Help Us Find A Button Hole Video Camera

We’re looking to purchase a button-hole video camera, but need some help. This type of camera has a lens that can be disguised behind a button and the rest of the apparatus worn on the body. There’s so many to choose from on the web and we’re not sure where to start.

Desired specs:

• Would love for everything to be under $250, but could go up to ~$500.
• Color (but could go black and white if the price was right)
• On-board recording, not a transmitter (if this is even possible/feasible)
• Performs well in low-light conditions
• Records audio
• Can export video (would probably use a RCA to USB cable)
• Discreet
• Lightweight
• Sold by reputable vendor
• Made by reputable manufacturer

We’re interested in using the device for some special Consumerist reports. Let us know your purchase suggestions in the comments or tips at consumerist dot com. — BEN POPKEN


Edit Your Comment

  1. WindowSeat says:

    I can’t vouch for the utility or quality, but has a buttonhole camera with sound for $149.00.

  2. Kornkob says:

    This one includes the recording device with a camera.
    This compact DVR is loaded with features. Packed inside this tiny device is the ability n capture high quality images/video. It is excellent for surveillance, with built in CMOS 1.3 M pixel camera you can attach the included camera and capture video with the unit supplying the power. It also allows 3X zoom! USB connection makes it easy to transfers files, video and pictures to and from the computer. AV out allows video or pictures to be viewed to a monitor or TV. Motion activation or manual recording in 5 different frame rates, time and date, MPEG4 with built in 1.5 inch color screen making our new Mini DVR the ultimate gadget for any pro or novice!


    * Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery for up to 2 hours record / playback
    * AV in -AV out
    * Full – stop, motion, alarm and overwrite recording modes
    * Auto file save with sudden power loss
    * CMOS 1.3M pixels 60 degree FOV
    * Date and time stamp
    * NTSC / PAL
    * 320 x 240 / 640 x 480 resolution
    * 128MB internal memory
    * SD memory card slot for additional memory supports up to 1GB card


    * Motion activated DVR
    * External Camera
    * Rechargeable Battery
    * AV cables
    * Power supply/charger
    * Carrying case
    * Remote Switch

  3. AtomikB says:

    Um, don’t you live in New York? You’ve already got access to the coolest spy stores in the world! Try coupling your consumer savvy with your innate ability to locomote, and check out Spy Shops at 138 E. 34th street, or the Spy Store at 173 Christopher Street, or the other Spy Store at 901 1st Avenue. While you’re there, you can even pick up some body armor, vehicle tracking devices, and bug detectors. Please show us pictures of what you get!

  4. geel says:

    BandH photo has some neat devices

    you could use this one to make your own

    they have a model with a camera built into a hat …cant find the link
    they have other neat solutions

  5. Ben Popken says:

    Brian writes:

    “I found a camera here: It’s $250 for the wired version, $380 for wireless.

  6. aultl says:

    I have done business with Security Cameras Direct in the past and have always be pleased with the prices and services.

  7. geel says:

    @ ben

    you can prob get a wireless one at about the same cost

  8. snakeuvs says:

    I know this one is out of your price range, but it still might be worth checking out:

  9. rubberpants says:

    I bet Broadway photo has a great selection. ;)

  10. homerjay says:

    Does it have to be the same color as the buttons on an IDT uniform or are you willing to paint it? :)

  11. squidhat says:

    I like Sun Mechatronics in Japan. They have a pinhole lens which will fit your camcorder. I know professional investigators who use this device, and the rest of their catalogue.

  12. konstantConsumer says:

    geez. perv.

  13. heypal says:

    STOP. Don’t spend money based on what people are saying unless they have experience with the cameras. I am a video professional with no experience with tiny cameras. My expertise lies in post production but I can tell you based on my experience that without quality images and some audio you’ve got nothing. I like the idea and

  14. ElizabethD says:

    Yikes. Who took down “heypal” in mid-sentence?

    It’s a dangerous spy-vs-spy world out there.

  15. heypal says:

    oops. comment troubles. I hadn’t finished editing that. My post cont’d:

    maybe one of your readers knows someone with investigative journalism experience. I looked around a bit and found this , but with the recorder it gets expensive and you’ll have audio sync issues.

    The truth is that you’re better off spending the money on the audio portion of this kit and saving on the video (even though everyone thinks the video is the important part, without the audio you’ve really got no story). People will forgive lower-grade video if the story is intriguing, but it becomes impossibly frustrating if you can’t make out what they’re saying.

