#57: Cameras for Private Investigators – What camera has a better zoom?

I get quite a bit of visits to the website by those looking for the best cameras for private investigators.  I have written about private investigators and considerations that should be made when choosing a camera but I have never really dived into things you should consider when purchasing a camera you intend to use as a private investigator.

My Disclaimer

Let’s face it, not all private investigators will use a camera in the same way.  Personally I know that if I am only taking pictures of claimant’s, buildings, cars, etc.. I don’t really need a super fancy camera.  You may choose a camera of lesser cost because of the type of work you do.  In this article I am going to discuss zoom and clarity of a photo.  I plan on doing other simple camera comparisons in the future so be on the lookout for those.

Cameras for Private Investigators – The 3 Camera Test

I conducted a test on the zoom functions on the three cameras that I own and use frequently because I wanted to know whether it is worth upgrading to a better camera (which I had already done) based off how much zoom a camera has.  I have been very happy with my Canon T3i purchase not only for the purposes of this website but for family photos. Obviously having a good camera in the investigation line of work is a no brainer, but sometimes we need a bit of proof as to why it is important to  have a good camera.

There are three types of camera I commonly see used in the investigative world and in everyday life.  I use my iPhone Camera, I have used my small Kodak 7.1 mega pixel camera with a 12 times zoom and I use my Canon Rebel T3i with a 55mm – 250 mm lens attached with automatic focus and image stabilization.

Panned Out Picture

The first pictures I took from each of the three cameras was a panned out picture focusing on a small structure which were all taken from the same position. Below are the pictures and my thoughts of each picture.


The iPhone had a very wide angle view when panned out.  The picture shows just how much of the field in front of me was captured in the photo.  As can be expected it is difficult identify people or even vehicles from a panned out view.  The photo does not represent what the eye actually captures in regards to depth.

Cameras for private investigators
Panned out with iPhone











The panned out photo with my Kodak was very similar to the iPhone in regards to how much landscape was actually capture in the photo.  I can’t identify people or vehicles in the photo.  For some reason the picture looks a bit washed out.  The setting on this camera was set to automatic (the camera does all the work based on lighting).

Kodak panned out
Kodak panned out










Canon Rebel T3i

One of the great things about a DSLR camera like a Canon or Nikon is the ability to change lenses depending upon your needs.  For the purposes of this experiment I used the 55mm – 250mm lens as this is the lens I that would zoom in the furthest (of what I have).  Because it only zooms out to 55mm there wasn’t as much landscape to be viewed but the picture was clear.  Vehicles are semi identifiable in the photograph but individuals at that zoom and distance are unrecognizable.










Focused In

After taking the zoomed out or panned out pictures of the building I zoomed in as far as I could with each camera. A good camera that can zoom in from a great distance is what many private investigators are in the market for.   I was actually surprised by the results after taking the pictures with each camera. Below are the pictures and my thoughts on each of them.


The iphone completely zoomed in has a pretty decent picture considering it is coming from a phone.  It is safe to say that it would be difficult to identify someone walking in the picture (if someone was doing so).  The picture is a little fuzzy but I have seen worse.  From a private investigator point of view I would only use my iPhone as a last resort.

iPhone picture
iPhone Picture


The Kodak’s zoom was quite impressive when it came to the zoom.  What surprised me even more was that fact that the  zoom was almost exactly the same as the $150 dollar lens that I had on the Canon T3i.  The 12X zoom is very powerful but there was one thing lacking and that was the clarity of the photo at an extreme zoom.  It may be difficult to identify faces from any distance further then 100 yards.  If your clients are picky about quality then you may need to consider the Canon.  If they aren’t concerned about the quality then you may be fine using something similar to the Kodak.

Kodak 2
Kodak Picture

Canon T3i

As expected the Canon T3i had a great amount of zoom with the provided lens.  The photo came out extremely clear and you can even make out the small symbols on the bathroom sign located on the building.  The great thing about the Canon is that I can always upgrade to a lens that has a zoom more powerful than the one I used for this experiment.  Those options don’t apply to the other cameras used in this test.

Canon 2 shrunk
Canon T3i


Aside from the zoom on these cameras something else to think about is the price point for each.  You can pick up a Canon T3 (which is pretty much the same as my camera) for roughly $450 dollars on Amazon.  For something like a Sony Cyber shot camera you are looking at prices between $180 and around $500 depending on the mega pixels and zoom.  They are smaller cameras however, I can not vouch for the capabilities of the camera as I don’t own one of those.  But here is the moral of the story.  If you are going to spend a large sum of money on a camera, you might as well get a DSLR camera like a Nikon or a Canon because you will have the peace of mind knowing that the camera you get is not only used by other private investigators but by professional photographers.  Even though the Kodak was probably the best purchase I could make 5 or 6 years ago, I still paid well over $300 dollars for the camera back then which is quite  bit of money considering I could have paid a bit more to get a DSLR.

I hope this article helps you.

P.S. Be sure to say hi on the Facebook page or check out the YouTube Channel for great Private Investigation Tips.  And I would like to know what kind of camera you use, so let me know in the comment section.