How Long Does The Average Security Camera Store Footage?

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Lots of people are asking the question, “how long does the average security camera store footage?”

It is a good question but one for which there is no single answer.

But I can give you a few great tips to help you along the way. 

As well as providing you with some helpful tips, I will also examine the four main factors that influence the length of time that a typical security camera will store footage. 

How long will my storage last?

If you are wondering about how many hours of video footage that your storage will last then I can give you a calculator to use.

Well not the ones that we used to keep in our pencil cases at school.

This calculator is online 

By quickly completing a 30 second survey about how many cameras that you have, their resolution and what percentage of the day they will be active for, you will have all the answers that you need. 

If you don’t fancy using the calculator, then there are other formulas to use.

They look like this one for a camera with an SD card.

Recording Hours = Storage Space (GB) * 10242 * 8/Bitrate (kb/s)/3600

Now the calculator begins to look more attractive….

And to finish the section, let me provide you with a concrete example…

Probably the most common resolution of security cameras is 1080p.

And for each hour of footage, you will need about 2 GB of storage.

So if your security camera is set up to only record when it senses motion, a few gigabytes of storage should be plenty.

If however, your camera is continually recording 24/7 then you will use up approximately 48 GBs everyday.

Throughout the rest of this article, I explain in much more detail about the main factors that can affect the length of time that a security camera will store footage. 

But before I dive into these factors, I want to look at the different types of storage that best selling security cameras tend to use.

Three Types of Storage for a Security Camera

And there are three main types of storage- and many cameras use more than one of these systems.

The three types of storage are: cloud storage, micro SD cards and Network Video Recorders (NVRs.)

The question, “how long does the average security camera store footage?” is very appropriate when thinking about cloud storage plans, because an important feature in most of them, is the number of days that they will store footage for regardless of how much footage you are storing. 

Micro SD cards and NVRs store footage differently to the cloud plans because they store footage until the card or the hard drive (in the NVR) is full up. 

If you want to know more about these three different types of article, you might find this very useful.

And now, let me show you the biggest factors that influence how long any security camera will store video footage.

Four Factors That Influence How Long Footage is Stored For

[1] Resolution

Resolution is one of the biggest topics of conversation when we talk about security cameras, but what exactly is it?

To put it simply, resolution is a description of the number of “dots” or “pixels” that the image is made up of.

The resolution is measured by multiplying the number of pixels in the height of an image by the number in the width of an image.

And it is normally described by the number of pixels in the height of an image.

So an oft talked about resolution at the moment, as far as security cameras are concerned is 1080p.

A 1080p image is made up of an image which is 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels high. 

The image has over two million pixels in it. (1920 x 1080 =2073600 or 2.07 million pixels.)

And so let’s quickly discuss other common formats. 

First, 720p.

A 720p image is made up of an image which is 1280 pixels wide and 720 pixels high. 

The image has just under 1 million pixels in it. (1280 x 720 =921600.)

Now, 4K- the new gold standard…

A 4K image is made up of an image which is 3840 pixels wide and × 2160 pixels high. 

The image has over 8 million pixels in it. (3840 x 2160 =8294400 or 8.29 million.

Embed an comparison image here

The relationship in size (number of pixels) between these different formats is easy to see.

720p is just under half the size of a 1080p image.

A 4K image is 11 times the size of a 720p and 4 times the size of an 1080p image.

The knock on effects for storage are profound. 

A camera that is shooting footage at 1080p will need twice the amount of storage of a camera that is shooting at a definition of 720p.

A security camera that is shooting footage at 4K will need four times the amount of storage of a camera that is shooting at a definition of 1080p.

And as our minds spin with all of these numbers, it leads us nicely onto the next factor related to storage, compression. 

Finally, a great feature of resolution is that all cameras that are available to buy will mention the resolution.

Which means that you are not left guessing. 

[2] Compression

Compression is a process by which video footage is made smaller- meaning that it takes up less space when it is stored.

