So you’re planning a stealth mission. Let me just say that hidden cameras might not be the best option for your home. They tend to creep out guests and workers, and in certain states, they’re flat-out illegal. So definitely check if it’s legal to install spy cameras in your state before you run out to the Best Buy for a four-pack of plant cams.
Even more to the point: Visible cameras actively deter crime and bad behavior. If that sounds like a better option for you, these are the best home security cameras we’ve reviewed this year. All of the brands on our list sell smaller models that can double as spy cams — like the pint-sized SimpliCam, the Lorex Indoor 2K, and the Arlo Essential.
Not that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’ll also say that everyone is the king of their own castle. As long as you’re not breaking the law, hidden cameras might be a solution to a particular home security problem you’re having. In that case, I’ve got a few hidden cameras I can recommend.
Pro Tip: Stay away from novelty cameras like smoke detector cams and photo frame cams. Some are pretty expensive, so you think you’re getting quality equipment. But 9 times out of 10, they’re just junk.
Very few spy cams can compete with our top home security camera picks. But Vidcastive’s 4K Mini Spy Camera is an exception. It’s got exceptional video quality and a wide viewing range, and it can last a whopping 19 hours unplugged.
The $52 Vidcastive 4K Mini Spy Camera stands out in a few areas. One, it’s tiny — not quite as tiny as it appears in ads, but you’d have to be looking hard to find it. Two, it delivers the highest-quality video of all the hidden cameras I’ve tested, even in near pitch-black settings. Three, motion detection works better than most cameras in its price range.
But the headliner is actually the Vidcastive’s battery life. The Vidcastive boasts a massive 19 hours of continuous recording, so you can really stick it anywhere and use it for anything, such as keeping an eye on the front door while you’re out, monitoring your little one, or saying hello to Fido from work.
In terms of local storage, Vidcastive’s 256 GB is par for the course. But Vidcastive also offers free storage in the cloud, which is unusual. The only hitch here is that your videos disappear in three days.
|1.5 x 1.5 x 1.5 inches
Prowler-proof, pint-sized, and pretty darn cheap, the OKSIR Spy Cam also records good video.
One nice thing about having a security camera hidden in a USB charger — maybe the only nice thing? — is that exporting footage is easy. You just stick in a USB and voilà.
The OKSIR (OK, sir?) Spy Cam really is discreet. It weighs only an ounce. And no one’s going to suspect you’re recording them with a USB charger. But placement is a little tricky. A lot of my sockets are at ankle level. I didn’t have many options, outside the kitchen, that would have given me headshots of prowlers at the door.
If you can find a good spot for it, the OKSIR delivers good HD picture quality for its $49 price tag. Like the other spy cams on this list, the OKSIR has two modes. Motion detection mode will beam you clips of suspicious activity. But you can also stream continuous footage to your phone if you want to use the OKSIR as a baby monitor or nanny cam.
|1.6 x 1.1 x 1.1 inches
This is a tiny camera with decent video quality and motion sensitivity. The unpronounceable AOBOCAM is also cheap.
AOBOCAM has a funny name and a bizarre sales pitch: “Dear, are you worrying? When you are away, do you often miss your family and pets? Want to know if the nanny is lazy?” But it’s not pure schlock like many tiny cams I’ve tested.
First, there’s the AOBOCAM’s size. While this isn’t a sneak cam masquerading as a USB charger, it’s tiny enough to sit on your desk and guard the office.
Second, battery life isn’t bad. Mine recorded for a little over an hour. If you think that’s peanuts, the AOBOCAM doesn’t record continuously. It records only when it senses movement. That’s 60 to 90 minutes of motion events. So if you just want to find out if the painter’s been checking out your liquor cabinet, you’ll be fine with the AOBOCAM. If you’re monitoring a room where the nanny hangs out, you’ll be better off plugging your camera into the wall.
Finally, the image quality on the AOBOCAM wasn’t bad, even in lowish light. The folks at AOBOCAM claim their spy cam has seven degrees of motion sensitivity. Happy users have lavished praise on this feature.
Me, I got it to pick out the neighbor’s dog fouling my grass at about 30 feet in broad daylight. That won’t replace a bionic eye, but I did have a halfway-decent security camera for under $40. (If you want to see cameras that are not halfway decent, check out these nightmare clunker cams.)
|1 x 3 x 3 inches
The cheap, stylish Blink Mini isn’t officially a spy cam, but it’s small enough to serve as one. It’s also got cloud storage if you’re planning on leaving yours running all day.
The slightly bulkier Blink is actually one of the lightest models I’ve tested. At $35, it’s also one of the cheapest. While video video quality sometimes wavers, audio is clear as a bell, and the Blink app is a cut above most spy cam software.
The only rain the Blink will shower on your stealth parade is in the battery department. There is none, as Blink is plug-in only. That could be a deal breaker for some of us. Then again, most of the battery-powered hidden cameras I tested conked out within 90 minutes.
|2.0 x 1.9 x 1.4 inches
|No; plug-in only
This is a James Bond clock camera that will probably fool the average prowler. The $70 GooSpy Hidden Camera Click prides itself on its strong night vision and a monster 140-degree view.
