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A classic element of any Spy Drama. The Spy Cam is a miniature camera hidden in mundane objects like briefcases or wristwatches, being used to take photos of secret documents or locations. Alternatively, the camera is not concealed at all but its small size enables it to be carried around and operated by the Double Agent without raising suspicion.

See Incredibly Obvious Bug for when this trope is parodied by featuring a camera that's bulky, noisy, covered in blinking lights, and all-around impossible to hide.

Subtrope of Shoe Phone.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 

    Films — Animation 
  • In Pixar's The Incredibles, the Villain can monitor Nomanisan Island with surveillance cameras disguised as tropical birds. One of these detects Dash and Violet, and sounds an alarm when they fail to authenticate themselves. It even flies in pursuit to continue monitoring the intruders.
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • The James Bond series is big on this:
    • In On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond uses a small camera to take snap shots of a map that shows where the "Angels Of Death" are to release a biological agent.
    • Moonraker has Bond use a similar camera to take snaps of Drax's blueprints.
    • One of Bond's gadgets in A View to a Kill is a ring containing a miniature camera. Bond uses the device at a Zorin's party to covertly take photographs of each of his guests.
    • An inversion in Licence to Kill: A laser gun is disguised as the flash on a Polaroid. Pam sees the camera and tries to take a picture with it, with hilariously disastrous results.
  • In Take the Money and Run Virgil cases a bank that his gang is going to rob by sneaking in a camera in a loaf of bread. Then he holds the loaf of bread up to his eye to take pictures with it.
  • Kick-Ass: The existence of Big Daddy is discovered because Red Mist/Chris Genovese secretly places a nanny-cam (concealed within a teddy bear) in one of his father's businesses, which is later raided by B.D. (up until then, the senior Genovese thought that all of Big Daddy's actions were rival mob attacks). The scene also showcases that he had been using the nanny-cam for slightly... less altruistic... purposes.
  • In The Equalizer, McCall conceals several cameras within mundane objects (a toy train and a wall clock, plus hacks the camera on his own home computer) to see the activity of the soldiers of The Mafiya (and Nikolai) that broke into his home.
  • Parodied in the 2002 film version of I Spy with Alex Scott complaining about the size of his supposed "spy camera" (about the size of an old-school studio camera) in comparison with the "sexier" pocket-sized camera of rival super-spy Carlos. A more straight example within the movie is a pair of two-way mini-camera contact lenses that are worn by members of a team (one lens for each) that allow them to see what the other is seeing at all times.
    Scott Kelly: I see you, I see me, I see me looking at you looking at me! This is awesome!
  • In the second act of The Conversation, a couple of these (which are high-tech by the standards of the film's era) are demonstrated in passing on the "surveillance expert convention".
  • In The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, several Spy Cams are in use to capture the hero when he arrives at the airport, hidden in places like fire lighters and cigarette packs.
  • In Dr. Strangelove, a general accuses the Russian ambassador of trying to take pictures of The War Room using a camera disguised as a pack of cigarettes. The ambassador claims that the spy camera was planted. It turns out that the ambassador was telling the truth - his spy camera was disguised as his pocketwatch (unless you believe that the ambassador brought two hidden cameras with him).
  • In Roman Holiday, the two reporters use a camera hidden in a cigarette lighter to take pictures of the princess without her noticing it.
  • As a homage to Tuxdo And Martini Spy Fiction, Kingsman: The Secret Service naturally has the requisite spy gadgets, but it's pointed out that a Spy Cam is not necessary these days when every mobile phone has a camera. Still the kingsmen use their augmented virtual reality spectacles to record footage of the villain's location.
  • In the 1928 silent movie Spies, one of the villain's men is taking pictures at the police station with a mini camera hidden on his coat.

