Remember when small camera systems were a novelty and only the biggest contractors in town had them? No more. Just check the phone book. Nearly every drain cleaning specialist advertises a camera system. And more and more plumbing contractors have video inspection capabilities, too.
As with computers and other consumer electronics, technical progress has enhanced the value, reliability and performance of video inspection systems. Steady advances have only made equipment cheaper, better and more convenient.
Inspection jobs and push cameras are not all created equal. Here are eight essential points to consider when choosing a camera system:
1. What kinds of lines are you inspecting? To determine what camera system is right for you, ask: What kind of jobs will I be using the camera for? Are you inspecting sewer mains in the street? Are you looking at the drain line leading from the house to the street or septic tank?
Can you go in from a floor drain or cleanout? Do you have to go up on the roof and go through a vent to gain access to the main line? Will you be using the camera to inspect smaller sink lines, laundry drains and other smaller vents and laterals? How far down the line do you need to look? Three feet? Twenty-five feet? One-hundred feet? Four-hundred feet or more?
2. What type of pushrod do you need? Knowing the applications will help you pick the right camera system. If you are inspecting larger diameter lines, you’ll need a larger, stiffer pushrod so the rod won’t buckle or kink when pushing it, especially over longer distances.
Most full-size push camera systems are rated for 3- to 10-inch lines, but they perform best in the 4- to 8-inch range. If you are inspecting smaller diameter lines, you need a smaller, more flexible rod. Keep in mind, a more flexible rod cannot be pushed as far, so only choose a small rod to inspect short runs.
3. What skids are available? If you are using your system for larger lines and longer runs, look into a skid package. Skids will help lift the camera off the bottom of the pipe, allowing it to glide down the line more freely. Check to see what skids are available with the camera system you are looking at. Smaller skids can also assist smaller cameras as they center the camera in the line and help the camera glide around tight bends and avoid hanging up on rough sections of pipe.
4. What camera head do I need? Not surprisingly, pipe cameras, like digital cameras and laptop computers, have become physically smaller. Maneuverable models let professionals troubleshoot very narrow conduits, augmenting their value and versatility.
The latest LED lighting ensures clear images in the darkest areas, providing greater accuracy in diagnosing and correcting problems. Years ago, black-and-white cameras were the industry standard because they offered a clearer, crisper picture than color cameras. Today, color cameras have improved to the point where color is now the preferred choice. Just as many homeowners prefer to watch color movies, they prefer to watch color video. That’s because it looks more modern and professional.
When considering a color camera, take a look at self-leveling models. While you as a professional can understand what you are looking at, even if the camera has flipped upside down in the line and the water appears at the top of the pipe, most homeowners cannot do this. A self-leveling camera makes it a lot easier for your customers to follow the video and your explanation of the work that needs to be done.
5. What kind of monitor do you need? When initially introduced, most camera systems had CRT monitors, some quite bulky. While companies eventually offered more compact designs, these still retained CRT equipment, requiring extra case padding and cooling fans. Lightweight LCDs on video inspection systems provide greater resolution, clarity and reliability. Newer systems such as the Gen-Eye Prism make it so you no longer need a monitor, but may instead use your own tablet or smartphone as your system monitor connected via WiFi.
Digital videos and DVD recordings are a better option as they provide crisp pictures with a jitter-free freeze frame, permitting more precise problem analysis. DVD recorders are trickier. You can’t view a disk on another DVD player without first finalizing the recording. This requires extra steps and time at the jobsite before the customer can watch the disk on his or her DVD player.
7. Now that you see the problem, how do you find it? Pushing the camera into the line to spot and troubleshoot problems is only the first step. Locating the trouble spot is when you earn your pay. Fortunately, digital locators make this task much easier than in the old days. When shopping for a camera system, be sure to get a digital locator that easily and accurately locates the camera with precise, instant and depth-finding capability. One note of caution: Not all camera systems come with a built-in transmitter required for camera location. Be sure to check that the transmitter is included. Ask the manufacturer for an instructional video or to arrange a demonstration.
8. What extra features do you need? The best systems offer extras that enhance productivity and customer service. Look for features like:
- On-screen distance counter
- AC/DC power options
- Date and time stamp
- Voiceover unit
- Full keyboard titler
You’ll notice that price was not one of the eight essential things to consider when choosing a push camera. There are many camera systems to choose from. Ask a lot of questions of the manufacturers. The right system for you will be the one that offers you the most versatility, productivity and, most importantly, return on investment.
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