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Unless you’re a pro, you’ve probably never considered buying an inspection camera. That’s not surprising, considering that for years these suckers cost a mint and were the size of a baseball-throwing machine. But technology makes everything smaller and (eventually) cheaper, and we’ve definitely seen an explosion of inspection cameras spread across most major manufacturers’ compact cordless lines. Milwaukee, Bosch, and DeWalt, for example, all offer 12V models in the $200 to $300 range — about what you’d expect to pay for a decent durable cordless drill.

So why should you own one? Read on to find out.

Reason #3: What the hell’s in that wall?

This reason alone is enough (as far as I’m concerned) to send me to the big box to score a camera. How many times have you set up to cut into a wall (or fish a cable through it) and wondered what exactly is in the wall? Hell, I cheated and took pictures of the walls of my house while they were building it, leaving me with a set of “x-ray photos” of every wall in the place. But I still wonder if there’s a Coke can (or worse) in there left over from when the drywall guy didn’t feel like heading all the way downstairs to the trash bin. Now I don’t wonder. I punch a small hole, insert the camera, and have a look for myself. Seriously. It’s that simple.

The same goes for when you’re pulling cable and it gets stuck on something. You can wonder forever what it’s stuck on, or you can just push the camera in and see what’s what.

#2: What’s leaking under the car?

If you’re lucky enough to have a lift available, you can just put the car up on the lift and take a look. But how many of you have a lift in your garage? Even if you have jack stands around, it takes a few minutes to jack the car up and position everything so you can safely slide under to take a look. Did I mention that it’s dirty under there? The car is leaking, you know.

Try the inspection camera instead. Bend the camera around and just stick it under the car. Take a look. It’s painless and it takes just seconds. The same goes for looking in nooks and crannies under the hood. That little camera head will fit in places you wouldn’t even imagine putting your head, either because your head is too big or too precious.

#1: They’re seriously cool.

I know, this is lame. I should have given you another specific example. But try this on instead: I’ve used my inspection camera at least twice this week alone, and I haven’t had time to get into the shop at all. I grabbed it to see where the cat toy went under the couch. I shoved it around behind a computer in a rack to see if a cord was still connected (which, by the way, saved me from turning the damn computer off and pulling it out of the rack). The uses are endless.

Think I’m crazy? Or have you found specific uses for your inspection camera? Let us know in comments. And we’ll see if we can’t work up some inspection camera reviews for you over the next month or so.

Some of the Many Available Cameras [Google]
Via Amazon [What’s This?]

 

26 Responses to Three Reasons You Should Own an Inspection Camera

  1. Mike Lee says:

    I had my for a year and used it once. Droped a sink drain handle spring clip behind the sink vanity and didn’t know it. I didn’t feel like pulling the vanity out of the way if it wasn’t behind it. Yes, it was behind the sink.

  2. Fong says:

    Could’ve used it a handful of times but there were less convenient alternatives so I still feel ok having not invested in one just yet.

    Surprised there isn’t one for an iphone/ipod Touch yet. Less hardware should equate to a more affordable alternative.

    I’m still holding out for a more affordable thermal camera. Now THAT, I can use.

  3. Edward says:

    First time I used the inspection camera it saved me hundreds of dollars… clothes dryer wasn’t working well so I scoped the vent line. Three feet in from the wall was a birds next.

    Two coat hangers later the wife was happy and I got to keep the new toy!

  4. Ed W says:

    I have used mine for snaking wires on my boat and in my house. It is much easier to do when you know what’s in the way.

  5. Bill says:

    I have a Ryobi that cost under $150. It’s color, it zooms, it has a bright light at the tip. I use it for all sorts of things, not least of all looking through sparkplug holes. It’s not fancy, but it works.

  6. Rembret says:

    You lost me at “cat toy”.

