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Why is CCTV Quality So Bad?

Poor CCTV Image

You’d be forgiven for wondering exactly why CCTV quality is so bad, given the advancements made in digital and smartphone cameras. We can get crystal clear imagery from a device small enough to fit in our pockets, yet the equipment that’s meant to help prevent and prosecute crime seems woefully inadequate. It’s monochromatic, indistinct and usually silent, making it difficult to see clearly what’s happening on screen or who might be involved. 

But is this really the case? Is CCTV quality as bad as we think?

The simple answer is no. Of course, there’s no arguing that the differing quality of footage that we see from CCTV cameras and smartphones is vastly different. However, we do a disservice to CCTV by attempting to compare the two, because fundamentally they perform totally different functions, and the attributes that make a smartphone successful are next to useless in the context of CCTV. 

CCTV is not designed to record premium-quality images. It’s designed to monitor situations where, for the majority of the time, nothing out of the ordinary will happen. It’s also designed to detect what happens in areas of darkness or low lighting, often when the people or objects in that area are also dark and therefore hard to pick out. CCTV cameras are often equipped with infrared or heat-sensitive lenses to aid visibility at night. Smartphones, for all their capability, cannot compete in this regard.

But there are other factors influencing the quality of the CCTV feed you get.


As with everything, you get what you pay for. A basic system will cost a few hundred pounds, and while the CCTV quality won’t be bad, it won’t be amazing either – but if you’re prepared to spend thousands, then you’ll naturally get higher-quality cameras, more robust devices and increased recording capacity

Installing CCTV

During a CCTV Installation most cameras are used outdoors, and as such are exposed to the elements, as well as being targeted – albeit unwittingly – by birds and insects keen to use them as a perch or new home. Keeping your cameras clean and in good condition is crucial to ensuring the best quality images possible.

Compression and resolution

Any recordings made by your cameras need to be stored somewhere. This is usually on the computer that the camera is linked to, but storage space can be limited, and recordings take up a lot of space. In addition, recordings often need to be kept for several days, or even longer, to comply with surveillance rules or in the case of criminal prosecution.

In order to minimise the space used, recordings are often compressed into a smaller file, which unfortunately also translates to a reduction in video quality. What’s more, multiple compressions can happen – before the video is recorded, then once it has been recorded and is being stored on the camera, and then again when the recording is transferred to the computer. This process reduces down the CCTV picture quality considerably.


This is less of an issue for the day-to-day handling of recordings, and more to do with our bad impression of CCTV footage based on what we see. CCTV is designed to monitor a large area, but when it is used to identify someone or something of interest, we zoom into this part of the image. Often, when videos are used on the news or in TV programs, the video has been cropped – a process where the uninteresting or unhelpful parts of the image have been digitally trimmed away – to leave the crucial part of the picture. This smaller image, magnified to be the same size as the original on our screens, is always going to look grainier and more blurred.

So while we may look at CCTV image quality and think it’s bad, compared to what we are used to seeing on our personal devices, in actual fact CCTV quality is often extremely good given the circumstances in which it operates. There are a number of factors which influence the exact quality we get, and some of these are within our power to influence, but even more basic CCTV recordings are good enough for their purpose – which isn’t always what people assume it to be.

So in answer to the question ‘why is CCTV quality so bad’, the truth is that it’s not bad at all – it’s our perception that’s at fault.