Posts Tagged ‘undercover equipment review’
So the other day I searching online for a nice spy pen, one that exudes a professional appearance as well as being highly reliability. There are many spy pens, pen dvr’s, or what have you. Many are just junk, and a lot of the pen cameras of the past have had serious reliability issues.
There is a pen I’ve been researching for a while, and it’s definitely captured my attention (no pun intended). The hidden pen camera is called the DOD-PH720HD, like the name states, it has the ability to capture video at 720p in HD quality. This pen also advertises it can snap still photos at 12 mega pixel resolution (if you can actually believe that). I have it on my wishlist on Amazon.com, and I was going to purchase it this week until I randomly stumbled upon these three “spy pens” on Walmart.com.
Yes, you heard right. Walmart.com (of all places). Spy equipment is one of this last items one would picture Walmart stocking. It looks like the pens are available only online, and not in the brick & mortar stores. So why would Walmart stock a spy pen anyway?
Here’s my take on it. 1: Spy pens can be used for seminars, recording notes in a car while traveling. 2: It can come in handy for a cheating hubby / wifey’s significant other to place this sucker right on a desk or public common area without suspicion. 3: Flat out…the device is just plain cool to have!
I’m interested in hearing from anyone who currently has one of these devices or has used one in the past. I’d be interested in how the video / audio quality differs from unit to unit.
Walmart Spy Pen Camera #1:
SVAT PI101 Covert Pen DVR with Built-in Color Camera and 8GB Flash Drive
The SVAT PI101 Covert Pen DVR with Built-in Color Camera and 8GB Flash Drive allows you to record your surroundings discreetly and transfer them to a PC or Mac via an 8GB USB flash drive. Includes covert pen DVR, three ink refills, USB cable, user’s manual, USB power adapter and informational booklet.
- Video camera and DVR in a discreet, functioning ballpoint pen
- Looks and writes with a normal pen
- Pen unscrews to reveal a USB drive that can connect to a PC or Mac
- Stores up to 7 hours of high resolution video at a time
- Built-in lithium polymer battery can be charged via USB port
- Includes covert pen DVR, 3 ink refills, USB cable, user’s manual, USB power adapter and informational booklet
Walmart Spy Pen Camera #2:
Swann DVR-421 PenCam Mini Video Camera & Recorder Executive-quality Black Ballpoint Pen w/ 2GB Flash Drive
The Swann PenCam DVR Mini Video Camera & Recorder is living proof the pen is mightier than the sword! The stylish-looking casing with metallic gold trim and pocket clip holds an executive-quality black ballpoint pen with hidden talents, as it contains a pinhole video camera so small you almost can’t see that it’s there. Use the PenCam to shoot AVI video files at 640 x 480 pixel resolution or JPEG still images at 1280 x 1024 photo resolution, all at the push of a button.Make your own videos or photos and store them on the built-in 2GB flash drive.
- Real ballpoint pen
- Easy uploads to YouTube
- Long-lasting battery
- 90-minute charging time
PenCam’s intelligent design includes 2GB of built-in internal memory that can store over an hour of video footage. Viewing or copying recorded files is easy, just unscrew the top of the pen to reveal a USB plug that can connect straight into your computer’s USB port. No special cables, no adapters, no drivers, no worries! Transferring files is easy as the PenCam can be used as an everyday USB thumb drive, able to store a myriad of file formats without fuss.
Walmart Spy Pen Camera #3:
Digital Peripheral Solutions Q-See4GB Covert-Ops 4GB Surveillance Pen
Easy to Use – Playback files on Computer – Recorder Hidden in Working Ink Pen – Records Video
Takes Photos – Records Audio – Use as Webcam or Photos for Email
UPDATE: It appears Amazon.com is offering all 3 of these pen cameras “in stock” and at a lower price than Walmart. -OCPI Blog.
About the Author:
Ryan Garrahy is a state licensed private investigator specializing civil, criminal & workers comp insurance investigations. He is the owner & principal investigator for Orange Investigations.
The Author’s 2 Cents
Before I talk about this Private Investigator’s best friend, I’d like to apologize that I didn’t get a chance to review this device earlier in my blog. If you read my blog a few months ago I placed a post reviewing the PI Camstick 2, a similar handheld spy cam device that’s about the size and shape of a 25 cent pack of Doublemint gum. The PI Camstick 2 didn’t fan out that well, I noticed reliability issues and recording issues (too bad really, because the slimline shape was really nice in super undercover situations). So, with that said, let me dive right into the review of it’s successor, the PI Camstick 3.
