Looking for an affordable camera system….

Cheap camera systems and their installers are doing a disservice to the community

If you are looking for a great deal on a camera system this holiday season, make sure you aren’t compromising value in the name of savings.

Last week… a client walk-through in Brooklyn

“I want something cheap, and I need it by next week.”

Last week I had the pleasure of doing a site survey for a potential client in Bay Ridge. It was a sizable job – over 30 cameras, and the client called us because of our online reviews. So I thought he understood the value of quality.

After doing a thorough walk-through, I finally got around to asking the client about his expectations for the system, what were his areas of concern, what did he want to see, etc. He said “I want something cheap, and I need it by next week.”

Fast and cheap

“cameras don’t work anyway, I just need them to scare off would-be criminals.”

I asked about the cash registers, the storage areas, the store safe,“fast and cheap, and make sure the roof is covered, the previous owner had a break-in through the roof.”

I started explaining about resolution, lines of sight, back-light compensation, Wide Dynamic Range. He interrupted and said “cameras don’t work anyway, I just need them to scare off would-be criminals.”

How could he….

quality video evidence is the difference between “police are searching for a person of interest,”and a “conviction?”

I was aghast. How could he say that? Our cameras were responsible for three arrests just this year alone. One of them a murder. Doesn’t he know that quality video evidence is the difference between “police are searching for a person of interest,”and a “conviction?”

His response floored me, “I had a professional install a twelve camera system in my last store, only four of them work, and it’s only been two years.”He continued with, “A few months ago a man was killed on this block. In broad daylight. Everybody here has cameras. They never caught the guy.” “I want something cheap and I need it by the end of the week.”

It finally dawned on me…

I am not talking about Bugatti, I am talking about Toyota.

He had never seen a quality camera system. Not the stuff in casinos, but the stuff in a 4 star hotel or a convention center. I am not talking about Bugatti, I am talking about Toyota.

I exited that store and walked down the block looking at the cameras on neighboring store fronts. There wasn’t a single camera there that wasn’t a part of a $300 or less kit. The whole kit, 4 cameras and a recorder sold for less than two decent cameras.

No wonder he didn’t know any better. The equipment in his original store sells for $30 per camera and $500 for the recorder.

There is a difference. Believe me. A huge difference!

The difference is in the details,

Look, any camera system will produce an image. It’s what they do. Almost all of them will work at night, and pretty much every system will let you see it on your phone. Those aren’t premium features. A $300 kit will do all of that.

Are you worried about your babysitter inside your house? A $300 system is probably fine.

Are you worried about your car sitting in the driveway? Look for something better.

A 1080p or two megapixel camera should give you facial recognition for 18-22 feet (roughly 1MP per 10 feet is a good rule of thumb).

Features like backlight compensation and Wide Dynamic Range are essential if there are any lighting conditions more challenging than indoor lighting. Street lights in frame? Sunlight across the field of view? Deep shadows in the image? The $30 camera isn’t going to cut it.

The good news is…

High resolution equipment is becoming more affordable. A WDR/BLC camera with 2MP of resolution used to cost $300 and up. Now a 4 channel kit with 4MP cameras (almost 40′ of facial recognition), with limited WDR and BLC can be had for under $1,000. It would be closer to $1,000 than $300, but well worth the investment. This kind of stuff even carries a 3 year warranty.

What about the installer?

Background checks

The reasons that one installer may be able to do an installation for $80 per camera and the other one is quoting $180 are numerous.

Are the technicians working on or off the books? Are they background checked (like it or not these people are in charge of your security). Are their fingerprints on file with the state? New York State requires that all alarm (and that includes CCTV) technicians be approved by the state through a background check, and have their finger prints on file.


Is the installing company insured. You have the right to demand proof of insurance from your contractors. That includes Worker Compensation or Disability, and General Liability insurance. If they can’t produce those certificates, you are doing business at your own risk.

A technician who gets hurt on the job could turn around and sue the property owner for damages just as easily as they could sue their employer.

What if something goes terribly wrong? I don’t mean somebody puts their foot through the drywall, that’s easy to fix. I mean what if they cut into a power line? Pierce a steam pipe? Cut a supporting member? Is their insurance coverage sufficient to pay for the repairs ($1,000,000 is typical minimum coverage)?

Will they be able to fix it, or will they run away, and never pick up the phone again when they see your number?

What if something goes wrong that no-one could have foreseen? Do they have Errors and Omissions coverage?

All of this costs more to the installer, so they can’t compete with the cheap guys, but consider the risks you are taking when you are saving a few bucks.


Are they using $0.30 connectors or $2.50 connectors? Just like with the rest of the equipment, there is a reason for the price difference, and the quality and longevity of your purchase depends on the details.


Do they work by contract? Does the contract stipulate a warranty? How long will that warranty last?

Think about it, that means that if something goes wrong during the warranty term, the installation company will have to send someone out to fix things, for free! Talk about an incentive to do a good job.

Finally…quality work

It’s not easy to judge quality when you don’t know the job, but a few things stand out even to the uninitiated.

Does the crew take out their own garbage? Do they bring their own garbage bags? Vacuum? Did they leave the place at least as clean as when they got there?

Are they uniformed? Do they work like a team or a bunch of people thrown together? Did they bring all of their own tools, or are they borrowing yours?

Quality costs more, but the results pay for themselves

If you aren’t willing to have one out four cameras showing false colors, lose its night vision or flat out fail within two years of purchase, perhaps you should hold off on that $300 4 camera plus recorder kit, save a little more and get something that will give you years of good service for your money.