How Many Megapixels Do I Need for a Security Camera?

How Many Megapixels Do I Need for a Security Camera

Resolution is the second biggest factor affecting a customer’s buying decision when shopping for security cameras, the first one being price. If you’re asking yourself, “So how many megapixels do I need for security camera purposes?” then you’re stumbled upon the correct article. It’s the most common question that clients ask manufacturers of security cameras. If it was as simple as getting a 1080p Full HD cam then that’s one thing. However, there are now quite a number of resolutions and megapixels (MP) to choose from.

Do you need a 4K resolution security camera? Is it worth the extra money or bigger files stored in your cloud solution? Or the huge amount of bandwidth it eats up when you do camera live streams on your phone, tablet, PC, or smart TV? 

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Megapixel Count and Other Security Camera Resolution Considerations

Your security camera megapixel count isn’t the end-all, be-all factor in choosing a camera. You should also take into account the location you’re going to place it and what application you’re going to use it for, among many other things. With that said, here’s what you need to know about megapixels. 

  • The History of Security Cameras: In the past 9 years or so, since around 2011, security camera technology has really begun to evolve from its CCTV magnetic tape cassette roots. With every new development with television such as recorded media like VHS players or VCRs or broadcast TV, security cameras quickly adopted them.

Now that we’re on the cusp of the 10th to 15th year anniversary of the HD entertainment era, it’s only fitting that security cameras have become fully digital themselves, with several even incorporating cloud technology so that you can retrieve your footage on the Internet using any device with an Internet connection.

  • The Highest Camera Resolution in 2011: Back in 2011, the highest camera resolution at a reasonable price in the market was the 700TVL Sony CCD chipset for the 3MP camera, which in turn had a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels or 1536p resolution with an aspect ratio of 4:3. However, nowadays, you now have access to 4K resolution of 8MP cameras.

You can even go up to 12MP at reasonable prices as well. But do you really need a 4K 8MP to 12MP resolution security cam? Perhaps not. Maybe 8K for high detail at a decent amount of distance, like 20 meters away, is viable. Don’t go overboard though. 

  • Comparing Different Resolutions: Here are the different resolutions available for security cameras that are classified in accordance to their MP count. Several of them match the resolutions being used on PCs, laptops, and HDTVs.
    • 2MP: 2MP security cameras have a 16:9 aspect ratio, 2,073,600 pixels per image, and an image size of 1920 x 1080 pixels or Full HD 1080p. 
    • 3MP: 3MP security cameras have a 4:3 aspect ratio, 3,145,728 pixels per image, and an image size of 2048 x 1536 pixels or 1536p.
    • 4MP: 4MP cameras have a 16:9 aspect ratio, 3,686,400 pixels per image, and an image size of 2560 x 1440 pixels or Quad HD 1440p.
    • 5MP: 5MP cameras have a 4:3 aspect ratio, 5,017,600 pixels per image, and an image size of 2560 x 1920 pixels or 1920p.
    • 8MP: 8MP cameras have a 16:9 aspect ratio, 8,294,400 pixels per image, and an image size of 3840 x 2160 pixels or Ultra HD 2160p/4K.
    • 12MP: 12MP cameras have a 16:9 aspect ratio, 12,012,000 pixels per image, and an image size of 4290 x 2800 or Ultra HD 2800p/4K.
  • Higher Resolution Cameras Have Their Detriments: Although the costs of HD cameras with higher megapixels and resolutions have become affordable enough for many middle-class Americans out there, they can become costly to you in other ways. The costs of handling and managing such cameras, for example, can be quite costly (for lack of a better term).

You have to pay for extra storage space for your cloud storage plan or risk only having two weeks’ of footage available to you at a time as opposed to a months’ worth of footage in light of how blown-up the video size in gigabytes and bandwidth are.

  • A Special Network Video Recorder for 4K: If you have a 4K 8MP to 12MP camera, then you’re required to have a special network video recorder that can handle that huge amount of video resolution. This way, your livestreams or live camera feed won’t look like a PowerPoint Presentation with all the jerky or flickering frames.

