Surveillance Photography making a comeback…….why?

29th December 2011 Surveillance 1 Comment

As video cameras became smaller and more reliable the need for the old fashioned camera withered away, why?

The Military coined a phrase “Camera paints a picture, Video tells a story” then went out and bought shed loads of them.  Why?  It was decided (amongst other reasons) that they were a lot easier to use thus reducing the training burden and later guys were given no more than a couple of hours talking about framing and that was that, away you go.  This compared with 6 to 10 weeks photography training (No brainer for the military)

Granted, most clients want video and for the right reasons it does tell a story but a question I pose is would the skills used in photography turn you into a better videographer?

People (including myself) were very quick to grab a handheld Sony in place of an SLR, now the DSLR and forget the basics of photography why?  Because it was easier, did I have to think about the right shutter speed to freeze movement, did I have to worry about the correct ISO or aperture, nope just point and press!!

I stood on many a camera course in OPTAG and RAF Cosford baffled with figures and covered in solutions to find I had under or over exposed yet another role of film then along came the DSLR…….. This bambino changed photography over night and the Military saw that and went out again and bought more shed loads of them only to find to get a good shot you still needed to think and understand the basic principles to get the best from the camera to produce a good quality image.  Why the step back?  In one word QUALITY standard definition i.e. Mini DV was good but as soon as the light dropped so did the quality….. Dramatically, along came night shot, fantastic at close range and at night, rubbish through a vehicle screen and during certain times of the day. The military got around this with some clever guys working over the water but they would be way out of the normal price range.

As it becomes harder to get hold of good quality Mini DV handhelds what are the options left?  None of the newer camcorders carry DTG forward (Please correct me if I am wrong) I have spoken with Sony & Panasonic. (I managed to carry forward the DTG on my Panasonic HDC TM900) but have been informed it is only an overlay, so technically not of an evidential standard) There are ways around this i.e. running through specific recording devices but this does down grade the quality slightly.

I am not saying the DSLR camera should or will replace the handheld but here are some advantages I believe are worth considering…….

1.    Quality – With a good body but more importantly good Lens it beats the handheld video by a mile.

2.    Lowlight Capability – Much better than the handheld video BUT you have to be able to push it to its limits.

3.    Fitted with the correct filters you can penetrated glass (Car windscreens) much better than the handheld.

4.    Pictures are easier forwarded onto other team members (I know and have done this from my handheld but the quality is not good)

5.    Analysis – A quick drive past with the video rolling is good but on the ground the quality is not great when reviewing via the remote screen, a good quality digital image is easier, quicker, and much more detailed as we found out whilst on a job in Liverpool where the digital camera was used to identify a very small CCTV camera which was not picked up on the video due to the one step PB zoom and quality.

6.    Meta data stored on the image is classed as evidential as is the analogue handheld.

7.    Range – I have only used one x2 video converter which worked well (C/S Bravo’s) the rest have been rubbish at the top end of the zoom. A good quality lens and converter really does give you a cracking stand off distance.

So for me its a no brainer, as I said earlier I am NOT saying it should replace the handheld but another tool in our bag of tricks to catch out the unsuspecting scum bag.

How many times have you reviewed the victor to find a shiny windscreen with an argument whether or not that is the subject? Stick a good quality polarising filter on to your DSLR, set the right shutter speed, aperture, and ASA and let the camera work its magic!!

The down side is cost and training but I believe it is worth it in the long run as it forces you to think about all the basic principles which has to be a good thing???

Recently there has been more demand for photography with DTG stamp rather than video why? I know of a case where video footage had been take of a subject who claimed they could not walk, carry/lift etc.  they were caught on victor walking and lifting but only for a very short period, the client then asked for some photography rather than video as they had been informed it would work in their favour which it did!!

Thanks for reading!

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About the Author

Nick McCarthy

Nick McCarthy is a former Parachute Regiment soldier who has been operating in the commercial security environment since 2004. Nick has undertaken tasks in the UK and overseas both as part of a team and as a single operator. Having worked for some of the most significant risk management companies in the UK he has taken part in and led numerous complex and sensitive surveillance tasks. He has worked directly and indirectly for UK Police Forces, Councils, Housing Associations, Blue Chip companies and HNWI. In addition to his operational portfolio he has also been an integral part of Argus Europe, one of the leading Close Protection, Surveillance and Investigations training companies since 2005. He is fully understanding of the need for the operating and training cycle to be maintained. Nick is a blogger and author having penned the The Service Leavers' Guide with a friend and colleague.

  • Durham_PI

    21st April 2012 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Is the advancements in the DSLR market promoting the use of stills cameras in the surveillance and private investigations sector? Yes, for sure!

    The points you make regarding capability is the main reason why in our opinion, points 1, 2 and 3 in particular. A lens for a DSLR is generally much more expensive than a video camera commonly used for surveillance and there is a reason for this! The advancements in ISO is a huge, huge + for their inclusion in your kit bag as are the various filters that when used properly can yield phenomenal results for you and your client.

    We are seriously getting back in to the DSLR after being firm advocates of wet film ‘back in the day’ – our choice being Nikon…….discuss!

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