    Feel free to contact me if you feel you need continued suggestions. Gotta get back to work…

  16. heypal says:

    BTW: I’m in yur pocketz taking yur picturez.

  17. geel says:
  18. Good one heypal. I’ve been missing those comments lately. Too bad there has been a decrease in kitty pictures lately.

    On topic: Hooray for investigative journalism.

  19. WV.Hillbilly says:

    In particular:


    They also have lots of other wearable covert goodies.
    I’ve dealt with these guys and they are reputable.

  20. Zagroseckt says:

    sorry about my spelling. never was verry good at it :p
    But i’m a tech and have built MANY conseald camras.
    Heres the low down.

    you DONT want to buy the camra and recorder together.

    Becos you will evintuily kill the camra re-conseling it. or some one will start to notise your outfit.

    The best thing to do.
    1 Buy a GOOD digital or tape recorder. They make em small there NOT cheap.

    The camras on the other hand..
    Can be pretty cheap.

    I Build conseald camra’s from time to time. i allso use the same camras for site wands used in repair work of verious sorts (from electronic to hevy duty equipment) better than loosing a finger :)

    what you want to look for

    1. lines of resolution (they verry from camra to camra and price.
    2. color or B/W Color will allways be a bit lower resolution wise and the contrast will never be 100% but if you gota have it you can get it. (desent coler pcb shoudnt cost you more than 80 bucks)
    3. size of the PCB .. i have a nice high contrast pcb pinhole that is a few cm larger than a quarter on its corners. the lense itself can peek out a pinhole / button hole
    4. Dont buy one thats all bulky in a case you want raw pcb use some Thin plastic to cover the pcb from skinn. and watch the heat some get hot some not so hot.
    you will need to conseal
    5/9 volt powersuply.
    watch batteries work but dont last as long.
    i use mainly 9v drycell or alceline

    4 IT ANT GONA HIDE IN A BUTTON HOLE you just wont get a good shot that way .. sow a pouch into a sholder pad and use a (forgive me) pinwhole to peek out of. (put the pouch inside the clothing.
    Hats work great to
    or in case of a femaile broch/julery whith a nice whole.

    Remeber that the whole itself needs to be as flush with the lence as possible.

    you can allso hide the device in another device.

    If you want a bit better detail some camra recomendations and a diagram or 9 you can email me at
    (zagroseckt at had to do that trying to avoide spam.
    put comsumerist in the tytle.

    I don’t do many camra jobs these days but dont mind helping this place out. its sure helped me.

    PS dont spend TO much on the camra spend it on the recorder. the camras are (DESPOSIBLE) they WILL brake down…. you are trying to squees and hide somthing that is small delecet and 99% of the time put to gether cheaply.

    a heavly used pcb hiden cam normly lasts 60 100 hours of hard use.
    the wands i buld with the SAME pcb cams in protective cases last MUCH MUCH longer as there not being handled in the same way.. the life of a hidden pinhole is harsh… moister from body heat bounsing exct….

    they can last alot longer tho i know of a few that are over 2 years old and working strong.
    depinds on just how poorly there treated and you CANT codle them and hide them at the same time :p

    zagroseckt at

  21. nukraze says:

    If you’re looking for a good camera to use in low light, B/W is the way to go. A color camera at the size you’re talking about is not really going to give you the best resolution/contrast. With the black and white camera the contrast will be much better in low light. Aside from that, good luck with the search.

  22. chartrule says:

    This shop is in Toronto

    World’s Smallest Wireless 2.4 GHz Color Video Camera
    Transmission range up to 1000′ – $320.00
    Transmission range up to 3000′ (80 mW) – $520.00
    This is definitely the smallest wireless color video camera and transmitter of it’s kind! This is the very latest technology.

    Camera and receiver can be purchased separately.

    Transmitter Specifications:

    * Battery operated: 9 Volt only
    * Current consumption 30 mA (65 mA for 80 mW unit)
    * Smallest size 0.6″ x 0.6″ x 0.7″
    * Range 1000′ line-of-sight (3000′ for 80 mW unit)
    Range can be increased with high-gain receiver antennas
    * Built-in antenna
    * Broadcast quality B/W or color picture
    * NTSC, PAL or SECAM systems
    * PLL Crystal controlled
    * Frequency modulation
    * No audio

    Receiver Required:

    * Wavecom receiver: $ 79.95
    * receiver with color LCD screen $ 450.00

    2.4 GHz (1000′ range) 80 mW (3000′ range

  23. geel says:

    spy stuff in Toronto is a really good place to buy this sort of stuff