The recording should have a decent frame rate and the way you can view the video should be able to handle its playback, like through a decently powerful laptop, tablet, smartphone, or smart HDTV. The hard drive space for your PC or cloud storage would probably require 6 times the size of a 2MP camera.

  • NVR versus DVR When It Comes to Security Video: NVR refers to Network Video Recorder. This is as opposed to DVR, which refers to Digital Video Recorder. Long story short, NVR processes data at the camera level before streaming it to the recorder for remote viewing or for footage storage via cloud computing.

DVR, on the other hand, processes the data at the recorder level without networking involved. NVR plans can get quite costly, thus necessitating a Full HD rather than Quad HD or Ultra HD solution to your home or business security in accordance with your budget. 2MP is the most highly popular security camera type currently because the “default” HD resolution is 1080p.

  • What Out for NVR or Cloud Storage Plans: NVRs marketed to support 4K security cam solutions tend to be deceiving. Why? It’s because many of them would only support a channel or two as 4K while other channels are set in lower resolutions. It’s not just practical to be a high-resolution HD video recorder only to have the recorded footage offer several lower-resolution channels.

Many consumers don’t read the fine print or NVR specifications. They also don’t understand the specs, leading to them getting lower-quality channels that waste the 4K potential of their camera. They’re not getting what they’re paying for, in short. Some NVRs even offer lower frame rates than what 4K can support, thus defeating the purpose of getting a 4K camera with 8-12 megapixels. 

  • Use Multiple High-Resolution Security Cameras to Cover Large Areas: Take into consideration the area you wish to cover before determining which camera resolution you need. Even though the higher your camera resolution and megapixels the greater the details from the resulting images, it might not cover every corner of your home.

Sometimes, the more practical solution is to have Full HD cameras at every corner and every angle for the same collective price you’d pay for one or two 4K cameras. Field of view might be more important than higher resolution in such a scenario. That’s the more practical investment on your part.

  • When and Where are 4K Cameras Most Useful? 4K cameras are most useful in instances where you need to extend the level of detail of your camera by about 20 meters or more. For example, if you want to monitor a large area in front of your home and you can’t place the camera any further across the street, 4K is feasible. 

It’s also useful when monitoring the entrance of your office or store. An HD camera with 4K resolution and a wide-angle lens is best utilized for outdoor security that really covers a large area. If you’re trying to shoot views at corners or small spots and whatnot, a 2MP to 5MP camera solution with a single fixed lens is more feasible.

  • Price Tag Concerns and Feasible Solutions: When shopping for the best security cam with the highest resolution, you should watch out for the price tag of the camera and get the right NVR solution to support the extra megapixels.

A feasible solution is one where you can get details at certain distances without you having to do a lens zoom. If 1080p is enough for you to make out license plates or facial features within a decent amount of distance, like 10 meters or less, then Full HD is enough for you. If you want to extend your view, consider getting an Ultra HD camera or more Quad HD or Full HD cameras. 

In a Nutshell 

Should you purchase a 720p or 960p camera of the 1.3-megapixel variety? At this point, in light of the price drops of higher resolution and high definition cameras, it’s a waste of money to invest in seemingly obsolete and inferior security camera specs. Actually, you should balance out what you feel you need and what you actually need when trying to get the best resolution camera for you.

You should at the bare minimum get a Full HD 1080p camera type, especially in light of how a 2MP camera is so close to a 1.3MP camera in terms of price. Don’t go for less. If you can afford it always go for more or even go for broke to make the most out of your security cam investment. Take a good look at your budget, go for what you can afford, and choose which plan works best not only in terms of the camera’s pricing but the overall package, including cloud storage. 

References:

  1. Jenny Hu, “Security Camera Resolution: A Major Factor Contributes to Crisp Images“, ReoLink, March 16, 2020
  2. Alex C., “How much security camera resolution do I really need?“, 2M CCTV, October 13, 2016
James Core
I write dozens of helpful informational articles based on topics that I have identified again and again throughout my research and work experience. I am here to help you find the right home security products.

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