Surveillance Toys

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Sometimes having a second pair of eyes on a situation is a good thing. Whether it's for keeping tabs on who's using your stuff in the dorm, which of your siblings is snooping around in your room, or even more seriously, whether your child or elderly charge is being taken care of properly, personal surveillance equipment is more popular than ever.

We’re not talking about high-tech cameras, an investment of thousands of dollars and extensive hook-ups to DVRs or off-site storage of recorded files. We’re talking about good old-fashioned snooping, like the kind performed by hard-boiled private detectives, concerned children of the elderly, parents of toddlers, or just about anyone who needs some discreet surveillance footage. These items are made more for amateur nosiness than professional surveillance. If you’re trying to keep tabs on your personal property or the security of your employees, you should look into full-fledged, large-scale surveillance systems like this. But if you just want to play a prank on a friend, keep tabs on what your pets are doing when you’re not home, or find out who’s been going through your closets (spoiler: it’s your parents), then these items might be for you.

Also, please note: Surveillance in any form may be prohibited by local, state, or federal laws in your area. Please make sure you check before poking a discreet lens into someone’s business.

There are a couple of things you should know when buying gag surveillance equipment, like the products shown below. The video resolution is usually around 640 x 480, but can be higher. You don’t want anything lower than that. This is the same resolution as old VGA monitors, so don’t expect crystal-clear images or stunning action shots. And storage of all video should be contained within the device itself, so no external wires or DVR equipment is needed. Most of the items below come with microSD card slots for removable and expandable storage options. The last item is the only one that needs to be attached to a DVR system.

Bolide starts us off with something as innocuous as a wristwatch. The mini Spy Video Camcorder Watch contains 4GB of internal memory, features 640 x 480 video resolution, and captures JPEG stills at 1280 x 960 resolution. It also has a built-in LED indicator and an internal battery that can be charged through USB, and a built-in mic with a 15-square-meter range.

As an added bonus, the watch is capable of utilizing automatic white balance to remove annoying color casts from the video for clearer, sharper images. The watch face can be adjusted with the crown of the watch.

When is a surveillance product not a surveillance product? Well, according to KJB Security, it's when that product resembles an innocent-looking power supply. The DVR255 AC Adapter DVR PRO looks like a standard AC adapter, but it’s really a covert 720 x 480 resolution video camera. It stores video in a memory slot in the adapter, and is powered by any standard outlet—that’s right, the power adapter is a real power adapter. The SD card slot can accept cards up to 32GB in capacity, and includes a time and video stamp. It’s also motion activated, so you just need to plug it in and let it go. Any time someone passes near the outlet, the camera is activated, which is perfect when you don’t want continuous recording eating up all your memory. Also from KJB Security is the smaller DVR252 Adapter Line Camera with 640 x 480 resolution. It’s also motion-sensor activated, and includes a 4GB SD card (the unit can accommodate up to a 32GB SD card). It can also double as a 100 to 240v AC adapter. Want to find out which roommate has been logging on to your laptop when you’re away? This simple and inconspicuous device is the perfect way to "out" the culprit.

You think a spare AC adapter is too obvious? KJB Security says, okay, go to the source, the source being a power outlet faceplate that doubles as a video camera. Sold in pairs, the DVR254 Outlet Camera features up to 1280 x 720 resolution recording and still photos. Simply install into the wall and wait for someone to walk by—the camera will activate on its own when it senses movement. It contains a microSD card slot for up to 32GB of storage (and includes a 4GB card), and a 950mA, four-hour rechargeable battery. The battery lasts for about five hours, or five days in standby mode. 

KJB Security also knows that surveillance is all about location, location, location. So instead of going low-to-the-ground with power adapters and outlets, they also make a tabletop DVR256 Weather Clock Camera. This weather-clock wannabe features a hidden 2MP camera that's capable of recording in 640 x 480 or 1280 x 720 resolution. It also features the ability to take high-definition still photos, and accepts a microSD card for additional storage. It uses passive infrared (PIR) technology to create a beam that senses when an object passes by, then triggers the camera. The clock is fully functioning and includes three indicators for status (green for battery charging, blue for power on/low battery, red for recording). Perfect for kitchen counters where the purloining of freshly baked cookies needs to be recorded.

Want to record a violation on a construction site or in an office situation? Check out the DVR258 Covert Insulated Mug DVR, now with a color camera system. The 5MP CMOS pinhole camera can record in resolutions up to 1280 x 720, with a frame rate up to 30 fps for smooth and seamless video. It’s all stainless steel with one-button operation, and blends in with almost any setting. It’s also a working insulated mug, with two lids—one for hot beverages and the other for cold.  It includes a microSD card slot and records in the .MOV format with a 66° field of view and 3.3 lux illumination. This is as inconspicuous as it gets—drinking from your mug and recording video? You could be the next Mata Hari.

If a hot or cold beverage is not spy-techy enough for you, look into the DVR290 Stylish Glasses Covert Color Camera with DVR. Although they don't record audio, these covert specs do record 1280 x 720 video at 30 fps (and 1600 x 1200 still photos) from their 2MP color camera and stores it in the 8GB internal DVR of the glasses. This covert camera features continuous and snapshot recording. The 3.7V lithium battery lasts for 1.5 hours and the glasses have a 65° field of view, recording in the .AVI format with 1.4 lux illumination. These are hipster-style, quality lenses, almost undetectable from other fashionable eyewear. Perfect for light surveillance or detective work, and also for looking cool—sort of.

KJB Security steps it up a notch with their SC8200 SleuthGear Zone Shield Night Vision Oscillating Fan IR Color Covert Camera. This undercover appliance is a fully functioning oscillating fan and contains a night vision IR color camera that records in 720 x 240 resolution at up to 30 fps with an illumination distance of up to 20-30’. This camera can capture images and video in almost complete darkness, just right for rooms that require nighttime surveillance. The camera includes a microSD card slot for expanded storage flexibilities, four levels of adjustable recording quality (Super, High, Normal, Standard), time-stamp capabilities, and playback search (fast forward, reverse, and frame-by-frame) by time and event. It works well in a child’s room, especially if you want to prove to them that the boogeyman is not camped out in the closet.

Want something a little more business oriented? Consider the ECMD100i Covert PIR Day/Night Camera with Invisible IR LEDs. This unit looks like a motion detector, but anyone roaming the hallways will be surprised to find out the unit really houses a Sony Super HADII 1/3" CCD with a 3.7mm pinhole lens and 24 hidden IR LEDs to capture video in 600 TVL of color resolution or 700 TVL in black-and-white (768 x 494 resolution). The LED infrared allows you to capture video in near-complete darkness up to 32 feet away. Want to find out if your employees' cigarette breaks are getting out of hand? Mount this device and let them think it’s a motion detector. The IR LEDS operate at a wavelength of 940nm, which is invisible to the human eye. There is no internal storage in this camera; this is one unit that has to be attached to a DVR to record video.

So, here you have a small primer on what amateur sleuths have at their disposal. If you’re thinking of doing some gritty investigative journalism, or maybe just some celebrity watching, any product in this article will help you along. Remember to check with your local, state, and federal laws concerning privacy issues and hidden cameras.

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Lots of good information. My only comment is that you might have mentioned trail cameras, as they are inexpensive and readily available.