The best borescopes, or inspection cameras, have become must-have accessories for tradesmen and DIYers who need to see the pipework under a floor board or to inspect drains. They are now essential tools for mechanics and car enthusiasts – allowing you to see parts of an engine without having to take it apart.
The applications for a tiny camera you can carefully negotiate into places you can’t easily get your eyes (and a flashlight) are nearly limitless. Indeed medical endoscopes are very well known, but you can unclench – we will not be giving doctor’s equipment any further discussion here! There are many other kinds of inspection camera and borescope with their own merits.
The applications for a tiny camera you can carefully negotiate into places you can’t easily get your eyes are nearly limitless. Indeed the medical endoscopes are very well known, but you can unclench – we will not be giving medical devices any further discussion here! Even leaving aside the doctor’s kit bag, there are a number of different design approaches inspection cameras and borescopes, each with different merits.
Borescopes can have a rigid arm with a fixed camera, a flexible arm, a fully soft wire-like extension or a mixture. And then you have to decide how you would like to view the image. Simple optical principles (like periscopes) have made way for tiny cameras at the business end while the rest of the components and controls will be in your hands.
You might find a Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB connector to pass the image on digitally, or a built-in display. At the other end accessories like tiny mirrors can help you see sideways. The point is that there is a lot of flexibility, and the choices have become increasingly bewildering as more players have entered this fast-growing market.
That's why we've created this guide to the best borescopes, best snake cameras and best inspection cameras to help you to decide which one to opt for. And remember, to keep checking back as we'll be adding to this list regularly.
Best borescopes and inspection cameras
A snake camera you can sneak in behind tricky blocks and baffles, yet is still able to capture sharp full-color images? For many that’s still amazing enough, but the Depstech also does so via Wi-Fi to an Android/iOS app, neatly removing one frustration from cabled devices – putting your phone in the line of fire.
With the camera on the end of a semi-rigid flex, and a 2,600mAh battery and dual-antenna housing at the other, you can hold your phone (the viewer) somewhere away from the muck.
Attachments include a magnet, a hook, and a 45-degree mirror, and the system lights its way using six LEDs, which, in practice, affords a focal range from about 5cm (a bit over 2-inches) to eight times that distance.
This is a ‘does what it says on the tin’ device, no more, no less. Sure VGA resolution is somewhat disappointing (especially given it is advertised as 2 megapixels on Amazon), but it can also be had for the price of two or three cups of coffee (London or New York prices, anyway).
That doesn’t stop it coming with adaptors for traditional, micro and Type-C varieties of USB, and Mac OS and Windows 10 are both capable of recognizing the camera too.
The big positive is that it broadly ‘just works,’ though you might need to download an app as explained in the manual. Crucially, though, you don’t need to service an additional battery-powered device or connect anything to Wi-Fi – it draws its power from the host device down the semi-rigid flex straight to your device and sends the picture back the same way. The small box at the user end of the cable includes a dimmer wheel for the LED, and the always useful key hook and mirror accessories are included, although they are a little wiry.
This more rugged-looking device is one which might stand up to a little more punishment than others on this list. It includes a slightly bigger, higher-resolution monitor than most (854 x 480 actual pixels), and a torch for quick external inspections.
There are six brightness-adjustable LEDs surrounding the 70-degree angle main camera too, as well as a second lens (with one LED), so rather than fit a mirror attachment you simply flip the camera head to its side-camera mode via the switch not on the display device, but the user-end of the borescope where it attaches to the viewer.
There is also 32Gb of storage to record onto included, and the display is charged by familiar USB. The benefits of recording 1080p video (effectively 2 megapixels) from a 1 megapixel sensor are slightly lost on your humble reviewer, but this is far from the only device to make this faux-pas for, presumably, marketing reasons.
Available in both 1.5m (5ft) and 3.5m (11.5ft) formats, this ultra-slim probe option with 3-10cm focal sweet spot is great for engineers dealing with especially fiddly equipment, and mechanics will like the fact it’s robust construction and built-in monitor prevent the need from getting their phones dirty.
Image quality is much as you’d expect from a cheap LCD 4.3-inch display – this is not an iPhone OLED – but the IPS affords adequate viewing from an off-angle, and you can rotate the image 360 degrees to view it the way that works for you.
In lower light, the frame rate on the display suffers, but you can turn up the six LEDs to help. You can also save the images to the supplied 8GB ‘TF Card’ (basically a Micro SD card). If you are suspicious of the quoted sensor resolution the fact the saved image matches it exactly won’t ease your concerns, but the real downside of the smaller-than-usual end-piece is that mirror attachments don’t seem to be available. Oiiwak have also switched to slightly larger sensors on their newer models, so perhaps this is the right choice only where that 1.6mm difference really matters for your purposes
Though branded as an industrial product, this has just as much potential in the home and as we enter a new decade there is something about the vertical-format design which seems natural for users of any age group (though the image on screen can be rotated to the preferred angle).
