Once the preserve of the police and high-end security professionals, body cams are now widely available to businesses and consumers alike. But with the breadth of options available today, choosing the best body worn camera for your needs can be a difficult decision – and that’s where we come in.
Here’s what you need to look out for when choosing a body camera:
How do you plan to use the body cam?
Body cameras are complex tools, with each model better at some tasks and worse at others, so it is critical that you work out how and when you plan to use the camera before you start searching for one to buy. Some are super-lightweight but sacrifice on battery life, whilst others have impressive night-vision but are only average during the day. There are always going to be trade-offs, and you need to know which functions are most critical to your needs from the outset.
Work out your budget
The prices of body cams have come down massively over the last decade with the growth of consumer-led camera technologies that often start life in high-end smartphones that cost over £1000. Years of rapid progress in the digital camera space has meant that today, you can pick up a very basic camera for as little as £50, but the cheapest is rarely the best option and the sweet spot for the best body cams today seems to be between £120 and £250, depending on your requirements.
Features to focus on
If you are going to use body cams, then you are going to want to know that they are ready to record whenever you need them and that means a decent battery life. Some of the body worn cameras on the market today will only last 60 minutes of recording on a single charge, which is rarely going to be enough, so best to look for one that lasts over six hours and preferably 10 or more.
Video files are not small and if you need to record for extended periods then make sure to choose a body-worn camera that has large amounts of flash storage built-in, or one that lets you add your own SD cards to expand the storage capacity further.
Body cams are used for all sorts of purposes, but if you plan to use them for collecting evidence then you need to know that the data they collect cannot be tampered with before it gets back to you. Cameras that offer SD card expandability are great for recording longer videos, but those SD cards are not secure. If you need securely recorded files, then choose a tamper-proof camera with built-in flash memory like Rewire Security’s RX-3 Lite.
It seems an obvious point, but if you plan to use the body worn camera in dark or night-time settings, then you will want one that offers strong night-vision performance. Night-vision modes work by using infra-red lights to capture footage in the dark and some also come with standard LED “torches” to illuminate dark scenes.
Higher resolution videos are clearer and will be better for evidence, but 1080P (FHD) video takes up much more storage than 480P (DVD quality) and so you will need to choose what is more important in your situation. Luckily, many body cams will let you choose the resolution yourself, but it is always worth checking what resolutions are available which will range from 4K at the top end all the way down to some very grainy footage on the cheapest cameras. Most CCTV cameras will record at 30 FPS, and newer cameras will let you record video as h.265 (HEVC) as well as the older h.264 standard, which will give you a better quality video at lower file sizes.
Field of view
Body worn CCTV cameras are designed to capture action, but the wearer is not always facing the action head-on from the start and so it can be useful to find a camera with a wide-angle lens that has viewing angles of 140 degrees and above. At the top end, some cameras will give coverage of up to 170 degrees, but this may well be overkill for your needs.
Digital image stabilisation tech has made massive advances over the last couple of years, but this technology remains limited to just the most expensive smartphones on the market and not something you can expect from a £200 body cam. That said, the technology is starting to make its way into body cams and some handle bouncing around better than others, so always test the video stabilisation before you buy if you can.
At a minimum, body cams will need to survive the rain and getting banged around, and so it is worth checking the camera for an IP-rating of 65 or better and make sure the camera is built out of a strong material like toughened plastic.
Size and weight
Size and weight are always compromises when it comes to technology. People always want the smallest, thinnest, and lightest option available, but this will generally come with sacrifices in terms of battery and build materials. Light cameras will be easier and more comfy to carry, but if you want a body cam that lasts longer or is more robust then you’ll probably find yourself picking a body cam that weighs somewhere around 150-200g.
The whole point of body cams is that they record whilst leaving the carrier’s hands-free, and so how the camera mounts is critically important. Cheaper options tend to come with a simple plastic clip to attach to the wearer’s jacket, but more premium body cameras will also offer a variety of options ranging from shoulder straps to full chest mounts, most of which will be sold separately.
GPS and watermarks
If you plan to use the recorded video as evidence, then it is critical that you know exactly when and where the video was recorded, and a number of cameras will be able to watermark the video with the time and GPS location so that data is maintained for future reference.
Most body worn CCTV cameras will generally come with basic USB2 connectivity, which will work with the vast majority of computers (and even modern Macs with a dongle). However, with the size of video files, some cameras are starting to implement USB 3.0 or even Thunderbolt for faster file transfers. Other cameras will also come with WiFi connectivity built-in, which may not be useful for many standard security applications, but for those wishing to live broadcast news and events, it is a requirement.
Photograph by fsHH