#102: 7 Tips and Considerations When Buying a Video Camera for Surveillance

Buying a video camera for surveillance is a very important thing for a private investigator. Over the years I have found small important things to take into consideration when purchasing a video camera that most people might miss.  Generally speaking, video cameras are not cheap and you will likely only buy one until it breaks and needs to be replaced.  I would personally recommend having at least one extra video camera in case one fails (but that is not one of the tips).

Below you will find some of the things to look out for before purchasing your next video camera.

#1. How Much Zoom Does The Video Camera Have? (Very Important When Buying a Video Camera for Surveillance)

It’s all about the zoom baby.  Don’t overlook what the zoom capability is on your future camera.  Zoom is incredibly important for a surveillance investigator for a variety of reasons.  My main reason is that it allows me to be further away physically from the person I am conducting surveillance on while still being able to capture quality video with the individual clearly visible in the video.

Buying a Video Camera for Surveillance
Click picture to go to the video


I made a video awhile back comparing both my Sony Camera which has 32X zoom and my Panasonic HC-V10 which as 72X zoom.  The difference is pretty significant and one of the reasons I stopped using my Sony camera as my primary camera.   I encourage you to see the difference for yourself.  I recommend the longest zoom you can get which will likely be around 72X for a traditional video camera.

#2. Optical or Digital Zoom

Many cameras will say 32X Optical zoom and 60X (or more) Digital Zoom.  Optical zoom is when the glass in the camera moves around changing the focal length to create a true zoom.  Digital zoom is when the sensors digitally create a zoom, zooming or cropping on an image.  It’s like looking at a picture in Photoshop and enlarging the picture.  This is what most video cameras will do.  Unfortunately, this is where the quality of the video won’t be as sharp.  This is much like the zoom on your phone camera.  Digital zoom will break up and not look as clear.  I am not saying don’t get a camera with digital zoom but just be aware of how much optical zoom there is versus digital.  You also may want to make sure that you have control as to whether you are using digital or optical.

#3. Video Quality During Low Lighting or Night

Not all video cameras were created equal when it comes to videotaping during low light conditions. It will likely be difficult to figure out what cameras will do better than others unless you hear a review from someone else or you are actively looking for information.  Most video cameras struggle at night and the picture becomes fuzzy.   I would look for any reviews from Amazon, Best Buy, B and H or Youtube to see what comments are made about low light videotaping.  This isn’t a deal breaker but it doesn’t hurt to get a camera that performs better than usual when it gets dark.

#4.  Time it Takes to Turn on

Ready…. Set… Go!  Something that drives me crazy is a video camera that takes 5  seconds to turn on before it will allow me to videotape. It is when I open the screen or press the on button and there is this bootup screen where it shows the brand of the video camera and then switches on.

Why do I care about how long a camera takes to turn on?  I care because if it takes a long time to turn on I am losing precious video time of the individual I am conducting surveillance on.  When you are buying a video camera I recommend turning them on and off to see how long it takes for you to be able to record.

#5.  Connectors in the Camera

For the past several years I have used Dazzle to convert my video from having no time stamp to having a time stamp and this requires me to plug in the audio/video cable into the camera.  Sony has a special cable that I would plug into covert the video.  Eventually, the port in the camera wore out and would not allow me to use the cable properly.  Because the connector wore out it would cause a glitch when I converted the video and made my converted video look like poo.

Panasonic video camera audio video jack

Sony Multi Port Picture



I switched to my back up Panasonic video camera that has a 3.5 mm audio video cable connector and I had no problems.  The 3.5 mm jack seemed to be a bit more rugged and trustworthy and I wasn’t as worried about it wearing out.

This might never be an issue for you but it is something to be aware of as it has been one of the issues I’ve dealt with over the years.

#6.  What Comes With The Camera

Video Camera Contents

My biggest beef with Sony when I last purchased one of their cameras was that it didn’t come with a charger.  I couldn’t believe I was spending $250 for a video camera and getting fewer features and then I did previously (My previous Sony had a charger and a touchscreen).  Lucky for me I had chargers from my previous Sony camera that fit the connections with the new one.

Just make sure that the camera comes with everything you need or that you are expecting so there are no surprises.


#7.  Buy and Older Model

Without fail every year the camera companies come out with a video camera at a high price point and without fail the prices drop when it is time for the next model to hit the shelves.  If you can, look for a video camera that has been out for awhile as the price will likely have dropped dramatically before the next model comes out.  I still remember buying my Sony video camera right after it came out and then saw it 6 months to a year later in WalMart for $100 less.

Also remember that stores like Best Buy mark up their prices quite a bit.  If you see a camera you like at a store, check Amazon to see if you can get it for a better price.  I always find equipment to be cheaper on Amazon than in the stores.  If you can wait a few days to get the camera and the price is right, get it from Amazon.com.

Additional Tip When Buying a Video Camera for Surveillance

Image stabilization is a nice feature to have on a video camera.  It will help to minimize the shaking (or appearance of shaking) while videotaping.  This can come in handy when trying to steady a video camera.  Of course, always try to use a tripod or monopod when videotaping.


I still want you to check the quality of video in normal lighting before making your purchase but I felt like it was more of a duh tip than anything.

I just want you to be happy with the camera you buy.  The video camera you buy is going to help you pay the bills.  Purchasing a video camera or any piece of equipment is an investment in you and your career.  The small things I pointed out can make a big difference in how your final product turns out.

Right now I am using a Canon HF R600 which is a couple years old now.  The Canon R800 is the updated version of my camera and is what I would recommend.


  1. Thank you for an informative article and video concerning the purchase of a video camera. One should do research before purchasing. I have a Sony DCR SR 42 and a Niikon P 900 camera that I use for still photos. The Nikon camera has a super zoom. Maybe one day I will be able to purchase a video camera with a super optical zoom. Mr. Andrew I look forward to reading all of your articles. Thank you

    • Thank you David. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast, blog, newsletter and youtube channel. I am about to start picking up the momentum on the site so keep an eye out. I want this blog to out perform all the others 🙂