What is the Best Motion Activated Spy Camera?

Tutorial: How to build motion activated spy camera

Spy video monitoring service – Take a Tour

I am going to help you pick the best spy camera for your needs. I will tell you how to choose between building and buying, how to figure out installation costs and suggest few monitoring options.

Using your PC and a web camera

By far the cheapest solution is to reuse what you already have. PC-based solutions are:

  1. Cheap or free
  2. Require PC to operate within ~20 ft

Depending on what your PC operating system (Mac, Windows, Linux) you may need different software. Check this list of motion detection software for details.

For a fraction of a price you will get a full range of security options (motion detection, remote viewing, alarms, etc) that is only available in high-end home security systems.

Any web camera can be moved about 20 feet away from computer if you buy a USB extension cable ($5 on Amazon). So the problem is hiding web camera. You can camouflage it with books, clothing or stuffed toys. Other option is to build a spy camera from web camera (requires couple hours of your time).

If you are not afraid of computer, then using PC and a webcam as motion activated spy camera is possible and this is the first thing that I would try.

Off-the shelf, ready to go package, usually called “nanny cam”

Off the shelf nanny cams are

  1. Easy to install
  2. Easy to operate
  3. Limited remote viewing options
  4. Moderately expensive $200-$400

You get a tiny CCTV camera that you have to hide yourself or a box that looks like an alarm clock or teddy bear that you can set up in plain view. You get a digital video recorder (DVR) that is either included inside “alarm clock” or has a wireless connection to the camera.

Major upside – usually takes few minutes to install. Major downside – poor image quality and no remote viewing options. Some packages do offer remote access, but you must have networking skills to set it up.

There is usually no option to upgrade camera to better one with nanny cam kits. You may be able add up to 4 cameras in different locations, but it will be the same low-resolution camera. And when I say “low-resolution” – I mean comparable to most web cameras. You will be able to recognize a person you know and what he is doing, but the image will be grainy in low light conditions.

Many stores sell such kits. For example here is Store 1 and Store 2. Just search for terms “nanny cam” or “nanny camera” and you will find plenty more.

Motion activated security system

Conventional home security systems (like the ones offered by ADT) do not have video monitoring and recording options. But retail businesses and convenience stores constantly monitor their customers. You can do the same for your home. Such security systems usually

  1. Require professional installation
  2. Require some training to operate
  3. Very flexible
  4. Remote monitoring, alarms, reports
  5. Expensive $1000+

If you are on the budget or have no technical expirience – forget about it. It get expensive and complex very fast. But the possibilities are endless… Do you want to get an email with a picture every time someone opens a door between 7pm and 10pm? You got it. Do you want to sound an alarm? Easily done. Do you want an hour by hour video report? Already done.

Motion activated spy camera can be easily integrated into majority of home security systems. If you are trying to use old cameras – make sure that your type of cameras compatible with the DVR you are getting. All CCTV cameras are the same – so if your DVR says “support CCTV cameras” – then any CCTV camera will work. But IP Cameras are different. You do need to check manufacturer and model to see if they are compatible.

Shopping for a home security system is a complex task. Best places to start are security forums DIY security forum and DIY alarm forum. And here is a little bit of theory on what is the best home security system.

Installation involves running cables and setting up networking and firewall. Large home or small business installation that you do yourself would cost about $1500, double if you hire a professional. Any “dome” style camera could be easily hidden and and will provide wide view angle. “Classic” style cameras would need some extra camouflage. There are plenty of stores online that will be happy to provide you with “hide me” enclosures.

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