    Literature 
  • In The Fifth Elephant, among the various spy items hidden in the Ankh-Morpork Embassy is "an iconograph small enough to fit in a pocket". Discworld iconographs contain an imp that paints pictures, the spycam version has a "nano-imp" that costs over a hundred dollars.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Parodied in iCarly. Freddy buys a spy cam that's hidden in a fake pie. Pretty much everyone notes the pie looks fake and the camera lens is large and noticeable. Later played straight with the characters hiding cameras in objects for pranks more effectively and in-universe, covertly.
  • Parodied in an episode of Get Smart. Professor Carlson, a Control scientist, is giving Max and 99 equipment for their next assignment.
    Carlson: We've developed this special equipment. Inside this camera is a hidden tape recorder. And this tape recorder actually conceals a hidden camera!
    Max: May I ask you a question, Professor Carlson?
    Carlson: Certainly.
    Max: Eh, why hide a tape recorder in a camera and a camera in a tape recorder? Why not just take pictures with the camera and record with the recorder?
    Carlson: Because my mind doesn't work that way, that's why.
  • The private detective service called World Securities from the 1972 TV series Search sends one of three elite agents to thwart the villain, each with a miniature camera, transceiver and Everything Sensor all-in-one. Agent Lockwood prefers to wear his camera device as a ring ornament; Agent Grover likes to wear his as a medallion; and dapper Agent Bianco sports his camera as a tie tack. Rarely do the mooks recognize it as a surveillance device.
  • Austin James in Probe had various surveillance bugs concealed on his person, including a camera on one of his shirt buttons.
  • Parodied in 'Allo 'Allo! with a camera concealed in René's apron. When he wants to take a picture, a foot-square flap lifts up on the front of the apron, revealing a huge lens.
  • The Big Bang Theory:
    • In one episode Howard gifts Penny a teddy bear, knowing she'll put it in her bedroom. The teddy bear has a "nanny-camera" in it linked to motion sensors and Howard's computer.
    • In a different episode, the boys randomly hook up electronically controlled objects to the Internet to see who, around the world, logs on to control them. One is a remote-controlled car with upward-pointing camera. Penny walks in, in a shortish skirt. The car leaps into life and rolls to between her feet as the camera angles up. Penny has an Oh, Crap! moment, shrieks, and runs, with the camera-car following. (It is being controlled by nerds in Japan.)
  • Zoey 101: In "Webcam", Logan and Michael give the girls a giant teddy bear with a camera inside to learn their secrets and reveal them to the school. The girls soon discover the camera and get back at them by staging an incident where they violently knock out Kazu to scare them into telling Dean Rivers about it while subsequently revealing their ploy.
  • On NewsRadio, Lisa has to win back Bill's contract in a poker game. Joe gives her a Boba Fett action figure for luck, but it actually has a camera that they use to spy on her to make sure she wins. In the end, Lisa throws the figure out the window, and we see Joe, who is seeing the video feed through glasses, screaming for his life.
  • Person of Interest. John Reese gives Detective Fusco a toy policeman with a camera inside that he can point at Detective Carter who has the desk opposite, so Finch can see what their Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist up to. The camera is still being used when Carter has graduated to Friend on the Force.
  • Agent Carter. Howard Stark proudly hands Carter his latest invention - a fountain pen camera - and is miffed at her underwhelming response. "Did you know how long it took me to work out lens miniaturization?" (as the series is set in The '40s, he has a point). Peggy isn't any more impressed when she develops the film and finds out how Stark has been using the camera. "She seems...uninhibited."

    Music 
  • Referenced in Simon and Garfunkel's song "America". The narrator and his girlfriend, Kathy, have boarded a Greyhound bus in Pittsburgh and are amusing themselves on the journey east across Pennsylvania by making up stories about the other passengers. A well-dressed man inspires the following:
    She said, the man in the gabardine suit was a spy. I said, "Be careful, his bow tie is really a camera".

    Video Games 
  • The camera beard in Team Fortress 2 parodies this by being incredibly obvious and bulky.
  • The Sticky Cameras of the Splinter Cell series are either launched by the Grenade Launcher under Sam's rifle or, in later games, thrown by hand. They can be remote-controlled and access the same night and thermal vision modes of Sam's goggles. Some versions even have noisemakers and knockout gas canisters within them, and the ones launched by the grenade launcher can render a target unconscious if it hits his head.

    Visual Novels 
  • The last case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All has a large stuffed bear with a camera in its nose found at the case's crime scene. It would become important evidence for a murder conviction.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: the Strong Bad Email "date", has a brief gag where Strong Mad wears a camera hidden inside a ring. Then he punches Strong Sad in the face, and Strong Bad watches the video feed.
    Strong Sad: [as he's being punched] When did you start wearing a glass ring? ... With a camera in it?

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • In one episode, Maggie is placed on a day-care center where the other babies bully her. Homer and Marge decide after some time of this happening (but not really knowing why Maggie is acting so sullen other than it has to do with the center) to get a nanny-cam which is concealed on her hair bow.
    • In "Homer and Apu", Homer is given a giant novelty hat with a loudly whirring camera inside to get evidence of Apu's unhygienic food selling practices. When Apu confuses the whirring of the camera's focusing motor with the buzzing of a bee, he tells it to Homer — who instantly freaks out about having a bee on his hat and stomps said hat (and the camera) flat.

    Real Life 
  • As of the 2000s, the small size of cellphone cameras and memory chips poked the manufacturers to embed them in most unlikely devices: a pen, an USB thumb drive, a coat button, sunglasses, even your dog's collar, and of course there's hardly a smartphone sold without at least a rear camera. Very much unlike in the Cold War age, they are affordable. Nowadays, literally everyone can be a spy.
  • Before this the Mini Minox became the most popular camera associated with spies in fiction which was Truth in Television, though other subminiature models were also used in real life such as the Swiss Tessina, used by such diverse customers as the Watergate burglars and the East German Stasi.
  • Before the digital age the CIA developed a fountain pen for photographing documents. Just to load the pen with film took such delicate precision that the CIA feared that if the inventor died, they wouldn't be able to make any more.

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