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BigBoy writes: “I use my standard camera phone in two ways: to check IR-emitting parts — most camera phones can see IR — and to take pics of how something fits together before I take it apart.”  He also sent us this link to an instruction set over on Instructables on how to repair your remote controls.  (A camera phone’s used to test them before and after by capturing the brightness of the IR LED.)

This is one of those things I feel like I should’ve written about long ago.  I remember the first time I did the drum (shudder) rear brakes on my ’78 Datsun 280Z.  I gleefully pulled both sides apart — then spent two days trying to put them back together such that all the parts’d fit in and the car’d stop.  Needless to say, it sucked.

Nowadays I’d simply take one side at a time apart.  But when we were doing the Project Yukon engine swap, we used a digital camera to snap literally hundreds of pictures as we disassembled things.  During re-assembly a month or more later, it was awesome to be able to scroll through the pics on a cheap laptop in the shop to see detail not available in manuals.

What’s great about camera phones is that you pretty much always have one with you — so there’s no excuse for not shooting a few pics before disassembly.  Hey — if everything goes well, you can just delete them afterwards.


5 Responses to Tip: A Toolmonger’s Use for Camera Phones

  1. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes! I use a regular digital camera, not integrated into a phone, because it offers much better picture quality and greater storage. On occasion I’ll use movie mode — on a 1GB card I can record an hour of video, and grab frames from it later if I decide to document the process.

    Of course, if you have a cheap laptop (or a washable one, like a Tougbook or an Enduro) sitting around the shop, a cheap webcam is a great addition too. Record video straight to the hard drive, and you can get hours and hours of footage for later reference.

    And where you might have to pay a few hundred bucks to get a digital camera with a good macrofocus function, most five-dollar webcams can focus down to within an inch of the lens just by twisting the mechanism way, way out. A surprising number of the photos in my Flickr were taken this way.

  2. Jon says:

    The other great thing this affords you is for taking pictures of, say, that hose you punctured in the wall while hanging the bathroom cabinet. Then you can go to your favorite DIY store and get the right replacement. Also very useful for snapping pictures of thermostat wiring before replacement, so when the new one doesn’t work, you can reinstall the old one with confidence!

  3. Rob says:

    I do the exact same thing with a 2MP camera I have. It definitely helps when putting things back together especially wiring where so many connectors are the same.

  4. TL says:

    Aside from those mentioned above, the other killer app for a camera phone is snapping pictures of price tags at Lowes and Home Depot. Comparison shopping has never been easier. It also lets you work up a pretty good budget for the home improvement projects BEFORE you start tearing stuff apart. Sometimes when you do the math to find out what it will really cost, the project just isn’t worth it anymore.

  5. Norm says:

    I use mine as a flashlight also, just turn on the “flash” which is a little LED light.

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