Basic Crime Scene Photography Equipment

camera photo

The "old" crime scene camera, a 4 X 5 Speed Graphics and the Newer DSLR,
a Nikon D7000  Both are fully "adjustable" cameras. "Adjustable" means you can adjust the focus, shutter speed and f-stop. A requirement for all crime scene cameras!

Nikon D80

We do not endorse name brands and Nikon is used below only as a representative of the type of equipment. Other name brands may be substituted if the equipment is of the same quality and type. It is recommended that you do not mix brands of camera equipment. If your camera is a Nikon then buy Nikon lens and flash. If the camera is a Canon then buy only Canon accessories. Sometimes the 3rd Party Accessories do not function as well as the originals.

DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) Adjustable Camera such as a Nikon D7000

Small zoom lens, such as as the Nikon 18-140mm

Macro Lens, such as the Nikon 60mm Macro

Dedicated Electronic Flash, such as the Nikon SB-900

Dedicated PC cord, such as the Nikon SC-29

Wireless Remote, such as the Nikon ML-L3

Heavy Duty Tripod with removable center shaft, such as the Bogen 3021 with a Grip Head

A Polarizing filter for normal lens and macro lens

Red, Orange and Yellow filters for the macro lens

Camera lens cleaning kit (brush, cloth and blower)

Sturdy Hard Shell Camera Case

Miscellaneous items:
batteries for camera and flash
         extra memory cards
         photo ID card
         measuring scales
         mini flashlight

ICSIA Guidelines for Selecting a Point-and-Shoot Digital Camera

A DSLR camera is still the first choice and best camera for photographing the crime scenes and physical evidence. However not all police agencies can afford to buy a DSLR camera kit. If that is the case then we offer the following as secondary to the DSLR.

We are going to look at the factors that should be considered in selecting a "simple" digital camera for police use.  You may ask why not simply buy a digital SLR style camera?  There may be several reasons.  First and foremost, SLRs are still among the more expensive cameras on the market and not all agencies can afford the investment.  Second, they are more camera than needed for many common police uses- things like minor accidents, assaults and field ID pictures.  Thirdly they can be confusing to operate for those with limited training.

Even for agencies who have digital SLR style cameras available, point-and-shoot cameras can be a good investment.  In my opinion, in an ideal world every officer would have a camera in their shirt pocket to use as necessary.  The best camera for many jobs is simply the one you have ready at hand, not the one back in your trunk or locked in a cabinet at the station.

We can't recommend specific camera models simply because they change every three to six months, so by the time you read this any camera we recommend will probably have been replaced with a newer model.  With that in mind, let's look at camera features.

Resolution.  Resolution is measured in mega-pixels.  Six or more mega-pixels should be more than sufficient for most uses.  The main exception is comparison photographs of shoeprints.  Most point-and-shoot cameras are not suitable for shoeprint work.  Those that are, feature eight or more mega-pixels and the ability to work with a detachable flash unit.  These features are more easily found in SLR style cameras, for which ICSIA has a separate spec sheet. However there are a few Point and Shot or "Bridge Cameras" that come close to this capabilty.

Exposure.  The ability to alter exposure from "automatic" settings is required.  This is referred to as exposure compensation or exposure value (E.V.) adjustment.  On many cameras this is not available in the green "idiot proof" auto exposure, but is available in Program exposure.  This allows you to lighten or darken a picture if the built in meter is fooled.

Flash.  A suitable camera will have a built in flash, and the ability to control the output power of the flash unit.  This is referred to as flash exposure compensation.

Lens/Zoom range.  This is often listed several ways as a "zoom factor" (i.e. 3x or 12x zoom range), as a "digital zoom" factor and in 35mm camera equivalent (35-400mm equivalent).  The important factors are to disregard the digital zoom factor as this simply degrades your image.  In fact, on those cameras that have this feature we recommend switching it off.  The zoom factor is less important than the lens equivalent.  A large zoom range is not necessary for police use.  The factor to look at is the wide angle lens equivalent, which is the smaller of the numbers listed.  A 35-400mm lens has 35mm as it's widest available setting.  A 28-105mm lens has 28mm as it's widest setting.  You are more likely to have use for a wide setting than for a telephoto setting.  35mm lens equivalents are relatively common, wider lenses are not, but can be useful- particularly for overall shots of building interiors.

Macro/close focus capability.  A suitable camera will have the ability to focus to approx. 1 inch or less.  This is necessary for close-up photographs of injuries or damaged objects.

ISO.  ISO is the "film speed" available on the camera.  The higher the number, the less light is required to take a picture but the noisier or grainier the image appears.  A suitable camera will have a maximum ISO of at least 400 and the ability to manually control ISO settings.  It is important to carefully read a review of the specific camera you are considering as some cameras can shoot at 400 ISO with little or no noise and others produce images that look horrible at this setting.

Batteries.  There are cameras available with AA batteries and some with rechargeable batteries.  There are advantages to both.  AA batteries are easily available, and can be picked up almost everywhere in an emergency.  AA alkaline batteries will not last long in a digital camera however.  Lithium batteries will provide more life, but are expensive.  NiMH rechargeable batteries also work well, but be sure to buy a spare set.  Cameras which take Lithium-Ion rechargeable batteries will provide better battery life than those which take AA, but make sure to purchase a second battery that will fit your camera so that you can keep shooting while charging the other battery.

Memory card type.  There is no particular advantage to one memory card type over another.  However, most cameras ship with memory cards which are too small for serious use.  Invest in at least two cards for each camera with a size of 1 gigabyte or larger.  If you have multiple cameras it's nice to have them all use the same memory card type.

Shake or Vibration Reduction.  This feature compensates for camera shake caused by the inability to hold the camera perfectly still without a tripod.  It is very effective at reducing blurred images due to shaky hands.  It is not absolutely necessary, but is a nice feature to have if available.

Weather Proofing.  Some cameras are available with seals to keep out moisture if you use them in the rain.  This is a nice feature to have but is not absolutely necessary.

Conclusion/Guidelines.  A suitable point and shoot style camera will have:

Six or more mega-pixels.
Exposure compensation.
A built in flash with adjustable power.
A 35mm or wider equivalent lens.
Ability to focus to one inch or less.
At least 400 ISO available and manual ISO control.
Extra batteries and extra memory cards.
A sturdy tri-pod

The camera should be "adjustable". The camera should have the capability to be used both in automatic or program mode and be able to make adjustments to correct the exposure or increase the depth of field.

If the camera has a "Bulb" setting for timed exposures than it is better.

Both shake reduction and weather proofing are desirable features, but are not necessarily required.

Slave Flash.   A slave flash will greatly improve your night or low light photography. To see more about slave flash photography click here.

Two good websites for camera reviews are: and