Why Do Security Cameras Have Such Bad Quality Footage?

Browsing through a security camera’s footage is a painstaking task. If you’ve ever gone through security camera footage before, it’s blurry, fuzzy, and way too grainy to easily make sense of what’s happening. It’s only fair to ask – why do security cameras have such bad quality footage and can this quality be improved?

Let’s finally answer this question!

Why Do Security Cameras Have Bad Quality Footage?

Compression, cropping, and low file-resolutions are the most common reasons for bad quality footage in security cameras.

Credits: https://www.cbc.ca/359

Security cameras aren’t meant to produce high-quality footage by intention. High-definition (HD) videos require gigabytes worth of storage at the very least. Multiply this by the number of hours your camera actually films a footage and you’ll have an estimated storage amount.

Cameras generally apply several transformations to the footage being recorded before it’s saved. Firstly, the video is cropped such that a smaller area of the field of view is covered. Afterwards, it goes through compression to help store on a storage medium.

Modern cameras do allow variable camera recording settings. This way, it’s up to the camera owner to decide the resolution and sizing of the footage. 

But again, that’s just one camera.

Imagine a small business. If you run four cameras in total with unoptimized (continued recording) settings and high-resolutions, the storage needs will be enormous. It’s why most security cameras run on default settings and record low-quality footage.

What Factors Impact a Security Camera’s Footage Quality?

Though we’ve brushed up on factors which impact a security camera’s footage quality, let’s discuss it in detail again. Here’s a list of them:

1. Footage Size (Data Volume)

Sizing is one of the biggest problems in camera recordings. It’s not feasible for businesses to store gigabytes worth of storage everyday. Though cloud-based storage is also possible, these solutions are fairly costly as well.

In order to estimate storage needs, it’s better to assess the current recording settings. The following factors might contribute to higher storage needs:

  1. High megapixel ratings
  2. Continuous recording
  3. High frames-per-second (FPS)
  4. Hard-disk space (pre-installed or external)
  5. Number of cameras placed and sending footage to the recorder

Continuous recording will easily fill terabytes worth of storage in a week. If this isn’t the best option, you can switch the camera recording mode to being motion-based. This helps record scarcely and produce smaller footages.

Recording modes are also going to be multiplied by the number of cameras available. If the property features several cameras, high-quality recordings can quickly get out of hand. It’s why most businesses are forced to settle and compromise on the quality for the sake of security.

Re-initializing hard disks is fairly common. Though you’ll be needing a resource to check the disk status every now and then. You might also want to transfer important videos out of the recorder so they aren’t wiped automatically.

Finally, higher capacity and frequent transfer also impacts the performance of the storage solution. These hard disks are very likely to tear out due to constant usage. It can also impact their overall throughput performance.

2. Resolution

Continuing from the last section, the resolution of the camera’s recording makes a huge difference. High-resolution videos come with a pricey tag and storage needs. It’s why most commercial cameras feature a lower-resolution video quality.

Traditional cameras record at standard definition (SD) quality at 704×576 pixel resolutions. It can also be switched to high-definition (HD) quality recorded at 1280×800 or 1920×1080 pixel resolutions. Though the storage needs of the latter require 15x more storage space.

3. Compression

Video compression algorithms are always at play with security systems. These algorithms reduce the overall size of the video. This, in turn, adversely impacts the quality of the footage.

Compression settings are generally unavailable to the end-user to modify. But if available, you can toggle it if the footage quality isn’t desirable. We would suggest tinkering with other options before switching compression off to improve storage capabilities.

4. Field of View

Apart from technical pointers, the field of view of the camera might be a big giveaway. If the camera is pointing in the wrong direction, facing a light source, or featuring glare, the footage will always be blurry.

Apart from these, the width of the field of view also matters. Pointing the camera to a smaller area is likely going to improve the quality of the footage. Though you give up on wider coverage with bad quality, the area covered will definitely feature great details

5. Placement

If no other factor is the likely reason for bad quality footage in your case, it might be the camera’s placement. Security cameras are generally placed in corners or at higher ground to avoid detection. Such areas are gloomy and can affect the footage’s quality.

This eventually comes down to the degree of stealth you’d like. If you’d like to keep the camera stealthy, the footage will likely suffer. Otherwise, try moving the camera to the face-level of a subject and try checking the quality for improvements.

