History And Evolution Of Covert
Video Surveillance Evidence Gathering
By Ralph Thomas
As a hardcore
collector of old movie cameras and one who has been selling the latest
state-of-the-art covert video products for over 20 years, I have come
to know a great deal about the history and development of covert video
equipment. I thought you might like to know the history and development
behind the equipment you may currently use today so I present you with
this article on it's development. You can view a wide assortment of new
covert video products in our showroom in Austin, Texas or do it on line
through our front page of The
Spy Exchange And Security Center. You can also view a lot of the old
stuff through our Spy
And Private-Eye Museum either in person or online.
The evolution of covert video
can basically be divided into four different developmental stages. The
first category is the film age. The second stage is the video/VHS agent.
The third stage is the digital stage. The fourth stage is really a stage
that transcends both the video/VHS stage and the digital stage. It has
to do with the micro miniaturization of video cameras.
In the 17th century a Roman by the name of Athanasius Kircher invented
a device that would project transparencies onto a screen with a lens.
The Kircher projector was called the magic lantern. It wasn't until 1832
until a stimulated motion device was invented. This device was called
a Fantascope. It was invented by Joseph Plateau of Belgian. The Fantascope
was nothing more than a spinning wheel in which images were placed on
it. These images were drawn with movement such as a juggler with the juggled
objects and arms in different positions. When the wheel was spun, the
object in the drawing looked like it was moving. In 1877 the Praxinoscope
was developed by Charles Emile Reynaud of France. The Praxinoscope was
an actual projector using mirrors.
In was in the 1880's that Thomas
Edison developed the first movie camera that would record movement. Edison's
device, called the Kinetophone, didn't work that well. Edison developed
the Kinetophone to be used with another invention he developed, the phonograph;
to record sound but the two were difficult to synchronize. The sound and
motion picture system was a little before it's time. It was really William
Dickson, an inventor who worked with Thomas Edison, that actually developed
a camera that could actually record motion which he called the Kinetograph
in1880. It was not until May of 1893 that the world's first public demonstration
of a movie film was shown by Edison and Dickson. The film was of three
people acting as blacksmiths. By the turn of the century, motion picture
film was being utilized and movie houses started to appear in America
to show these films.
the first highly popular movie productions was The Trip To The Moon
which ran 14 minutes and basically was critical of the scientific
community of the era. To the left is a screen shot of the spacecraft
which went to the moon shown in the movie. The Great Train Robbery,
which was made in 1903 was one of the most popular films of 1903.
The Great Train Robbery recorded film of 14 different scenes. This
was a very complicated film production for it's time.
As movie production developed
in the entertainment world, it wasn't long before the American private-eye
figured out that they could use these movie cameras to take surveillance
footage covertly. Below is some examples of early movie cameras.
Enter The Age Of Film
Movie Cameras For Covert Surveillance
The Univex 8mm Movie Camera was extremely small for it's size and
was likely the smallest movie camera of it's time. It operated by
spring winding and had distance adjustment focus and exposure settings.
The camera measured a mere 3 1/4 X 4 X 1 1/4 inches. It was made
by Universal Camera Company and a wonder to behold for it's time.Click
on link above for a copy of the original operations manual.
The Univex was a marvel
for it's time period because it was so small. The idea of using
motion picture to record covert surveillance footage in the private
sector really started around Hollywood California were movie cameras
were in abundance.
Bell & Howell "FILMO Sportster" MOVIE CAMERA, 1930's
This old 1930's Bell And Howell Filmo Movie camera was really really small
for it's time period. As you can see, it had adjustments for weather and
lighting conditions. This camera was also know as the "Double Run
Eight." It was a popular camera for private-eyes in the early days
of obtaining surveillance footage because of it's really small size. If
you had one, you had a world wonder of cameras in it's era.
I'm old enough to remember the day when there was a question as
to the use of video tape as legal evidence. Just like the issue
of digital imaging is today, a lot of people talked about how much
easier it would be to alter a video tape than good old fashioned
film. If you owned one of these back it their hay-day as a private
investigator you where in envy! 16 MM with all that telephoto range
made you a surveillance star with the greatest equipment there was.
