A self-contained spy cam is a small camera outfitted with a lens and microphone that can capture video. The term self-contained means the camera is a fully-functional, independent device that does not require any external wires or hookups to record video or, in some instances, take photos.
Also known as pinhole cameras, spy cams can easily be either worn on the body or mounted to an object or flat surface. While the term ‘spy’ implies clandestine surveillance, the application of these tiny camcorders is far broader than just recording for covert purposes; they make an ideal recording device for business use and personal entertainment and enjoyment. For instance, a small, discreet camera can be used to record a business seminar for later reference or to capture a first-hand perspective of an extreme sport. Spy cams enable video recording sans the bulky camcorder and are apt for recording – secret or otherwise – virtually any situation where hands-free recording is paramount or weight or space restrictions may exist.
While spy cams are rather simple devices with limited features, there are certain aspects that comprise a quality, durable camera. We identified the following criteria as key factors to consider when searching for a top-notch pinhole camera. For additional information on these tiny devices, browse through our articles on spy cams.
The best spy cams are those that boast an inconspicuous and portable design. With this in mind, we assessed the overall design – appearance, size and basic functionality – of each camera. We evaluated specific dimensions (depth, height and width), whether or not the camera had durable alloy housing, and what type of clips and mounting brackets were included to enable hands-free recording. We also looked for particular design features that enhanced convenience, such as VOX (or sound-activated) mode, webcam functionality and an audio capture feature.
Given their miniature size, they do not have the capability to deliver high-definition video; nor are they meant to. However, the cameras should be able to yield fairly clear video where movement and actions are distinguishable and the audio is mostly intelligible. Factors we assessed include video resolution, minimum lux rating, file format and frame rate – all determinants for how well it produces video. Some cams can also take still digital photos, so we included image resolution in our side-by-side comparison.
Memory capacity on any camera is vital; the more memory it offers, the more data the camera can store internally. All spy cams are equipped with a memory card, though they differ when it comes to the type and maximum capacity of the card. Furthermore, while some spy cams have built-in memory, others have card slots that can support compatible memory cards with additional storage. Generally speaking, first-rate spy cams are those that offer high memory capacity and have adequate store consumption (e.g. 30 minutes of footage per gigabyte).
Battery specifications are just as important as memory capacity. Since they are lightweight and powerful, Lithium-ion batteries are the most commonly-used battery type in self-contained cameras. In addition to battery type, we analyzed the approximate battery life (or how long a single charge lasts) of each spy pen pinhole camera. Simply put, a longer battery life translates to more continuous recording.
The best pinhole cameras encompass those that rank generally well in each of these categories. Among the standout spy cams in our lineup are the MD90 Mini DV, the Muvi Atom and the SW361 ThumbCam. For additional information on these tiny devices, browse through our articles on spy cams.