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Optic Security Group
  • Writer's pictureOptic Security Group

Will cheap CCTV cameras take over?

99 dollar cameras are here. They look good, and they’re available off the shelf. Are they the beginning of a new phase in the evolution of CCTV that will deliver us the technology for less?

Last week electronic security industry publication SEN posed the question Will 99 Dollar Cameras Kill CCTV? It’s a timely question. Cheap, off-the-shelf, smartphone accessible security cameras are flying off the shelves at big name hardware and electronics retail stores.

“There are plenty of low-cost cameras on the market with a decent spread of features,” notes SEN’s John Adams. “These include weatherproofing, a splash of IR support, rudimentary IVA, and modest sensors offering acceptable performance in good light with a mildly wide angle of view from a plastic lens guaranteed to exhibit profound sample variation.”

Price and quality trade-off

Security Camera Lens close up
A long-term lens view

The price difference between these inexpensive trolley fillers and enterprise grade CCTV video surveillance systems is immense. In most cases – on a per-camera basis – the difference is in multiples. But, as Adams explains, there is also a massive performance and quality differential.

“Operational priorities in security applications continue to be identification of moving people and vehicles in poor light,” he writes. “Installing a CCTV system that can’t meet these operational parameters builds risk into your customer’s system and into your own business model.”

Optic Security Group Product Innovation Manager and renown CCTV expert Vlado Damjanovski agrees. “From technical picture quality aspect, the cheap store-bought cameras use small sensors and inferior optics, which for users that have never seen a proper CCTV camera may still be okay, but it tends to perform poorly in low light performance and resolution.”

“The real problem comes if and when a criminal event happens and it’s caught on such system – it is very difficult to use it in court for evidentiary purposes,” says Vlado.

"While store-bought cameras may appear to be a cost-effective option for residential applications where consumers are willing to trade performance for price, such as parents remotely checking on their child or pet, they require DIY skills as there will be no support by the store they were bought from. In most cases, these cameras are not designed to be a part of a typical medium or large size CCTV system, and they’re just not good enough to deter crime, identify perpetrators, or support post-incident investigation and recovery."

A long-term lens

This may well be the case now. But what about in several years’ time when the tech continues to evolve, and today’s camera technology becomes even cheaper to manufacture? Are we likely to see further erosion in the cost of tech gradually affecting the price labels of cameras at the high end?

This may be a more difficult question to answer, but according to Optic Security Group Innovation & Risk Manager Nicholas Dynon, history provides some clues.

“Current tech trends suggest that increasingly more is being asked of cameras. We’re seeing, for example, big moves towards more analytics and more storage being provided on the device itself (ie. at the edge). We’re also seeing growing expectations for cameras in building management and smart ecosystem applications. It’s not far-fetched to envisage that cameras may ultimately evolve into multi-sensory surveillance, safety, environmental management, and data collection devices. That evolution is already underway.

Just one indicator of the evolution to the edge is the proliferation of System on Chip (SOC) technology, which enables game changing edge processing. According to the IFSEC Insider’s Video Surveillance Report 2023, 30% of network cameras deployed today have an advanced SOC processor – and by 2026 this will be closer to 70%.

“In short, the increasing demand for – and ability of – cameras to “do more” will likely negate the breakthrough of cheaper, not-so-smart cameras into the enterprise space,” states Nicholas. “Think mobile phones; they’re no less expensive today than they were three decades ago, but they do so much more than they did back then – and we expect them to do so!”


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