Although still photography
was well established as a tool for investigative use, the use of
early motion pictures as a surveillance tool was really experimental
until the 1940's. By that time, movie cameras had advanced enough
that the idea of shooting covert video footage on a surveillance
for evidence was taking hold.
For the 1940's this movie
camera was very very small and top of the line. It took a special
loading film cassette. It had a high quality Baush + Lomb Animar
1:2,8/12,7mm. Its weight is kg. 1,100 and its measuements are the
following: 58x100x132 mm.. Measures a mere 5.19 inches by 4 inches
by 2.28 inches.
By the 1940's, the use
of movie cameras to obtain covert surveillance footage was in wide
use. By this time, just about every private detective bureau (as
private investigative agencies were called at the time) were using
them. If you didn't do it, you had become an outdated dinosaur!
The most famous 8MM movie footage ever taken was shot by Dallas dress
manufacturer Abraham Zapruder of the John F. Kennedy assassination
in Dallas, Texas November 22nd 1963. This is the exact model of the
8 MM camera Abraham Zapruder used to shoot the film. The film was
shot on top of a concrete mound on the grassy knoll in Daily Plaza.
It is a record of a few seconds before the assassination, what happened
to President Kennedy during the assassination and a second or so after
the assassination. The Abraham Zapruder film is a mere 486 frames,
just six feet of film celluloid and lasts only 26 seconds. The film
sold for sixteen million dollars. How's that for a few seconds of
Laillard 16MM Movie Camera with Zoom Lens, 1970s
There was a time when video cameras was not used simply because no
one knew how the courts would rule on video footage as covert surveillance
footage. Right before and advent of covert video surveillance cameras,
most surveillance investigative agencies where using a Bolex 16mm
camera. You would wind the camera with the crank and it was made in
a way that various attachable lenses could be used with it. State-of-the
art for it's time, the Bolex was one of the best surveillance movie
cameras for it's era.
Covert Video Camera 1970's
Zenit cameras are made in Russia. They are famous for the Photosniper
which was used by espionage agents around the world to take still
photos of people entering and exiting embassies. In the 1970's Zenit
released a video camera that would do the same thing. A few of these
made their way into the USA and private investigators jumped at the
chance to get one because of their gun-stock design which made shooting
covert video much easier out in the field on a surveillance.
Enter The Age Of Video
Cameras For Covert Surveillance
Video cameras were originally
developed to be used for television broadcasting. At first, video cameras
where huge, bulky and expensive. As technology moved forward, portable
video cameras became something that every television news organization
wanted. In 1983, Sony came out with the first truly portable video camera.
In 1984, Sony came out with what they called the HandyCam camcorder. This
was a new 8 mm video format. One tape could record for two hours. As soon
as these came out, private investigative agencies started looking at these
units for a means of recording covert video surveillance.
In the early 1980's I was working with a company which conducted massive
numbers of workman's compensation surveillance investigations for the
Florida Association Of Roofers, a self insured group. Video cameras had
developed to a great extent but there was some legal questions of rather
or not they could be used on a surveillance. Video surveillance was much
easier to work with. With movie film, you had to get the film developed
before you could actually review the surveillance footage you got. Video
was different. You could obtain an instant review of the footage shot.
However, for a while there was some question as to rather or not it was
legal to use video for obtaining surveillance evidence and most surveillance
companies held off using it. To this day, I remember the association's
attorney calling and rendering his legal opinion that the courts have
ruled that the use of video footage as apposed to film footage for legal
evidence in a surveillance was ok to do. Within a matter of only a few
months, movie cameras for covert surveillance become a thing of the past
and almost every surveillance company in America moved to video recording.
There was a mad rush to covert. The sales of small camcorders exploded.
As video surveillance
developed, a High 8 video format developed which became the standard
for shooting covert video footage. Pictured to the right is an older
High Eight video camera made by Sony. It featured a 10X zoom, could
take extended optical zoom lenses on the front of it and featured
what was called "steady shot." Steady shot was actually
an image stabilizing feature which would reduce the jerky actions
of a hand held video camera.
