Can Security Cameras See Inside Cars?

Security cameras have come a long way since the days of CCTV and VCRs. Now, it’s not only big businesses and governments using them to watch and protect.

Businesswire reports that the home security systems market around the world 2021 was estimated to be $55.8 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $82.37 billion by 2026.

As of 2017 in the United States, 36 million had home security systems. So, the concept of protecting your own home with security cameras is growing in popularity.

But, you may wonder just how much can a home security camera see. Can it focus beyond car windows into the inside of a car in your parking lot or inside parking garages?

High-tech cameras do often capture a license plate as many have already experienced, but that’s not usually a requirement for private citizens.

A high-resolution camera, like HIKVision’s CCTV camera, will be able to catch video of the inside of a parked car.

Another viable home surveillance camera is by Reolink. The Reolink Argus 3 Pro is a wireless camera with night vision and a motion sensor.

But, clearly seeing inside a car also depends on the position and angle of your outdoor camera and whether it’s a wired or a wireless system.

Positioning of Your Home Security Cameras

Even 4K video cameras can have problems focusing through glass or behind glass.

Ever notice how difficult it can be to see who’s behind the wheel at a traffic light on a bright sunny day? That’s because the glare from the windows can obstruct the view.

But, drivers and passengers may be visible and identifiable through a windshield depending on the angle of the camera.

Ryan Toyota, a marketing designer for Ascendent Technology Group, says cameras will have the same problems as the human eye when it comes to seeing through a car window.

He says the difference is in how a camera is angled as well as the lighting conditions surrounding it.

That explains how traffic cams in many countries can see the driver and passenger – they take shots at a sharp downward angle.

Traffic sensor cameras are mainly set up to measure traffic flow and analyze the timing of traffic lights.

These types of cameras are not used for law enforcement and generally, the video is not saved or stored for any length of time.

Ron Jarrell, the technical architect for campus surveillance systems at Virginia Tech, says most surveillance cams are also for general viewing covering large areas in public spaces, so details inside each car are often too small to make out.

He says, however, that the advancement in lens technology will help bring more details to a picture in the future.

If you want your camera to be able to capture images inside a car from a distance, these are the best ways to set your camera:

1.    Avoid setting up cameras where infrared light (IR) gets blocked or the camera captures too much reflective light. 

Stay away from walls or glass or other direct light sources. Window glare or glass reflection can cause image blind spots, whiteouts, or washed-out videos.

2.    Turn off or disable the IR light as well as the status lights at night. This can help lower IR security camera window reflection.

3.    Remove the protective film (which comes in the package) from the camera. You will find the image is blurry or hazy if the film is kept on.

4.    Don’t waste the field of view. This happens when the camera is mounted too steeply or set at too sharp of an angle.

Double-check the view of the camera right after installation. Use the camera app to confirm whether you like the view and keep adjusting till it’s perfect.

Still, the type of camera you use can make a big difference in the kind of images you take.

Wired vs. Wireless

The trend running across all technology currently is wireless. With the inception of smart homes and everything do-it-yourself, it only makes sense that home security systems would become easier to set up for the average person.

Technology has advanced so much that it has become increasingly difficult to tell a difference between wired and wireless.

Wired security cameras transmit audio and video signals through a wire to a central hub.

The footage can stay local on the hub for viewing or it can be directed outside of the home to a network.

Users can then watch videos live or recorded through the network. Wired cameras must be hardwired into your wifi connection and a power source.

Typically, this requires that you fix one cord into your internet router and another into a power outlet.

Fortunately, most wired home surveillance systems pull power from the digital video recorder (DVR) or network video recorder (NVR) and don’t have to be plugged into an outlet.

Also, homeowners can still view their videos or images through an app on their phones, however, most wired systems connect a computer monitor to the recording device to see the recordings and real-time feeds.

Wireless cameras work by transmitting the camera’s video through a radio (RF) transmitter.

The video is then directed to a receiver connected to built-in storage or through cloud storage. So, the image or video is easily linked to your monitor or receiver.

Car security cameras are often installed wireless, but they are dash cams.

Dash cams are car cameras used to provide security to the driver of the vehicle in that it is used largely to gather video evidence in case of an accident.

You would also mount a dash cam in the windshield looking outside of the car onto the road. So, even with camera video in 4K, it won’t do any good to use a dash cam pointed away from your car.

