If you’re considering home inspector as a career, you might be wondering “why do I need a camera?”. Including photos of things you find at homes provides much needed information to a home buyer. Particularly because many people are not well versed in construction issues. That’s why they hired you. Explaining things in a way that makes sense to you and is factual may not make sense to a home buyer. That’s where photos come in. I take an average of 100 -200 pictures on every inspection, depending on the number of issues. Photos add so much value to a report for your clients.
So you’ll need to carry a camera with you on your inspections. There are all kinds of opinions on what kind of camera to use. Some inspectors rely only on their phone’s camera. Some people use two cameras, one with a big zoom to see the roof and a second camera for the rest of the inspection. Some inspectors use a specific camera just for the crawl space, since it’s the most dusty place in the house. I use a Panasonic Lumix Rugged and a Cannon Powershot as a backup.
You are probably familiar with using a camera, whether on your phone or not, to photograph your kids, projects, or travel. But on an inspection, you’ll be using your camera in much different ways. Crawling through a crawl space to get a photo of a cracked foundation is a much different situation photo-wise than an outdoor shot of the house. Professional photographers would use completely different set ups for those two scenarios. One is outdoors in daylight and needs a wide shot to get most of the house in the frame. The other is a close up detailed shot in very low light. As an inspector, you need to take good photos in both of those situations and switch between them with ease. Luckily, compact digital cameras have come a long way and can produce decent photos in multiple situations.
Lighting and zoom are two features that change the way photos turn out. Cameras work by reflecting light through the lens, so it makes sense that the amount of light and the distance that the lens (which does the reflecting) is from the subject is important.
Cameras are a complicated field, confusing at first, lots of specs, and things to consider. Plus photographers on forums speak their different opinions. We don’t need all of those specific nuances, but we do need decent pictures. So we need to sift through the recommendations to pick out the features that are important to us.
Here are some things to consider when choosing a camera for home inspections:
Zoom and telescoping lenses
Like I mentioned above, some inspectors use a zoom lens to capture photos of the roof. The way you inspect the roof is usually up to you (check with your state regulations). You can use a ladder or walk on the roof to do a visual inspection. You can also do a visual inspection from the ground, using binoculars. If you want to use a camera to see the roof, you’ll need a zoom lens or a drone.
There is one major downside to using a zoom lens on a home inspection: dirt. These lenses are usually telescoping, which means they have moving parts, so the lens gets stored inside itself when not in use. The bad thing about this is it means there are lots of cracks and crevices where all the pieces come together. Dirt and dust can easily make it’s way into these tiny openings and ruin your camera. If you’ve ever gone home from a beach trip with a camera that suddenly stops working, you know what little particles of sand or dirt can do.
If you want to go this route, we recommend using the zoom camera only for inspecting the roof. You wont need a zoom for the rest of the inspection. Having a second camera will protect you from having to replace the expensive zoom lens too often.
In general, I don’t recommend telescoping lenses. I don’t use zoom to see the roof. I use binoculars. Plus, a lens that moves to zoom or even to focus adds to the time it takes the camera to take the photo. When you are taking hundreds of pictures, those few seconds waiting on every shot really adds up. And these types of lenses can come with an external lens cap, which means you also need to take that on and off, which adds time too. But the biggest thing is that dust and dirt can get into all those pieces. There are more seams which means more cracks in a telescoping lens and if any dirt gets inside, it will stop moving. Which means you can’t use the camera anymore.
One vs Two Cameras
I do keep a second camera that has a zoom capability because sometimes you do need it. Optical zoom is good for other stuff besides roof. For example, if there’s an issue with a sink in the bathroom, you can take a pic of the room and then take a second picture of the sink without moving. That’s nice sometimes. Or sometimes the lighting or furniture will prevent you from getting closer to an issue, so its nice to have the zoom in situations like that. You need that capability if the need arises. That’s the thing about inspecting houses, you never know what you’re going to find. I like to have the tools I might need.
I only use the second camera if I really need it though because it makes everything more complicated. You’ll have two memory cards to deal with when you go to write the report. Plus two different types of batteries to carry backups of.
But I want you to have all the information so you can make the best decision for your work style. There are plenty of inspectors out there who use multiple cameras daily.
The first camera I had used AA batteries and it would only take 50 pictures and you’d have to replace the battery. I’d have to do it half way though the inspection. A good rechargeable battery will last 2 inspections. If I start the morning with a full battery it will last me the whole day and probably through the next day. But I charge it every night just to be sure. I put the batteries back in the camera every morning before I leave for the inspection.
Megapixels are one feature that is always advertised on a camera. These days, though, that doesn’t come into play for what we need it for. As long as you have 12MP or above which is pretty standard today, you don’t need to pay more to go from 12 to 24 MP.
It does get dark in a crawl space, so some inspectors like to use an external flash to get good pictures. I don’t think that’s necessary. I just use the built-in flash on the camera and supplement that with a flashlight if need be. I always have my flashlight with me, so my system works really well.
