5 Best Motion-Detector Cameras of 2020

Looking for the best motion-detector camera? No problem.
  • Best Value
    Automatic zoom
    Expensive
  • Most Extras
    Air quality sensor
    Increased storage costs for each camera
  • Best for Smart Home
    350° rotation
    Increased storage costs for each camera
  • Best for Outdoors
    Colored night vision
    No free cloud storage
  • Budget Pick
    Extremely inexpensive
    No storage extensions

Security cameras sound cool, but then you realize that they’re impossible to watch all the time. There’s a reason that some businesses have security guards whose jobs are solely to stare at the CCTV system. If they look away, they might miss something . . . unless they have motion-detector cameras.

Cameras with motion detection make video surveillance more realistic for the average person. By alerting you only when something happens, they save you a lot of time staring at a screen.

Best motion-detector cameras
ModelPriceResolutionTwo-way audio and night visionSee details
Nest Cam IQ Indoor$259.991080p

Yes
View at Walmart
Canary All-in-One Indoor$169.001080p

Yes
View on Amazon
Zmodo Pivot Cloud$89.991080p

Yes
View on Amazon
Arlo Ultra$399.992160p

Yes
View on Amazon
Tend Insight Lynx Indoor 2$59.991080p

Yes
View on Amazon

Data effective 03/30/2020. Offers subject to change.

Amazon.com List Prices (as of 03/30/2020 10:28 MST).

Nest Cam IQ Indoor: Best value

Nest Cam is our favorite, but it comes at a high price.

Nest Camera Indoor IQ

Pros

  • Automatic zoom
  • Person alerts
  • Facial recognition
  • Works with Google Assistant

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not meant to be a standalone
  • No free cloud storage
  • Indoor only

Why we chose Nest Cam IQ Indoor

The Nest Cam’s a dream. It looks nice, works well, and has everything an indoor motion-detector camera needs to do its job.

Automatic zoom

The Nest Cam IQ can zoom in and follow a person using a 4K motion sensor.

One of the Nest Cam IQ’s most useful features is its ability to zoom in and follow a person using a 4K motion sensor. (The Nest Cam IQ streams only in 1080p, but the higher-powered sensor helps with detection.)

It’s not perfect, but it’s handy for details.

Person alerts

Your Nest Cam IQ Indoor doesn’t just detect motion. It’s able to differentiate between human movement and other movements that amount to visual white noise. For instance, it can tell the difference between a person and a duck. (We won’t tell you how we know that.)

To aid in its person discernment, Nest Cam IQ features facial recognition. This face recognition technology helps the camera distinguish between person-related movement and non-person-related movement. This feature also lets the camera learn the difference between strangers and people who visit often.

The camera has some issues with identifying the same person from a different angle or in the dark. The facial recognition has a learning curve, so it may just take time for the camera to figure things out. Still, we urge you to use a grain of salt with the recognition feature.

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Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
Nest Cam also has a stunning outdoor IQ version with motion detection and facial recognition. It’s incredibly expensive at $399.99, but it’s comparable to the Arlo Ultra, our pick for best outdoor motion camera.

The downside

High price

Nest costs two to four times as much as the typical camera. That makes sense since it’s nicer than average, but the quality won’t make your gutted wallet feel any better.

The Nest Aware subscription is also on the pricey side. You pay $5 a month for a rotating five days of recording, $10 for 10 days, and $30 for 30. That’s a lot. But you can add limitless Nest cameras to your Nest Aware account at no added cost, so if you’re a camera junkie, it could even out.

Camera only

A Nest Cam is meant to be integrated into a fuller Nest System with Nest Protect, Nest Thermostat, and Nest Secure. Since it’s not a standalone, the Nest Cam IQ doesn’t have some of the cool extras of some of our other recommendations. That’s fine when you just need a camera, but when a premium-priced product has fewer features than its cheaper competitors . . . it’s just not a good look.

Canary All-in-One Indoor: Most extras

Keep track of your home’s climate while staying alert with Canary All-in-One Indoor.

Pros

  • Siren
  • Air quality sensor
  • Temperature sensor
  • Humidity sensor
  • Person alerts
  • First responder numbers pre-programmed
  • 1 day of free storage

Cons

  • Indoor only
  • Increased storage costs for each camera

Why we chose Canary All-in-One Indoor

We like Canary’s name, but that’s not the reason we chose it. This small camera also includes a siren, environmental sensors, and a day of free storage.

