Captures gorgeous 5K video. Waterproof. Highly detailed 20MP photos. Durable. Surprisingly stable footage. Huge array of video and photography modes. Many accessories available.
A fairly pricey body camera.
Affordable. Waterproof and shockproof. Durable. Full HD resolution and night vision. Wide viewing angle. Features 64GB of storage. Password protected. Long battery life.
Video transfer speeds are on the slower side.
Sharp 1296p HD recordings. Waterproof and weatherproof. Features 32GB of video storage. Records nine hours of footage. LCD display for viewing video. Infrared night vision.
Its audio clarity could be improved upon.
Rugged and water-resistant. LCD display. Up to eight hours of battery life. Full HD 1080p resolution. Extra-wide viewing angle. Compatible with micro SD cards up to 32GB. Sharp night vision.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Until relatively recently, the body cam, or BWC (body-worn camera), was almost exclusively used in law enforcement, the military, or by security personnel. Now there’s a huge choice of very affordable models for personal and leisure use, too. Their big advantage over traditional cameras is that, because they’re designed to attach to clothing or a harness, they leave your hands free.
Why not use an action camera? You can, and some offer mounting options. However, they tend to be bulkier, and quality models can be considerably more expensive. Many body cams also have one particular feature that really sets them apart: infrared night vision.
Wearable cameras come in numerous forms, including discreet minicams, the type you see on a police officer’s pocket, and video sunglasses. However, with different resolutions, frame rates, and memory capacities, deciding which one is best can be quite a challenge!
Finding the answers is what BestReviews is here for. Our research has identified some favorites, and in the following body cam buying guide we discuss the key details you’ll want to think about.
It’s tempting to jump straight to image quality and recording abilities, but there’s a definite reason for buying a body cam over other types of camera, so how you intend to use it has a considerable impact on your choice.
Does it need to be discreet? There’s physical size to consider, as well as exactly how it will be worn. Video sunglasses often go unnoticed. A close inspection will give away the fact that they are more substantial, but many people never notice them. Mini body cams clip easily to a pocket or other clothing. While a bit more obvious, they might still go unnoticed.
What is the operating environment? How tough does your body cam need to be? Will it get dusty, dropped, rained on, or even submerged? There’s a big difference between water resistant and waterproof. Equally, while most are reasonably durable — you can expect them to cope with the occasional bump in the great outdoors — there are some that are designed to military specifications.
How easy is it to operate? One of the main reasons for buying a BWC is so that your hands are free to do other things. That benefit is going to largely be negated if you have to keep pressing multiple combinations of buttons to start, stop, or perform other functions. Ease of use can be a bigger issue with this type of camera than it might be otherwise.
What other features do you need? Many body cams have infrared (IR) night vision, usually indicated by IR LEDs around the lens. How far they can see depends on the strength of these LEDs, so you’ll want to check the effective range.
Some BWCs can be motion activated, giving you the opportunity to use one off the body for security purposes. Some can also double as a dash cam or nanny cam. They may not be the main reason you buy a body cam, but it’s always worth exploring all the options available.
Choosing the right body cam isn’t just about how good the picture is. Although that’s important, it’s just one of the parameters you need to think about. Aside from image quality, you also want to know about lenses, audio, video duration, battery, memory, and sharing and saving capabilities.
Video: Video resolution gets a lot of attention, perhaps because big numbers always sound impressive. The lowest resolution likely is 1080p, which would have been considered high just a few years ago. With body cams, 1296p is common (also called Super HD) and a few offer 1440p.
Stills: Most people use these cameras to take video, but you can also take stills. If it’s a feature that’s important to you, you’ll want to check that resolution as well. Bear in mind that figures are in megapixels (MP), and higher numbers are better.
Wide-angle lenses are often provided, anywhere from 120° to 170°. While useful for panoramic shots, there can be significant distortion around the edges of the image. Again, intended use is a factor. If you’re just shooting person to person or relatively close up, it’s not something that’s really necessary.
As with any image recording, lens quality and focal length make a difference. However, the distances body cams are generally used for, and the type of recording being made, mean these are usually less important than for people who are doing creative photography. Nevertheless, the information should be available if you need it. If it isn’t, you should probably look at a different model.