Enter The Digital Age
With today's massive computer
power, we have entered the digital age of covert video. Just like there
was a legal question of the conversion of film to video as a surveillance
evidence gathering tool, there has been legal questions of the switch
from VHS to digital video. Digital video can be edited quite easily on
a computer desktop. Thus, digital video becomes easily altered. However,
this is true for any digital media including still photography and audio.
Sony was one of the first
again to get into the digital camcorder market in a big way. Pictured
on the left is my old Sony Digital HandyCam. Notice that Sony keep
the slogan Handycam from this first small VHS camcorder they released.
This early digital camcorder featured a 120 Zoom, and had what Sony
called "Night Shot", which meant that it could record
in zero lux. It could also mount a telephoto lines in the front.
As digital camcorder technology
moved forward, they became better, smaller, cheaper and with more features.
Digital camcorders have now morphed themselves into multi-functional cameras
in which they can perform in many different ways. Now only can the new
generation digital camcorders take video footage, many of them can also
do still photography, act as a digital video recorder with other cameras
plug into them, perform as an audio recorder and be used as playback display
units. Below are reviews of a couple of the current generation covert
surveillance digital camcorders.
COVERT VIDEO OPS HIGH DEFINITION (HD) BLACK DVRSTARTING
Even before the advent of the
digital video camcorder pictured above, there was a microization of covert
video cameras in the 1990's. Cameras became the size of a US quarter and
could shot through a pinhole. The first pinhole cameras to hit the US
market were only black and white and first cost about $1,200. The technology
of micro video cameras moved very quickly. The small micro cameras moved
to full color, got a lot smaller and better, became wireless and got a
whole lot cheaper. These small cameras cam now be hidden almost anywhere
Below is a review of some of the current generation micro generation video
World's Smallest Color Wireless Covert Video Camera!
Complete Kit! With Tiny Wireless Color Camera, Receiver, Battery
Power Adapters, Power Plug Adaptors, RCA Plugs And Everything Else
You Need! Easy And Fast, Ready To Go Complete System!
WORLD'S SECOND- SMALLEST MICRO VIDEO CAMERAS
About The Size Of a US Dime-Low Pricing-Four Models To Pick from
Color High-Resolution Sony Super HAD CCD (520 LOR) super cone
pinhole lens camera with digital pan, tilt and 3X zoom. Our
package includes handy remote controller with 115ft. cable.
Innovative covert video products
with covert video cameras built into them along with the development of
very small covert video pocket recorders have developed to a point in
which one can now have a self-contained camera and digital recorder small
enough to wear on one's body. A new slogan has developed called "bodywear"
covert video cameras. Here is a review of current bodywear products.
A Review of Bodywear
Covert Video Products
Grade New Generation
Button/Screw Camera Set All new Color New Generation Super Hi-Resolution (450 LOR)
interchangeable button/screw camera set with all accessories including
9-volt battery pack with on/off switch, 20 extra buttons, and 8
extra screws. Kit includes "Suit button lens cover" and
4 extra buttons, "Shirt button lens cover" and 8 extra
buttons, "Cuff button lens cover" and 8 extra buttons,
"Phillips screw lens cover" and 4 extra Phillips screws
with nuts, "Hex screw lens cover " and 4 extra hex screws
Covert Video Camera
Here is a high quality CCD camera built into a set of earphones
you will enjoy using for covert video evidence gathering! You can
obtain this product with a covert video pocket DVR for a completely
self contained covert video recording system
Covert Video Camera
Here is a high quality CCD camera built into a men's tie you will
enjoy using for covert video evidence gathering! You can obtain
this product with a covert video pocket DVR for a completely self
contained covert video recording system.
CapTek Covert Video Camera
Here is a high quality CCD camera built into a baseball cap you
will enjoy using for covert video evidence gathering! You can obtain
this product with a covert video pocket DVR for a completely self
contained covert video recording system.
High Grade SpyTek Covert Hand Bag Video Camera
Here is a high quality CCD camera built into a small zipper hand
bag. The ladies can use it as a purse and the guys as a gadget
bag. You can get covert video very close-up with this product
and no one will know the difference. You can obtain this top quality
covert video surveillance system with a covert video pocket DVR
for a completely self contained covert video recording system.
It works with our High
Definition PI Black DVR that actually powers the camera.
