Battery powered cameras or wired cameras?

There are pros and cons to both battery powered and cable powered security cameras.

There are pros and cons to both cable and battery powered security cameras.

One thing that tends to divide both the suppliers, and users of camera based security systems is how the cameras are powered.

So what are the pluses and minuses of battery powered cameras compared to plug in ones, are there any situations where one has a big advantage over the other and are there any traps to look out for?

Most higher resolution security cameras on the market today need plugging in to mains power. In contrast there are some systems that give you the option of using cameras that take batteries.

Let’s  look at the features of these two types of cameras

Mains powered security cameras

These normally need DC electricity at lower voltage, usually 5, 12 or 48 Volts, and so come with a transformer. A wall plug transformer is the most common type, similar to the ones that you probably use to charge your smart phone.

Although cameras come with a set length of cable attached to the transformer (CleverLoop cameras have a three metres cable as standard), extensions to those cables can be used, with one limitation. As the cameras use DC power, voltage drop can be a problem with longer extensions, with the issue being worse at the lower voltages.

Provided you are using extension cables with suitable thickness wire (thinner wire will have higher losses), then you should be able to extend 5V camera cables to 5 – 8m, 12V cameras cables to 30 – 50m, and 48V camera cables to 100m+.

Another option for almost all mains powered cameras is to use “power over ethernet” or PoE. This can be particularly handy for outdoor cameras, where a weak WiFi signal may struggle to give a reliable data connection. You can run ethernet cable (Cat6 or Cat5e) from your router to the cameras as the data connection, and also power the camera down the same cable.

There are usually two options for pushing power into your PoE system, using either a PoE capable switch or router, or using the wall transformer that came with the camera. For more details, see this support article.

Battery powered security cameras

Obviously these cameras use batteries, but the batteries types that they take can vary.

Some cameras take commonly available batteries, such as D, C or AA, whereas others take slightly more specialised batteries, such as CR123’s, that you may not be able to buy easily at your local supermarket or shop.

No matter what type of battery a camera takes, you should be able to use rechargeable batteries if you want to. Keep in mind that rechargeable batteries are often lower voltage than their non-rechargeable equivalent, which normally means that the rechargeable batteries won’t power a camera for quite as long. It’s also worth noting that some camera manufacturers don’t recommend using rechargeable batteries in their cameras and using them can result in warranty issues if you have any problems.

Pros and cons of battery power

The real benefit of a battery powered camera is that it is truly wireless, or what is often described as ‘cable-free’. With batteries and a WiFi network, you don’t need any cables running to the camera at all.

Having no wires makes the cameras easier to instal (you don’t need a power point near the spot you choose), and you can change their location easily too.

This lack of wires does have a drawback though. The batteries will happily run the camera wherever you want to put it, but, particularly when it comes to outdoor cameras, your WiFi signal may not be strong enough to give a reliable data connection. Also, the weaker the WiFi signal to the camera is, the more power the camera has to use to maintain a connection.

Another downside with battery powered cameras is that although cameras only use relatively small amounts of electricity, they use it 24 hours a day, regardless of whether they are sending footage to a monitor, a recording device or as with CleverLoop a smart Base Station processor. 

To avoid this issue, cameras that take batteries often use a motion detection approach, where the camera only turns on and collects footage when a built-in sensor detects movement.

The problem with motion sensing like this is that it takes away the powerful benefits that you get with a system like CleverLoop where the Base Station uses powerful algorithms to analyse the footage from the camera, and separate minor movements from the important ones, eliminating most false alarms.

In addition, you can’t do continuous recording with video security systems that only have battery powered cameras. Battery cameras that use motion sensors to turn the camera recording on might do roughly 5 minutes or so of recording each day. So let’s say that a batteries in a camera lasts between 2 to 5 months, which seems to be what most users find depending on the make and model of camera, this means you’d only get the equivalent of 5 to 13 hours of continuous recording. This clearly isn’t enough if you are in a small business or residential setting where you want both continuously stored CCTV footage as well as alert footage.

The battery pitfall

The big downside of cameras with batteries is that batteries go flat and need replacing. While it’s not a problem when you are at home, and have replacement or recharged batteries ready to go, not having batteries to hand can be pretty annoying. The batteries in your cameras dieing while you are away from home for an extended period is the real issue though. Dead batteries equals no security system, and if you are overseas or inter-state on holiday, it’s tricky to pop a new set in.

Then there is the cost. For example, a single quality CR123 battery will cost about $5 to $10, or sometimes more, in Australia and some cameras need 4 of these to operate. Using the $5 batteries and replacing them every 4 months, will cost you about $60  a year per camera. How many cameras do you need? $10 batteries replaced every 3 months will set you back up to $160 a year per camera. Rechargeable versions are available, for around $20 each, but remember they often won’t last as long as non-rechargeable batteries and there can be questions over warranties.

Cables are best

For a reliable, dependable security system, we say go with cables. Plus, there are probably already plenty of things in your life that you need to remember to charge, from mobile phones and tablets, to laptops and electric toothbrushes. Do you want to have to remember to charge or change the batteries for your security cameras as well?

If you are serious about security, for your small business or home, then the minor hassle and additional cost of running cables is more than offset by knowing the system will always be working to protect you, your family and your property..

Our recommendation to remove as many variables from your CleverLoop security system as possible is to run ethernet cables to all your cameras, giving them a guaranteed reliable data connection, and then use PoE to power the cameras from a PoE capable switch.


For more information on ways to get power and data to your CleverLoop cameras, see this support article on our website.


by The CleverLoop Team
February 22, 2017