Audio is another issue. Don’t assume that because you’re getting video, you’re also getting sound. It’s often not the case.
There’s often confusion between standby time, which is the length of time the body cam can be on between charges, and actual recording time, which is usually a lot less. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear from product descriptions (particularly those where English isn’t the manufacturer’s first language).
Standby vs. recording time: Battery run time between charges is a major issue here. It’s not unusual for standby times to be 8 hours or more, though recording time can be anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours. If you’re not sure of the figures, try checking user feedback. Real-world results are often very informative.
Recording length is usually given at the highest resolution and fastest frame rate, but it’s often possible to choose lower settings. Stepping down to 720p, for example, can give you twice the length of recording time, or more, while still maintaining sufficient quality for many purposes. Some body cams go down to 480p, though video at that resolution won’t be very sharp.
Recharging: You’ll also want to look at the time it takes for the battery to recharge, which can be several hours. If you’re using a body cam for security work, that might mean you need to get a spare battery. That’s not usually a problem, but some BWCs have built-in batteries that can’t be swapped out: the whole unit has to be recharged. That will be an important point for some users.
Memory card size is another factor. How efficient each body cam is with storage varies from one model to another, with 32 gigabytes as the minimum and 128 gigabytes the maximum. SD cards may or may not be supplied, and you might have a choice of size. It can be worth comparing the cost of buying the card separately. It might save you a few bucks.
While most body cams have a screen, it’s likely you’ll either want to share video with friends or archive it for security purposes, so the file type can have an impact. Although there’s a lot of cross compatibility between different devices, they don’t all play well together. For example, some Windows machines struggle with MOV files. There are software work-arounds, but finding and using the relevant program or app can be frustrating. Check before you buy.
Plugging a USB cable into a laptop is probably the easiest way to transfer files, but wireless may be possible. Additionally, you can upload to cloud services, though a subscription may be required.
Inexpensive: The cheapest body cams are the mini models, with several under $40. Even at that low price you still have lots of choice. While you can’t expect the image quality of high-end cameras, the main drawback is usually battery size and shorter run times. You can find video sunglasses that cost about $60 and up.
Mid-range: Full-size body cams, commonly known as police body cameras, start at around $90, with the greatest choice in the $120 to $200 range. Within that bracket you’ll find just about every feature we’ve mentioned. It’s just a question of picking which combination suits your needs best.
Expensive: While few BWCs exceed $250, some of the highest-quality and most robust models can reach $400. If you go for a full-on action cam with harness, it can add another $100, depending on the model.
If you don’t see what you need in our matrix, we have a few more options for you. The Kamre Sunglasses Camera must rate as one of the most discreet models on the market, yet it offers 1080p and takes a 32 GB card (not included). It runs for 1.5 hours between charges and is very reasonably priced.
The Boblov Body Wearable Camera is another that offers good value. There’s 1296p resolution, a 140° wide-angle lens, and infrared night vision. Maximum memory is 128 GB, and a 32 GB card is included.
At first glance, the PatrolEyes Police Body Camera seems impressive, but it’s no more so than many similar models. However, the image quality is excellent in both day and infrared night vision. It can be motion activated, and it’s lightweight, tough, and waterproof to the IP67 standard. However, it is among the most expensive body cams we looked at.
Q. How do I know if a body cam is really waterproof?
A. It can be difficult to tell. The only sure sign is an IP or IPX rating (IP67, for example), which means the device has passed independent testing. The number signifies things like depth of water and duration of exposure. Full details can be found online. Unfortunately, many manufacturers, even some of the top brands, don’t submit their products for testing because of the cost involved. In that case, you can either trust the reputation of the maker or look at user feedback.
Q. Why aren’t night vision images in color?
A. They’re captured using infrared light and, in theory, can display a color image. However, the low light levels result in poor differentiation, so the images are very blurred. The solution is to use a monochrome filter. The human eye can see more detail in black and white than it can in color, so the picture is much clearer.
Q. Does it have to be used by law enforcement to be called a “police” body cam?
A. No. It might be — after all, these devices are used all over the world — but unless it specifically states a national, state, or local force, we’d assume the manufacturer is using the term for descriptive purposes.
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