The 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.

One of 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

Miniature Univex 8mm Movie Camera, 1939

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.

Vintage 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.

16 MM Keystone Surveillance Movie Camera

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.

1940's Rervere Miniature Movie Camera

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!

Abraham Zapruder 8MM JFK Assassination Camera, 1963
A Sixteen Million Dollar Twenty-Eight Second 8 MM Film

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 surveillance footage!
Bolex 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.
Zenit 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.

Sony High 8 HandyCam

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 HandyCam Digital

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.

STARTING @ $195.00



The Microization Of Video Cameras

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 cameras.

A Review Of Micro Covert Video Penhole Cameras




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!

About The Size Of a US Dime-Low Pricing-Four Models To Pick from

1.2 Ghz Wireless Micro Video Cmos Color Camera
With Receiver On sale $149.95

1.2 Ghz Wireless Micro Video Cmos B&W Camera
With Receiver On Sale Now $119.95

Full Color Wired Micro Video Cmos Camera Sale $59.95
B& W Wired Micro Video Cmos Camera Sale $49.95

High Grade Snake Video Camera
New generation high end CCD snake camera goes where no other video camera can go! Obtain it by itself or with our micro-sized pocket digital video recorder.


It Zooms! It Tilts! It Pans! All Remote Controlled In
A Quality Pinhole Video Camera!

Amazing 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

Professional 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 with nuts.

New Generation Stealth ProPack Covert Surveillance Bodywear Kit!
Covert Video Eyeglasses Now With Totally Clear Lenses Powered By DVR!
Two Other Interchangeable Lenses For Outside Use! High Grade Button Camera Powered
By DVR! Pocket DVR With Time/Date Stamping Display!

EarPhoneTek 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

TieTeK 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.

BaseBall 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.

New For 2008! Video WatchTek
Working Watch With Built In Wireless Digital 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.

BookIt CamTek!
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 here.

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.

Use It To Both Record Covert Video And Power Your Camera!
Look Ma! No Camera Battery! PI Black Provides Camera Batttery Power For Our
button camera
, baseball cap camera and tie camera!
MSRP: $595.00 YOUR COST ONLY $439.95

View Some Video Presnetations Of Featured Micro DVRS
Just Click On Each Frame Or See The Links Below!

PV500 PI Black Pocket Digital Videl Recorder
PV900 Invisible Secrets Pocket Digital Videl Recorder
PV800 High Grade Pocket Digital Videl Recorder With Wireless Option
PV700 High Grade Pocket DVR
TinyTek Econo Pocket DVR

Video 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 port!

PI-Camcorder TinyTek Stick
World's Smallest High Quality Camcorder!
Ideal For Covert Use! The World's Smallest Covert Video Recorder And/Or Camcorder!

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!

Clip-It Laser CamTeK
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


Micro Eyes Home & Office Security Camera - High Res, Color Low Light, Motion Activated

Micro Eyes DVR BallCam!
Home & Office Security Camera - High Res, Color Low Light, Motion Activated

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.


Super Blowout Sale! Was $479.95 Now Only $295.00

New Generation - World's Smallest!

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.

Completely 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 best ones.

Pictured Above, A Vintage Covert Surveillance StealthCam In Radio 1970's
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.

New Generation For 2008! Stationary Covert Video Surveillance Has Changed!
Self Contained Stationary Covert Video Systems!

Top Quality Covert Video Camera Systems With Built In Digital
Video Recorders, Motion Activation And Time And Date Stamping!
Now With Up To 20 Hours Recording Time And Low Light Ability!


Just Click On The
Graphics To The
Right To Start
Watching The Fast
Loading Video
You Will Love It!

Click Here To Watch
The Video On
You Tube And Rate It!

New! Recluse! VideoTeK Black Box!
So Stealth You Can Not See The Camera An Inch Away! Completely Self Contained With
Covert Camera, Digital Video Recorder Motion Activation And Time And Date Stamping


The 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 as 1-2-3!
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 here.

Video 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 that.


Ultra Extreme View Video Monitoring System

• 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

Access Video Camera From Anywhere Over The Internet!

Turns Your Computer Into A High Tech Video Monitoring Station
You Can Access From Anywhere In The World. Use Your Existing
Cameras Or Obtain Specialized Cameras. Access Video From The Internet. Have System Contact You By Phone, Email, Cell Phone Or PDA When It Detects Motion!

Quad Video Surveillance Systems

Recently, Quad 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.

QuadTeK 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.

Photo © Identix Inc.
Facial Recognition Software
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.
Video 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 video anywhere.


Below is a subcategory menu to review a very extensive line of covert video products.



What's New In Covert Video

Micro Video And Pinhole Video Cameras

Covert Video Cameras Built Into All
Kinds Of Stuff
Bodywear Covert Video Cameras-
Cameras You Wear Or Covertly Carry
Tiny Bullet And Weatherproof Cameras Access Video Off The Net From Anywhere
Portable Mini Digital Video Recorders Complete Video Monitoring Systems
Camcorders & Still Digital Cameras Video Recorders
Total Digital Video Cameras & Gear Night Vision Optics
Quad Systems And Processors Simulated Video Cameras
Special Operations Video Video Camera Detection Gear
Other Surveillance Aids And Optics Surveillance Training Aids


You Will Also Want To Read:

The History And Evolution Of Spy And Investigative Photography By Ralph Thomas

Choosing The Right Video Camera For Your Job- By Cody Woods

Audio Evidence And The History And Evolution Of The Audio Recorder By Ralph D. Thomas

Early Detective Agency Advertising And Private Investigative Trends From The Past - By Ralph D Thomas


Copyright: 2008, Ralph D. Thomas
All rights reserved.