Person alerts

Like Nest, Canary has software to tell you if you’re looking at a person or some other kind of motion. But unlike Nest, Canary can’t sense human faces, so we’re not sure how Canary knows which is which. Some reviewers complain that the tech has a hard time telling people from pets.

Climate control

Canary comes with an air quality sensor, a temperature sensor, and a humidity sensor. The air quality sensor helps you know if your air is unhealthy to breathe. The temperature and humidity sensors indicate if you have to make adjustments to the thermostat or dehumidifier in your home.

We’re a little surprised that Canary put so much in the environmental sensors when they aren’t directly related to security. Don’t get us wrong; we think they’re really cool. But we wish that Canary had put more effort into refining the person-tracking tech instead.

The downside

Indoor only

This particular Canary camera isn’t very versatile. You can only use it indoors. If you’re looking for an outdoor camera, you should look at the Canary Weatherproof Flex.

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Ethernet connection
If you’re using a Wi-Fi connection to send the video directly to your device in real time, things can get buggy, especially if you’re using an outdoor camera. If you can use Ethernet without compromising security, do it. It’s just more reliable.

Costs more per camera

If you’ve ever dreamed of having a flock of Canaries, the price is gonna be a deterrent. The cameras themselves are not crazy expensive, but unlike Nest, Canary doesn’t charge a flat fee for video access. Instead, it charges by the device.

The $9.99 plan, which gives you 30 days of storage, costs $14.99 a month with a second and third device. And for each device after that, you add $4.99 apiece per month. That gets really expensive, really fast.

Luckily, the version we recommend comes with a free year of service. And, after that, if you don’t want to pay for extended storage, you get a complimentary 24 hours’ worth.

Zmodo Pivot Cloud: Best smart home addition

If you want a camera that’s also a smart home hub, Zmodo Pivot is the right way to go.

Zmodo Pivot Cloud

Pros

  • Smart home hub
  • 350° rotation
  • Bluetooth speaker
  • Temperature sensor
  • Humidity sensor
  • Amazon Alexa compatibility
  • 4 door/window sensors included
  • 12 hours of free storage

Cons

  • Indoor only
  • Can’t do a complete rotation
  • Increased storage costs for each camera

Why we chose Zmodo Pivot Cloud

To call the Zmodo Pivot a camera is something of a stretch. It’s more of a smart home hub with a Bluetooth speaker and motion-detector camera built in. That makes the Zmodo a great acquisition for almost any smart home enthusiast.

Smart home hub

The Zmodo Pivot Cloud is compatible with Alexa, so you can control it with your Amazon Echos. Like the Canary, it also has temperature and humidity sensors. And, to put the icing on the cake, it comes with four door/window sensors to create a home security system lite.

360° view

Have you ever been watching something in motion and been annoyed that you had to physically rotate your body to continue watching it? If you have, you’re in for a treat with Zmodo.

The Zmodo Pivot Cloud detects motion and tracks it all the way around. Technically it’s a 350° rotation, but you can still see the full spectrum. You can even control the rotation from your phone.

The downside

Rotation limits

So why does the Zmodo Pivot Cloud have a 350° rotation instead of a 360°? The camera can’t pivot past its starting point. To get back to position 0 from 350°, it can’t turn that final 10 degrees. It has to rotate back around the way it came.

Costs more per camera

Like Canary, Zmodo charges its subscription plan by the camera. Every camera gets 12 hours free, but for seven days of rotating storage for one camera, it’s $4.99 a month. For 30 days, it’s $9.99. You’ll then add 50% of the subscription price for each additional camera.

Arlo Ultra: Best for outdoors

This outdoor camera is top of the line but comes at an outrageous price.

Pros

  • Colored night vision
  • Automatic zoom
  • Two-way audio
  • Spotlight
  • Siren
  • Geofencing
  • SD card storage
  • Wireless

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No free cloud storage

Why we chose Arlo Ultra

The Arlo Ultra deserves the buzz. It combines a camera with a siren and motion-activated spotlight. Plus, it has stunning colored night vision, automatic zoom, and geofencing capabilities.

