The Golden Rules
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Keep in mind an effective system is designed to meet the challenges of the environment and the goals of the owner. While each video surveillance system is unique, the majority of systems follow basic concepts and best practices.

Wired or wireless

Only consider wireless if running a single cable from the camera locations to the video recorder is not possible. The main benefit of wireless is convenience, not performance or reliability. If you question this, simply read some reviews of the wireless systems on the market. We see this rule proven everyday as many of our new customers are replacing wireless systems.

Selecting the right lens

  • If the viewing area is under 50 feet from the camera, select a camera with a 2.8 or 3.6mm fixed lens.
  • If the viewing area is 50-180 feet from the camera, select a camera with 2.8-12mm zoom lens (manual or motorized).
  • If the area is 200-900 feet from the camera, consider using a PTZ camera with a 4-84mm motorized zoom lens.

Selecting the right resolution

Use 5MP resolution cameras with a manual zoom lens for general surveillance. The manual zoom allows you to zoom in optically for the perfect field of view while the large 5MP video format allows you to digitally zoom into the video, all while maintaining excellent clarity.

Use 4K Cameras on high priority locations. The 2x larger format will provide twice the digital zoom capability of a 5MP camera.

Selecting the right night vision

Select a camera that has a night vision range that is no more than double the expected viewing distance. For example, if your desired viewing distance is 60-80 feet from the camera location, we would select a camera with a 120 foot night vision distance. If your desired viewing distance is 30 feet, we would not recommend a camera with night vision distance stronger than 60 feet. In short, the sweet spot is 50-80% of the camera's maximum night vision distance.

Be careful mixing brands

Some cameras and technologies are not compatible with certain video recorders. Make sure that the camera is compatible with the video recorder. For example, our CVI video recorders can support all the CVI cameras as well as the Pro-vue & Elite cameras, but CVI does not support Ultra cameras.

Don't ask one camera to do the work of two

The most common mistake customers make is trying to get one camera to do the work of two. We all want to get the most out of each camera, but if you try to get one camera to do too much, you may end up wasting your money. We have all seen video of some crime being committed, but because of the lack of detail in the video, the person cannot be identified. There are two aspects to ensure this does not happen with your system. First, go with top quality equipment and second, be conservative with the coverage you expect each camera to provide. As a general rule, each camera should not be expected to view more than 30-50 feet horizontally at the preferred distance.


If you are using a 3.6mm lens (which is considered a very wide angle lens), the chart below shows the view at 30 feet from the camera will be 29 feet wide (horizontal). This is the maximum distance you should expect this lens to provide detail. Yes, the camera will see further, but the objects become very small and the view will provide less detail as the distance increases. If you need to see detail at a longer distance, you simply use a larger lens such as a 6, 8, 12 or 20mm lens. Don't worry if this sounds confusing there is a simple way to eliminate all calculating. Simply use cameras with a manual zoom lens. It allows you to mount the camera and then manually zoom the camera in or out until you see exactly what you want to see.

Our most popular cameras are equipped with a manual zoom lens. This allows you to mount the camera and then, using the zoom knob on the camera, adjust or zoom the viewing area in or out until you get the perfect view.

Leave room to grow

Nationwide, video surveillance systems grow 35% after installation. This is due to two reasons: 1.) the customer did not use an adequate number of cameras to provide the coverage they desired. 2.) the customer found the system to be so effective that they expanded the system to provide additional security and surveillance benefits. The lesson here is to allow the system to have expansion capabilities. You can always add cameras but it’s the video recorder you have to make sure will support your future needs. Surveillance recorders are built to support four, eight, sixteen and thirty two cameras. If you initially purchase four cameras with a four channel recorder and then later find you absolutely need a fifth camera...that one camera is going to be expensive. Out goes the four camera recorder and in comes a new eight camera video recorder. It is very wise to purchase a video recorder that is one size larger than you initially need.

Why your system should be designed - Camera Placement Ideas

Every single day we replace big box store and Lorex prepackaged systems. The story is always the same. The customer buys a one size fits all kit, they install it, they uninstall it, then they return it and then buy a Backstreet Surveillance system.

Here are some facts about packaged kits from big box stores like Lorex, Swann, Uniden, Zmoto, Amazon etc.

  • What you see is what you get. The kits have specific cable lengths. If you need to extend a cable, good luck because you’re on your own.
  • The cameras have a fixed view lens. What looks good in the store is not likely to produce the view you need when the camera is 15 feet up and looking 50 feet away.
  • They offer ZERO installation and programming support. We have learned over the years that no matter how simple you make a system, the customer will always need some level of support, whether it be help with setting up remote viewing, motion activated recording or some other customization.

  • Selecting camera locations

    The following tips are suggestions, they may not apply to every installation. Before you start installing, walk the areas where you plan to install the cameras. If possible, stand at the location each camera is intended to be located. Pay attention to what you see. Can you see everything you want to at that location? If the answer is no or there is an obvious blind spot, look for a better location for the camera.

    Indoor cameras can be installed just about anywhere, wall or ceiling mounted is fine. Typically cameras are installed in a corner of the room opposite from the entry point. This usually provides the best coverage and requires anyone who would want to tamper with the camera to be recorded before they have access to the camera. The best height for a camera is usually around the 10ft level. This is high enough to keep people from accessing the camera unless they have a ladder. Also understand, if you aim a camera at large exterior windows or an exterior door, the view may be somewhat limited during bright or sunny days. All cameras are equipped with an auto iris which works extremely well, but they still have their limits and will have to adjust to either the light level inside or the light level outside. Whichever it adjusts to, the other will be less than optimal.

    Outdoor cameras follow the same basic guidelines as indoor cameras. While they are designed to weather the elements and can operate in extreme conditions, it is still preferable to protect them if possible as they will last longer. If the choice is to mount the camera directly on the roof (taking the full brunt of the sun, rain and wind) or on the side of a building where it is somewhat sheltered, always choose the side of the building.

    Pre-made cables

    Consider using pre-made cables as this eliminates the need to make fittings that are likely not going to match factory quality. The only warning using pre-made cables is to make sure you measure them correctly and it is best to order a cable slightly longer than you may need. There is nothing more frustrating than being 5 feet short. The excess cable can be spooled up and left in the ceiling or behind the work station. If you are short, you can plug two pre-made cables together (a connector is required). Warning about CVI pre-made cables. Before you start pulling the cable, pay attention to the markings on each end of the cable as they are not identical. One end is specifically for the camera and the other end is specifically for the video recorder. This is not a problem with network, Cat5 or Cat6 cables.

    Remote viewing

    Before calling our support representatives for remote viewing setup, it is helpful to first connect the video recorder to your router or internet modem with a network cable. Each of our recorders has a standard network connection, just like your PC or Mac. The unit connects to the internet by simply plugging it into your router. All remote access is performed through this internet connection. Once this connection is made, a couple of access settings are required which our support representatives are more than willing to help with. Keep in mind, they cannot help until the NVR or video recorder is connected to the router. If you have questions about making the connection, give us a call and we will help.

    Please note, all surveillance recorders require a true broad band internet connection for remote viewing. HughesNet and other satellite internet services do not provide the support needed to configure the remote viewing features. This is not a limitation of the video recorder but rather the satellite service provider. Confirm your internet service provides a minimum of 3 meg UPLOAD speed to ensure reliable remote viewing.