages is coverage, PTZs are some of the most expensive security cameras and can only see and record where they’re pointing at a given time. So if you need continuous 360-degree coverage, it’s best to couple a PTZ with a fixed security camera. On top of that, these systems involve more motors, software programming, and configuration — so there’s a lot more that can go wrong.

Virtual PTZ cameras combine some of the benefits of both fixed and PTZ cameras through software. Virtual PTZ security cameras include multiple fixed lenses which are typically positioned in order to achieve a 360-degree field of view. When the operator views the live or recorded footage, each of the video streams is tethered together in order to provide one seamless panoramic image. Virtual PTZ users can use their recording software to digitally pan, tilt, or zoom in on specific subjects just like a standard PTZ. However, virtual PTZ cameras continuously record all angles of video that the lenses are capturing, even if you’re manually zooming in on a specific target.

  • Applications – Continuous 360-degree coverage of large spaces.
  • Advantages – Virtual PTZ cameras are perfect for expanding coverage of an area where mounting multiple fixed cameras may not be possible. Unlike standard PTZ security cameras, these cameras are constantly recording 360-degree video.
  • Disadvantages – These cameras are highly dependent on their software to determine their level of functionality. Depending on the video management system used, there are a lot of different features to consider. On top of that, image distortion is another factor to consider.

Size and Shape

Bullet security cameras, sometimes referred to as box or shoebox cameras, are one of the most common types of cameras and can be used in a variety of situations, but work best with overt positioning which discourages unwanted activity since subjects know they are under surveillance.

  • Applications – Depending on their IP rating and how they are housed, these cameras are suitable for both indoor and outdoor use. Bullets are always fixed security cameras.
  • Advantages – Bullet cameras come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and applications. These fixed security cameras allow for greater flexibility for monitoring specific areas. Depending on the camera, many offer customizable lens choices which offer both tightly focused or wide-angle shots contingent on the lens.
  • Disadvantages – These typically overt cameras are unable to disguise which direction they are focusing on due to the obvious positioning of the lens. If they are within reach, they can be easy to misdirect or tamper with.

Dome security cameras feature an unobtrusive design and can typically be installed seamlessly without the need for additional housing for exposed cabling. Depending on the bullet camera inside the dome housing, the lens inside could be fixed or motorized.


  • Applications – These compact cameras are used widely in both indoor and outdoor settings.
  • Advantages – These vandal-resistant security cameras disguise which way the cameras are pointing. Their dome casings protect against redirection, defocusing, and impact.
  • Disadvantages – Compared to box and PTZ cameras, dome cameras allow for less flexibility in lens choice and megapixel rating.

Turret security cameras, or eyeball cameras, are small cameras with a ball and socket design. The “turret” name comes from the ability of the ball-shaped camera to pivot in any direction inside its socket mount.

Turret and bullet security cameras


  • Applications – Turret cameras are commonly recommended to customers who don’t have a form factor in mind, due to their flexibility, excellent image quality, and compact design.
  • Advantages – Turret cameras are known for their flexibility. These compact devices can be pointed in any direction after affixing your device to the wall or ceiling, allowing you to quickly obtain the desired field of view. Due to the lack of a glass dome covering, turret cameras rarely have to worry about any glare caused by the infrared (IR) sensors to see in low-light or dark settings.
  • Disadvantages – Unlike dome cameras, there is no glass housing protecting your turret camera from tampering and vandals.

Special Functions

Low-light security cameras rely on infrared sensors to function in almost complete darkness. Recordings are possible in suboptimal lighting conditions due to the built-in infrared illuminators. Infrared illuminators are also sometimes available as an added accessory.

  • Applications – Low-light security cameras are typically used in unlit or dark areas where additional lighting is seldom a possibility.
  • Advantages – These cameras can be placed almost anywhere and don’t require an additional powered lighting source in order to illuminate recorded or live video footage. Although the footage is in black and white when the infrared sensors are flicked on, black and white imaging offers far superior image contrast — which can make it easier to make out shapes, numbers, or faces.
  • Disadvantages – Although these cameras can capture images in almost complete darkness when the infrared (IR) sensors are turned on, the image will display in black and white — unlike WDR security cameras.

