HOUSTON -

Caught on camera: It's a phrase you hear often these days because surveillance cameras literally are everywhere. They help prevent crime and catch crooks after the fact.

Local 2 consumer expert Amy Davis compared the powerful tools to show viewers how homeowners are setting up their own surveillance systems for next to nothing.

Thieves, burglars, vandals -- no matter the crime, these days if you don't have video, you don't have a case.

"It's one of the first things investigators ask for: Is there any surveillance video?" said Rania Mankarious, executive director of Houston Crime Stoppers.

Last summer, the owner of a home in Cottage Grove watched her security cameras from her phone as two men broke in. Her nanny was hiding in a closet with her own child and the homeowner's infant while the men went through the house looking for jewelry.

As soon as she shared videos of the suspects on the news and Facebook, police identified and arrested 30-year-old Willie Lee Foster, 21-year-old Joshua Williams and 20-year-old Leonard Haywood.

"It's not complicated at all," said a woman named Roxanne, who lives inside the Loop.

For about $200, Roxanne purchased a Dropcam and installed it herself. It's aimed at what she considers a security weak spot in her home. Anytime the camera detects motion, it starts recording and then sends Roxanne an alert on her phone.

The downside?

"It could be the tree blowing outside," said Roxanne, explaining all the things that could trip the camera. "It could be the car pulling up. It could be the dog."

Aziz, who also asked that we only use his first name, monitors his San Marcos home with six different cameras while he's working in Houston. They're made by D-link, and none of them cost him more than $89.

"I'm all about cheap," said Aziz.

There are a lot of Internet protocol or IP cameras available. They're easy to install and they can be viewed on your smartphone or computer in real time.

On Amazon, Local 2 searched for "Wifi Security Cameras" with four or more stars (out of five). A Foscam camera, which lets you scan a room from your phone or computer, is $62. The more basic Imogen Studio camera gets four stars and is just over $70. There are even cameras like the Tenvis, one that has two-way microphones to let you talk to someone in your home and they can talk back.

No matter which camera you choose, to ensure good quality pictures you want at least 720p or 1 megapixel.

"If you want a camera for security, I always recommend doing a hardwired system," said Gabriel Eid, from iTech Monitoring.

He said wireless cameras are not as reliable as hardwired cameras. If you have a professional hook them up to your home alarm, the alarm company can see if there is truly an emergency in your home when the alarm goes off.

"And they relay that to police," explained Eid. "And say, 'Hey, there's three guys in the house. They're breaking in right now. You need to go get them.'"

The professional installation could cost you thousands of dollars and then a monthly fee on top of that.

But there is proof you can do it for much less. Remember the burglar caught climbing through doggy doors to burglarize Houston homes? The camera that captured still pictures of the suspect was made for hunters to spot deer and other wild game. The cameras are battery-operated and motion-activated. You can simply put in an SD card, hang the camera in a tree and aim it in the direction you want to monitor.

Local 2 found game cameras at a local sporting goods store ranging from $90 to $250. We found the doggy door burglar, Steven Groucho Hicks, serving five years in state jail thanks to the pictures taken by the same kind of camera.

Want really low-tech and inexpensive? You can buy a fake camera and put it on the exterior of your home. It just might make potential thieves skip your house.