Tool Review: DeWalt 12V cordless inspection camera
Being able to see in tight or hidden places is always handy for a myriad of automotive work. From being able to view the hidden rear of an intake manifold gasket, peering into cylinder head exhaust ports, inspecting the location and condition of an otherwise near-impossible-to-see harness connector, looking down into intake manifold runners, to inspecting for a rear main seal leak on an installed engine, a peek-into-tight-places tool can save hours during inspections and diagnosis.
One such tool is the DeWalt cordless inspection camera (model DCT410 or DCT411). That’s right — camera. This cordless (runs on a rechargeable battery pack) inspection tool features a three-foot-long flexible gooseneck viewing cable outfitted with both a camera lens and LED light, and a large digital viewing screen (in full color, by the way).
The tool allows you to poke around with the flexible probe, viewing live as you search. When you see something that you want to record (for records or to study afterwards), press a button and you can snap a digital photo.
And if that isn’t cool enough, you can press another button and record color video (cool for viewing the action of moving parts).
A small Micro SD slot is featured for a micro SD memory card of up to 16 gb (NOTE: The SD card is not included with the kit, but is readily available at any camera shop or mass retailer. These SD cards, depending on memory capacity, can run anywhere from $6 to $40. They’re available in sizes starting with 2 gb.) You don’t need an SD card to view with the camera, but you’ll need a card if you want to record stills or video. If you plan on recording video, get the larger-capacity 16 gb size.
Photos are saved in JPG format, and videos are saved as AVI. Once you’ve taken your still photos and/or video, pop the SD card out of the tool, slip it into your PC and upload. Couldn’t be easier.
NOTE: You’re not forced to take photos or video if you don’t want to. You can use the tool as an inspection tool only, but you have the immediate option of recording what you see if you so desire.
In truth, this tool was designed for building contractors to view and record hidden cables in walls, HVAC inspection, plumbing inspection, etc. However, just as a screwdriver or a hammer can be used by either a home builder or an automotive technician, this tool can serve as a great inspection aid in any automotive shop as well.
A series of control buttons are featured on the tool’s camera head. On top (above the viewing screen, left to right) are the power button, the zoom/delete button, the play button, the video start/stop button and the camera button.
Below the screen are the main menu button, the back button, the OK button, and the forward button.
On the right outboard side is a small reset button. On the left outboard side is the micro SD memory card slot. Just above the pistol grip (on the underside of the tool snout) is the camera cable on/off switch and a rolling LED light brightness switch.
First things first
Before using the tool, make sure that the battery is fully charged (using the kit’s charger). Be aware that the display head must also be charged. However, you don’t charge the display head separately on the charger. Instead, the display head receives its charge from the main battery. Be sure to fully charge the main battery until the indicator light on the charger remains constantly illuminated (after it stops blinking). Snap the battery onto the bottom of the grip, connect the camera cable to the main unit and insert the SD memory card. You’re ready to go.
NOTE: When attaching the cable to the main unit, insert the cable end into the tool’s cable socket and thread the collar fully. Be sure to fully hand-tighten the collar. If not fully seated/tightened, you’ll get an error message on the display and the viewing mode won’t work.
Also, when connecting the camera cable to the main body, take note of the gray reference line on the camera lens body. This gray line must be oriented at 12-o’clock (in-line with the top of the display head). Otherwise, the image view in the display window will be crooked.
When you power-up the screen (using the power button on the top), you also need to turn on the camera cable by rolling the dial switch fully rearward, toward the main body area. This switch is located under the nose of the main body, immediately above the grip. This switch turns the camera itself on/off. When on, a green indicator light will illuminate on top of the main body’s nose. By rolling this dial fore/aft, you can adjust the light intensity at the camera lens tip.
When you’re finished with this tool, be sure to roll the camera lens dial switch fully forward (the green light will go off). If you accidentally leave the camera lens on (even though you shut down the display head), this will drain the battery charge.
