Security Camera Resolution: What Resolution Do You Need?

Security Camera Resolution

When it comes to security cameras, should you get a 1080p 2MP one and be satisfied with that? Or should you upgrade to 4K 8MP or 2K 2MP like you would when watching movies or TV shows nowadays, with their ever-rising resolution needs and whatnot? Indeed, what (or which) Security Camera Resolution should you have? You’ve come to the right article. Keep on reading in order to find out what sort of security camera resolution you need to, for example, read license plates from 20 meters away or identify the face of an intruder from 3 meters away.

As a rule of thumb, the wider the view the more pixels you need in order to fill in that wide space with detail. The narrower the view, the more you can get away with a basic 1080p or 2MP security cam.

You may also like: Home Security Camera: Everything You Need to Know to Make a Smart Decision

What Is Security Camera Resolution?

Resolution as far as security cameras are concerned refers to the total number of pixels that make up an image. Older compressed 72 PPI web images look terribly pixilated or are about the size of a stamp when viewed in modern PCs because of how fewer pixels they use. The higher resolution images and videos of today make use of uncompressed high-definition imagery with millions of pixels to approach the images possible with high-quality film stock.

  • How to Measure Good Resolution: If you’re wondering whether or not you can rely on product specifications to get good image quality, here’s the deal. In a way, yes. The megapixels and resolution of the camera dictate how good it is at capturing video. They classify cameras by resolution or MP.

However, among that 2MP, 3MP, 4MP, 5MP, and 8MP IP security cameras, you have to understand that no camera is made equal. You still need to read customer reviews or check out these cams for yourself to ensure that you’re getting not only the ideal resolution but clear pictures so that when you zoom in you get to see more details instead of a blurry bloated image.

  • Explaining 2K, 4K Ultra HD, and 1080p Full HD: The resolution of an IP security camera is measured by the image width and height, which is the same case as in the case of measuring the resolution (screen) size of a laptop or PC. The maximum digital video size in the 1990s was 640 x 480 or 800 x 600 to match the screen size of the time.

For instance, an image or screenshot from a 2MP video is 1920 x 1080 pixels, with 1920 pixels being the width and 1080(p) pixels being the height. Multiplying the two together gets you 2,073,600 pixels, hence 2MP or 2 mega (million) pixel. A 4MP camera has 4 million pixels contained in an image, while an 8MP camera has 8 million pixels and so forth.

  • The Height Represents the Resolution: It’s always the height of the image or screen or video that dictates in shorthand how big a resolution is. Originally, it was 720p for 1280 x 720 pixels.  Then you have 1080p/i (p referring to progressive scan and i referring to interlaced scan for CRTs) referring to 1920 x 1080 pixels, which in turn when you multiply those figures you get 2 million pixels or 2MP.

Meanwhile, 4MP refers to 1440p (2560 x 1440 pixels), 8MP refers to 4K or 2160p (3840 × 2160 pixels). It can go as high as 8MP, which has 4K or 2160p resolution. This is the highest resolution that cameras can go at present, but 8K or 10K resolution might be on the way.

Further reading: Arlo Home Security Cameras Review: Protect What You Love Most

  • Comparing Different Resolutions: Here’s the lowdown on the different resolutions currently available for security cameras that (not coincidentally) match the resolutions being used for HDTV shows and movies.
    • 2MP: 1080p resolution (Full HD) comes with an image size of 1920 x 1080 pixels, 2,073,600 pixels per image, and an aspect ratio of 16:9.
    • 4MP: 1440p resolution comes with an image size of 2560 x 1440 pixels, 3,686,400 pixels per image, and an aspect ratio of 16:9.
    • 5MP: 1920p resolution comes with an image size of 2560 x 1920, 5,017,600 pixels per image, and an aspect ratio of 4:3 (believe it or not).
    • 8MP: 2160p or 4K resolution (Ultra HD) comes with an image size of 3840 x 2160, 8,294,400 pixels per image, and an aspect ratio of 16:9.
    • 12MP:  2800p or 4K resolution (Ultra HD) comes with an image size of 4290 x 2800, 12,012,000 pixels per image, and an aspect ratio of 16:9.
  • IP Security Camera Resolution Comparison: The best resolutions for 16:9 HDTV video security cameras are 2MP, 4MP, and 8MP. Strangely enough, 3MP and 5MP follow the old analog CRT TV aspect ratio of 4:3. All even-numbered megapixel surveillance cameras follow the HDTV aspect ratio while the odd-numbered ones go for 4:3 aspect ratio, it’d seem.