WDR or Wide Dynamic Range security cameras have a technology that compensates for problems with exposure to light. With WDR technology, image quality is improved by achieving a balance between brightness and darkness. By utilizing dynamic contrast and dynamic capture capabilities, WDR security cameras can effectively render footage in both bright and low light areas simultaneously.


  • Applications – WDR technology allows you to capture video of individuals, cars, or objects in front of glass doors, windows, or outside of a garage 24/7. 
  • Advantages – WDR security cameras are effective in capturing fully detailed images in differing lighting circumstances, in many cases better than the human eye can achieve. WDR-equipped cameras contain advanced light sensors that are more sensitive than traditional surveillance cameras. Depending on the WDR camera, the ability to balance the lighting in a camera’s field of view is due to either the camera’s hardware or included software.
  • Disadvantages – WDR cameras are more expensive than traditional fixed security cameras. WDR security cameras may have to be properly configured for different lighting circumstances, which involves a lot of tinkering with hardware or software in order to achieve the desired image quality.

Thermal security cameras can capture subjects that are undetectable to the human eye. These security cameras can detect emitted or reflected heat from objects and people, even during poor lighting conditions or via reflected heat.

  • Applications – Thermal security cameras were traditionally used to capture objects in low-visibility scenarios like foggy or wooded areas, identifying inanimate objects or gases. However, thermal cameras have recently been a popular solution to temperature monitoring during the COVID-19 pandemic. With certain cameras, a Thermal Temperature Monitoring Solution is capable of identifying individuals with elevated temperatures from a distance of 10 feet away with less than a 0.54-degree margin of error.
  • Advantages – Ideal for dark, foggy, or blocked conditions. Can also be used for temperature screening.
  • Disadvantages – Instead of optical clarity, the details that these cameras record are limited to what the heat-sensors capture. A niche type of security camera, thermal cameras can be expensive.

4K or 8-megapixel security cameras offer heightened detail and clarity of live and recorded video. At 3840 x 2160 resolution, 4K surveillance cameras deliver about four times the video clarity as more traditional 1080p systems which broadcast at 1920 x 1080 resolution. Although these cameras are traditionally used to capture large open spaces, or for forensic purposes, they are becoming a popular option for business owners as technology advances and 4K security cameras become more affordable.

4K security camera installation


  • Applications – Although 4K security cameras are typically used on large spaces like construction sites, sporting events, parades, and concerts, they can be used anywhere you want to capture the best available level of detail.
  • Advantages – 4K cameras have the best widely available image quality on the market. These cameras can cover a lot of space, which means fewer physical installations are required.
  • Disadvantages – Live video playback can use up a lot of bandwidth if you’re displaying the footage in full 4K. However, you have the option to playback footage in a lower resolution in order for smoother or less bandwidth-reliant playback.

Mobile security cameras are portable devices typically housed in a weatherproof casing. Not to be confused with remote viewing, “mobile security” refers to the ability to bring the monitoring devices along with you wherever you need them. Typically mounted on a pole or up high, these all-in-one systems provide a wide range of surveillance capabilities from a single point, requiring only a power connection to run all operations. Temporary mobile security packages can be purchased but are often rented on a short-term basis.


  • Applications – Mobile security cameras can be used in a variety of applications — basically, anywhere you need security on a temporary basis. On top of that, these cameras are also popular for remote sites where an ethernet connection isn’t available. Some of the most popular sites include construction sites, utility sites, large sites, outbuildings, and even events like festivals, conventions, and trade shows.
  • Advantages – Mobile security cameras can be mounted anywhere there is a power source. These rugged security boxes only require 120 volts (60 Hz) of power in order to function.
  • Disadvantages – If power isn’t available, solar panels are an incredibly expensive option. If you don’t have wireless internet within range of our access point, the footage will have to be manually retrieved from an in-box NVR.

