Security Camera Glossary: Key Terms You Need to Know

Security cameras have come a long way in the past several years. Thanks to rapid developments in technology brought on by the digital revolution, security cameras now come with a wide range of features and capabilities. The decision of which business security camera to purchase should be made based on your business’s specific security needs (we ask our clients “What do you want to see and when do you want to see it?”) and it’s always a good idea to seek out the advice of a business security professional. However, so you can make better-informed decisions, we thought it might be helpful to define some of the most common terms used to describe modern security cameras.



  • Analog and digital are two different types of video signal. Analog, the older format, is how your old video camcorder used to capture images. Digital is how your new iPhone does it. The technical difference is that an analog signal is continuous while a digital signal is discrete, but for security purposes, the important difference is that analog is a well-tested, affordable format, while digital allows for greater resolution.
  • CCTV is an abbreviation for closed-circuit television. In the security world, it usually refers to an analog camera (or analog cameras) connected to a DVR (digital video recording device) for storage.
  • Cloud recording refers to a camera security system’s ability to save video online, where users can access and view the recordings via a web browser.
  • Day/night cameras are made to work in the light of day and dark of night. They do need some light, however, to work. Built-in illuminators usually provide this. Note: At night, these types of cameras can really only provide black and white images.
  • The focal distance (or focal length) of a security camera determines how much and how far a camera can see. Smaller focal lengths provide wider fields of view (how much a camera can see) but cannot see as many details far away.
  • Infrared cameras can see in the dark and do not require additional light. They do not necessarily provide clear pictures, however, especially on the low end of the market.
  • IP recording or IP cameras are digital cameras that can send image information over a computer network or the Internet. IP stands for Internet protocol.
  • Local recording means a security system stores video images onsite (a DVR located at your business, for example).
  • Pan, tilt, and zoom are three different movements cameras can make. Pan means the ability to move horizontally, tilt means the ability to move vertically, and zoom means the ability enlarge or shrink an image. Security cameras with these capabilities can often be controlled remotely with joysticks or through a web interface or computer application.
  • Pixels are the building blocks of digital images. The more pixels a digital camera can record (usually measured in megapixels), the higher resolution a camera can provide.
  • A wide dynamic camera suppresses the light coming through its lens to limit image washout.