Hidden Cameras: The 2019 Buying Guide
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Hidden Cameras: The 2019 Buying Guide

    Hidden cameras can make a valuable addition to your home or office security. Whether you’re trying to monitor babysitters, caretakers, your employees, or your property, these devices offer a discreet way to prove what’s happening when you’re not around.

    There are tons of hidden cameras out there, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. Some hidden cameras are simply small, easy-to-hide devices. Others are disguised as something else, like a picture frame, Blu-ray player, USB charger, notebook, or even a light bulb. 

    Unfortunately, when it comes to choosing quality hidden cameras, it’s pretty tough to pick out the best brands and devices. In China, a single manufacturer may create the exterior of a camera for several brands that add their own tech—so you wind up with lots of cameras that look exactly the same but have a wide range in quality, depending on the brand that sells it.

    You also can’t just skim reviews on Amazon. We’ve found that there’s often a big discrepancy between the best-selling and highest rated devices and the ones that actually perform the best. (There are also a lot of fake reviews.)

    So we’re going to teach you how to identify the good hidden cameras. The two main things you need to think about when shopping for a hidden camera are:

    • What are you using it for?
    • Where are you installing it?

    Where you use your hidden camera completely changes what style will be most effective. A classic “teddy bear” hidden camera might look fine in your nursery or playroom, but it’d look pretty suspicious in your office. (It also invites people to pick it up and handle it, which you don’t want.)

    Location also impacts what kind of field of view you should be looking for. Since they’re meant to be as inconspicuous as possible, a lot of hidden cameras are fixed (so you can’t change the shot via remote control) or have limited field of view (meaning they may not be able to cover an entire room). They sacrifice camera functionality in order to be more covert.

    You can get a decent hidden camera for under $50, but depending on what you want, they can easily run upwards of $200.

    In this guide, we’re going to cover some of the main features you should look for, whether or not you can use hidden cameras without someone’s consent, and then we’ll compare some specific hidden cameras you can buy. (Skip ahead here.)

    For starters, let’s talk about what kind of video quality you’ll need.

    Video quality

    If you’re thinking about buying hidden cameras, odds are you want video confirmation of a hunch or concern. Maybe there’s even a specific suspicious or inappropriate activity that requires proof to stop or prosecute. Whatever your specific situation is, you should know: low quality videos can make it difficult to prove exactly who did what, especially if you ever have to use this footage in court. Poor resolution (anything under 720p) may make it hard to recognize faces.

    Getting a small, inconspicuous camera doesn’t have to mean sacrificing picture quality. Plenty of affordable hidden cameras come with 1080p resolution and at least 30 FPS.

    Field of view (FOV)

    It would be unfortunate to invest in a hidden camera only to have undesirable activity happen outside of the frame. While lots of modern cameras offer a 360 degree FOV with remote control features like pan, tilt, and zoom to increase what you can film, many hidden cameras have a more limited field of vision—sometimes as narrow as 90 degrees.

    Ideally, you want a wide-angle lens, but you may have to sacrifice that functionality to get something appropriate for your space.

    So as you shop for hidden cameras, think about where you’ll have to place your device in order to monitor the space you want to cover. Some hidden cameras plug directly into outlets (like ones disguised as USB chargers) or have cords, which restrict where you can position them—and that matters more when your field of view is limited. If you have a desk, shelf, countertop, or other spot that can cover the area you want, it may not be a big concern—just make sure the hidden camera you choose works for your specific situation.

    Night vision

    Obviously, if what you want to record what happens in the dark, you need a hidden camera with night vision. Unfortunately, a lot of hidden cameras don’t have night vision, because it requires a special light which can “give away” your camera. That’s not really an issue with cameras disguised as an electronic device that already has lights, such as a blu ray player. But if your notebook had a light, it’d be pretty suspicious. Some hidden cameras do have night vision that doesn’t require special lights, though.

    Accessibility

    Maybe you just want to have video evidence you can use after-the-fact. Or maybe you want to know the moment something happens. How your camera stores recordings affects how and when you can access your video.

    Internal storage

    Some hidden cameras store video in an internal harddrive or SD card. This means you need physical access to your device in order to review your footage. It also means you have a limited capacity, so you’ll want to pay attention to how and when you’re recording. A good hidden camera with internal storage should hold at least a day’s worth of footage, but some may store as little as two hours

    Keep in mind: a camera’s battery life is not the same as the hours of video it can capture. And getting a motion-activated hidden camera will extend both your battery life and your storage.

    Cloud storage

    Hidden cameras with cloud storage let you access your video remotely from a phone, tablet, or computer. They also tend to have better storage capacity. However, depending on the brand you buy from, you may need a subscription to access your video, which can significantly increase the cost of your purchase.

