I’ve always been intrigued by “spy” devices — maybe it’s my love of gadgets, tempered by all those James Bond movies I watched growing up. Regardless, the idea of doing things in “plain” sight” is cool. And hey, it’s even useful at times — think about all those Teddy Bear cams that have shown up bad behavior in baby sitters, for example.
But part of the whole “spy” thing is in the disguise being used. There are “spy” cameras designed like pens, but how often do you stand around holding a pen in front of you? What’s needed is something that is ubiquitous and so damn boring that no one cares. A key-fob for example?
A key-fob, for real. Which is where the Swann RemoteCam Video Camera & Recorder DVR-410 comes in. It looks like a key-fob, so popping it onto a keychain is no big deal. And even if you already have a fob there, how many folks are going to be looking that closely when you’re just standing there, holding the fob innocently?
Now where this could come in real handy is the next time my car repairman tells me one thing and, when the repair has been done, a whole different set of circumstances have occurred (resulting in a much higher bill — sigh). Yes I know that it can be illegal to videotape someone without their knowledge, but….
Did I say videotape? Wow — does that date me, the RemoteCam is digital all the way. And rather than a few minutes of internal memory, you’re using the included 2GB micro-SD card, which will give you almost 30 minutes of recordings — of course you can pop the micro-SD card directly into a card reader, if you prefer, rather than use the RemoteCam’s USB socket. That’s also how you charge the internal battery for an hour’s worth of power (a LED indicates charging by flashing, btw).
For all practical purposes, the RemoteCam functions like a USB storage device — you see it on the desktop, can double-click it open to get to the contents (or use a program, for example, ImageCapture on a Mac). The files are in folders that are created and if you want, you can always reformat the card afterwards.
The resolution of the color video is 740×480 at 30 fps (frames per second) — not something to play on a large HDTV screen, but adequate for viewing on laptops and mobile devices and uploading to sites like YouTube, etc. As for the pictures, they’re a bit more detailed since the resolution is 1280×1024 pixels. And you can set up the date/time just like it was a digital camera so that the files record this information as well — if using Windows, work with Notepad. No info is given what to do on a Mac though.
And you’re not confined to just shooting AVI-format video (no sound?), JPEG photos can be shot too. So lets get some.
I’m hanging out in a big-box store — or maybe I’m making this up so as to be safe from privacy laws — twirling the fob around and generally perusing the TVs on display as other customers walk by. To aim the RemoteCam, I just point the front end towards the “target” and press the button on the right top that is closest to me to turn the power on. Now instead of having to search for different buttons, the one located in front of the power takes care of it all: a quick press shoots a photo, while pressing and holding it down starts it recording, with a second press stopping it). Ignore the other buttons as they’re just there for show. But don’t ignore the fact that after a video is stopped, you have to wait a couple of seconds before turning off the RemoteCam — this is just the way things are and ignoring it could corrupt the video being saved.
There’s something else I found out — combing trying to be cool and casual and shooting correctly aren’t the same thing. So I went back home, and into my gym where I could use a wall mirror to practice on. What I found is that, when holding the fob naturally, you have to aim the front end slightly up and forward to capture a view that doesn’t cut off people’s heads or the tops of objects, for example, a TV on a pedestal. Yeah I hated the effort, but after a few tries at this, followed by viewing the results on my computer (there’s no view-screen on the RemoteCam, duh!), I think I got the hang of it.
Also that the sensitivity of the camera seems to be greater for photos than video — expect low-light situations to result in some very dark and grainy recordings. Outside, no problem and inside where there’s decent lighting, good to go here too. Audio from the built-in mike works best the closer you get to the “target.”
So back to the store and a repeat performance. Back home, I’m now finding the recordings and photos are composed a lot better.
Bottom line: At $99, the Swann RemoteCam Video Camera & Recorder DVR-410 isn’t a cheap piece of tech. but neither is it cheaply made. In fact, it’s pretty sophisticated for what it can do, and well disguised to boot. You want to surreptitiously record video or take pics, you want this. End of story.
- Shoots video and photos
- Reset button if RemoteCam locks up
- No viewfinder
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.