The 4 Primary Cameras I use as a Private Investigator and Personal Use #126

I frequently get asked about what are good cameras to use or what are good inexpensive cameras to have at this moment in time as a private investigator?  And these are good and important questions to ask.

It is important to have gear that isn’t going to fail you when you need it the most.  And it is important to have camera gear that is going to help provide a quality product to your client.  In this article I am going to share what I use and how I use it.  I am also going to share some alternatives to what I use.

#1 Canon Rebel T3i


This is an 18 megapixel camera with a screen that articulates out so you can see the viewfinder at different angles.  It does shoot video as well but it does not auto focus in video mode.  The only reason I am going to buy a second camera is to get one that has auto focus in video mode like the 60D from 70D from Canon.

You can purchase this camera refurbished or used for less than I purchased it new.  There are also less expensive models such as the Canon Rebel T5 for around $400 and of course less if the camera is used.

For Private Investigation Work

I have had the Canon T3i for several years now and I use it for my field work as an SIU investigator (Investigating insurance claims).  This camera provides as professional appearance for me when working and allows me to take clear quality pictures in a variety of conditions.

The camera package I purchased came with a camera lens that is 18-55.  This is a very short range zoom that is typically appropriate for most work that I do.

I later purchased a lens that was 55-250 which helps me zoom in on objects further away.

For Personal Use

I use this camera for almost all of my kids school events whether it be award ceremonies, sporting events or music events.  I love documenting moments in my kids lives. I am happy that they will have so many pictures to go through from growing up.  I will also feel bad that they will have like a million pictures to look though.

I also use this camera for blogging when it comes to taking pictures of products that I review or photos that I put in the P.I. Advice blog.

#2 Phone-Samsung Galaxy Note 5


I just upgraded from a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to a Note 5.  I almost waited for the Note 7 but I am glad I didn’t because about a week ago there was a recall on the Note 7’s because of the batteries blowing up.

The Samsung Note 5 phone has a great camera on it.  It has a 16mp camera which makes for very sharp pictures.  The front facing camera has a 5 megapixel camera which is good but I usually don’t use this very often while working. It has different settings you can use on the camera but usually I only adjust the brightness and focus points of my pictures.

When working I usually only use my phone during interviews with individuals.  And I just take a picture of the person I am interviewing and a photo of their license. I don’t think it is necessary to carrying my Canon T3i to an interview just to take a photo of the individual and their license.

And if I absolutely have to I will use my phone as a back up camera if the batteries for some reason die on my Canon T3i.

The Samsung Note 5 has 4k video.  Truthfully I didn’t know my phone was shooting in 4K until I started this review but it totally explains why my videos were so awesome (family videos).

This might be a good backup spy camera if your other spy camera fails. In the past I haven’t recommended it but I will be in a future article.



#3 Canon VIXIA HF R600


At this moment I think that Canon is a leader in the camcorder market when it comes to the quality of the camera and video.  Another great point is that their camcorders are still reasonably priced against their competitors.

I have had the Sony and Panasonic cameras and while I can say nice things about both (and bad) my Canon VIXIA HF600 has been a great camera for me while on surveillance.

Now Canon has come out with the VIXIA HF R700 which is what I will be recommending because I don’t think they make the HF600 anymore. You might find it on Amazon or used but the Canon VIXIA HF700 should be a little better than mine and you will pay around the same price I paid.

One thing in particular that I liked about this camera is that it allows me to choose the quality of video (4 mbps, 17 mbps, 24 mbps and 35mbps).  The better quality you use the faster you memory card is used up.  And there is a significant difference in video as you move up the ladder. It also lets you choose between movie formats of AVCHD and MP4.

As I write this the Canon VIXIA HF R600 runs about $235 on Amazon. I might have seen it at Walmart for less but I don’t know if they will be carrying it by the time you read this.  As I write this the VIXIA HF R700 is $269.00

#4 HD500 1080P Spy Pen Camera


I am currently using the HD500 1080P Spy Pen Camera.  This camera is a little more expensive than most spy cameras that I recommend but it has many options that most spy cameras don’t have.  I always have this with me and it is a great camera to have. Here is my HD500 1080P Spy Camera Review and the video review below.

BACK UP CAMERAS (Important to have)

I do have backup cameras to the cameras I just mentioned.  In fact I take a camera bag with me on every assignment I go to whether it requires picture and video or not just in case.  And my camera bag has all the cameras previously mentioned in it (expect my phone).

It also has my backup video camera which is a Panasonic HC-V10,  Kodak Easyshare Z712 IS 7.1 MP, Samsung Note 3 and a 808 keychain camera.

Panasonic HC-V10

I purchased this camera several years ago right before Christmas for about $150 from Best Buy.  It was so inexpensive I could not pass it up and I knew it would be a backup camera.  That time eventually came when my Sony camcorder started acting up and I put it away and started videotaping with the Panasonic.  It was nice knowing that my surveillance was not over because my Sony camera wasn’t working properly.

There are other low cost video cameras you can find either used or without as many frills on Amazon or Ebay.

Here are some examples of low cost cameras on Amazon.

Kodak Easyshare Z712 IS 7.1 MP


This camera is about 11 years old.  I purchased it right after my daughter was born so I could capture every moment that I could. It also came with a photo printer so I could print out photos if I wanted to.  I don’t know where the printer is but I have used this camera as a backup camera.  11 years ago a 7mp camera was the top of the line.  Now it is considered average but it still does a great job.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

I still hold on to this phone for various reasons but one reason is to use it as a spy camera and I have used it to play recordings that were save on the phone.  I couldn’t use my primary phone because I had an interpreter on that phone.

808 Key Chain Camera

These cameras are still on the list as being my favorite cameras even though I haven’t had an opportunity to use it lately.  This camera shoots average video but is accurate when aiming it.

Final Thoughts

I hope this provides a little more insight as to why I carry the gear I carry when it comes to taking photos and video for investigations.  If you have any questions or comments I would love to hear your thoughts on my gear.  How much camera gear is in your bag?



  1. My question : Does the Video cameras that you use – provide Time Stamp built in – I recently bought a Sony Video Cam and it dose NOT provide Time Stamp and the client would not accept the video due to this fact

    I will purchase the VIXIA HF R 700 right away if you can confirm the Time Stamping feature

    • I just tried to do it on my R600 in baby mode and it did not burn it onto the video. James, I have only come across a couple of people who have stated they can do it though on their cameras but I have never seen it first hand.

      I use (and strongly recommend) you purchase DVMP Pro 6 to burn the time stamp into your video. I have been using this for a year or two now and it works great. Don’t go and buy another camera. you need to just burn your time stamp into your video. In fact whatever video you had that your client didn’t accept can have the time stamp burned in to it as long as the data is still on each video clip.

      Every investigation company I have worked for and friends of mine all burn their time stamp into the video. No one that I know has a camera that just does it without a second step.


  2. Great list! Very interesting to buy specially the spy camera

  3. I should invest in these gadgets ..great list!

  4. Hello Andrew I am just starting out in the private investigation field. I am coming up on my one mark with a company in Michigan. I too am a United States Army Veteran before starting in Private investigation. I would love to speak with you on different topics that you cover in some of your videos. If you are interested in speaking with me and can lend some advice my email is………….. Thank you.

  5. Can you clarify… Are you burning the time/date based on data embedded in the video and not simply assigning an date/time which could be challenged?

    • Yes I am burning the data from the video onto the video. They are more then welcome to challenge this because I keep the original video. This is nothing new that I am doing. Companies across the United States are all doing this.