Overall Design and Build
The design of the PI Camstick 3, also known as the MD80 is quite a departure from the tried and true USB flashdrive style look of the first Camsticks. I’m not too sure what the engineers were thinking but they sure made an impact when the device released to the PI and spy shop community. As you see in the picture I posted above, the device has a much more solid feel to it, doesn’t feel fragile in the least bit. Where the lens is situated, there is a curvature that protrudes outward, pretty much giving away this device as an undercover you-know-what. As far as the device’s integrity, it really feels like a little piece of cold steel in your palm. The device has great integrity and can really take a beating. Even though it’s not the prettiest device on the market, it can sure get the job done.
VIDEO: The 3rd Generation PI Camstick in the wild
1. Recording ON/OFF (pressing straight down to record and pressing again to stop)
The record button has the best placement I’ve ever seen in a mini handheld undercover camera. It’s right on the very top, protrudes slightly and is rounded off at the top. Once you press this little guy you’ll really feel the quality in the button design. How can I describe it..ok it has a real similar feel to the standby button that sits atop the iPhone. It doesn’t make a clicking sound, but just has that inherent feel of quality when you press it.
2. Power ON/OFF (located on the side of the unit towards the head)
The power button is conveniently located on the side of the device, and I’ve found that this is a really nice area for discreet powering on and off. Talking about being discreet, the last thing a PI wants to do is draw attention to the device. With that said, in terms of training with tiny spy cameras remember this one line “practice makes perfect“. Because the power button and VOX button are on opposite sides of the camera lens, it can often get confusing which one is which. QUICK TIP: Can’t remember which one’s the power button? Just aim the device toward you, place your thumb over the lens, then slide your thumb slightly to the left…boom there’s the power button. This really works well in a tactical situation where time and discreetness is of the essence. Works great single handed or while the device is in your pocket.
3. VOX (Voice Activated Recording)
Neat feature to say the least, and it REALLY work well. When this function is turned ON (with power button turned ON as well) it will only record when sound is heard above a certain decibel level. That means this device is great for discreet placement in a bookshelf, near a computer, or even hidden in an indoor plant. The MD80 will activate when the conversation starts and will go into standby mode when the conversation stops.
The PI Camstick 3 stores it’s video data onto a removable MicroSD card. This is the same type of card your cell phone uses to store pictures and video. The MicroSD card takes some finessing to seat in place, but you’ll hear a tiny click once it seats properly. Video can be viewed on a laptop or desktop computer via these two options: Remove the MicroSD and insert into a computer via the SD card adapter provided with the unit OR insert the provided USB cable and connect to a computer to view and download the footage.
Video Quality & Lux Rating
The video quality on this PI Camstick comes in at 30 FPS and 640 x 480 lines of resolution. A lot of spy cameras tend to have 20+ frames per second which tend to give it that choppy look, making it difficult to pause video and capture still images. So 30 frames per second is nice and the resolution is perfect for viewing on a computer screen or viewing on a DVD player.
This undercover camera also offers a Color CMOS 1 Lux camera sensor. Now a 1.0 Lux rating is ample for most common video capturing uses. I used this unit inside the bar area of an El Torito in the evening and it did just fine. If you have a really low lighting situation that needs undercover video, I’d go with a 0.05 lux rating or lower. There are actually cameras called “starlight cams” that can shoot in almost complete darkness without the use of IR. Here’s a link if you’d like to read more about “Starlight Cameras“.
Lux ratings make a big difference, factor this in when dealing with low-light situations
Reliable Undercover Camera; Really Gets The Job Done
I’ve shot hours of video with the PI Camstick 3 and I must say that after about 1 1/2 years of owning this camera, I love it! I don’t think there has been one instance that this camera didn’t record when it was supposed to. Even though it does have the cold military look and can be quite ugly, this little bulldog can really knock out video when you need it to. From bar footage to Disneyland walking-around footage, this camera pulls through. Reliability has and will always be a very important factor to me, as well as many other PIs. Think of it this way, if a camera doesn’t work when it needs to, what good is it anyway? I give this little undercover camera 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Thumb size alloy housing
Web cam capability
Supports AVI video format
Color CMOS 1.0 Lux
High speed recording and quick light response
30 FPS and 640 x 480 Resolution
Built in Li-on rechargeable battery last up to 2 hours
Supports up to 16GB Micro SD Card (30 minutes per 1 GB of recording time)
Easy installation with a bracket or clip
Bracket allows for 360 degree pan and 150 degree tilt
JPEG picture format
80 degree FOV
Size: 2.1″ x .8″ x .7″
Ryan Garrahy is a state licensed private investigator specializing in surveillance, background checks, locating individuals and workplace investigations. He is the owner & principal investigator for Orange Investigations.