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Buyers’ Guide: Inspection Cameras

A mechanic’s borescope has endless uses.

The fact that manufacturers continue to pack more mechanics (engines, pumps, radiators, etc.) under hoods and in engine cavities is reason enough to consider investing in a mechanic’s inspection camera, also called a borescope.

An equally good reason is that this instrument’s price makes it an easy buy.

Due to the affordability of LED screens and lights, not to mention increasing competition in the marketplace (DeWalt, Milwaukee, Ryobi, and General Tools have come into the borescope market in recent years), the price of an inspection camera has dropped into a range that makes it affordable for any farmer.

Models in the $225 to $350 price range lie in the farm-buy sweet spot. Less expensive inspection cameras are available, but their usefulness is limited by the quality of the images they produce. More expensive borescopes are also sold, although their extra cost may not be justified unless you’re tackling extensive repairs on multiple engines or transmissions.

“Whether it is an entry-level borescope or a top-of-the-line model, the biggest stumbling block is opening your mind to all the possibilities the tool holds,” says Successful Farming Engine Man Ray Bohacz. “A borescope allows you to have the ability to look not only inside cylinders via the spark plug or injector hole, but also inside a turbo, differential, or an induction system, at the engine’s valves, under a dashboard, and more,” says Bohacz.

“Do not stop there,” he continues. “Look inside your planter’s seed meter, combine header passages, radiator, hydraulic pump, sprayer pump. The possibilities are endless for non-invasive machine/engine inspection with this tool.”

The usefulness of a mechanic’s inspection camera quickly became obvious to James Fred (pictured above). 

“Knowing what I know now about its usefulness, I would buy one,” the Rochester, Indiana, farmer says. “I was surprised at how sharp the video image was from the camera I evaluated.”

Key Features

The following are key features to consider when shopping for an inspection camera:

  • Camera and cable diameter. The diameter of the camera varies greatly by make and model. The smaller the diameter (in millimeters), the easier it is for the camera to be inserted into small holes or snaked through a passageway. Note that the diameters of the cameras chosen for this article range from 8 to 19 mm. 
    The DeWalt inspection camera that Fred reviewed for Successful Farming magazine had a camera that was 1½ inches long. The cable was just 3∕16 inch in diameter, which made the device very flexible.
  • Picture resolution. The quality of the image presented during an inspection is a major consideration. The higher the dpi (dots per square inch) offered by a particular model’s screen, the easier it is for you to quickly identify a small object or to analyze a repair issue. 
  • Screen size. Fred tested a camera with a 3- to 3½-inch-square color screen, which he reported was adequate for his use. A feature that he really appreciated and felt would be well worth the cost was the detachable and wireless screen. “The image is transmitted to a screen that can be taken off and set on a nearby object,” he notes. “This allowed me to more easily manipulate the pistol grip into tight spaces or to hold it upside down during the process of snaking in the camera while still seeing the screen.”
  • Cable length. The most common length of the cable of borescopes is 3 feet, but Successful Farming reviewers tested cameras with cable lengths up to 16 feet. This is a choice that will be determined by how you plan to use the camera around the farm. Much longer cables are preferred by plumbers; mechanics tend to stick with 3-foot-long cables.
  • Zoom. The cameras on some models have the ability to zoom in on an object by as much as 4× magnification. Fred found this feature to be particularly useful when examining engines since it allowed him “to zero in on a problem once I found it and then give it a thorough examination,” he says.  
  • Video recording. The huge advantage of being able to record an inspection on an SD card is that you can remove the card and download the video onto your computer. “You can then view the inspection on a much larger screen, which can be really revealing when, for example, you’re looking inside a piston sleeve,” Fred says. 
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