Even if 5MP is bigger than 4MP, it still somehow only covers screens that are square rather than rectangular and widescreen. Regardless, as a rule of thumb, outstanding image quality usually comes from having a bigger megapixel count but the more megapixels involved the more expensive the device.

  • Do You Need to Go 4K or Is 1080p Enough? Those who are apprehensive about buying more megapixels for their security camera needs in order to get outstanding and stable image quality will probably ask if 1080p is enough or is there a need to go 4K or 4MP. The answer to that is it depends.

Obviously, if you can only afford 1080p or want to have more coverage around the house with 1080p cameras then you should go 2MP. However, if you can afford 4K, you’ll get extra advantages like extended image clarity to about 20 meters or more as well as no pixilation when capturing nighttime images.

  • The Image Quality Difference: A 2K/1440p security camera can record higher HD video resolutions that capture more and clearer details at farther away or even up close compared to a 1K or standard Full HD camera that’s 1080p. This is ironic because there used to be a time when 720p was considered amazingly clear.

You want more clarity from your captured video but the caveat is that you can capture shorter videos since the image quality will eat up more memory, battery power, and cloud storage when push comes to shove. Naturally, a 1920p or 5MP can give you more quality, but its aspect ratio has more pixels vertically and horizontally.

  • Aspect Ratio Concerns for Widescreen Viewing: If you wish to have quality MP viewable in modern devices that are more widescreen aspect-ratio-wise than square, it’s best that you acquire 2MP, 4MP, and 8MP security cameras instead of 3MP and 5MP options. A widescreen video allows you to see more around you.

The edges don’t serve as a blockage or blind spot in 16:9 widescreen. A 1920p IP security camera produces more pixels than 1440p but its aspect ratio has you dealing with a standard definition era type of video at 4:3. You might as well go for the 16:9 widescreen HDTV offerings of 4MP or 8MP if you’re concerned about where to view the video.

  • Capturing Objects from a Distance and Up Close: The main appeal of getting more megapixels into your security video camera is the same main appeal of megapixels in still cameras back in the early to late 2000s. It’s all about capturing objects in the distance at high-fidelity and high-definition.

Some cameras even feature HDR to boot to capture more color gradients to avoid ugly color gradation. This way, even if a suspicious car is parked at a certain distance, you should be able to make out the details of its appearance as well as its license plate. Ditto when capturing the face of a person of interest in a close-up.

  • Live Stream Resolution Concerns: You can do livestreams with a 5MP security camera at 1080p, 1440p, and 1920p resolution. A 4MP cam can do 720p, 1080p, and 1440p resolution. A 2MP cam can do 720p and 1080p.

An 8MP cam can do 2160p, 1920p, 1440p, and 1080p for livestream as well. Long story short, you have more resolution options the higher your camera’s megapixel count is. You typically have to lower livestream resolution depending on your Internet connection reliability and bandwidth being used, by the way.

  • Enhanced Field of View: Megapixel IP security cameras have wide-angle lenses to allow you to cover a wider area with your camera without it having to swivel around across the panorama. It can be stationary yet provide you with a good amount of angles so that ne’er-do-wells won’t be able to duck around or on the sides of the camera to prevent it from capturing their suspicious activity.

Extra megapixels are required to ensure clear high-stock film detail from every inch of the captured image. Additionally, from 4MP upwards you’re given a wide field of view, thus you’re able to cover bigger areas that keep would-be criminals from hiding into supposed security camera blind spots.

  • Bandwidth and Storage Consumption: The major concern many homeowners or business owners have when availing of a higher resolution camera beyond the standard Full HD 1080p is getting videos that are blown up in size and would eat up their bandwidth and cloud storage space limits.

Thankfully, as 4K emerged, cloud technology and Internet upload times have improved drastically, allowing for huge HD files to be saved in the cloud at affordable prices. It’s now viable to have 4K or 8K video uploaded as security cam footage to help law enforcement better do their job at apprehending burglars and whatnot.

  • Analog Security Camera Resolution: 2MP was pushed to 3MP, 4MP, 5MP, 8MP, and beyond partially because it was made possible for analog cameras to reach HD to 1K resolution. Sure, analog security cameras are measured differently by the number of vertical and horizontal lines displayed in an image since they were made with cathode-ray tube television sets in mind.

