The Complete Resource for Finding, Hiring, or Becoming a Private Investigator
Join Our PI Directory - Get Listed TODAY!
Go to content
You are here: Hire a Private Investigator > Real Spy Gear > Hidden Camera Buying Guide

Buyer's Guide: How To Choose The Right Spy Camera

How To Choose The Right Spy CameraSpy cameras have become increasingly popular, not just for private investigators and law enforcement but also for businesses and the general public. They're ideal for catching cheating partners, keeping an eye on the babysitter, or unmasking the elusive thief at work!

But let’s face it, there are hundreds if not thousands of choices of spy cameras on the market right now, at widely varying prices. And let’s face it, some are good and some not so good, having tried and tested a few ourselves.

The choice of spy camera that’s ideal for one may not be ideal for another, which is why we have created this in-depth hidden camera buying guide to help you choose the right spy camera for you. Let’s get started!
Your First Consideration For Choosing What Spy Camera To Buy

How To Decide What Spy Camera To Buy
First off, to decide what the best spy camera for you to buy is, you have to ask yourself – why do you need one? What's your reason or purpose for needing a hidden camera?

Before you even start looking for a hidden camera you have to know what it is you want to achieve with it.

Knowing this will help you narrow down the field in choices, as there are many types of camera systems you can buy. And it will also help you to choose the right type of camera for your situation.

There are a multitude of reasons for needing a covert camera such as:

+ A private investigator just starting out and needing some basic investigator equipment.

+ A small business owner suspects someone of stealing, so wants to find a suitable camera to catch the thief.

+ A parent suspects the babysitter of abusing their child at home while at work and wants to get evidence.

+ For use in a care home due to suspected negligence or abuse of an elderly parent.

+ Wanting added security for your home.

Knowing why you want to buy a spy camera and for what situation will help you narrow down how you will use it; which takes us onto the next stephow will you use it?
How Will You Use Your Spy Camera?

How Will You Use Your Spy Camera
Let’s talk about general location of the cameras’ intended use.

Before buying a spy camera consider where it will be located, where you will place it. Here are some pointers to think about:

+ Indoor or outdoor use - if outdoors it will need to be weatherproof.

+ Home, office, factory - the hidden camera will need to blend-in to its immediate environment.

+ Fixed location or transportable – this will determine the choice of camera, size and power source needed. Body worn spy cameras are ideal transportable cameras and easily go unnoticed.

Here's a guide of what spy cameras can be used and where:

+ Smoke detector spy cameras: these are usually used in offices or work place environments to catch thieves or monitor suspicious activity.

+ Nanny cams: these are hidden spy cameras, usually in teddy bears, that can be placed in a child’s room, in a corner or on a shelf. Nanny spy cameras are exactly what they suggest; a hidden camera to keep an eye on the nanny while you’re at work.

+ Spy watches and spy pens: these are the best types of spy cameras that can be used in meetings to get evidence of wrongdoing, such as breach of contract, bullying in the workplace, etc.

+ Spy camera glasses: can be used when covertly following someone in the street or bar. They can be worn or placed on a table pointing at the target.

+ Spy camera for the car: a hidden camera placed in your car can record everything. If your car is stolen and then recovered you have the culprits on video. A well placed hidden camera in a taxi or private bus can record any evidence of pilfering by the driver or assault by a passenger.

Once you’ve figured out your reasons you will want to know some of the best choices of spy cameras on the market you can buy.
What Makes The Best Choice Of Hidden Spy Camera To Buy?

What Makes The Best Choice Of Spy Camera
As mentioned, there are many choices of spy cameras on the market that come in different models, sizes and specifications.

The best spy cameras to pick are the ones that can be hidden in everyday objects you find around the home or office. These are great spy cameras as they can be placed literally anywhere, and the person you want to spy on wouldn’t give it a second glance.

These hidden cameras can be readily purchased online, in a spy shop, or can be custom made. You can find them in objects such as:

+ Cans of soft drinks
+ Household sprays, air fresheners
+ Tissue boxes
+ Books
+ Smoke detector alarms
+ Plugs and extension leads
+ Wall clocks, bedside clocks
+ Stereos, radios, televisions
+ Calculators
+ Phone chargers
+ Lamps
+ Doorbell housings
+ Pictures

The list goes on. Theoretically you could place a hidden camera in any object you see, if you are willing to pay - and they come in various sizes and some very small indeed.
Spy Camera Buying Guide Specifications

Spy Camera Buying Guide Specifications
Earlier we briefly listed the following specifications of what to look for when choosing a spy camera. Now we will go into each aspect in a little more detail, to give you a better understanding of what makes a good spy camera to buy.