Our covert wireless
spy camera wristwatch contains the latest in miniaturized wireless
video technology - squeezing a full color video camera, power
source and a 2.4GHz transmitter inside a stylish working wristwatch.
It’s ideal for the security personnel, law enforcement agencies,
journalists to fulfill undercover assignments, like evidence collection,
hidden investigation and surveillance, etc. It is also great as
a toy for hobby enthusiasts, as body worn solutions.
We call it BookIt because you will book the video you need every time
and be in a position to have one covert video system that can be used
for both bodywear walk around applications or stationary covert surveillance
operations. BookIt CamTek gives you the ability to have a completely
self contained covert video camera system you can walk around with in
a book. You can just carry the book and shoot covert video or set down
and appear to be reading a book and covertly video record everything
in front of you! You can use the BookIt CamTek as a stationary covert
video recording system by simply setting the book where you want to
record video and turn on the motion activation feature. When people
come into the room, Bookit CamTek will then automatically start recording.
On all covert video applications, you have law enforcement frame watermarks
as well as time and date stamping.
The above selections
is just a small sampling of current covert video bodywear cameras. For
even more covert video bodywear products with covert video cameras built
into cell phones, pagers and other carry or bodywear products, click
The Evolution Of The Micro Digital Video Recorders (DVRs)
It's just been in the last few years that stand alone micro digital
video recorders (DVRs) gotten really small. When small, I'm talking
about the size of a package of cigarettes or smaller. Most of these
new generationDVRs have their own viewing screens on them. Here is a
review of some of the current selections in this area.
PenTek In Black!
Working Pen With Built In Digital Camera And Camcorder!
• Take Covert Video With This Amazing Pen!
• 1GB of memory and 1mega pixel resolution built right into a
working pen!• Fast downloading and battery charging through USB
World's Smallest High Quality Camcorder!
Ideal For Covert Use! The World's Smallest Covert Video Recorder
Introducing the PI-Camcorder TinyTek Stick, the high quality camcorder
that actually can fit inside a standard pack of gum. Delivering
unbelievable quality video/audio at the touch of one button. Evidence
recording has never been made easier! The PI-CamStick is the smallest
high resolution, real time digital camcorder ever produced. Easy
to use "one touch record" button lets you discretely
record any evidence instantly. For the most discrete applications,
the PI-CamStick can even fit into a standard pack of chewing gum!
High quality instant videos have never been easier!
Hi-Def IR SD/MMC Clip-It Color Camera
You can ClipIt to your pocket or belt. You can clipIt to your
purse! You can ClipIt to your visor in your car! You can ClipIt
just about anywhere and shoot high res video when you want to
with the push on one button and even do it in very low or no light
conditions. For security and convenience, this high quality recording
device is an excellent choice. You can take 320x240 AVI video
clips at any time simply by pushing the record button, switch
to the IR camera for low light situations, and record it all with
audio. It also features a SD/MMC port letting you have memory
of up to 2GB and a rechargeable built in Lithium battery. $169.95
Eyes Home & Office Security Camera - High Res, Color Low Light,
Eyes DVR BallCam!
Home & Office Security Camera - High Res, Color Low Light, Motion
MicroEyes DVR BallCam is the world’s first DVR in a shape of a
ball. It has real time recording speed. Unlike digital cameras or camcorders
with limited recording time for the battery and memory, Play-Guard will
go for up to 12-2 days and the unit gets activated on motion detection.
This supplements demerits of those electronic devices and this Low-Cost
DVR has many other useful features for the General Consumers. It can
also be used for fun and leisure with various forms of accessories.
It also has wirelessfeature via Bluetooth so that users can send both
video and audio files to your laptop and PDA within a 100 meters range
and monitor live files and store files for a playback.
Like the presentation
on micro video bodywear cameras, the above reviews are just a small
selection of current tiny micro DVRs. There is a lot to pick from. Click
here to review the complete and extensive line.
Self Contained Disguised Covert Video Camera Systems Covert video camera systems built into everyday objects has
come a long way. The first products of this nature required either wires
or wireless connection to rather huge video recorders. They had limited
function since the video recorder would have to run at all times. Once
the video recorder tape or memory was gone, so was the video evidence.
That has all changed. These covert video systems are now completely
self contained with the recorder and camera built right into the product.