Colored night vision

The Arlo Ultra has fantastic video quality. It’s 4K, which is the equivalent of 2160p. The extra-special part about the image quality, though, is the colored night vision. We like seeing things in color, even if it’s a little muted.

Spotlight

Security experts widely acknowledge motion-activated spotlights as general crime deterrents. Your Arlo Ultra camera uses a spotlight to give your home that extra protection.¹

Siren

If you see something on camera that alarms you, activate the siren to scare off intruders. It’s not the loudest siren we’ve ever heard, so its reach may be limited, but it’ll definitely frighten any baddies.

The downside

High price

It costs almost $400 to take this beauty home. That’s even more than the Nest Cam IQ.

No cloud storage without a plan

Some of Arlo’s other cameras have a week/1 GB of free storage (whichever comes first) before it starts recording over itself. The Arlo Ultra, on the other hand, requires a special storage plan called Arlo Smart Premier ($9.99 a month for up to 10 cameras). No plan, no play. The camera does come with a free year of storage. After that, though, you have to pay to use your already-expensive device.

The Arlo Ultra comes with SD card storage, so you can always go with that. But you won’t be able to access any of your videos remotely. You’ll have to physically remove the SD card and pull the clips to see them.

Tend Insight Lynx 2: Budget pick

Get motion tracking and facial recognition for less.

Pros

  • Extremely low price
  • Free 7-day cloud storage
  • Facial recognition

Cons

  • Suspended facial recognition in some states
  • No storage extensions

Why we chose Tend Insight Lynx 2

Looking for a camera that has facial recognition but is a fraction of the cost of a Nest Cam? Try out the Tend Insight Lynx 2.

Inexpensive but capable

Video storage with Tend Insight Lynx 2 is free.

The Tend Insight Lynx 2 is about $60, even though the camera includes both motion detection and facial recognition. That’s quite the steal.

Also, video storage is free. However, it only stores footage for seven days before purging it.

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Other inexpensive security cameras
If you want something that’s low cost but isn’t sold on Tend, we’ve got an entire list of cheap security cams to pull from.

Facial recognition

It’s crazy to us that such an inexpensive camera has facial recognition when premium offerings, like the Arlo Ultra, don’t yet offer it. And Tend doesn’t just recognize faces. It also lets you categorize familiar ones. That’s the whole facial-recognition enchilada.

The downside

Suspended facial recognition

As facial recognition gets an increasingly bad rap, the manufacturer chose to suspend the feature in Washington, Illinois, and Texas.

We still like the Tend Insight Lynx 2, but it’s not as good a value without the facial recognition. So if that feature isn’t available to you, you might want to reconsider.

Short storage

Seven days of rotating storage is a nice free offering, but it isn’t always enough. For instance, if you realize someone may have been living in your closet for months, seven days of footage won’t help you verify your suspicion.

Sadly, there’s no way for you to extend your storage. Tend doesn’t offer a paid subscription plan, and there’s no place in the camera for an SD card. So if you’re looking for something more vigorous, Tend Insight Lynx 2 is not your cup of tea.

Recap

Let’s go over our best motion-detector camera picks.

  • Nest Cam IQ Indoor: Best overall—Nest Cam IQ Indoor is the industry gold standard, but it’s pricey, and you can get similar features from the other cameras.
  • Canary All-in-One Indoor: Most extras—Canary’s air quality sensor, thermometer, and humidity sensor give this a lot more features than your average camera.
  • Zmodo Pivot Cloud: Best smart home addition—The Pivot Cloud is a smart home hub with a Bluetooth speaker and a rotating camera.
  • Arlo Ultra: Best for outdoors—If you’re looking for the ultimate outdoor camera, Arlo Ultra has colored night vision, a spotlight, and a siren.
  • Tend Insight Lynx 2: Budget pick—If you need a cheap alternative, the Tend Insights Lynx is a solid choice.

If you’re just looking for a good security camera, with or without motion detection, check out our best home security cameras.

Or, for a look at a previous version of this review, here’s Craig.

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for more video reviews.

Motion-detector camera FAQ

Which home security systems have cameras?

If you aren’t satisfied with our picks, you may want to look at a full-blown security system with cameras.

To get camera access, you might have to subscribe to the brand’s top-tier service plan. Usually, this plan includes other security equipment like window and door sensors, motion detectors, and more.

