When it comes to choosing a device that you will use in tight spots where you can’t use a regular camera, you will come across two types of devices. One of them is an endoscope, while the other one is a borescope. And the most common misconception when it comes to those two is that they’re the same thing.

And while we wouldn’t blame you for thinking that, there are some major differences between them, and you’ll need to know them in order to decide which one works for your use case. That being said, let’s take a look at both of them.

The “too long, didn’t read” version

We understand, not everyone has the time to learn in detail about a borescope and an endoscope, so here’s a short variant of the difference. The endoscope is a medical tool. It has a camera at the end of a flexible tube, but they’re extremely thin and they’re used by doctors to perform endoscopy, which is basically taking pictures of your internal organs.

The borescope, however, is not a medical tool. It’s also a small camera attached at the end of a flexible tube, but it is oftentimes thicker and definitely not meant to be used on humans. It’s often thicker, and is most often used by mechanics to see what’s happening at places that aren’t easily accessed. That being said, let’s take a look at both of them in detail.

The borescope

The borescope is an optical device. It’s made of a tube, which can be rigid or can be flexible, depending on the use, as well as a camera or lens on one end, and a display or eyepiece at the other end. Between those two, there’s a link that’s either an electrical system, or an optical one. When you’ve got an optical system, you might come across one that’s surrounded by optical fibers that are used to illuminate the object you’re looking at. The objective lens, or the camera, will form an internal image of the object, and then the eyepiece or display will magnify it so you can take a closer look.

Where a borescope comes in handy the most is when you need to perform a visual inspection on an area that’s otherwise inaccessible. The same applies for areas that you can’t get to without time consuming or destructive activities. The endoscope is a type of borescope, but we’ll go through it in a bit more detail in a moment. They’re usually used during nondestructive testing techniques that are designed to recognize imperfections or defects.

A borescope is most commonly used during a visual inspection of steam turbines, diesel engines, truck and automotive engines, as well as aircraft engines and aeroderivative industrial gas turbines. Due to maintenance and safety requirements, steam and gas turbines require quite a bit of attention. An inspection performed using a borescope can oftentimes prevent unnecessary maintenance, something that can cost quite a bit when you’re working with large turbines.

Another popular use for borescopes is during the manufacture or cast or machined parts, so you can inspect some of the more critical interior surfaces or check for burrs. You will also find them being used in forensic applications in both law enforcement, and in building inspections, and a lot of gunsmiths use them to inspect the interior of a firearm’s bore. For example, back in World War II, some very primitive yet effective borescopes were used to examine the interior bores of some large guns that were used often and see whether there are any defects.

Today’s borescopes are either rigid or flexible. Flexible ones that have a miniature camera at the end are also known as video borescopes, and they’re some of the most commonly sold hobby gadgets around the world. A rigid borescope will often give you a much better image at a lower cost, but they come with the limitation that anything you’re looking at must be viewed through a straight line. Therefore, they’re better suited for fuel injectors and automotive cylinders.  

The endoscope

If you were to get a little technical, an endoscope is a thin, tubular instrument which is illuminated. It is used to look deep inside the human body, something that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Well, at least not without a surgical cutting procedure involved. The word itself comes from two Greek words, “endo”, which means within, and “scope”, which comes from “skopos” and means to look out, or to target. It is, actually, a type of a borescope, which is more specialized in its use.

An endoscope is used to examine internal organs such as the esophagus and the throat. You may even come across specialized instruments that are basically variants of an endoscope, and are named after the organ they’re designed for. For example, the nephroscope is made for a kidney, while the arthroscope is made for the joints. The bronchus is looked at with a bronchoscope, and a doctor will check out your pelvis or abdomen with a laparoscope.

To make one thing clear, the instruments are oftentimes also used to assist during surgeries. An arthroscopy is one such example, because you can use the endoscope to take a closer look at the joints and know exactly what you’re dealing with.

Wrapping things up – who needs what?

At the end of the day, if you know what both an endoscope and a borescope is, you’ll be able to get the one you need without much trouble. For example, if you’re a doctor, and you need it for work, chances are you’re looking at an endoscope that will allow you to perform endoscopy. If, for example, you’re a car mechanic, you need something a bit more serious, such as a conventional flexible borescope. It all depends on what you’ll be using it for, so choose accordingly.