Thinking about getting CCTV? Consider this

They are a good visual deterrent, and if someone does break in you could capture them on camera and be able to provide the police and security firms with evidence. So, should you get CCTV for your home?

Only if you already have good physical security, says Gavin MacDougall, head of new product development and training at Yale Security South Africa.

“Like any security system at home, it depends on where you are and what you can afford, but first you need a decent physical security barrier – burglar bars, a good security gate, strong locks,” he says.

Once those things are in place, including an alarm and armed response, it might be time to consider CCTV.

But, pop down to your nearest hardware store and you may be overwhelmed. There’s a lot on offer in terms of CCTV systems. How do you choose the right one?

First assess

Before you go anywhere near a shop, assess what it is you want from your CCTV because this determines what elements you will need. The average South African home probably needs between two and eight cameras, says MacDougall.

Camera capabilities

It is with cameras that you are most likely to get overwhelmed. There is a huge range of different types of analogue and internet protocol (IP) cameras available.

Get expert advice on which camera type will work best for you. This is where deciding beforehand what it is you want the CCTV system to monitor will help a lot. Different cameras are good for different situations. If you keep the task in mind, you can get the right camera and avoid unnecessary expense or buyer’s remorse.

Firstly, keep in mind the smaller the lens diameter, the wider the viewing angle, but the shorter the depth of vision.

“Generally we find a 3.6mm lens has the best balance (of all these factors) for the average home,” says MacDougall. This lens allows a 65-degree viewing angle and a viewable distance of 50m.

Some cameras are equipped with infrared capabilities that automatically switch on when the surroundings are dark, allowing for night vision. Depending on the strength of the infrared capabilities, these cameras can monitor, even in complete darkness, to a distance of 10 to 30m.

MacDougall says analogue cameras are the ones generally used in homes. They are generally cheaper and, although they cannot be connected directly to the internet, they can be connected to a digital video recorder (DVR), which can then be connected to a router that enables remote viewing via the internet.

IP cameras are typically used in commercial applications where established computer networks are already in place, says MacDougall. The cameras already have networking capabilities built into them, so installation is easier.

If you want to use an IP camera at home, there are more basic models available that are geared toward stand-alone applications, says MacDougall. These often have the ability to transmit video and audio signals. Many have built-in Wi-Fi, making both setup and connection to your router much easier. These cameras are probably the best option if you want to monitor a single small area, he says.

Also, consider that older-generation, standard-definition analogue cameras provide a much lower quality image than the newer high-definition cameras. The crisp image a HD camera produces can assist tremendously in gathering evidence such as vehicle details or a burglar’s clothing.

To MacGyver or not?

Unless you are used to DIY, and confident working with electronics, it is best to get your system professionally installed, says MacDougall. It shouldn’t take longer than a day on average.

If you aren’t getting a camera with infrared capabilities, you will also need to install supplementary lighting, to help the camera at night.

With all cameras you will need to consider an uninterruptable power-supply unit so that the CCTV system is not affected by power outages. In short, there will be a lot of cables.

MacDougall suggests you go for a known brand that offers a warranty and after-sales assistance. “So many people have bought unknown brands and had problems,” he says.

The best brand? That, he says, is the million-dollar question.

Big brother or shy insider?

Lastly, before you buy your camera, decide whether you want it to be obvious, as a deterrent, or discrete. This will affect what size camera you buy, and where it is placed.

An obvious camera is a good deterrent, but might be tampered with (some camera systems can send an alarm alert if they are fiddled with), while a discreet one might record quietly, providing after-the-fact evidence.