Best Inspection Cameras

Updated October 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for best inspection cameras

A good inspection camera is a remarkably versatile device. There are the obvious uses, such as finding blockages in drains (or items dropped down them), then there are the not so obvious, such as locating pest infestations or checking rifle bores. Inspection cameras are popular with DIY enthusiasts, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, building inspectors, engineers, and a whole host of other trades.

Given the wide range of tasks, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of different models from which to choose: different diameters, lengths, camera resolutions, USB and WiFi models that work with your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, and cameras with dedicated monitors. Picking the right one can be challenging even for experts!

The BestReviews team has been assessing a huge range of different instruments, and we’ve put together a shortlist of recommendations that offers a variety of price and performance solutions. We’ve also compiled the following comprehensive guide to provide the in-depth information you need to understand the features of each model before you buy.

You can not only see into tight spaces with an inspection camera, most can be fitted with a hook or magnet so you can fetch things, too!

Key considerations

Things like megapixels (MP), high definition (HD), and whatever ingress protection (IP) rating devices have can all get a bit confusing. We’ll start by clarifying how these things apply to inspection cameras.

Camera resolution

Some inspection cameras have switchable resolution. Lower resolution means smaller file sizes, so you can store more images, and many people don’t need a highly detailed image. However, the maximum resolution is usually what we look for.

Inspection cameras start at 720 pixels (p), which represents the number of pixels on the shortest side of the image. The resolution is actually 1280 x 720p, which is a total of 921,600 pixels, just shy of 1 megapixel (MP).

The majority of inspection cameras use 1080p resolution, also known as 2 MP (though to be picky, it’s actually 2.1 MP). A few use 2560p (5 MP). They can all be called high definition. None are ultra-high definition (UHD), which requires 8 MP.

Types

Inspection cameras can be separated into three main categories: USB, WiFi, and self-contained.

USB: These models are frequently the cheapest. They plug directly into a laptop, but even the smallest are comparatively bulky. It might not always be convenient to take your computer into a particular environment.

WiFi: These models are designed so you can use your smartphone or tablet as the monitor  and have no physical connection, so you can keep your device at a safe distance. Some also work with laptops, so it’s important to check compatibility. Not all inspection cameras support iOS.

Self-contained: These models include their own monitor, typically 4.3 inches or 5 inches, though larger ones can be fitted to industrial cameras. These may also offer on-screen controls.

Did you know?
With inspection cameras, most specifications are given in metric, not imperial: 1 mm = 0.0394 in. (there are 25.4 mm in 1 in.), and 1 m = 3.25 ft.
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Features

IP rating

The inspection camera and cable are invariably dustproof and waterproof to various degrees, depending on their intended use.

Cable

Diameter: The cable diameter varies from a minimum of about 5.5 millimeters (0.2 in.), up to 40 mm (1.5 in.) for commercial drain cameras, but 8.5 mm (0.33 in.) is the most common size.

Length: Cable length is anywhere from 54 inches on gun bore cameras to several hundred yards (on commercial drain models). Most range from 15 to 50 feet.

Flexibility: For most people, it’s important that the cable is what’s called semirigid: the fiber optics are protected by a fine, woven steel sheath and then coated with rubber. The cable has a degree of stiffness so it can be used vertically (inspecting wall-mounted air conditioning units, for example) or pushed along pipes and tubes. As the cable gets longer, it’s more likely to flex and be difficult to control, so it’s sensible to buy the minimum length you need.

Lights

The camera head usually has between four and six LEDs around it to provide illumination. In almost all cases, there is a brightness control, either in several stages or fully variable.

Focus

An optimum focal length is usually given, though some have variable focus, which can be a major advantage for users who need high levels of detail.

Battery

All the inspection cameras we looked at use rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, often charged by USB (though, oddly, the charging cable is not included with some). Run time of the inspection camera depends on the size of these batteries: 2600 milliampere hours (mAh) models generally run for three to four hours, while 4500 mAh models run for up to nine.

Memory

You can usually expand the memory of self-contained inspection cameras by using a TransFlash (TS) or microSD card. These range from 8 GB to 64 GB. Depending on the resolution, an 8 GB version can record for about 40 minutes and a 64 GB version for several hours. Sometimes a card is included in the price, but often it is not.

Accessories

A set of accessories is frequently included as part of the kit, usually an angled mirror and a hook and magnet for picking things up. The mirror is useful for seeing areas outside the viewing angle of the camera, for example, the sidewalls of pipes or tricky corners inside engines.

Warranty

The warranty is usually a minimum of 12 months, but some are several years. Manufacturers usually quote a “limited” warranty, so it’s worth checking what those limits are. Inspection cameras get pushed into some dangerous areas, and it’s unlikely that mechanical damage to the cable or camera will be covered.

Did you know?
Long-range industrial inspection cameras can transmit images along more than 300 feet of cable.
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Inspection camera prices

Inexpensive: The cheapest inspection cameras are in the $20 to $25 range, which is excellent value if they work, but reports of faults (particularly an inability to connect to phones and tablets) are higher than we like to see.

Mid-range: Reliable, good-quality inspection cameras paired with wireless devices cost between $35 and $65. Those that include their own screen cost $70 and up.

Expensive: Industrial cameras with handheld monitors can cost anywhere from $90 to $250, and commercial long-range sewer/drain cameras can top $500.

Did you know?
An inspection camera cable can contain over 50,000 optical fibers made of glass or plastic. Some of them transmit light, while others return the reflected signal to the monitor.
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Other products we considered

If you don’t see what you need in our matrix, we found a few more options. The IWOBAC USB Inspection Camera is a budget model that connects directly to your Windows or Mac laptop. Resolution is selectable up to 1600 x 1200p, the camera is rated IP67, and the 8.5 mm cable is 16 feet long. If you don’t mind using your laptop, it’s a great value.

The 5.5 mm Depstech Ultra-Thin WiFi Snake Camera is among the smallest-diameter models on the market. Despite the tiny size, the camera offers a useful digital zoom. Resolution is 720p, the cable is 16.5 feet long, and it’s Android and iOS compatible.

Avid shooters and gunsmiths will be interested in the Teslong Rifle Bore Scope which fits .20-caliber firearms and up. It’s specifically designed with a short focal length and side-view mirror for close-up barrel inspection. The cable is just 40 inches, so it’s fine for rifles but not much else. It can be used with Android, Windows, and Mac, but not iOS.

If you want to view or download images to your laptop, check the camera’s capabilities carefully. Android or iOS compatibility or USB connectivity does not mean it will necessarily work with your Windows or Apple computer.

FAQ

Q. How can I be sure my inspection camera is waterproof?
A.
Look for an ingress protection (IP) or IPX rating. This tells you it has been independently inspected. Actual ratings can be found online, but IP67, for example, means the camera is completely dustproof and can be immersed in up to 39 inches of water (though the manufacturer may recommend a maximum duration for submersion).
 

Q. What’s the difference between a borescope and an endoscope?
A.
Both are inspection cameras. Strictly speaking, an endoscope is a medical device. Endoscopy is the introduction of a device into the body for the study of internal organs or cavities. A borescope is not for use on people! However, the technology is basically identical, and the two terms have become interchangeable in general use. An otoscope, by the way, is specifically for ears!


Q. Are TF and SD cards the same?
A.
No. Although they both do the same job of adding storage for video or stills, a TransFlash (TF) card, also called a microSD card, is physically different than an SD card. The two are not interchangeable, so be careful when ordering.

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