Extremely easy to use: just plug it in and record. Very discreet – looks identical to a basic charger. Features include WiFi connectivity, app control, HD image quality, and 180° rotating lens. Video can be streamed or stored in the app or on an SD card. Comes with SD card.
Occasional issues connecting to WiFi noted. Sound isn't the best.
Power bank-shaped WiFi camera records video in 1080p resolution. Loop recording writes over older files first when memory fills. Can expand memory to 32GB with external card. Can record continuously for up to 15 hrs. Motion-detection model extends battery life. Night vision option. Charges in 10 hrs. or less.
Doesn't charge while recording to protect battery life. Lamp may light when recording.
Connects to the internet for limitless mobile viewing and control using a smartphone or tablet. Compatible with SD cards for a long recording time. Motion-activation feature saves on battery and recording time.
Setting up the phone to connect with a WiFi network can be challenging.
Has WiFi connectivity, rechargeable battery, and motion sensor. Can live stream or record. Stores images through the app or on an SD card. Works fairly well in low-light situations. Owners love the wide-angle HD images it produces. Mid-range price.
Rare reports of batteries that don't hold a charge. May have difficulty pairing with some iPhones.
Small and discreet. Can be worn as a body camera and has a sturdy clip to keep it in place. Easy to use and hide; produces HD video with clear picture quality. Works fairly well in low-light situations.
Motion sensor is quite sensitive, possibly resulting in unnecessary recording.
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.
There was a point when security systems were cost prohibitive. You only invested in one if you needed to monitor something of considerable value. Now, whether you want to keep an eye on packages being delivered to your front porch or you just want to see what kind of critters scamper around your yard at night, you can. Technology has advanced and drastically dropped in price, putting hidden cameras in a range that anyone can afford.
But what features are most desirable in a hidden camera? Which cameras offer the best value? Do you need any special knowledge to get your camera up and running on your home WiFi network? Where should you position one to get the most out of it?
These questions and more are all answered in the following article, a handy guide designed to help you find the best hidden camera for your needs. And when you’re ready to buy a hidden camera, check out our top recommendations.
How you plan on using your hidden camera will determine the one that is right for you. So, before you begin your quest for the best, you'll need to answer the following three questions.
What will you use your hidden camera for?
Knowing the particulars of how you intend on using your hidden camera is the easiest way to figure out which features you need and which you don't. For instance, if your camera will never be exposed to the elements, you don't need it to be waterproof.
Where will your hidden camera be located?
Knowing where the camera will be positioned is key to helping you decide what is the best camouflage. For instance, if the camera will be outside, you don't want one hidden in a smoke detector.
How do you want to view the video taken by the hidden camera?
There's a big difference between getting a stand-alone camera that records directly to an SD card and a WiFi camera that you can watch in real time on your phone no matter where you happen to be.
USB charger and camera
The WEMLB spy camera is cleverly disguised as a plug-in USB charger. The charger works while the 1080p WiFi camera covers 180° with its rotating lens and sends push notifications to your phone whenever it detects motion. The unit is reasonably priced, easy to set up, and portable – you can easily move it from room to room. The company stands behind its product with a two-year warranty.
Now that you've clearly defined your needs, here is a list of features you’ll want to consider. Not all hidden cameras are the same, so pick the features that are most desirable to you and keep them in mind when shopping.
Audio: For space considerations and legal reasons, most hidden cameras do not feature audio recording. You might need to look a little harder to find a hidden camera with an audio feature.
Detectability: No hidden camera is completely undetectable. However, the best models have a hidden lens that isn't easily noticeable and no LED lights that turn on to signal when recording mode has been activated.
Camouflage: A camera that’s disguised as another object is easy to hide in plain sight, allowing you to get an unobstructed view of whatever you want to monitor.
Ease of use: For the average user, the best hidden camera is a plug-and-play device that requires no experience to set up and use.
Loop recording: This feature records until the memory is full then cycles back to the beginning and starts overwriting the oldest data so the device is always recording.
Memory: If you have a stand-alone hidden camera, memory is crucial. You'll likely need something that can store at least several hours of footage to satisfy your needs.
Motion activation: A motion-activated hidden camera is desirable because it can extend battery life and recording time by going into standby mode until it detects movement. Additionally, a camera that sends push notifications when it detects motion is essential for alerting you of concerns in real time. The best motion-activated cameras allow you to fine-tune the amount of activity it takes to wake the camera up or send a notification.
Night vision: If your camera is equipped with night vision, it employs infrared technology to allow monitoring in the dark. Distance and picture clarity are the two features you want to look at when evaluating the quality of night vision in a hidden camera.
Picture quality: Monitoring an environment or situation is only advantageous if you can actually see what is happening.
Portability: Some hidden cameras, such as smoke detector cameras, require a more permanent installation. Others, like a USB charger, can be quickly and easily moved around from room to room depending on your needs at the time.