  7. brisaacs says:

    At my shop we have a boroscope. Pretty nice, but it’s a pain to hold it up to your eye and squint through it. The one we have is extendable, so we can go up to like 20′ with it if we wanted. And the surface area you see with it is pretty small, so it’s hard to tell what you are looking at when you are that close.
    Def going to be looking into buying one like the dewalt pictured above.

  8. Mike47 says:

    I scored a Milwaukee on close-out sale when they changed design to the L-ion type. Cost $100. Used it many times, now I will search for the toy mouse my cat lost weeks ago. Thanks for that idea!

  9. Phil says:

    Having used a borescope for years, the new, cheap(ish) cameras are great. I first got the Milwaukee M-Spector non-rechargeable version. It found duty during a major home theater and wiring project as well as quite a few peeks under the hoods and dashes of cars and trucks. My main gripes were the stiff cable and smallish screen. Trying to maneuver the camera into place while trying to watch the screen was a chore, but worth it for the results.

    When DeWalt announced their detachable screen version I was first in line to get one. Being able to place the screen on a stationary surface while twisting the handle and cable around was the killer app. The fact that it took stills and video was icing on the cake; I am able to show pictures of a problem area to people with ease. I can also leave the camera in place and take the screen with me those times where I need to be in one place to activate something and watch the results happening remotely. Drive-by-wire throttles, linkages and even tracing intermittent taillights were so much easier. My only gripe about this camera (and the Milwaukee for that matter) is the largish 17mm camera head. DeWalt has the DCT4102 9mm camera cable assembly now, this will give me an even wider range of uses for the inspection camera. The head can now fit into spark plug holes, oil pan drains and the like. No need to drop a pan to check for coolant damage, spun bearings and such. While not perfect, it can also peer into cylinders to see if anything bad is lurking inside. The uses are limitless. With the cameras being waterproof and able to give a pretty clear picture underwater, you can see if something has fallen into a pipe or drain, and with extensions, you can find where a clog or collapsed pipe is. Often these cameras will pay for themselves with only one job.

    A note about the DeWalt and taking still photos or video, the unit does not come with a memory card (it takes a micro-SD card up to 16GB), and you need a means to read the card to transfer files to your PC, since there is no USB connection on the camera itself for transfers. A minor added cost for full functionality. The reader might not be needed, as you can simply bring the display unit detached from the handle and wow people with your captured pictures. No sound is recorded with the video, Milwaukee has a high-end M12 version that does video with sound, but the screen in not detachable.

  10. Ian Random says:

    My brother finally bought one at Costco for under $100. I’m too cheap for that and might consider the usb boroscope which is basically a waterproof camera and a long cord for $30. I already have a netbook that I’d use it with.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/USB-Borescope-Endoscope-Inspection-Camera-5M-Waterproof-/400241704532

  11. @Rembret:

    Your comment seems to suggest there’s something weird about a guy who likes cats — or who makes sure his cats are active and well-entertained.

    Ancient Egyptians, including men, considered cats sacred companions. TV and movie villains like Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil, Inspector Gadget’s Dr. Claw, the Smurfs’ Gargamel, and a variety of Bond villains all had cats. Characters like Don Corleone of the Godfather — even the android Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation had pet cats. Male characters in the films Men in Black and I, Robot had cats.

    It is worth noting that these male characters are not portrayed as effeminate, gay, otherwise “weak,” or odd (unless you count being a hyperbolic movie villain). The cat instead seems to often be an accessory to power.

    I think it’s sexy when a man is confident enough to enjoy the company of a cat without worrying about outdated gender stereotypes. Just sayin’.

    • trlinde says:

      Personally I like cats, considering they have the equivalent to 5 razor blades on each paw an can shred almost any other animal in seconds whenever they want. If they want you to get the cat’s tennis ball out from behind something, it might be in one’s best interest to do so… And a scope often helps with that process.

