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Video and Image Recording Equipment, Techniques, and General Tips: A Guide for the Private Investigator

September 19th, 2017

Discovering the right equipment for your needs can be very time consuming and costly, especially if you buy the wrong gear and must start over. Also, learning correct photography techniques and camera-related technological jargon is dicult. It is my goal to answer some of the questions that you have about photography and provide you with information regarding what equipment to buy and how that equipment can be combined together to produce excellent results.

Here are the functions that most investigators want from a camera as well as some tips and tricks:

Time and date overlay on both image and video:

Having the time and date stamped on your images and video can save a lot of headache should your case go to court, as a lawyer may decide to ask whether or not you have edited your image/video. If you have added a date/time either by EXIF data or your imagination, you will have to say yes. He might then go on to ask if you edited out the parts that didn’t suit you, and on and on. The rule of best evidence might not make sense here, but it is always best to have the time and date embossed directly onto your image/video. Unfortunately, it can be extremely hard to find a camera that has a time and date stamp, the correct amount of zoom, low-light shooting capabilities that you need, and can be purchased for an aordable amount. The good news is that I have discovered a few devices/combinations that will do all of these things.

High amount of optical zoom:

As it can be dicult to get close to whatever it is that you are filming, it is best to have a lens that can zoom in to record the details. If you are filming a person from a relatively far distance, I suggest that you get a camera with a minimum of 35x optical zoom.

2.8 or lower lens aperture for low-light recording:

A low aperture number means lots of light is getting taken in by the lens, and this is great for low-light situations.

Auto focus:

Most modern cameras have this setting, so unless you have an old camera or a non-CPU lens, your camera should have this function. However, if there are physical obstructions between you and what you are recording (fencing, tree limbs,

sun glare, fog, or water drops on a window that you are filming through), you might need to switch to manual mode because AF mode tends to lock in on these obstructions instead of your target.

Bonus - live view screen on/o:

In a perfect world, you’d also want your camera to have an option to switch the mini screen to the o position because the light coming from it can give away your position when you’re filming from darkness (i.e., inside your vehicle).

All of the cameras on my list have these features except the Nikon Coolpix p900, which isn’t made for low-light conditions because it is equipped with a lens of lower quality than my other picks.

Camera that does both:

There are only two ways that I have found to get a time and date stamp on both video and images.

First, you can use a professional camcorder, such as the Sony HVR-Z5U camcorder, and use it for images and video.

Second, you can do some digiscoping. This is a great option if you already happen to have a smartphone with a high amount of internal storage (at least 64gb or 128gb) and a good-quality, high-powered spotting scope or binoculars. The downside is that you might not be able to use the phone for communication purposes while it is taking photos/recording video.

This is how you digiscope:

Download a time and date stamp camera app to your phone.

Find a spotting scope, try to find something compact, and don’t buy something cheap.

Go to and find a case for your phone as well as a mounting attachment for the phone/spotting scope that you have.

Test it to see what type of quality you get. If you have picked a decent scope, you will be satisfied with the results.

Cameras with built-in time and date overlay for images:

There are plenty of cameras with this feature, and here are my chosen ones.

The Nikon d3200 and Nikon d5200 have many lenses to choose from, but they are expensive, heavy, and require the user to have some technical knowledge in order to consistently produce good results.

The Nikon Coolpix p900 has extremely high optical zoom capabilities and image stabilization, and it’s lightweight and compact.

Professional camcorders with built-in time date overlay for video:

There are a few professional camcorders that shoot in HD and SD and burn the time/ date stamp onto the video. I’ve picked two of them that have enough optical zoom to suit the needs of a private investigator, and they are priced at a point most of us can aord.

The Sony HVR-Z5U has 20x optical zoom, SD/HD tapeless capture (or you can record to a Mini DV tape), firewire out, and HDMI out. You can record to CF cards if you get the hvr-mrc1 memory recording unit. You also might want to attach a high-quality third-party lens, such as the HDP-9000EX high-definition telephoto conversion lens, which will improve optical zoom by a factor of 1.8.

The Panasonic AG-HPX250 has 22x optical zoom, tapeless capture, records SD/HD to P2 cards, and has firewire out, HDMI out, and HD-SDI out.

There are cameras that I did not include on this list because they are missing a key feature, and there are cameras that could still be added to this list. If you know of any cameras or camera and lens combinations that deserve to be mentioned, please comment below. 

And there you have it. I hope that this article has answered your questions and helped you find a camera/camcorder that will meet your needs. If not, please leave your questions in the comment box below, and I will respond very soon.

Posted by Matt Welsh  | Category: Technical Guide

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