I said "Be careful, his bowtie is really a camera."
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.
Subtrope of Shoe Phone. 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. Compare Surveillance Drone and Literal Surveillance Bug. Can be associated with Stalker Shot.
- The first issue of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel) comic books had Cobra operatives disguise cameras as gun parts.
- In Dick Tracy, Junior is sent on an undercover mission to check out a female accomplice of a crook armed with a special mini-camera disguised as a ring. All Junior had to do is to subtly make a fist with his wrist to aim the camera and squeeze to take a picture.
- In The Castle of Cagliostro, Fujiko's brooch works as a Spy Cam, which she uses to take photograph with at the Count's vault.
- In The Incredibles, the villains 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.
- The James Bond series is big on this:
- A classic real-life version in In On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond uses a Minox subminiature camera to take snapshots of The Big Board 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.
- Lt Diego's belt-buckle in Kontrabando conceals a tiny film camera, which he uses to catch the gangsters and Communist agents he's infiltrating in the act, simply sliding up the buckle to expose the lens. It's also capable of shooting in dim light—a necessity when the criminals often have to work literally in the dark. Among other things, he successfully photographs the murder of one gang member, and the arrival of drugs and arms shipments.
- 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, McCall having moved to an apartment across the street. Nikolai however quickly realises they're Being Watched and orders everyone outside.
- 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 firelighters 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 pocket watch (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. This leads to an amusing moment in the end when Princess Ann is getting her picture taken at a press conference and one of the reporters sets down his normal camera to use the lighter cam, confusing the other cameramen and earning a great Oh, Crap! look from Ann.
- As a homage to Tuxedo 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.
- Spy Kids features "The World's Smallest Camera", fully functioning cameras smaller than the human eye can see.
- 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?
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.
- 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 an 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. When Joe starts rattling off the cards Lisa is dealt, Catherine asks Joe how they can use this information - to which Joe has no response. 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."
- In the Murdoch Mysteries episode "In the Altogether", when Murdoch finds a Pocket Kodak that was being used to secretly gain blackmail material, Brakenried considers it to be this since, by the standards of the time, it really is a triumph of miniturisation.
- In Hogan's Heroes, the heroes take photos of documents and secret equipment/labs using miniature cameras hidden in books, cigarette packs, and similar everyday objects.
- 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".
- 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.
- The protagonist of Double Homework discovers these all over the yacht when he shows up for his party, but not before they collect compromising images of every girl on the boat.
- 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.
- Ed, Edd n Eddy: In "In-Like-Ed", the three are spying on Kevin to see what makes him better at business and get Ed to hide the camera. Ed, being Ed, "hides" the camera right in front of Kevin's house with a twig taped to it as "camouflage." It's destroyed almost immediately.
- Rugrats (1991): In the episode "America's Wackiest Home Movies", Stu is attempting to film his son Tommy doing something funny to win the contest on the titular Show Within a Show, but Angelica tricks Tommy into holding still when Stu films him so he can get a quarter as part of her plan to win the contest. After Stu reads Dr. Lipschitz's advice on how infants can be camera-shy, he hides a camera inside a ten-gallon hat so Tommy won't notice when he's being filmed. The weight of the camera causes Stu to lose his balance and fall into a mud puddle.
- The Simpsons:
- 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.
- In "Eeny Teeny Maya Moe", Maggie is placed in 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.
- 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,◊ a 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. It's real Paranoia Fuel, but a fairly reliable trick to detect them is to look at a suspect object through a cell phone camera and see if it has a dim purple glow — a lot of these spy cameras utilize invisible IR light for night vision, which is highly visible through the camera of a cell phone (you can see for yourself by looking at the front of a television remote through such a camera and pressing a button).
- 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.