  12. Dan says:

    Because it wouldn’t be a Toolmonger discussion thread without mentioning Harbor Freight, does anyone have any experience with either of the models currently listed on their website?

    http://www.harborfreight.com/digital-inspection-camera-67979.html

    http://www.harborfreight.com/high-resolution-digital-inspection-camera-with-recorder-67980.html

    @Ian, I went looking for image quality info on that USB camera, I found it on Amazon, the only comment there was that it could only focus on items within 2-3 inches of the lens.

  13. Dr. Laszlo says:

    Audra – I have a cat.

  14. MrJimmo says:

    I have the HB non-recording inspection camera (bought ~$70). I’m actually suprised at how much use I’ve gotten from it. No buyers remorse (my usual yardstick for purchases of ‘toys’ :o ) Had water damage that I used it to inspect, also looked underneath/behind dishwasher, inspect behind a wall. I wrote a really long review for amazon (search for “CENTECH Wireless Digital Inspection Camera”). Bottom line; it’s cheap, color LCD, short focal length and depth, no capture (the box is misleading), and I’m _really_ glad I had it when I discovered the damage. If I broke it (through my fault) would I replace it with the same thing? Likely I would. But if I end up using it for more situations, I’d probably do more research and consider getting one with a better picture and capture capabilities.

  15. Alan Greer says:

    I used my milwaukee inspection camera to look up into a ponytail tree for a new holland honeyeaters nest because I cant climb a ladder.The nest contained three eggs and the camera was very clear.I have also used it to see if my gutters were blocked with moss.

  16. Sundevil says:

    I got one called Aardvark because I thought the name was cool. Its the same unit offered by Extech, NTE and a few others (besides the cool name, the price was lower) I’m a home inspector for new home buyers. The image record and video feature is terrific for documenting problems and my presentations and documentation have greatly improved. Picture quality is very good ( Im not saying great) and, combined with the 5 meter shaft extension it is great for looking inside walls (hidden water damage, mold etc) into attics, behind appliances, up dryer vents…endless uses in my line of work.

  17. Joseph says:

    Hey toolmonkey and Dan…
    I recently got the centech 60695 high res DIC off a economic casualty for $30bucks ($219.99 savings! hello) he didn’t even Have it long enough to get it dirty.anyway my Dumb dog was scratching at his ear over and over so I Stuck that borecamera down in there whilst my sugar baby held the other end anda worked the light/zoom and with the v/out plugged into the big screen what do u think we saw? Nuttin told ya he’s a dumb dawg. Bawhaha just foolin. It was a fox tail! It got backin dare almost to the eventhorizen i used the hook attachment and pulled it right out. What I saved in vet bills I figured $150easy, I gave to the poor s.o.b. I bought it from.my ears are still ringing from the sound a his jaw slaming into his hardwood flore. Good lord , LG (lifes good)for those who live in da city))

  18. Don says:

    After years of commercial electrical work, I was amazed at the simplicity that a phone installer showed me for fishing wire in a wall. Inspection cameras would even help this: Drop a small chain down into the wall, then fish out the chain with a hooked wire! Fish tape that’s not in conduit is a struggle to find. Now, we can look for the chain (or fish tape) too!

  19. SteelPlayer says:

    I own the cheaper Centech camera with no record capabilities in the unit, but I will offer two tips on this handy little gadget. Hooking a small handheld monitor (mine is 7″) to the video output cable vastly improves the resolution. This same output can be recorded if you have a device with a standard (composite) video input, identified sometimes with a yellow female phono plug. I found a loose airbag connector under the seat of a very cramped sports car. Still had to pull the seat, but it proved I needed to!

  20. ron says:

    Over priced for around the house,on average they could not be worth more then 5 to 10 dollars to make in mexico or china,what ever the case,stores are making way to much on these products,when they come down to 35 to 45 dollars tops and no more then that, i will never own one,what did we all do before these’s toy’s came around?marketing is a way for these company’s and store’s to make a fortune on toy’s and junk.Royobi should get smart and make one that is affordable to the home owner like in the price range of 25 to 40 dollar range.

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