    Cloud-based storage also means your hidden camera will likely come with an app, which will be the main way you actually use your camera. A bad app diminishes the functionality of your camera, even if the video quality is fine.

    Live streaming

    Not all hidden cameras let you watch a live video feed. If you’re hoping to prevent theft, get the police to intervene, or create a “gotcha” moment, you need a hidden camera that supports live streaming.

    And unless you plan on continuously monitoring your live stream, this means you’ll also want one that’s motion activated.

    Motion activated

    Many hidden cameras are motion activated, which can save battery life and storage, as well as allow you to jump into a live stream when something is actually happening (assuming your camera has an app, which sends you alerts whenever there’s activity). 

    Some high end “nanny cams,” like the Google Nest, can learn to recognize familiar faces and differentiate between someone new entering the room and someone reaching for the TV remote after laying on the couch for an hour. This means you’ll only get alerts when something important is happening.

    Time and date stamps

    With some cameras, all you get is the footage itself. And that’s fine. But if you plan on using your video as evidence in court, you’ll probably want time and date stamps to prove exactly when the recorded activity took place. Depending on the nature of what you intend to capture, that may be important.

    Audio recording

    It might sound nice to learn that your hidden camera captures audio, too, but you should know: very few states allow you to record a conversation you aren’t a participant in (or at least within earshot of) without the consent of at least one of the participants. So while you might be catching someone in the act of doing something illegal or inappropriate, if you’re recording audio, odds are you’re technically doing something illegal, too. 

    (Most likely, this would just mean you couldn’t use it as evidence in court, but it could potentially allow someone to sue you or press charges.)

    So if a hidden camera says it records audio, make sure you either:

    Confirm there’s a way to turn audio recording off
    OR
    Don’t need to use the recording in court

    This brings us to one more thing you should think about when shopping for hidden cameras. (And then we’ll take a closer look at some specific ones you can buy.)

    Is it legal to film people without their consent?

    In most states, you can legally record video of someone without their consent, so long as they’re on your property. This includes their workplace, if you’re an employer. The only condition is that you can’t record people in “private” spaces, like bathrooms, or someone’s bedroom (even if it’s in your house).

    However, there are 11 states where you need someone’s consent to record them on video:

    • California
    • Connecticut
    • Florida
    • Hawaii
    • Illinois
    • Maryland
    • Massachusetts
    • Montana
    • New Hampshire
    • Pennsylvania
    • Washington

    That said, just because you can film someone without their consent doesn’t mean you should. Especially if you’re an employer, you should at least let people know that there are cameras in the building, so they don’t assume they have privacy. Telling your employees that there are cameras is like saying, “When you’re at work, don’t ever do anything you wouldn’t do in front of me.”

    And if you’re getting a hidden camera to keep an eye on a babysitter or caretaker, we still recommend getting their consent or at least informing them about it—regardless of what your state laws permit.

    Now, let’s look at some specific hidden cameras.

    Top hidden cameras

    We’ve selected a handful of quality hidden cameras that deliver a good balance of the most important features. For each recommendation, we’ll cover the basics and talk about what makes it one of the best hidden cameras.

    Blink Indoor 1 Camera System

    Price: $79.99

    Video quality: 720p HD

    Field of vision: 110 degrees

    Night vision: Up to 30 feet

    Live streaming: Yes

    Motion activated: Yes

    Audio recording: Yes

    Storage: Cloud based (no subscription required)

    App: Yes

    Wireless: Yes (2 year battery life)

    Other notable features: works with Alexa, less than 3 inches tall or wide, instant alerts when there’s motion

    This camera is designed for employers to monitor company property and employee activity. It’s discreet, but not disguised, and you can install it pretty much anywhere. While it’s more visible than other hidden cameras, it has decent video quality and field of vision, plus live streaming, a motion detector, and push notifications. It’s also hard to beat free cloud storage. So while it’s not as covert as other hidden cameras, it’s still very small, and it gives you a lot of features that can be hard to find in small, inconspicuous hidden cameras.

    DIVINEEAGLE USB Charger Camera

    Price: $38.99

    Video quality:  1080p HD

    Field of vision: 90 degrees

    Night vision: No

    Live streaming: No

    Motion activated: Yes

    Audio recording: No

    Storage: SD card (not included)

    App: No

    Wireless: No

    Other notable features: functions as an actual USB charger

    The best hidden cameras don’t look like cameras, and double as something ordinary. That’s what makes this USB charger camera valuable: it’s a normal thing to have in your living room, office, kitchen, and other rooms. There’s no night vision—but that helps conceal the camera, because there’s no light (which would be weird on a USB charger). This camera is super affordable, so it’s easy to get multiple to cover a few different angles or rooms. The challenge, of course, is to find an outlet that’s in the right position to capture the shot you want. It’s also worth noting: since it doesn’t store footage in the cloud, this camera works without internet.