License plate recognition or LPR is a security camera feature designed for the sole purpose of capturing crystal-clear images of license plates. Security cameras with LPR use a program that automatically records license plate numbers and puts them into a database for easy searching, configurable filtering, and instant retrieval.

  • Applications – It’s best to set up LPR security cameras in a small area where cars move in and out at a consistent pace and position.
  • Advantages – Security cameras with license plate recognition are designed to save you from looking through hours of video footage in order to find a specific license plate. On top of that, traditional security cameras are typically configured to capture people, vehicles, and other large objects that are larger than license plates. License plate cameras have infrared sensors and are configured to avoid motion blur, so you can capture license plates at any time of the day and at nearly any speed.
  • Disadvantages – LPR cameras have to be dedicated to one thing — capturing license plates.


Interior security camera housings are designed to complement the aesthetics of the room. These cameras have less prominent footprints and unobtrusively fit indoor locations. Indoor cameras are typically less complicated to install, and generally don’t require additional accessories like mounting brackets.

  • Applications – Interior security cameras can be used in most indoor locations where temperature, environment, and tampering is not an issue.
  • Advantages – Installation is typically flexible and easy for interior cameras. Servicing indoor cameras is typically less expensive and intrusive.
  • Disadvantages – Unless they are in a damage- or tamper-resistant housing, most indoor cameras are less resistant to damage than their exterior or damage-resistant counterparts.

Exterior security camera housings are designed to protect your device’s interior from normal exterior wear and tear like wind, weather, and time. Exterior cameras are typically housed in durable materials like PVC or rust-proof metals. Exterior accessories typically include housing or mounts to accommodate any obstacles, casing for any exposed exterior cabling, and/or visors or protective glass to protect from harsh lighting conditions.

  • Applications – By definition, exterior security cameras can be mounted anywhere outside other than environments exposed to extreme heat or weather.
  • Advantages – Exterior cameras are condition resistant, and much more vandal-resistant than their interior counterparts.
  • Disadvantages – Exterior cameras are typically heavier and larger due to their protective housing. On top of that, exterior devices are more time-consuming, complicated, and more expensive to install than interior security cameras.

Damage-resistant security cameras are given an environmental rating to indicate their sustainability in different outdoor and indoor environments (see IP rating). While some offer resistance to extreme vandalism, water, weapons, heat, cold, weather, pressure, and a variety of other natural and man-made factors that would typically lead to device failure.


  • Applications – Damage-resistant cameras have an IP rating to determine which level of wear and tear they can withstand. Depending on the device’s IP rating, they can be put in environments with varying pressure, heat, cold, or other extremes. These cameras can even be used to monitor equipment in conditions where humans can’t go. For example, extreme environments like the Arctic, a meatpacking plant that is constantly 40-degrees below zero, or on top of the mast of a Coast Guard Cutter.
  • Advantages – Damage-resistant cameras have the ability to continuously record or stream video during moments of physical distress to the aforementioned device.
  • Disadvantages – Damage-resistant housings are typically a lot larger and bulkier, and less conspicuous. They can also be complicated to install and service depending on where they are placed.

Trusted, Local Security Camera Provider and Installer

Are you looking for a company with complete transparency when it comes to promoting the features and capabilities of their devices? 

Camera Security Now has over two decades of experience. Our experienced security camera technicians can help you decide which security cameras are best for your unique application, and explain why. On top of that, our technicians will install your security camera system with the latest techniques available to the security industry. Once your system is installed, we will walk you through every step of the way when it comes to finding footage, recording and trimming video, exporting files, and everything in between. If any issues arise in the future with your cameras, we are a phone call or remote-view away.

Security Consultant Johnny

Are you looking for security camera advice? Johnny and Camera Security Now can give you a free security consultation for your location. Even if you’re not sure what you need, our security technicians will walk you through what it takes to secure your business. No matter what kind of facility in which you’re requesting surveillance support, Johnny can assist you with all of your security needs! If you have any questions about how PTZ dome cameras work, what you need for your facility, or the purchasing and installation process, contact Johnny today at 800-440-1662 or fill out a fast, easy online quote form.

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