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Video doorbells are great for keeping an eye on the entrance to your home, but what about your backyard? Or your driveway? For those, you need outdoor security cameras.
They’re weatherproof, and most run on rechargeable batteries, allowing you to mount them almost anywhere, even to a tree (provided it’s still in range of your home’s WiFi). Most cameras save footage to the cloud, but some let you save it locally on an SD card or a USB drive. Either way, the cameras use rolling storage, where the oldest footage is deleted to make room for new footage when there is no free space.
The smart features you’ll find on any given camera vary, but many of them send you smartphone alerts when they “see” things of interest, such as people, cars, animals, and packages. Other common features include: voice control via digital assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant; two-way audio, for speaking to visitors via your smartphone or digital assistant; and the ability to silence motion alerts at certain times of day, say, during the day while you work from home.
In our tests, we assess the smart features in each outdoor security camera, plus the video quality (including how well night vision works) and how quickly you get an alert when the camera detects motion. And though privacy outside your home might not be as big a concern as what goes on inside your home, we still score models on how well they protect your data.
“Even outdoor cameras pose privacy and security concerns,” says Justin Brookman, CR’s director of technology policy. “Depending on where the cameras are positioned, they can reveal a lot about you, such as when you tend to leave and come home, and with whom. A hacker could potentially use that information to determine when would be a good time to break into a home, or at least snatch some packages.”
Below you’ll find details on the five best outdoor security cameras from our tests, listed in alphabetical order. They’re made by Arlo, Ring, and TP-Link. All feature two-way audio, schedules for silencing motion alerts, and voice control via Amazon Alexa. Other features you’ll find in some of these models include:
Monitoring zones: This feature allows you to highlight areas of the camera’s field of view, such as a driveway, to monitor for movement—or ignore when there is movement, such as a busy street.
Person, package, vehicle, and/or animal detection: The camera can detect the presence of people, packages, vehicles, and/or animals in the camera’s field of view and record footage when those objects are detected.
Geofencing: This feature uses your phone’s location so that the camera will record and/or send alerts only when you’re away from home.
e911: You’ll find e911 in the camera’s smartphone app. With it, you can call your home’s local 911 dispatcher directly if there is an emergency. That could save valuable time if you’re away from home because usually you’d be connected to the 911 dispatcher closest to where you’re calling from, then be put through to your local police department so that you can ask them to check on your property.
5 Best Outdoor Security Cameras
Arlo Essential Wireless Security Camera VMC2030-100NAS
Free video storage: None
Optional subscriptions costs: Through an Arlo Smart plan, you can get 30 days of cloud video storage for $3 per month for one camera or $10 per month for five cameras; 24/7 continuous video recording costs $10 per month per camera for 14 days and $20 per month per camera for 30 days.
CR’s take: The Arlo Essential Wireless Security Camera is a fantastic security camera, receiving strong ratings in our tests for video quality and data security. It performs quite well in our response time test, earning a Very Good rating, but its data privacy could be better. This model gives you a built-in spotlight that allows for color night vision, a rechargeable battery, a siren, voice control (via Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit/Siri, and Google Assistant), and connects directly to WiFi (unlike its siblings below, which use base stations). With an Arlo Smart subscription, you can get more video storage as well as monitoring zones; person, package, vehicle, and animal detection; and e911, which allows you to contact your home’s local 911 dispatcher from the Arlo app. The company offers subscriptions for 24/7 continuous video recording, too. If you don’t want to pay a monthly fee for video storage, you can use an Arlo Smart Hub ($100, sold separately) to save footage on a USB drive instead. The hub is also required for Apple HomeKit/Siri to work.
Arlo Pro 2
Free video storage: Seven days
Optional subscription costs: Through an Arlo Smart plan, you can get 30 days of cloud video storage for $3 per month for one camera or $10 per month for five cameras; 24/7 continuous video recording costs $10 per month per camera for 14 days and $20 per month per camera for 30 days.
CR’s take: The Arlo Pro 2 offers superb video quality, and Arlo cameras are the only models in our ratings with Excellent Smart IQ ratings, which means they offer a wide array of smart features compared with the competition, including a siren, voice control (via Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit/Siri, and Google Assistant), a rechargeable battery, and a rolling seven days of free storage for motion- and audio-triggered video clips (a perk that the other Arlo cameras in our ratings lack). The Pro 2 also receives a great score for data security in part because of Arlo’s very secure authentication system, but its data privacy is mediocre because of the company’s vague privacy policies. With an Arlo Smart plan, you can get more video storage as well as monitoring zones; person, package, vehicle, and animal detection; and e911. If you don’t want to pay a monthly fee for video storage, you can connect a USB drive to the base station and store footage there instead.
Arlo Pro 3
Free video storage: None
Optional subscriptions costs: Through an Arlo Smart plan, you can get 30 days of cloud video storage at up to 2K resolution (for a crisper, clearer picture than high-definition) for $3 per month for one camera or $10 per month for five cameras; 24/7 continuous video recording costs $10 per month per camera for 14 days and $20 per month per camera for 30 days.
CR’s take: The Arlo Pro 3 is another terrific camera that performs just as well as its predecessor, the Arlo Pro 2, receiving identical performance ratings in our tests and offering many of the same features. So what’s different about the Pro 3? It costs about $100 more and includes a built-in spotlight that allows for color night vision footage, a siren in the camera itself (instead of in the base station that goes inside your home), a wide 160-degree field of view, and a higher-resolution 2K HDR (high dynamic range) image sensor. Just as with the Arlo Pro 2, an Arlo Smart plan gets you cloud video storage and extra features, such as person, package, vehicle, and animal detection; monitoring zones; and e911. However, you can simply connect a USB drive to the base station and store footage locally.
Ring Stick Up Cam (Battery)
Free video storage: None
Optional subscription costs: Through a Ring Protect plan, you get 60 days of cloud video storage for one camera for $3 per month (or $30 per year) or 60 days for unlimited cameras for $10 per month (or $100 per year).
CR’s take: For a more affordable camera compared with the models above, consider the third-generation Ring Stick Up Cam (Battery). At $100, this camera works both indoors and outdoors, and gives you monitoring zones and voice control via Amazon Alexa. In our tests, this Ring camera receives strong scores for video quality and response time (how long it takes the camera to send alerts when motion is detected). We also found that Ring does a good job of keeping your data secure, but its data privacy is lacking in part because Ring doesn’t clearly state how long it retains your data and when it deletes the data. If you subscribe to a Ring Protect video storage plan, you’ll get photo snapshots between recordings in the Ring app and person detection.
TP-Link Kasa Cam KC200
Free video storage: Rolling two days of storage for two years from the initial setup date
Optional subscription costs: Through a Kasa Care plan, you get 30 days of cloud storage for one camera for $3 per month (or $30 per year) or 30 days of storage for up to 10 cameras for $10 per month (or $100 per year).
CR’s take: If you don’t want to bother recharging batteries, consider the TP-Link Kasa Cam KC200. It plugs into an outlet for power, although that might limit where you can place the camera. In our tests, it offers superb video quality and receives an Excellent rating for its response time. It also does quite well in our data security tests, though its authentication system isn’t as good as those offered by Arlo and Ring. As for data privacy, the company isn’t as transparent as others about how it handles your data, nor does it give you as much control over your data. This camera features monitoring zones, voice control via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and a built-in siren. The free video storage is a nice feature, but if you want more than two days of rolling footage, you’ll need to subscribe to a Kasa Care plan.