Power: If you have a preference for the type of power desired – rechargeable or plug-in – make sure the hidden camera that you’re considering meets those requirements.
Streaming: If you’d like to be able to check on your live feed in real time, you'll need a WiFi-ready hidden camera that can connect to your home network.
Wide-angle or rotating lens: The wider the area your lens can cover, the more likely you are to see what you need to see. You want a hidden camera with a wide-angle or rotating lens to give you the best viewing options.
Weatherproof: If your camera will be exposed to the elements, make sure it is specifically designed for outdoor use.
Warranty: A warranty reveals how much faith the manufacturer has in its product.
Sometimes having a camera that’s visible (but out of reach) or a sign alerting others that the area is under surveillance is far more effective at deterring bad behavior than the hidden camera itself.
If you ever get the feeling you're being watched, use your cell phone's flashlight to slowly inspect the area. Any stray glints you discover could be coming from the lens of a hidden camera.
If you hide a camera in a planter, regularly inspect the lens to make sure it isn’t obscured by dirt. And remember not to accidentally water your camera.
It’s possible to find entry-level mini cameras in the $10 to $20 range, but these will likely be lower resolution or wired devices. Between $20 and $50, you can find a wide variety of decent cameras, some with loop recording or night vision. These cameras may still look like cameras or they may be disguised as small functioning items such as a digital clock, USB charger, or smoke detector. Most all of the cameras in this range are WiFi devices.
From $50 to $80, you get all the bells and whistles, HD recording, push notifications, larger memory, and more.
If you have a large budget, you can spend anywhere from $300 to over $1,000 for cameras hidden in devices like Bluetooth speakers or multi-camera surveillance systems.
Affordable mini hidden camera
AREBI's mini camera has a wide-angle lens and offers 1080p video. It connects to your home WiFi network at 2.4GHz and has a built-in rechargeable battery. The app for the camera allows you to play back video, take a snapshot, and record remotely. It also sends push notifications to your phone when it detects motion. Although it’s tiny, it isn’t disguised, so it’s easy to tell that this device is a camera.
It's not like the movies, you can't just toss a hidden camera anywhere and expect to have satisfactory results. The following are a few tips that will help you get the most out of your hidden camera.
Be sure you have the right camera for your situation. Placing an indoor camera outside is not a wise strategy.
Know your camera. If your camera features loop recording, know how long the loop is so you don't accidentally overwrite important footage.
Choose wisely. A camera that blinks during night vision mode or has a red LED that turns on while recording will quickly reveal your hidden camera.
Invest in the best SD card. Getting a low-end SD card that fails when you need it most is one of the best ways to experience crushing disappointment.
Position your camera strategically. Focusing your camera on a narrow location where traffic must pass, such as a doorway or hallway, is best for capturing a clean shot of unwanted intruders.
Make sure the camera really is hidden. A hidden camera is only effective when others don’t know it is there.
Check your shot. Your hidden camera won't catch much if it's aimed at the floor.
Know your angle. If your hidden camera doesn't rotate, you're only going to get a pie slice of what's in front of the lens. Know how big that slice is to be sure you get a sizable portion of the room in your shot.
Consider the lighting. A bright light source behind or to the side of your subject could obscure or obliterate details.
The technology for cameras and streaming has become so compact that you could have a camera hidden anywhere. That's right, a patent has already been filed for a camera that’s embedded in a contact lens and takes pictures just by blinking. While that camera may still be a few years off, here are a few more nifty hidden cameras that we thought would be of interest to you. CIXI placed their camera in a dual USB charger. It has no recording light to reveal its secret purpose. The AES Spy Camera is a standalone 720p camera that’s conveniently hidden in an alarm clock/radio. And for those of you who want to go full-on James Bond mode, the IPS IP Smart HD WiFi Camera has been cleverly hidden within a belt buckle.
Q. Are hidden cameras legal?
A. Yes. You can place a hidden camera in your home, you can place a hidden camera outside your home to monitor your property, and you can even place a hidden camera in a public space. However, there are two ways that using a hidden camera in these locations would turn your actions into an illegal activity.
Q. What are those two ways?
A. The first involves privacy. You cannot place a hidden camera in any location where a person would otherwise expect privacy. Therefore, no hidden cameras in places like bedrooms or bathrooms. The second restriction explains why a feature is curiously missing from hidden cameras. You cannot have a hidden camera that records audio. Conversations are considered private, and, in most states, at least one party must be aware that the conversation is being recorded. For the other states, both parties involved in a conversation must be aware that it’s being recorded.
Q. What about at work? Can I use a hidden camera to monitor my employees' behavior?
A. The same policy applies at work. It’s perfectly legal to use a hidden camera to monitor your employees. As an employer, you are not obligated to inform your employees that they’re being monitored on a hidden camera. However, it isn’t legal to place that camera in a location where the employees are expecting privacy.
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