Spy camera invisibility and blends in well (camera and recording unit)

It goes without saying that a spy camera needs to be invisible. When we say “invisible” we mean the camera blends in well to its immediate environment and doesn’t look out of place or conspicuous. The best hidden camera - to pass the test - is one that is actually in plain view, but passed over at many glances of the eyes without detecting it’s a camera. It can be in full view, as in the form of an everyday object, but should be overlooked as such.

Spy camera invisibility doesn’t just mean the camera in itself. Depending on the type of camera it may come in sections – camera – recording unit – wiring. The whole camera unit needs to be hidden which includes the recording unit and wiring (if not wireless). It’s pointless choosing the perfect hidden camera if the wiring can be traced back to it, or the recording unit is easily noticed. So, when choosing a covert spy camera think about how well it can be hidden. Using a teddy-bear spy camera is ok as a nanny camera at home, but you wouldn’t use it in the office.

Spy camera size, flexibility and simplicity of use

When looking for the best spy camera to use you will want to think about the size; large or small, separate camera-recorder unit or an all-in-one unit.

Flexibility; does it need to be easily maneuverable or can it be in a fixed location.

Simple to use; can it be turned on and off with a simple touch of a button and doesn’t require a PhD to understand.

If you wanted to record a meeting in a public place, a good choice of spy camera for this task would be a spy pen, a spy watch, or briefcase with enclosed camera. A camera that requires lots of wiring may not be ideal to wrap around your body, although there are some great body worn covert cameras with wiring, ideal for such tasks.

Easy installation of the covert camera

The best spy cameras can be installed easily but this isn’t always the case. A watch or pen camera is probably the easiest for installation; just pop it on your wrist, in your pocket, or leave it on a table. A hidden room camera will need a little more installation work with placing the camera, and if not a wireless spy camera you will need to hide the wiring – through the roof or wall usually.

Field and depth of view of the camera lens

When you choose a spy camera it's important it can actually cover the space you want to spy on and get a good picture. If you choose a camera where the field and depth of view is not adequate for the space you want to secretly record, you may end up with inadequate evidence. The purpose of the hidden camera is to capture evidence and you want that recorded evidence to clearly show the suspect's face and actions.

If you have a large area to cover, you will probably need a spy camera system that has 4 camera units which can be placed around, to cover the whole area. If you plan on just covering a small room then a standard camera lens field and depth of view is adequate.

Spy camera’s storage capabilities

When choosing the right spy camera you should pick one that comes with a storage facility, for storing the secret recordings. There’s really no point in having a covert camera if you can’t record what or who it is you are spying on.

The storage facility usually comes in two forms. A Hard Drive (HD), which is similar to a computer hard drive and is a fixed or built-in drive within the camera system. A Storage Device (SD) Card which is basically a memory card and can be removed. You can buy some covert cameras that have both Hard Drive and SD card capabilities, which is ideal.

When you look for a spy camera’s storage capability, bear in mind how much data (secret recordings) it can hold. You want one that can record and store enough data for what you need. If you only require your spy cam to record short clips then an SD card will be sufficient. But if you require a spy camera system to record hours of surveillance footage you will definitely need a built-in hard drive. It’s always better to have more than not enough storage space.

Video record and playback function

It's very important your spy camera can record and play back that recording. It sounds dumb but we’ve come across camera systems that monitored only, which is useless actually. Without a doubt the video playback needs to be of good quality; not grainy, pixilated recordings. This is particularly important for court cases; so buy real spy gear with quality in mind. The top spy cameras will also let you export your footage to other media such as computer disk, or even a computer.

Recording duration / length

We’ve talked a little about storage facility and ensuring you have enough storage space for what you need. Another great option - the better spy camera will have - is having a record-mode setting which can change how the recording is made. The record modes used are High Definition (HD), Long Play (LP), and Short Play (SP).

High Definition or HD allows for a better quality of recorded imagery, giving you better clarity. This option has greater playback footage, but the drawback is that it does use up more storage space per minute.

Long Play or LP does what it says in that it gives you longer recording time although the footage is usually less in quality. It’s perfect for longer needed spying.

Short Play or SP gives you a little of both - HD and LP modes - in that the spy camera recordings is of reasonable quality and doesn’t use up too much storage space.

Having these great options allows you to switch your spy camera to different modes depending on what you need.

The hidden camera's sound and audio

Again, depending on what you use your camera for will determine if you actually need sound or audio. It’s better to have the option of recording sound. The best spy cameras will have the function of turning audio on and off. You will definitely need audio to record conversations with your video, if it’s more of a requirement to secretly capture what someone is saying, as well as doing. If you just need to secretly capture what goes on in a warehouse or office overnight then audio recording may not be necessary.