This sort of service usually runs $50–$70 per month, even with companies that offer cheap home security. That adds up quickly, but those pricier plans include the fullest (and generally safest) coverage for you and your family.

Home security systems with cameras
LogoProviderCamera priceLearn more
Vivint logoVivintCall for quoteView Plans
Frontpoint logoFrontpointStarts at $99.00View Plans
ADTCall for quoteView Plans
Small SimpliSafe logoSimpliSafeStarts at $99.00View Plans

Data effective 03/30/2020. Offers subject to change.

What should you look for in a motion-detector camera?

When it comes to motion-detection cameras, we recommend looking at the following:

  • Resolution
  • Two-way audio
  • Night vision
  • Storage
  • Subscription cost
  • Field of view

Resolution

The standard for security cameras these days is 1080p, although some, like the Arlo Ultra, come in 4K. (For a comparison point, 4K works out to 2160 pixels.) Basically, you just gotta be able to see clearly. If your camera gives you a smudgeless view, you’re golden.

Two-way audio

Sound can reveal things you won’t get from video alone, so if your current security camera doesn’t have audio, we urge you to upgrade.

All of our picks have two-way communication, which allows you to both hear and speak to the person on camera. Talking directly to them is an effective way to either scare the intruder off or resolve misunderstandings.

Night vision

A security camera, especially an outdoor one, should have night vision. All kinds of sneaky activities take place at night, and you want to be able to see it.

Arlo Ultra’s colored night vision is luxurious, but plain, black-and-white night vision is fine too.

Storage

Most security cameras have cloud storage nowadays, although some, like the Arlo Ultra, also have an SD option.

Subscription

A lot of camera manufacturers charge for their cloud storage services, so read the fine print before buying a camera. You don’t want to unintentionally get saddled with an expensive camera that requires pouring even more money into high monthly fees.

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Remember
A free plan usually isn’t as robust as a paid plan.

Field of view

While placement is vital, a huge field of view helps you see the bigger picture, literally. A wider angle shows more in a single frame.

Of course, if you get a rotating camera like the Zmodo Pivot Cloud, the field of view becomes less of an issue.

Other considerations

Here are a few other things you might want to consider when buying a security camera.

How is the camera powered?

Each power source has pros and cons. If the camera needs a plug, you won’t have to buy batteries, but you will have to install it near an outlet (or invest in an extension cord). If the camera’s battery powered, you’ll have to change those suckers from time to time.

Can you use the camera indoors and outdoors?

Some cameras just can’t handle the heat, the cold, or otherwise punishing weather. Cameras that can stand up to those extremes are usually designated as outdoor security cameras. Everything else is for indoors.

A lot of outdoor cameras could theoretically be used inside, but since weatherproof cameras run more expensive, it doesn’t make sense to pay the higher price. Occasionally, though, you’ll see a camera touted as both indoor and outdoor.

If you’re looking specifically for an outdoor security camera and the Arlo Ultra doesn’t fit, check out our best outdoor cameras article.

What kind of installation is required?

Some cameras may require drilling to place them where you want them. If you accidentally choose a camera that needs a wire run through a wall, but you’re not handy, you have a few options. You’ll either have to learn, hire a professional, or choose a different camera with a more manageable installation.

How often should I change the batteries in my security camera?

Motion-detecting cameras tend to eat up more battery than other security cameras. The included motion sensor can use quite a bit of power. Still, it depends on the make and model.

Look at your camera’s battery life expectations to figure out how often you’ll probably need to change the batteries. Then keep an eye on the power levels for the first little while to make sure the estimate is accurate.

Can my motion-activated camera be hacked?

We don’t want to sound like downers, but all cameras can be hacked. We haven’t found a hack-proof camera yet.

That being said, your camera’s unlikely to be hacked if you follow basic security recommendations. Use strong, unique passwords for both your mobile app account and your Wi-Fi network. Don’t give your passwords away, and change them on the regular. And enable two-factor authentication, if it’s available.

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Expert Wi-Fi security
Get some more information about Wi-Fi security in our piece about how to make your home safer.

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  • tentantoes

    Huge dilemma…need to know which outdoor motion sensor cameras work on a residential
    FIBER OPTIC wifi. My RING would never reconnect once it was installed.