Personally, I like Q’s exploding pens better, but if you want to surveil stealthily and don’t mind being the weirdo with the ’80s-era digital alarm clock on your mantel, the GooSpy Hidden Camera Clock will get the job done.
Video quality isn’t great. The GooSpy seems to be shooting in standard definition (under 720p), unless you’re live streaming, which requires an internet connection. When I was recording straight to the microSD card, image quality was nowhere close to the 1080p the GooSpy advertises. But if you’re just looking to identify subjects — even in the dark — the GooSpy is the hidden camera for you.
The GooSpy is also weirdly sensitive to motion, which is good and bad. You’ll definitely know if someone’s in the room, but you may also know if the curtains rustle. That’s if you’re in alert mode, where the GooSpy works only when it detects motion. You can also set it to record continuously.
Finally, the GooSpy can also run on batteries. The company claims four hours of battery life, which is certainly a lot more than you get from the average hidden camera. Though I don’t see why you’d want to power yours that way. It’s a clock and clocks have plugs.
Pro Tip: U.S. laws are stricter for recording audio than video. If you record conversations anywhere, you’ve got to be physically present. In a handful of states, you’ve also got to get the permission of anyone you’re recording.
|5 x 2 x 2 inches
There is no federal law on hidden cameras. Instead, there’s a legal precedent that holds in all 50 states. It goes like this. If someone has a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” you can’t record them.
This isn’t subjective. A guest can’t say, “I thought I was alone in their living room, but the Petersons were spying on me the whole time!” The living room is a communal space. You can put a hidden camera there — as long as your state law allows hidden cameras.
But anyone using your bathroom, shower, or a bedroom in your home can expect privacy. If you put any of the spy cams on our list in any of those spaces, you’d probably lose in court — which, I’m sure you’d agree with me, is common sense.
FYI: Airbnb hosts are allowed to install surveillance cameras in common rooms and outdoor areas. How do you know if you’re on camera? Since 2018, hosts are required to let renters know if and where they’re being recorded.1
Camera makers tend to hype video quality, sometimes beyond its usefulness. But the fact is, we’ve all gotten accustomed to watching HD video on our phones and TVs. If our cameras fall way short, it bothers us, and it could even sabotage our surveillance efforts. So aim for cameras that shoot at 1080p and above, whether you’re streaming or recording to local storage.
The difference between the Blink Mini’s 110-degree viewing range and the Vidcastive’s 160-degree view is a little over a quarter of the pie. A narrower viewing range isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. If you place the Blink Mini to watch over the corridor leading to your front door, you’ll be fine. Ditto for the baby’s crib. But to keep watch over the whole TV room, you’d be better off with a camera with more range, like the Vidcastive or the GooSpy.
Battery life might not be as big a deal for hidden cameras as reviewers make it out to be. Still, some of the spy cams I’ve tested had abysmally bad battery performance. If you’re going full stealth — where plugs would defeat the purpose — anything less than an hour of motion-triggered events will probably drive you bonkers. For continuous recording, consider plugging in your spy cam or going with a plug-in model like the OKSIR or the Blink Mini.
A quality camera with a glitchy app is no fun, especially if you like to stream or you want to check in by phone. On the other hand, with slow internet, image quality will naturally deteriorate. While there’s nothing you can do about the latter short of upgrading your internet, you can avoid cameras with bad apps. Usually, the lemons get bad press, so check out reviews on Google Play and the App Store before clicking purchase.
One day, every camera we own is going to be able to tell the difference between a squirrel and a cat thief. Today, not all of them do. A camera that’s smart enough to distinguish between real danger and background noise will cut down on false alerts. And, if you’re using a battery-powered spy cam, it will give you more video in between charges.
A few years ago, there was a pretty notorious case of a bad nanny abusing a pair of toddlers in California.2 Thank God the parents caught her on their nanny cam before anything awful happened. Point being, there are times when a hidden camera can be a lifesaver.
For those cases, you’ve got five cameras you can turn to, at least one of which can hold its own against some of the best-in-class security cameras we’ve tested in these pages.
For all other cases, you’re probably better off purchasing a small camera from a known home security brand — one that’s visible and can actually act as a deterrent to crime.
What’s the difference between a spy camera and a normal security camera?
Spy cameras are usually smaller and cheaper. Many of them don’t perform as well as top-of-the-line cameras from the names we trust.
Are spy cameras legal?
In most states, spy cams are legal, as long as you’re not invading anyone’s privacy.
Are hidden cameras high quality?
They can be, but many aren’t, so choose wisely!
What’s the best hidden camera?
In our tests, the Vidcastive 4K Mini Spy Camera was king of the hill.
Can my boss install hidden cameras in the office?
That depends. Check out our deep dive into hidden cameras in the workplace for a full discussion.
The Atlantic. (2019, Mar 26). Airbnb Has a Hidden-Camera Problem.
ABC News. (2014, Oct 15). California Mother Catches Bad Nanny on Camera.