The zoom/delete button (second from left on top of the display head) allows you to zoom in on an object (up to 3x zoom). The same button is used to delete photos or videos when you have a folder open for review.
The play button allows you to view videos that you’ve taken. The camera button (upper right) is pressed whenever you want to capture a photo.
If you want to record a video, just press the red video button (on top). When you want to stop recording, press the video button again.
The main menu button allows you to display a list of options for camera operation or to exit a screen.
The back button (left-facing arrow) allows you to navigate backward. The OK button allows you to save any changes, and the forward button (right-facing arrow) allows you to navigate forward.
Accessories include a small grab-hook that attaches to the lens/light end of the camera cable. This aid is useful in retrieving a cable or wire. Also, a skinny magnet is included that attaches to the end of the camera cable, for retrieving ferrous metal objects (nut, washer, bolt, etc.).
The nice aspect of this is the ability to snake the cable into a tight spot, and grab a wire or metal object, while guiding yourself by viewing the display screen.
An optional belt hook is also available (attaches to the tool’s base).
I like this tool. The display screen is large, clear and easy to view, with great detail. The operation is fairly simple, once you become accustomed to the buttons and their uses. However, there are a couple of minor things I don’t like. Our sample kit was model DCT410, which includes a 17mm-diameter camera cable. The 17mm camera cable is flexible, but it’s very stiff. Of course, this can be both good and bad, depending on the specific task at hand, so maybe this criticism isn’t warranted. Also, the 17mm cable is not small enough to snake through a spark plug port (again, the maker didn’t have automotive use in mind when they designed this tool).
However, an optional 9mm camera cable is available for the DCT410 (for about $95), which will definitely snake into small places and is more flexible as well. You can add the 9mm cable to the DCT410; or you can buy model DCT411, which includes a 9mm cable as standard instead of the 17mm cable. Depending on specific tasks, it might not be a bad idea to have both cables. For engine inspection, you’ll definitely want the 9mm cable.
Another aspect that I’m not terribly impressed with is the camera captured-image resolution. While the image is clean, bright and crisp on the display screen, when I took a few JPG photos and uploaded them to my desktop computer, I wasn’t very impressed with the resolution. It’s not terrible (certainly good enough to view and make out details), but it’s not super-crisp as you’d expect from most of today’s digital cameras. Of course, the purpose of this camera is to be able to capture images for inspection, and not for using photos for large prints or for publication. So again, maybe this isn’t something to gripe about. I simply thought that you should be aware of this.
Finally, the camera mode (taking a still image) is accomplished by pressing the camera button (located on the far right of the top of the head), which is a bit inconvenient. It requires moving your grip hand off of the grip to push this button (or using your free hand, but since your free hand may be holding/guiding the camera cable, this isn’t always convenient). A better location for the camera button would be in the “trigger” area of the grip, so that you can snap a photo without moving your hand.
Summary: Overall, I like it. It’s very useful for viewing and recording areas that you just can’t easily see otherwise on an assembled vehicle. The really cool feature is that you can either record still photos or actual video.
I can’t emphasize the convenience of this feature enough. Not to overstate the obvious, but it’s darned nice to be able to not only see hidden or difficult-to-access areas, but to also take a photo or record video for documentation (to show the customer) or further study during diagnosis and repairs. On the coolness-factor chart, that feature is way up there.
After researching prices on the Internet, it appears that the DeWalt DCT410 cordless inspection camera kit lists for about $531, but street prices are much lower (I’ve seen them for as little as $289 online).
You can either buy the DCT410, which includes the 17mm diameter camera cable, and then (if you need it) add the 9mm cable for another $95; or you can buy the DCT411, which includes the 9mm cable instead of the 17mm cable. The DCT411 kit appears to sell for about $329. Both kits (DCT410 and DCT411) are identical except for camera cable diameter.
The DTC410 is available from any DeWalt distributor (including the discount retailers). For more info, visit www.dewalt.com.