Building a Simple Spy Camera with Python

Building a Simple Spy Camera with Python

A Spy Camera lets you secretly record videos or take images without noticing. Python is a great language for building such an application thanks to its extensive libraries for computer vision and graphical interface development.

This comprehensive guide will teach you how to build a simple spy cam using Python and OpenCV.

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First, create a folder.

mkdir python_spy_cam

Next, we would cd into the python_spy_cam directory and create a virtual environment python -m venv myenv to avoid having issues with dependencies.

Activate the Virtual environment source myenv/bin/activate, and then we can install dependencies.

Run pip install opencv-python to install the OpenCV library and run the pip install Pillow to install the PIL library.

Importing the Required Libraries

Start by importing the libraries we need:

import cv2
import tkinter as tk
from PIL import Image, ImageTk
import datetime
import os
  • cv2 – OpenCV library for computer vision
  • tkinter – For building GUI
  • PIL – For image processing
  • datetime – For generating timestamps
  • os – For handling files and directories ## Creating the Output Directory

We need a directory to store the photos and videos captured by our spy cam.

output_dir = os.path.join(os.path.expanduser("~"), "spycam_output")
if not os.path.exists(output_dir):
    os.makedirs(output_dir)

This will create the directory if it doesn’t already exist.

Initializing the Camera

Let’s initialize the camera using OpenCV:

cap = cv2.VideoCapture(0)

We pass 0 to access the default webcam.

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Building the GUI

We will use tkinter to build a simple GUI for our spy cam app.
First, create the main window:

root = tk.Tk() 
root.title("My Spy Cam")

Then add buttons to take photo, record video, and quit the app:

btn_photo = tk.Button(root, text="Take Photo") 
btn_video = tk.Button(root, text="Record Video")
btn_quit = tk.Button(root, text="Quit")

btn_photo.pack()
btn_video.pack() 
btn_quit.pack()

We use .pack() to organize the widgets.

Capturing Photos

When the user clicks the Take Photo button, we will capture a frame from the camera and save it as an image file.

def take_photo():

    print("Taking photo...")
    ret, frame = cap.read()

    if ret:

        timestamp = datetime.datetime.now().strftime("%Y-%m-%d_%H-%M-%S")  
        filename = f"spycam_photo_{timestamp}.jpg"

        output_file = os.path.join(output_dir, filename)
        print(f"Saving photo to {output_file}")

        cv2.imwrite(output_file, frame)

We generate a filename with a timestamp and save the image.

Recording Video

To record a video, we need to create a VideoWriter object.

output_path = ""
output_video = None

def start_recording():
    global output_path, output_video
    now = datetime.datetime.now()
    filename = now.strftime("%Y-%m-%d_%H-%M-%S") + ".avi"    
    output_path = os.path.join(output_dir, filename)

    fourcc = cv2.VideoWriter_fourcc(*'XVID')
    output_video = cv2.VideoWriter(output_path, fourcc, 20.0, (640,480))

def stop_recording():
    output_video.release()

We can call these functions when the user clicks the Record Video button to start/stop recording.

In the main loop, check if we are recording and write frames to video file:

btn_take_photo.config(command=take_photo)
btn_record_video.config(command=start_recording)

Running the Spy Camera

Finally, we call root.mainloop() to start the GUI event loop and show the live camera feed.
Here is the complete code:

import tkinter as tk
import cv2
from PIL import Image, ImageTk  
import datetime
import os
# Get home directory and create output dir
output_dir = os.path.join(os.path.expanduser("~"), "spycam_output")
if not os.path.exists(output_dir):
    os.makedirs(output_dir)
print(f"Saving photos and videos to: {output_dir}")  
# Initialize Camera 
cap = cv2.VideoCapture(0)
# GUI Window 
root = tk.Tk()
root.title("My Spy Camera")
# Buttons
btn_take_photo = tk.Button(root, text="Take Photo") 
btn_record_video = tk.Button(root, text="Record Video")
btn_quit = tk.Button(root, text="Quit")
btn_take_photo.pack()
btn_record_video.pack()  
btn_quit.pack()
# Variables
output_video_path = ""  
output_video_writer = None
# Functions  
def take_photo():

    print("Taking photo...")
    ret, frame = cap.read()

    if ret:

        timestamp = datetime.datetime.now().strftime("%Y-%m-%d_%H-%M-%S")  
        filename = f"spycam_photo_{timestamp}.jpg"

        output_file = os.path.join(output_dir, filename)
        print(f"Saving photo to {output_file}")

        cv2.imwrite(output_file, frame)
# Video Recording Functions  

output_path = ""
output_video = None
def start_recording():
    global output_path, output_video
    now = datetime.datetime.now()
    filename = now.strftime("%Y-%m-%d_%H-%M-%S") + ".avi"    
    output_path = os.path.join(output_dir, filename)
    fourcc = cv2.VideoWriter_fourcc(*'XVID')
    output_video = cv2.VideoWriter(output_path, fourcc, 20.0, (640,480))
def stop_recording():
    output_video.release()

# Bind Buttons
btn_take_photo.config(command=take_photo)
btn_record_video.config(command=start_recording)
root.mainloop()

And that’s it! We have built a simple spy camera app in Python that can secretly capture photos and videos.

Some ways you can extend this project further:

  • Add the option to select different cameras
  • Build a motion detection system to start recording when movement is detected
  • Add timestamp overlay on captured media
  • Implement email/FTP upload option
  • Package it as a Linux application that launches on system startup

I hope you enjoyed this step-by-step guide for building a spy camera in Python! Let me know if you have any other questions.

If you like my work and want to help me continue dropping content like this, buy me a cup of coffee.

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