If you opt for a voice recording spy camera make sure the audio playback quality is good. Some seemingly good spy cameras have had poor quality audio playback. And similar to a camera's lens depth and field of view; the audio will only record voices or noise at a certain distance from it – depending on the camera type.

Important legal note: before you buy a spy camera with audio capability check your State or Country's hidden camera laws on recording conversations. Some States in the U.S. do not allow the recording of conversations unless both parties are aware they're being recorded.

Wired or wireless or WIFI (internet based)

Spy cameras can be wired, wireless, or used over an internet connection. A wired camera system is where the camera, storage unit and mains are directly connected via cable. A wireless spy camera is when the camera is detached physically from the recorder unit and the recordings are transmitted wirelessly to the storage device. An IP Spy Camera uses the technology of the internet, whereby the secretly installed home spy camera can be connected to remotely, using a mobile phone - even from another country.

Why choose a wired spy camera?

+ If you intend having a hidden camera system installed on a permanent basis that doesn’t require moving.

+ If you plan installing the covert camera in an area flooded with other wireless gadgets. Installing a wired camera will avoid signal interference that can reduce recording quality.

Why choose a wireless spy camera?

+ The area you want to secretly record has no mains/electrical power source.

+ You need a portable camera such as a body worn spy camera.

Why choose a WIFI spy camera?

+ Allows you to secretly monitor from anywhere, using a mobile device.

+ Gives you live real-time viewing without having to be in the camera location.

Spy camera's power source

All cameras need a power source. No matter where your spy camera is hidden it needs to have power to operate. The usual power sources for cameras (not just hidden ones) are either electrical mains or battery power. Some spy cameras come with a rechargeable battery (sometimes built-in, such as a spy pen) but not all. The power to your covert camera is important and serious thought should be taken as to whether you need to connect your spy cam to the mains, or use batteries.

Here's a guide of what to consider when choosing a power source:

+ The length of time you plan to keep the hidden camera in place. More time = more power needed.

+ Will you give the camera position away if you continuously need to replace batteries?

+ The cost of replacing non-rechargeable batteries can be expensive.

+ Will you be using a hidden body-worn or a room camera (obviously you will need batteries if body-worn).

Choosing a spy camera that allows for both battery and mains power is ideal. But our recommendation on power source is to always go for mains power, if it’s feasible.

Night-time capability

If you plan on using or having your covert camera set up outside you will want to consider options for night time capability. This also counts for using or installing your secret camera in a dark or poorly lit room.

Cameras with monochrome (black and white) lenses best record at night, rather than cameras with color lenses (although color is better during the day). So if you intend recording at night, a monochrome lens camera should be used. Some of the best hidden cameras come with day and night time viewing capability; whereby during the day the lens records in color and automatically changes to monochrome (black and white) as soon as it gets dark. The camera lens has a light sensor set to change at low light levels.

Weatherproof outdoor spy camera

If whatever you need to spy on is outside, you will need an outdoor spy camera. The best outdoor spy cameras will be weatherproof and have night time capability. Also, bear in mind, if you want an outside spy cam think about the temperatures the camera will need to operate in. Normal outdoor cameras don’t operate well in extreme weather conditions and so you will need to buy one specially suited for theses extremes. There are special hidden cameras for outdoors, but they can be more expensive.

Anti-shake facility

It goes without saying if you install a covert camera against a wall or in a ceiling it won’t need an anti-shake function. An anti-shake function is useful on body-worn cameras, whereby the amount of shake caused by the wearer is reduced. This benefits the quality of the video recording. There is nothing worse than having camera footage that appears as though it was filmed in an earthquake, especially if it’s going to be used as evidence in a court case.

Motion activated spy camera

Choosing a spy camera that has a motion detection facility is great in more ways than one.

Firstly, the camera saves power. Secondly, the camera saves storage space.

This type of spy camera is like a dormant animal that only springs into action when its prey appears. The camera remains in a quiet or standby mode. As soon as the camera lens picks up motion or movement in the area that it's watching, it will automatically start recording. As soon as any motion stops, and the camera detects no movement, it goes back into standby mode. This function is great as the camera uses less power when in standby mode and isn’t recording the whole time (during times of no activity) using less storage space.

Date and time stamp on the recordings

Having a spy cam that can record with date and time stamp is important if you are going to use the footage as evidence in court. But even if you don’t intend using it for court action, the date and time stamp is still very useful to refer to different points on the recordings. Trying to find something on video footage without a date and time stamp is very time consuming, especially if you have hours of footage to go through.
In Conclusion

Using this guide above can help you choose the right spy camera for you and your needs. Remember, when looking for what spy camera to buy, use these spy camera specifications and you will save yourself time and money.
Private Investigator Directory
Real Spy Gear
Private Investigator Blog on Tools, Gear and Equipment
Back to content