Since these new self contained products are motion activated, there
is no memory problems like there used to be. Here is a review of the
Pictured Above, A Vintage Covert Surveillance StealthCam In
Before the age of digital video and pinhole lens cameras certain people
with specialized knowledge and innovation had limited ways to disguise
a video camera for stationary covert video surveillance. Here is an
early stationary covert surveillance StealthCam built into a radio.
The inner workings of the radio have been taken out to make room for
a video camera and a hole drilled in the side so a VHS camcorder could
be placed in it. Crude by today's standards. Below is reviews of some
cutting-edge self contained covert video camera systems with hidden
cameras, DVRs, motion activation and time and date stamping.
THE VIDEO ON OUR OF COMPLETELY SELF CONTAINED COVERT COVERTeK
Click On The
Graphics To The
Right To Start
Watching The Fast
You Will Love It!
Here To Watch
The Video On
You Tube And Rate It!
VIDEO OPERATIONS WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN! New!
Recluse! VideoTeK Black Box!
So Stealth You Can Not See The Camera An Inch Away! Completely Self
Covert Camera, Digital Video Recorder Motion Activation And Time And
New Light Bulb Camera Invention
New Technology! Light Bulb Video Camera and Decoder
If you can screw in a light bulb, you can install this system!
All you need is a light socket and a TV and you have an instant
home or office live motion, video surveillance system! It's easy
Both indoor and outdoor light bulb video cameras that use your
existing wiring to transmit video!
The above reviews
of disguised covert video camera systems is a small sample of what one
can obtain these days. For an extensive selection of these types of
covert video cameras, click
Surveillance Through The Internet
Viewing video surveillance from the internet has developed into a video
surveillance specialization in and of itself. It involves computer technology
with the right kind of software, cameras and connections but it's quite
easy and inexpensive to set up. Below is a review of the complete Internet
video surveillance software and camera package that lets you do just
• Web Ready
• 40 Day Motion Activated DVR System with
• Integrated 7" LCD Screen and
• 4 Outdoor CCD Cameras with
• Built-in IR Night Vision
• Ready For Viewing Anywhere • Time And Date Stamping
• Hand Or Net Remote Control
video surveillance systems have come way down in price making them within
reach of just about anyone or for just about any operation or monitoring
needs. Below are two of the latest video surveillance quad kits.
Video Camera Kit
4 Cam Color Bullet Cameras With Quad
Quality and economy in a 4-camera weatherproof color CCD bullet
package with mini real time, zoom quad and all accessories. Package
also includes (4) 65ft. plug and play cables and AC adaptors
to power all cameras and quad. Additional cable length can be
added using standard plug and play cables. Color 400 LOR CCD cameras
include swivel mount and hardware.
Quality and economy in a 4-camera weatherproof color Day/Night
IR CCD bullet package. Super Night Eye high resolution cameras
capture video at over 400 lines of resolution in full sun light
or in total darkness at 25 feet! Real time, full function high-resolution
(720x480) quad features zoom, time/date stamp, remote control,
PIP, freeze frame, motion alarm and multiple dis play modes.
Yes, the evolution
of covert video today is quite amazing and new technology is moving
at a very fast pace. Here is reviews of emerging technology as it relates
to video surveillance that you will be using if not already, very soon.
The idea of facial recognition software is to take various monitoring
systems and merge them with files of wanted persons. The software
scans various facial features and matches them against a facial
feature database and then alerts a monitoring station when a match
is made. This type of technoloigy can be used and is being used
quite successfully by law enforcement, private security in places
like casinos, and checkpoint boarder gaurd security. Although today's
facial recognition systems is not 100 precent, the technology is
still developing. For more information and extensive reviews of
facial recognition software, click
here to read a How It Works article.
Streaming To A Cell Phone
With GSM technology, we now have the ability to stream video through
the cell phone network. What this means it that one can take covert
video or overt video and instantly stream that video to almost any
location through cell phone technology. There will soon be portable
digital video recorders that have built in GSM simms cards to stream
Below is a subcategory
menu to review a very extensive line of covert video products.
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COVERT VIDEO SURVEILLANCE CAMERA AND SUPPLY MENU