#24: Digital Cameras for Private Investigators. Does Perception Matter?


I received an email from a new Private Investigation Agency owner looking for some suggestions on still cameras. I responded to the new agency owner with some things to consider when purchasing a camera. I am actually very thankful for the question because it got me thinking of the importance of a good camera for a private investigator.  Before you buy or upgrade cameras consider reasons why it would be important to purchase a high end camera.  The reason I present might not be the one you expect.

The evolution of my digital cameras

Kodak Easy Share CX7300It was 7 years ago when I purchased my first digital camera. The camera was a Kodak Easy Share CX7300 , with 3.2 mega pixels and I purchased it for over $250 dollars. I think it came with an instant printer which I thought was pretty neat. There wasn’t much of a zoom function on the camera and the viewing screen on the camera was pretty small. It wasn’t a great camera but I think at the time digital cameras were just starting to pick up steam and be a mainstream item. At the time I had this camera I was purchasing 256MB and 512MB memory cards for the camera. I don’t know if they even make memory cards that small anymore.  I only used this camera a few times for investigative work for some scene investigations and pictures of individuals I took statements from.

A few years later I purchased a Kodak EasyShare Z712 IS digital camera for a little over $300 dollars. This camera had a 12X zoom, a large screen to view/preview pictures and was 7.1 mega pixels. The quality of the pictures were great and I continue to use this camera for family pictures when I need a small camera. Even though I originally purchased this camera for family pictures, I found myself using this camera quite frequently for work. I was photographing scene investigations, claimants, witnesses and vehicles.

Then after I purchased my iPhone I noticed that the picture quality was amazing and found myself using my iPhone to take pictures when I didn’t have my still camera available. With of all the applications available on the iPhone I was able to crop the picture as needed right on my phone.

This year I purchased a Canon Rebel T3i for a little over $800 after taxes and some accessories. This camera shoots 18 mega pixels and has more functions then I can wrap my head around. The lens that comes with the camera does not have much of a zoom, so a better lens is something I plan on getting in the future.

 Comparison Pictures

I am not a professional photographer by any means at all, but I do know what I need from a camera.  The functions of a camera that are important to me are view finder size, zoom capabilities, durability and perception.  You can see the significant difference in view finder size  and size of these cameras.  The professional camera has more options in regards to lenses.



Even though all the cameras I mentioned can take a great picture for scene investigations, accident investigations, or claim investigations, etc..,not all of these cameras give you the impression of professionalism or give a better impression to the client.

I spoke with a close friend of mine who is a private investigator who told me several months ago that he took scene investigation photos with his iPhone. My friend felt that the quality of the pictures were great and he didn’t feel the need to spend a ton of money on more expensive equipment. To some degree I agreed with him. Fast forward a couple of months later and he arrived on the scene of a serious accident and he needed to take pictures. He told me at that time he felt very unprofessional and that the people on site had not taken him very seriously. He stated while on the scene he felt a bit silly taking pictures with his phone. After speaking with him it got me thinking about perception and how investigators are viewed.  I think of  police departments and law enforcement investigators and the equipment they use.  How would a law enforcement official look if he was taking crime scene photos with his iPhone?

Yes I know, a camera doesn’t determine how good of an investigator you are in the field, however sometimes that is not what matters in business.   Perception is important not just to your clients but to the people you interact with during your investigation.  I believe a good camera creates a positive perception for an investigator.

Marketing benefits for investigation companies.

I enjoy researching companies and seeing the different things that are incorporated in to their websites. Some websites are very detailed with what equipment they use (typically the smaller firms), while other larger nationwide companies focus on other aspects that may be important to their client base. With that being said, showing pictures of your equipment (including your camera) may give your company extra clout to potential clients.  I know a variety of private investigation companies that specifically list the equipment of their investigators to provide piece of mind to their clients.

Thank you for taking the time to read my perspective on this topic.  I hope this is helpful in some aspect of your career or business.  If you have any thoughts on this topic you would like to add, feel free to comment.  I am sure others reading this would appreciate it.



  1. Good post! The impressions that investigators give when using cell phones to take photos should be considered. Using a cell phone makes clients think you are either too cheap to afford a decent camera, or they think you forgot your dedicated camera at home. Worst of all, they’ll think, “Why did I hire this person to take pics with a cell phone? I could have done that myself without spending the extra money.”

    • Good point Robert. I know perception goes much further then just what camera you use but it is something to consider as a private investigator or new business owner. The impression you have on your clients can affect your business and work load.

  2. Do you think the “Canon SX50 HS” would be a good camera for a Private Investigator to use?

    • Hi Marcus,

      If you already have the camera, yes that camera would be fine for a private investigator. If you have not purchased it yet I would consider a Nikon or a Canon T2 or a Canon T3. I only recently purchased my Canon T3i after about 9 years as a private investigator.

  3. Good topic! I can’t always plan ahead to have my pro camera equipment in my hands when i need it and may need to use whatever camera i have at the time, phone cam. included. Most all cameras seem to be of acceptable quality today.

  4. I’m planning to become a Private Investigator, and I’ve already worked as a process server, but the camera is a crucial issue. One with zoom helps. The surveillance camera I have picked out is the GE X500, and it has some killer zoom and clarity at 16 megapixels. This is a good article, because one thing for sure, it IS a business, and being a pro can mean the difference between McDonald’s or Red Lobster for dinner. I’ve heard of P.I.s using camera phones, and that just seems tacky.

  5. Are you hiring?
    I was a pi for about a decade and took several years off. I got the itch back and looking to start my own business. Any suggestions on where to start? Im a little rusty and not that business savvy.

  6. Question???

    Doesn’t the T3i give you problem in low light situations?

    Lens is a huge plus, however sometimes boosting up the ISO on the camera to the maximum just doesn’t cut it.

    Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the T3 would be good as a start up camera but an upgrade would be something to look into?

    DSLR are an amazing toy these days for PI. 😉

    I would like your thought on it.

    At the moment I’m looking for an upgrade to the canon 70D.

    • A T3 would be an excellent introduction to the DSLR’s. The T3i isn’t much different from the T3 and the cost has gone down on these cameras dramatically. Everyone has a DSLR and I personally think every investigator should consider owning one as the prices go down on older models pretty quick.

      If I ever get super serious about photography I too would like to upgrade to a better camera. But that would also require the I go and take some serious photography classes.

      Thanks for commenting Jay.

  7. Correction…

    I’m looking to upgrade to a 70D

  8. I am a P.I. in Fort Myers Fl. ( http://www.legalinvestigatorfortmyers.com ). My Camera of choice is a Nikon P-500. It is small , light and concealable. It does everything with an auto focus single lens with a super zoom lens with a whopping optical 32x . It has a decent size screen that flips and rotates. And it takes good videos as well. An all purpose Camera. Being a Nikon it presents a good image to all but the snobbiest of Clients. Mike Allen PI.

  9. You make a great point that applies to many different fields. What’s functional or convenient might work just as well, but giving a good professional impression as an investigator is huge. Thanks for the interesting read!