Focus on capturing video inside of a parked car, there are several advantages to installing a wireless security camera system.

Advantages to wired:

Wired cameras are often used as professional cameras for video surveillance.

They may be an ‘older’ concept among home security cameras and car surveillance cameras, but you still can’t beat the high-quality video it is known to deliver. 

Most of these cameras will capture 4K images, a much higher resolution than the 2K or common 1080p of wireless options.

4K stands for 4000 pixels of the width of the footage. It means that one frame can create an 8.3-megapixel image.

Its predecessor, Full HD, can produce a two-megapixel image from one frame of footage.

Homeowners can usually zoom in with 4K cameras and see specific objects with better clarity. A camera like Hikvision’s latest CCTV bullet camera has such high resolution that it can produce clear pictures and video even in total darkness.

Another unique benefit is that NVRs record locally to a hard drive located in your home.

They normally have a large storage capacity as well, so multiple cameras can be set up to record 24/7.

There are no subscription fees either. You can check your video recordings at any time. Wired security cameras are also more reliable because they will record even if the Internet is down.

Disadvantages to wired:

You’ll hear a lot of homeowners complaining about the complicated setup of wired security cameras. 

They do require more work than wireless because CCTV cameras run on ethernet ports that provide data and power, known as power over ethernet (PoE).

However, often you will only need one cable for this wired set up and there’s no need to find a nearby outlet for the camera.

Wired cameras can also be hard to mount for a do-it-yourselfer because of the complex wiring, so installing additional mini cameras to your system may seem impossible.

Also, a lot of wired cameras are designed for desktop users first, then mobile, so you may have to do a bit more work to set up an app for your phone.

A 4K camera can take up an enormous amount of disk space compared to its wireless cousins. And, many are not Alexa compatible or compatible with any other smart home systems.  

With the better quality of the video, also comes a higher price. Most wired cameras start upwards of $600.

Advantages of Wireless:

Wireless is heaven for the average DIY-er who wants to set up their home security system.

These cameras tend to be battery-powered and easy to set up – you charge or plugin and you’re ready to go.

That makes it easy for you to set up four cameras around your home in a short amount of time.

You may also find it easier to turn these into hidden cameras as they can be placed in various areas out of sight.

Many wireless cameras have facial recognition features. Although it’s still somewhat rare, facial recognition means the camera uses biometrics to map facial features from a photograph or video.

Then it takes that information and attempts to find a match out of a large database. Many homeowners appreciate this technology as it helps them identify people who enter their property.

Then there is motion detection. Another feature growing in popularity, is motion sensors work by detecting infrared energy radiating from humans and animals. 

When there is a sudden rise in infrared energy, the sensor signals your smart camera, which then turns on and starts recording.

A wireless camera like the Reolink Argus 3 Pro has added perks of a built-in spotlight and siren that sounds immediately if it detects a threat.

You get a notification on your phone or tablet that there has been an event at home that you may want to know about.

Also, these cameras are typically designed to be controlled by your phone. That means you can easily scroll through video clips anywhere and anytime that is convenient for you.

They also allow easier integration with other smart home devices like Alexa or Ring doorbells.

Disadvantages of Wireless:

One problem that wireless security cameras often share is they use wifi to connect, which means video storage usually takes place through the cloud.

Transmission speed is slower because of this and it can take users a few minutes to see their camera view.

Also, Internet connections are unreliable and can lead to missed videos.

You typically need to store video from wireless cameras on the cloud, which means it’s not stored locally and you will almost always need to pay subscription fees to access recorded footage.

And, there are several blog posts about how crazy-sensitive some of these wireless cameras can be.

One blog post about the Google Nest battery cam for outdoors complained that he was forced to buy a subscription plan after he realized that the camera’s motion detection was alerting him of every small movement that occurred nearby.

He said he would get constant alerts on his phone for the most mundane and unimportant events.

Final View

Yes, surveillance cameras these days, can see inside parked cars, but not only do you need an advanced camera to do it, but you also need specific light conditions and positioning of the camera lens.

You have to consider the reflection from infrared cameras when objects are too close to the camera or when external light sources are beaming toward it.

If your camera is situated next to a wall, eave, or ceiling, for example, the camera’s IR light may bounce back and obstruct the video footage or image.

Still, a high-quality camera, whether it’s wired or wireless can be a useful tool in capturing the inside of a car.

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