This is necessary because over time the quality or size of the video footage that we are recording is getting much bigger. 

And in order to increase the amount of space that this footage needs to be stored, special pieces of software have been created to compress these files- without sacrificing any of the quality. 

Perhaps the most common compression used (in security cameras)  is a format known as H.264 which can “compress” a file to about a thousandth of its original size. 

So, 1 GB can be stored as 1 MB. 

Lots of security camera systems, such as this highly rated one, claims to use a standard of compression named H.264+.

And for the life of me I cannot find any information that explains how it is different from H.264. Duh…

The latest version of this is the H.265 standard (which is being used by some NVR security camera systems) promises to half the storage requirements of H.264.

So, 1 GB can be stored in .5 MB. 

A great example of a camera system that is making use of the H.265 technology is this product here

Having a quick look at the market, the only cameras that make use of compression technology are NVR camera systems- these are sets of cameras that connect to a storage device which compresses the footage before storing it.

Other types of cameras such as those that use micro SD cards or those that use cloud storage do not tend to mention the compression standard or format that they are using.

Which means that if compression is an important feature for your security camera then you might have lots of research to do- unless you rely on pure guesswork…

[3] Bitrate

The next factor to look at, as we explore the whole notion of security camera storage, is bitrate. 

Bitrate or bps (bits per second) is the number of “bits” that a camera is processing every second. 

A bit is a tiny part of the video footage which is being recorded. 

There is a very strong connection between bitrate and resolution.

Security cameras with higher resolutions need higher bps than cameras with lower resolutions because the bps will impact the quality of the image considerably. 

And so if two security cameras have a resolution of 1080p but the first security camera has a higher bitrate than the second camera, the image from the first camera will be much clearer.

You can find an interesting discussion about this here

Unfortunately, the bitrate of security cameras is very rarely mentioned on sales pages and so if this is an important feature for you, I can only suggest that you get hold of the user manuals for individual security cameras…

[4] Type of recording: motion detection activated vs continuous recording

Security cameras can record in two different ways: motion activated or continuous recording

Many of the most popular smart security cameras that people have bought for their homes over the past 5 or 6 years are motion activated.

The Wyze Cam is one of the most highly rated- which is not a surprise when you look at its price

This means that the security camera spends much of its day on standby or idle.

Once it detects any type of motion, and only once it does this, it starts recording a short snippet of video from 5- 20 seconds long.

After it stops detecting motion, the camera will fall quietly back to sleep until the next motion event when it springs into action once more.

The other method of recording for security cameras is continuous recording, which is when the camera records everything, all the time and doesn’t stop until it is turned off or the storage runs out.

Although cameras that are capable of doing this are available for personal use at home, they make up a very small part of the market- although they are growing rapidly. 

You can find a best seller for the home here (although be warned as it does require a monthly subscription.) 

Much better examples of security cameras that continuously record can be found on lamp posts on our streets, in our banks, in Walmart and in our schools.

These cameras never sleep and often with good reason!

In terms of storage, motion activated cameras need less than security cameras that record continuously- although it does depend on the resolution of the footage that is being recorded.

How to make my storage last longer?

After reading all of this advice, you might be trying to figure out if there are any simple ways to make the storage that you have last longer.

And the good news is that there are some simple ways to do this without having to buy extra storage. 

And the two simplest are to lower the resolution of your security camera and to change the motion detection settings. 

[1] Lower the resolution

Exactly how this is done will vary camera by camera.

But suffice to say that for most of the most popular security cameras, it can be done via the app.

If an advantage of lowering the resolution that your camera records at, is that your storage lasts longer, then a disadvantage is that footage will not be as clear. 

The images will be less detailed and less crisp.  

[2] Change the motion detection settings and duration

Again this is a change which for all security cameras will be done via the app.
Within the settings, look for the motion detection details and shorten the duration of footage that the camera records for after a motion event.