The spy camera has been an important evidence gathering tool ever since the Tica Expo Watch Camera hit the market in the late 1800's. Looking like an ordinary pocket watch, which at the time was almost as ubiquitous as today's cellphone, it allowed spies, undercover officers and private eyes to easily gather visual evidence that prior to that had been extremely difficult or practically impossible. In time cameras would be built into almost every object imaginable, and to this day the trend continues. Only nowadays modern technology has made it possible to develop smaller devices and to operate them remotely, or have them take pictures or shoot video automatically thanks to movement or heat sensors.
Spy cameras traditionally have been very inexpensive. A Tica Expo Watch Camera in 1931 would cost you $5, which would be just over $70 in today's dollars. And there are spy cameras to be had for much less. The low cost and ease of use of modern spy cameras have made them accessible to ordinary consumers, not just well-funded intelligence agencies.
This brings us to our next point. Consumers should be aware that there are legal and ethical ramifications regarding the use of hidden spy cameras in the workplace, at home, government buildings and other places. As an example, conservative activist James O'Keefe recently agreed to pay $100,000 to Juan Carlos Vera, former ACORN employee, who he videotaped without his consent. Be sure to check your state's laws regarding surreptitious audio and video recording before doing anything.
Having said that, let's look at ten of the most clever hidden spy cameras in the market. These were selected based on low price point, uniqueness and, why not, coolness factor.
The MP3+1 spy camera looks like a second generation iPod Shuffle. Talk about inconspicuous. You can store up to 8 GB of mp3 files, so you can actually listen to music on it. The 1.3 MP camera records 640x480 video at 20 fps in AVI format and can also take JPG pictures. The rechargeable battery will let you shoot for about two hours per charge. Use the USB connector to transfer the videos and pictures to your computer.
This baseball cap spy camera lets you shoot full color 640x480 video at 30 fps and store it on a micro SD card (max 4GB, not included). Use the included wireless remote control to shoot all you want without anyone noticing. Comes with headphones so you can use it as a Bluetooth headset and MP3 player. The rechargeable Li-On battery provides about two hours of recording. Transfer video to your computer using the included USB cable or connecting the Micro SD card to a memory card reader.
This stylish spy camera pen definitely delivers a lot of bang for your buck. For only $80 you get a fully functional pen with a concealed camera with the capability to capture 720p HD video in AVI format at 30 fps, audio and 12 MP JPG photos. Not bad for such a little camera. It comes with a Micro SD 4GB card(expandable to 32GB), records 75 minutes of video on a single charge and lets you transfer video, audio and pictures to your computer using an internal USB connector. It has three recording modes: Video/Audio, Solo Audio, Solo Still Images. It can record 20 hours of audio on a 4GB card. 8 GB model available ($100)
Look stylish with the water-resistant ACG-20 Spy Camera Glasses while you're capturing video with its hidden 3 Megapixel camera. The built-in 4GB memory will let you record up to 3 hours of video at 30 fps, 640x480 in AVI format. The lenses are polarized, so you will be protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays. Built-in microphone lets you record audio too. A Micro SD slot can add up to 8GB of memory (Not included). The Li-Polymer battery will let you record for up to 4 hours on a single charge. Plug the unit to your computer with the included USB cable to transfer your video and audio.
The Necktie Spy Camera is perfect for those situations where a suit is more appropriate. Using the included wireless remote you can capture hours of high-resolution (720 x 480 in AVI format) video and audio and store it on its 4 GB memory. Review it on your computer via its USB connection. The battery lasts 3-4 hours on a single charge.
Use the Smiley Face Spy Camera when a business suit would be out of place. Pin it on your t-shirt and you're ready to go. Store 30 fps AVI video at 720 x 480, JPG pictures at 2048 x 1536 and audio in WAV format on a Micro SD card (up to 16GB). Card not included. Supports USB 2.0 transfer.
The ID Card Spy Camera is almost as thin as a regular ID badge, so it will definitely go unnoticed. Wear it using the included lanyard or clip, and customize it with your own picture to make it even more realistic. Capture up to two hours on a single charge. The 4GB internal memory is enough for about 2.5 hours of video or
hundreds of pictures. Shoots 352 x 288 video at 15 fps in AVI format and audio as WAV. Captures pictures at a resolution of 1280 x 1014. When not on a surveillance mission you can connect it to your Windows PC (32 bit) and use it as a webcam. Transfer files to your PC using the included USB cable.
This water resistant spy watch has a very discreet lens built into its face. Its lithium battery lets you shoot AVI format video for up to two hours per charge. Also captures photos and sound on the internal 4GB memory.
This spy camera is hidden inside an ordinary-looking lighter. What's amazing about it is that it records high definition 1080p video at 29 fps in AVI format. It doesn't use any gas, but the electric ignition will actually light a cigarette. It can be used as a webcam, just like the ID Card Spy Camera above. It has a flashlight function to be used in an emergency. Supports USB 2.0 and 3.0 data transfers. The rechargeable lithium battery will allow you to shoot for up to two hours.(Update: The lighter camera covered in this article is no longer available. This is another lighter camera that is avaialble.)
Your keys and car alarm remote spy camera placed on a table will hardly arouse any suspicion. The built-in micro camera provides 720 x 480 video at 30 frames per second in AVI format. It also produces JPG images at a 1280 x 1024 resolution. The rechargeable lythium-polimer battery provides enough power to record up to 90 minutes of footage. Supports SD cards (up to 8GB). Use the supplied data cable to connect the device to your computer and transfer your files, or pull out the SD card and use a memory card reader. (Update: The key chain camera covered in this article is no longer available. This key chain camera appears to be a good alternative.)
So Which Is The Best Spy Camera?
There are definitely a lot of choices, but some devices may be more appropriate to certain types of situations and environments, as explained by Tom Burnett, Director of
Public Relations at Wymoo International, a private investigation firm.
used watches that are equipped with video and audio recording
capability, as well as pens placed in a shirt pocket to record
conversations at close range. The watch devices are usually the most
effective and reliable. I know of several infidelity and fraud cases
where the watch surveillance device provided valuable evidence."
Spy cameras need not always be used to obtain evidence of wrong-doing, or to pull a prank on somebody, as Burnett explains in the following feel-good story.
"We recently conducted a missing person investigation for a client in Europe who had lost contact with his uncle over 20 years ago. The client had often wondered if his uncle was alive and what happened to him. He only wanted to know if he was still alive and well. After some investigation, we located who we believed to be the client's uncle. The surveillance footage of the client's uncle, who was happy and well on another continent, brought much joy to our client and to our team as well."