Tips to Enhance a Security Camera’s Footage

Bad quality footage isn’t just harder for you to assess but it also makes the job of law enforcement agencies a hassle. If you’re looking for tips to improve your security camera’s footage, here’s a list of tips which might help:


Getting a higher resolution camera is one of the first options to enhance a camera’s footage quality. Though most digital cameras have variable recording quality, people are forced to opt for lower resolutions. This is mostly due to storage space issues as we’ve discussed.

If storage isn’t a problem, you can easily improve the resolution of the video to your desired number. Though it’s understandable if you do have storage problems but require high-quality surveillance footages. You can reduce storage needs using:

  1. Optimized camera settings, e.g. using motion-based recording
  2. Avoiding continued footage recording
  3. Overwriting footage which isn’t required (requires thorough evaluation)


Security cameras require ample lighting to produce high-quality footages. If the camera is placed in low-light environments with zero to no IR emitters, it won’t capture anything useful. All footage will be blurry, fuzzy, and unusable in case of litigation.

Though it should be noted that direct lighting can also be bad for security cameras. It is likely going to destroy image quality entirely and produce washed (all white) videos. The general rule of thumb is to avoid keeping lighting sources directly within the field of view of the camera.

In conclusion, make sure the camera is placed with lighting sources at length from the camera. This can help avoid excessive lighting as well as glares. If these solutions aren’t possible, pick a camera with more infrared emitters to capture usable images in low-light or dark environments.

Updating Equipment

Cameras from the last decade used very low resolutions with unoptimized compression algorithms. Generally, analog cameras fall in this category and are now obsolete. These cameras also processed video signals at the video recorder which added to the low frame-rate.

If you’re using an old camera, it might be time to upgrade it. Digital IP security cameras encode signals at the camera without sending the video to the video recorder.

The newer, cost-effective IP security camera solutions are digital and feature higher resolutions, therefore, producing quality videos.

Frequent Queries about a Security Camera’s Footage Quality

Security cameras can be hard to administer if you’re not the tinkering kind. We’ve gone ahead and picked a few questions asked in the home security community. Here are our answers to those questions:

How can I improve the quality of my video security cameras?

You can improve the footage quality of a security camera by recording high-resolution videos. Visit your camera’s recording settings to view all possible options. Explore and test out combinations to see which quality fits your needs.
It is also possible to improve a camera’s footage quality by providing better lighting or updating old equipment. Analog cameras required multiple connections and featured low-resolution videos. Since storage solutions are cheaper, switch to digital IP cameras for better quality recordings.

How long does the average security camera store footage?

Security cameras often store recordings for upto 60 days. Camera storage also depends on the quality of the footage and storage equipment supplied to the camera. It can store footage for longer periods if more storage disks are provided and continue to overwrite as it fills.
Recording estimates of 60 days are applicable to home security cameras and general retail or public places. Organizations with regulatory authorities like banks or casinos generally store footage for 6 months leading up to a year.

Why are security cameras pixelated?

Low-resolution is the most common cause of pixelated camera recordings. To avoid storage issues, most cameras run on the lowest possible resolutions, high compression rates, and cropping. These factors can contribute towards bad footage quality in cameras.
Pixelation can render security footage unusable in case of litigation. If you reside in high-risk areas or are under threat, it’s much better to enable optimized recording. Give FBI’s Caught on Camera series a view to get insights into recommended recording settings.

How do you fix night vision on security cameras?

Oftentimes, cleaning camera lenses can drastically improve night vision on security cameras. Because camera lenses can quickly catch dirt which may impact footage quality. It is also recommended to brighten the area so the infrared emitters can produce better pictures. Also make sure no direct light source is placed within the camera’s field of view to avoid washed up pictures.
Another option would be to add additional external infrared lighting. If the camera is properly switching itself to infrared mode, additional lighting should do the trick. Though this might add to the overall cost of security as the cameras do require additional power to run as well.

Do security cameras delete footage?

Security cameras can delete footage if storage space runs out. Once the videos are off-loaded to the video recording system, they are then stored in the available storage. In case storage runs out, older footage is removed and newer footage is overwritten.
Most security-critical businesses have regulations and need to store footage for longer periods. In such cases, hard disks are swapped at the recorder and replaced with newer disks. All in all, it depends on your storage requirements, available storage space, and the recording quality.

We hope you’re now in the clear on why security cameras have such bad quality footage. In conclusion, it’s a cost-effective solution to save storage and a few bucks while maintaining security. Residential and public properties can fend off offenders just with the presence of a camera.

However, if you’re a security-critical business, look into effective security solutions. We’re sure something will help balance the quality and cost factor of surveillance.