    FUVISION Photo Frame Hidden Camera

    Price: $99.99

    Video quality: 1080p HD

    Field of vision: 65 degrees

    Night vision: Up to 8 feet

    Live streaming: Yes

    Motion activated: Yes

    Audio recording: No

    Storage: SD card (not included)

    App: Yes

    Wireless: Yes (one year battery life)

    Other notable features: wifi enabled, holds 5×7 photos, no visible light for night vision, can be remote controlled via the app, instant alerts when there’s motion, date and time stamping

    While this photo frame camera has a limited field of vision, you can move the camera remotely using the app—which is especially helpful if you’re livestreaming. You can also adjust your field of vision depending on where you set up the picture frame. This camera is great because it looks natural in a range of settings. You just have to choose the right photo to help it blend in with its environment. And there’s no light or visible lens to give it away. While this camera uses an SD card, it’s also wifi enabled, so you can get notifications and then either watch the preview, download the whole video, or go live. This camera also gives you a date and time stamp to make your video evidence more credible.

    FUVISION Fake Smoke Detector Hidden Camera

    Price: $89.99

    Video quality: 1080p HD

    Field of vision: 125 degrees

    Night vision: Up to 30 feet

    Live streaming: Yes

    Motion activated: Yes

    Audio recording: No

    Storage: SD card (not included)

    App: Yes 

    Wireless: Yes (180 day battery life)

    Other notable features: time and date stamp, remote control via app, instant alerts when there’s motion, bottom-view camera

    Nobody will bat an eye at a smoke detector on the ceiling. Obviously, this camera works better the higher your ceiling is, but with remote control via the app, the 125 degree field of vision should let you capture everything you need from above. 

    Note: This camera does not actually function as a smoke detector. (And you should probably not install it near a real one.)

    LIZVIE Hidden Camera Alarm Clock

    Price: $89.99

    Video quality: 1080p HD

    Field of vision: 90 degrees

    Night vision: Up to 26 feet

    Live streaming: Yes

    Motion activated: Yes

    Audio recording: No

    Storage: SD card (not included)

    App: Yes

    Wireless: Yes (can be wired as well)

    Other notable features: wifi enabled, instant alerts via app, functions as an alarm clock, Bluetooth speaker, and FM radio

    This camera is ideal for your bedroom or living room. The lens is completely invisible, and the alarm clock it’s housed in is small and inconspicuous. Since it’s an alarm clock, this camera can hide in plain sight. So while the battery lasts five to six hours, you may as well just leave it plugged in, so you never have to worry about it dying. 

    Interestingly, this camera comes with an unusual form of one-way audio: it doesn’t record audio in the room, but you can use the app to talk through the camera.

    OLTEC Light Bulb Camera

    Price: $49.99

    Video quality: 1080p HD

    Field of vision: 360 degrees

    Night vision: Yes

    Live streaming: Yes

    Motion activated: Yes

    Audio recording: No

    Storage: SD card (not included)

    App: Yes

    Wireless: Yes

    Other notable features: no blind spots, fisheye lens, provides light

    People probably aren’t going to inspect your light bulbs to see if there are cameras in them. This hidden camera blends right in with your home or office—unless someone looks at it closely. It produces a dim light, and the camera is rather obvious upon inspection. But that said, having one of these on your ceiling or in a well-positioned light fixture will probably not attract the attention of an intruder or someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time in your space. While the fisheye lens does distort your picture a bit, it offers amazing field of vision, and with 1080p HD video, it’s hard to beat that kind of coverage in a hidden camera.

    YTVISION Notebook Hidden Camera

    Price: $49.99

    Video quality: 1080p HD

    Field of vision: 60 degrees

    Night vision: Yes

    Live streaming: No

    Motion activated: Yes

    Audio recording: Yes

    Storage: SD card (built-in)

    App: No

    Wireless: Yes (can be wired as well) 

    Other notable features: can easily conceal portable battery

    Put this camera on a bookshelf, desk, kitchen counter, or night stand, and no one will ever know they’re on camera. Depending on what you put around it, you can even keep it plugged in for continuous recording without drawing attention to it. The lens is located on the spine of the notebook, and it’s blends in well enough to avoid detection. Since you don’t want anyone flipping through this, your best bet is to keep it on a shelf with lots of other items. It does look like a notebook, so if you’re worried about someone snooping around, you don’t want them to think it contains anything worth looking at.

    Find the hidden camera that’s right for you

    Keep in mind, you can find hidden cameras that are disguised to look like pretty much anything: notebooks, alarm clocks, lamps, whatever. The important thing is to find a hidden camera that looks appropriate in your setting, covers the area you intend to monitor, and gives you the video quality you need.