However, it’s more practical to go the 16:9 widescreen route for the simple reason that it’s the wave of the future. Smartphones and tablets all have screens suited for the HDTV standard for HD-level content, with computers like PCs and laptops following suit. You can still see 4:3 video on widescreen devices, but with black boxes on either side to compensate for the extra real estate.

  • High-Resolution Security Cameras Won’t Cost You More: The main appeals of HD and going higher megapixels is that it’s encouraged by the market and it won’t really cost you any more than buying a 1080p or 2MP camera. HD CCTV cameras are all the rage nowadays, with the rising demand being compensated by increasingly affordable offerings.

Unlike when getting an Ultra HD 4K HDTV or Blu-Ray Disc Player, you won’t necessarily break the bank in getting a 4MP to 8MP home security camera because manufacturers are trying to get their foot into the door of HD surveillance. Take advantage of the low prices while you still have the chance, particularly the $100 range HD security cams.

  • Cloud Computing Solutions for 4K or 8MP to 12MP Cameras: The higher the resolution of your camera the bigger your cloud storage should be because all those extra pixels add up in terms of file size and bandwidth used. The thing you should watch out for when getting storage for your networked security camera solution is that many of them are highly deceptive.

Your security camera uses Network Video Recorder (NVR) tech as opposed to a digital Handycam with Digital Video Recorder (DVR) tech. NVR is like DVR but it processes data at the camera level before streaming it to the recorder for cloud storage and remote viewing. DVR simply processes the data at the recorder level without any networking requirements.

  • Deceptive NVRs for 4K Security Camera Resolutions: Because of how blown up and bandwidth-heavy videos with 2160p or 2800p resolution can get, NVR solutions tend to deceptively advertise to support 4K but in actuality only support 1-2 channels in 4K while the other channels are set at lower resolutions (typically 1080p).

Why is this important? It’s because to not have everything running and streaming at full Ultra HD all the way on all channels defeats the purpose of getting footage at 4K in the first place. Many consumers don’t see the fine print or understand the specs for these NVRs and their cloud storage promises. Sometimes, even the frame rate is affected, so you won’t be able to view your 4K at 60FPS or higher.

You might even be tempted to just get 1080p cameras and call it a day since they’re cheaper and more readily available. Most cloud storage NVR services also cater to the default Full HD resolution and very few would bother pulling the wool over your eyes and, for example, store your 1080p footage at 720p or at lower frame rates.

  • What a Balanced Solution Entails: 2MP security cameras are enough if you don’t need to see the detail from a wide-angle. For example, if you wish to view corners from multiple angles of your home, 2MP or 1080p is enough for your needs in capturing just enough detail. It fulfills your security requirements without going the extra mile of 4K at 8MP to 12MP.

However, sometimes it really pays to have 8-12 million pixels per image. For example, if you have a camera at the front of your hard and you wish to be able to see 20 meters away at a really wide angle with all the details intact without them being blurry when you zoom into the video then the extra pixels really do pay. A balanced solution is your best bet.

  • What to Look for in a Quality HD Camera: The megapixel count and resolution are merely ways to classify the different HD cameras out there. Every camera is built differently and various brands deal with HD, HDR, and detail capture in their own unique ways. Some brands are better than others at being HD cams, such as our highly recommended camera of Reolink RLC-410.

In order to make the most out of your investment, it’s important to remember that it’s not just about megapixels and resolution. You also need excellent night vision to properly make use of all those millions of pixels without ending up with artifacting, poor contrast, aliasing problems, a muddy picture, and so forth. There’s also smart home integration, waterproofing, wide-angle views, microphone for two-way talk, or instant motion detection alerts to look out for.

Security Camera Resolution Comparison: 720p, 1080p, 5MP, 4K

The Bottom Line

A quality security camera should have high resolution or at least Full HD 1080p as the bare minimum. The olden tape-based 480i/576i security cameras of yore were too unclear and had too much static compared to the clearer digital videos of today.

Sure, these videos also suffer from aliasing, artifacting, and pixilation, but every recording type had its drawbacks. Hopefully, with the help of this article, you now have a better idea of the differences between megapixels and resolution as well as why higher resolutions and pixels serve as a good rule of thumb when getting the clearest, most detailed digital imagery from your security cam footage. From there, read reviews to ensure the high-resolution image from the video captures details instead of just being large yet still blurry.

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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