Oiiwak once boasted the thinnest camera heads, but with this device they’ve added a little over a millimeter in diameter in exchange for the addition of an additional side-mounted camera which negates the need for a mirror attachment. One switch rather than winding all the way out again, fitting the attachment and returning. You can even view both cameras at once on the 4.3” monitor which is great (though it’d be nicer not to have to press-and-hold for 2sec to change mode).
Oiiwak has pushed the resolution of endoscopes to 12 megapixels, in exchange for a larger probe than found on the more common 1 and 2 megapixel devices. To keep the costs accessible, while offering a display capable of taking advantage of the extra pixels, the firm have opted for wi-fi connection to your phone. For iPhone users this has the side benefit of being more compatible than Lightning connectors.
The firm offer 5 and 10m versions and, in a nice design touch have added a 3-LED flashlight into the handle alongside the controls. Focus is automatic (nicer than fixed or manual), while digital zoom of up to 3X is on offer too. This can be handy in certain circumstances (say you reach the end of the endoscope, or a gap narrower than 14mm), but don’t bet on it solving all your problems.
The semi-rigid cable is practical, and the length helpful. The necessary accessories are included and the shutter button easy to use. As ever, the only issue is handling a phone and an endoscope at the same time.
Sometimes it isn’t enough to push a long flexible wire into the object of your inspection; long cable probes are great for inspecting HVAC systems, poking around under the decking or looking in the U-bend, but if you want more accurate inspection of complex mechanicals, it can sometimes help to hold the camera nearer, on a rigid arm.
The Ablescope enables this while still affording the best possible view by physically articulating the lens itself via a simple piece of press-button mechanics; push the button and the camera bends at the tip in a tight 30mm arc. Push it all the way and it’ll form a 180-degree U shape. You can also lock the position using a pleasingly traditional rotary wheel at the bottom of the sprung button – all reassuringly practical.
Of course, the flexible probe needs to be treated with respect, and sadly by default this is effectively a USB-only camera, meaning you need an adapter for iPhone/iPad use. Vivida will sell you their VA-B2 ‘AirBox’ for this purpose, though it creates a wi-fi signal you then need to connect your iPhone to –quite a fiddly solution and pricier than some of the cameras on this list.
Vividia has somewhat cornered the market in turning the corner (sorry), in that – in this price-bracket at least – articulating heads are few and far between. Thankfully it has chosen to offer the probe on a semi-flexible arm, as well as the rigid arm of the VA-400 above so you can get the flexible head just about anywhere within reasonable reach.
The semi-flex can be bent and then retains its shape – a little like some desk lamps – which is handy for certain tasks, but since it’s a mechanical approach, rather than simply a stiff wire, the practical length is limited.
Vividia has kept on the safe side of that, so the scope should have a good long life, but the reach is much lower than some of the cheaper non-articulated alternatives.
With 12 built-in lights this versatile but pricey videoscope has an exceptionally long, strong fiberglass-core which packs away into a spool.
It might not look like much, a kind of coated wire-frame arrangement, but it’s actually much easier to grip than, say, the plastic spools common on extension leads. That thoughtful quality extends to the highly durable display which is both waterproof and oil/chemical resistant too. Not that you need to worry about touch-screens; the controls are all on robust buttons around it.
Data can be recorded as stills or video to the SD card, or output via the analog connector. Admittedly the design features what feels like a historic connector – the Mini-USB – but this is a professional tool with a professional price and the cost of a USB adapter is hardly relevant.
If you’re looking to inspect a troublesome drain running under your home or through your garden, the price of a professional borescope can come as quite a shock. If you’re aiming to spend a bit less (ideally only one or two times the price of a plumbing call out) but still need to descend deeper than the compact devices above, this might be the right choice.
What you sacrifice in useability, you get back in savings, and Anysun offer a series of IP68 (water and dust proof) inspection cameras on 30 or 50m (100 or 168ft) cables. The adequate 7-inch TFT also houses an SD memory card slot (32GB max).
The product is, effectively, a selection of parts (4500mAh battery, screen, 23mm camera head and cable) in an off-the-shelf black briefcase, and no one part is inadequate for its purposes. If you were doing this several times a day, connecting the video leads might start to grate, but at up to 50m the length is not a complaint and nor – compared to the Extech HDV650-30G – is the price.
A kit of parts, with a minimum length of 88cm (3ft), this rod which fully extends to 4.3m (14ft), and is capped with a 30cm semi-rigid section, and an eyecatching stainless steel inspection camera.
The TVS-500 makes it possible to take a look onto roofs or other high-up locations. We say “kit of parts” literally extends to adding more rods to the telescopic element for even more height.
Once assembled the scope gives the impression of a high-tech fishing rod, the dimmer control and a good size and bright (but could be brighter) five-inch LCD powered by two chunky Lithium Ion batteries on the handle above the grip.
The LED can be turned up to a brightness enough to illuminate several meters away (with a nice big control knob), and a microphone can be turned on and off (allowing some interesting AV possibilities). The only slight sign of age is the restriction to 32Gb memory cards for what Vividia calls the DVR function. It remains a pro device though, and is supplied in a professional-quality robust case (as the price certainly dictates).
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