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 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.
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.
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.