You’ll want a camera that can take videos too. Sometimes that’s the best way to show a client what is going on. Most digital cameras can take videos these days, so it’s not much of a consideration. But you’ll want to learn how to use this feature once you decide on a camera.
Types of cameras:
I do think you can do a good job only using your phone’s camera. It’s especially useful if you are using a mobile based software to write your report. It’s easy to add the photo into the report as you go. However, you’ll need a to come up with a good system for backing up your photos. We always like to keep a couple of backups of every inspection, just in case something happens. There are apps, like Dropbox and Google Photos, that will upload your photos automatically to the cloud. But you’ll need to make sure you have a good organization system in place so you can easily access them if you need to.
You’ll also need a good backup plan for when your phone dies. It’s a good idea to have an external charging pack that you can use to plug your phone in on-site. But you’ll have to remember to keep the pack charged everyday too. And sometimes if your phone dies, many phones do take a few minutes of charging before they will work again.
Another thing to consider is the risk of dust and dirt running your phone. Since a phone has fewer moving parts than a camera, there aren’t as many places for dirt to get it. But if it were to happen, a phone is much more costly to replace than a cheap digital camera. And since a phone has other functions, it can add a lot of hassle to your life if you are without it for a day or two. Even going through the replacement process is a time-consuming hassle that I think we would all avoid if given the choice.
DSLR / Professional cameras
I’ve heard of inspectors investing in professional level cameras. The idea is these cameras will last longer because they are higher quality. They can usually take pictures faster, which is a plus on an inspection. You can also change out the lenses, so you can have one for the roof and another for the rest of the inspection.
There are some upsides to using a professional camera, but I don’t recommend this because it’s higher risk. Even though a pro camera might last longer, what if it doesn’t? If it does happen to break, you’ll have to spend a lot more to replace it. It’s kind of putting all your eggs in one basket. Even if they are more durable, there’s still risks involved. And those risks are expensive.
Rugged cameras are a good option for home inspectors. These cameras are built to endure dirt, dust, pressure, and drops. They usually have a limited zoom, maybe only 5x, and it’s usually a digital zoom. But like I said, I use binoculars to inspect the roof, so I don’t really use a zoom function.
Tips for using digital cameras for home inspections:
- Always have a backup camera – if one breaks you’ll have another one ready to go. You can’t stop doing your inspection just because your camera breaks. But you also can’t keep doing the inspection without a camera.
- Always have an extra memory card and batteries, in case anything happens
- Plan on replacing your camera once every 12-18 months because of the wear and tear
- Keep your camera in a pouch on your tool belt or on a lanyard so it’s easy to access quickly, but doesn’t get in the way of doing other things when it’s not in use. Some inspectors like to keep their camera in a shirt pocket because it is easy to slip in and out. That’s true and as we discussed, time is something to consider. But what happens if you’re reaching for something in your tool pouch and the camera falls right out of your pocket and into the toilet? Not worth it to me.
- Sometimes the photos don’t turn out as great as they could be, but out of 100 photos it’s bound to happen. If you’re worried about a photo coming out, take a second photo with your phone or with your flashlight.
- Keep the camera in auto mode. You don’t need to spend time changing the settings.
I use a telescoping lens camera (your basic digital camera) to see the roof and I keep it as a backup. These are usually cheaper than a rugged camera, so I keep it as a backup. That way I don’t have to buy a second rugged one if I don’t need to.
Most important is something that is always reliable and doesn’t have any problems. You want to know. Takes the picture quick when you push the button. Some are 3-4 seconds and you don’t want that if you’re leaning over and have the camera in a strange position. It’s hard to stand in that place for long. Plus the time really adds up.
Cameras I’ve tried:
- Panasonic lumen 130 was okay but I wanted to go with something different
- Pentax Ryco but it broke and the new one was too expensive
- Sony point and shoot to start but didn’t last very long this was before rugged digital cameras
How long will an inspection camera last?
If you do 500 inspections per year and take 200 photos per inspection that is 100,000 pictures and most cameras aren’t designed to do that. A digital camera is not truly “all digital” like the camera on your phone. Even though it’s called a digital camera there are mechanisms and moving parts inside the camera that are taking the picture. Those things will wear out. A full-time inspector a camera will last 500-700 inspections or 12-18 months depending on your schedule.
Where should I buy this camera?
I usually buy my cameras at either Wal-Mart or Target. I buy the same one over and over again until they stop making it. I like to keep it simple. I like that I don’t have to think about it or do a lot of research every time. Once I’ve found a camera that I like, I stick with it. I like to get ones that are available at Target or Wal-Mart because I know they are open when I need to buy it. There are a lot of stores so if one location is out, I can find it at another one quickly. I always have a backup, but I still like to replace a broken camera quickly. The backup camera I use is not my favorite, so I’d like to get back to using my camera of choice asap.