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I have an endoscopic camera, a small camera on the end of a wire. I attach it to fish tape and push it into walls, pipes, etc to examine what's inside.

I find that in floor and wall cavities the weight of the camera on the end of a flimsy wire means it always "droops", i.e., if it's in a floor/ceiling cavity all I can see is the floor of the cavity and the dirt resting on it. If I push it up a wall it droops towards a stud and all I can see is the stud. It only works reasonably well if I drop it down a wall from above ... which so far, is not something I've ever needed to do. Even if I attach it rigidly to the end of the fish tape, the whole assembly droops enough that I'm always looking "down" at the space I'm inspecting.

I've looked for better ones, but even very expensive ones seem to be built the same way.

Are there techniques or tricks that make these cameras more useful?

It could be useful in small diameter (less than one inch) PVC pipes. But I've never had the need to inspect inside one of those.

It would be great if there was one that had a 360, or 180 camera on it, but I have never see one of those and it would need a creative lighting solution. It would be great if the camera could be steered or pointed like an oil drilling snake ... but that's ridiculous.

What is a good technique to make this tool useful and not always be looking at the floor of whatever I'm inspecting?

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  • Does the camera need to go around tight corners, or can the corners be gentle? Fitted on 1/2 inch black plastic pipe/tubing should give it more stiffest and be able to bend a bit to go up a wall. Fish tape is made to bend easy.
    – crip659
    Apr 18, 2022 at 15:12
  • That could be useful sometimes. "Need to" is hard to define because every use is different. Often the entry point is awkward and requires a sharp bend. My latest situation was to inspect the underside of a shower pan that I accessed through broken floor boards in an adjacent attic crawl space. I could not have used anything rigid more than about 8 inches long. In one case I stuck my hand with the camera between two floor boards and then stuck the camera through a pre-existing half-inch hole in the floor joist, into the next joist bay. Not even fish tape could be used there.
    – jay613
    Apr 18, 2022 at 15:28
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    Ones I can't begin to consider affordable use "muscles" at the tip to move it around - from what I recall (was a long time ago I went to a talk that discussed them) a bundle of braided sleeves over rubber tubing, where air (or fluid?) pressure can be applied to the individual tubes, and the expansion in diameter makes the braided sleeve pull shorter - combining them allowed moving the tip in any direction.
    – Ecnerwal
    Apr 18, 2022 at 15:29
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    @Ecnerwal I knew from a friend with a drilling job that oil drills do something like you describe with a MUCH more sophisticated mechanism at the drill tip. I wonder if I could rig up something crude, more like the one you describe, with strings and pipe attached to the tip of a fish tape. The challenge is, the more you attach to the tip end, the more it wants to droop.
    – jay613
    Apr 18, 2022 at 15:34
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    Jay I have an inexpensive one that has an end look and a side look I rotate the fiber on the receiver / battery pack it is quite rigid and is only 1/8” it needs a portable screen paring with smart phone or tablet I got it 2-3 years ago very cheap from china I needed it for 1 job and have used it many times unfortunately the driver on my phone was generic and it had no name on it as my son wanted one and we could not find a name, I believe it’s mostly a fiber with the lenses and a thin flexible metal covering with a thin plastic coating, usb /b type charging and it works well about 1 meter 30$
    – Ed Beal
    Apr 18, 2022 at 19:58

2 Answers 2

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Comments led me to some answers or approaches.

As I thought about "techniques" they all involved attaching extra bits to the end of the camera, but it turns out you can mostly buy these, and at prices that make it silly to build yourself.

  • There are available mirror attachments like these that change the borescope view from straight ahead to various other angles. If the scope can be rotated this might provide the required view.
  • There are "dual camera" and "three camera" borescopes now. The dual-camera ones can be very cheap, the second camera is at 90 degrees to the first and so if the scope can be rotated, even if the front camera is buried in the floor of the cavity or pipe, the side camera can provide a good view.
  • There are Articulating Borescopes. They vary from slightly expensive to very expensive, as noted by @Ecnerwal in comments. The less expensive ones have a simple mechanism that folds the end of the scope back on itself gradually up to 180 degreees. Combined with rotating the whole scope this can open up the view a lot and also can look at the back-side of objects along the way.
  • The idea of building an articulating tip myself led me to youtube tutorials on marionette construction. The simple DIY mechanisms that animate eyes and lips could be applied to attaching strings to the end of the borescope to manipulate it. But the availability and low cost of commercial articulating ones make this unattractive.
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I simply mount my cheap borescope to a piece of scrap fencing wire. I put a short 20mm hook in the end and fold it flat. That is enough to provide a small V for the camera to rest in, and I tape it down with insulation tape.

The USB cable can either trail back or be tied to the fencing wire with tape or cable ties. Sometimes its useful to use the data cable as a "guy wire" and lift the camera up while treating the main wire as a rigid boom.

You can also fold some handles into the far end of the fencing wire to help control the whole rig rather than tightly gripping a thin metal wire.

Additionally, you can pre-bend the wire so once through a hole it can curve off in a useful direction.

Best of all, fencing wire is cheap and disposable. If you loose it inside a wall, there's no great loss compared with fancy handles. A good tug of the USB lead should save the camera if the wire is irretrievable.

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    I do something similar with sectional fiberglass fish tape and velcro straps. I think fence wire is a good idea, and taping the camera is a better idea than velcro. I sometimes use wire hangers from the laundry when fish tape is too flexible. But I don't think your technique solves the main problem, that once a certain length is doled out, the end will droop and the camera will always point down. Tying the two wires together as you suggest will GREATLY reduce the amount of snagging when you pull it back out.
    – jay613
    Apr 19, 2022 at 12:59
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    I tried using the USB wire as a "guy" or puppet string and it does do what you expect .... it bends the camera head up to about 30 degrees (limited by the flexibility of my fish tape). But the main problem persists .... once bent, the weight of the camera will instantly cause it to flip downwards so that with its 30 degree angle it will be pointing straight down at, and resting on, the floor of the cavity.
    – jay613
    Apr 19, 2022 at 13:01

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