Ask The Wirecutter: Was That an Intruder or a Pet? The Security Cams That Can Tell

The Wirecutter tested several internet-connected security cameras to determine which are the best ones to be mounted outside your home.

I have a Nest camera for inside my house — basically to watch my dog sleep on the couch while I’m at work. I’m thinking about a camera for outside, so I turned for advice to Rachel Cericola, who tests internet-connected devices for The Wirecutter, the New York Times site for product evaluations.

How practical and necessary is it to put an internet-connected security camera outside a home?

I think having an outdoor camera is more practical than an indoor one. I do enjoy watching my dog move from the couch to the floor 20 times a day, but having one outside will let you know if someone is lurking about or trying to break in. Overall, I think the decision to buy an outdoor camera may depend a lot on where you live, if you’re away a lot and how paranoid you are about prowlers and packages left on the doorstep.

When I say “paranoid,” it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re like Jimmy Stewart in “Rear Window.” If you have a lot of outdoor critters getting into trash cans, sheds or other areas, it can provide answers and peace of mind. I also have a milkman, so it’s nice to know when things are in the box.

A milkman!

Yes. He’s awesome, too.

What do you recommend camera-wise, not milk-wise?

The best one I’ve seen so far is the Nest Cam Outdoor. It has killer picture quality and 24/7 recording. Many cameras record just when there’s motion. This one records all the time, so you don’t have to worry about missing something. Then, when something does happen, you get a little notification on your phone or you can view a timeline of videos in the cellphone app. That type of service does require a subscription, which may scare some people off, but it’s not as scary as someone walking right in front of the camera and having your camera miss it.

How did you test the cameras?

I mount them to a board that’s attached to my front porch. I think the most I had mounted there at once was seven.

This spot gets a lot of action. Sometimes it’s too much action, and some cameras will catch every car that drives by. I’ve tested cameras that have sent me over 100 notifications a day. That’s why it’s important to look for a camera that has a way to adjust the camera’s sensitivity.

I’ve also put them in the back of my house and have found that my backyard is quite the late-night hotbed for stray cats and rabbits.

Did the neighbors get worried when they saw all those cameras going up?

I have them in a spot where you can’t really notice until you get up close. But I’m pretty sure some of the neighborhood kids thought I was a drug dealer or something.

The frequent notifications can be annoying. Are any of the cameras good at recognizing what are people and what are raccoons?

This is one of the reasons I love the $170 Nest Cam Outdoor. The Nest Aware feature can tell the difference between people and pets. Also, like everything else in the Nest family, this camera is always learning. It will actually start to recognize people in your family. Again, that type of service starts at $10 a month for one camera, which includes 10 days of video history. If you don’t want to pay for that, the Netatmo Presence has a feature that will alert you to people or animals. That one is good, but not as versatile or easy as the Nest.

Any tips on where to put them and where to point them?

Viewing angle, Wi-Fi strength and whether the camera is wired or wireless may determine how close or far away you can get. If the camera has a wide viewing angle and a clear image, you may be able to cover the entire front of a house with one or two cameras. Entry points are the No. 1 thing to consider, such as the front and back door. The SkyBellHD can combine a camera and a doorbell to see who’s approaching. But some people may want to cover a shed, a boat or the driveway.

I like to have the front door covered so I can see who’s coming and going. I keep the camera close so I can get a nice clear image. I prefer to point it at the front door, but that typically covers my front porch as well.

The milkman doesn’t mind?

He doesn’t seem to. I’m sure barking dogs are way more startling than the cameras. He’s pretty quick, though.