Friday, January 24, 2014

Product Review: Cheap and Cheerful Covert Wearable Cam

So there I was, doing a foot surveillance job at the airport (again!) wishing I had some kind of covert, body-worn, video camera that could record an hour or so of footage. And, most importantly, date- and time-stamp the video. 

All at a reasonable cost, of course.

Well, I think the lesson to be learned here is you really get what you pay for.

A quick search online at and I found the 'Mini DV Button Camera' (pictured) at the extravagant cost of $12.50. I think that even included postage from China.

The unit is designed to be worn in a shirt or jacket, the camera disguised as a button, and promises around 90 minutes full-colour recording at 640x480 resolution at approximately 30fps to an SDRAM card, not supplied. Date- and time-stamping also a function. The battery is charged via mini-USB.

It also can take still pics at 1280x960 or just record audio.

Sounds like just the ticket. However, in reality it falls short.

The first issue is that it just doesn't sit well in any of the shirts I tried it in. The weight of the unit, while not great, was enough to ensure that the camera ended facing upwards rather than straight out. Maybe with some judicious use of tape, this could be rectified, but it is rather annoying.

Secondly, and related to the first issue, the unit is kind of bulky. If you were wearing a shirt, the unit might be noticed if getting up close to the subject.

Thirdly, and also related to the above, I found that while wearing a shirt that was a little large, the unit actually moved about quite a bit while walking and did not provide a very reliable recording of the subject. Again, probably this could be fixed with some tape and maybe choosing a different shirt but still an annoyance.   

Fourthly, it's really not put together very well and is kind of flimsy. I've pretty much broken it already while testing it out and haven't even actually used it in the field.

As for the image quality, well, here is a sample. Note, I was holding the unit in my hand rather than wearing it, for reasons stipulated above.

Also note that this video is somewhat compressed and not indicative of the quality of the actual recording. It's nothing outstanding but serviceable enough.

The Good

  • The price. Well, how can you quibble over the cost?
  • Recording time. I think 90 minutes (although not tested) is fairly decent for something like this. 
  • Date & Time stamp. A necessary function.
The Bad
  • Cheap. As in cheaply put together. Managed to break before even first use.
  • Covert-at-a-distance. Not really up close.
The Indifferent
  • Image quality. 640x480? Meh!  
  • Finicky. Probably just me but I had issues with the controls, which are simple enough.
So, the final verdict?

Okay, so what was I really expecting for $12.50? Not a lot and in that case I can't really be disappointed because that's what I got in the end. Not a lot.

I'll give it a C- and feel that I'm really being quite generous at that. If it were any more expensive, it would rate a D.

However, given its limitations, I think that there are situations where this might find a use and it certainly is not going to hurt the pocket. 

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