Low cost CCTV for Bypass tools.
Small and miniature portable closed circuit TV systems have been available for many years and dropping prices now make it possible to consider them in conjunction with lockout bypass tools and picking mortise locks etc... For use with letter box bypass tools we have to remember the camera has to be small enough to go through the letter box which typically has an aperture of 35mm x 130mm (Georgian vertical combined lock plate). Commercial CCTV equipment is available on the professional market for this purpose,, usually at high prices, so in this article I will concentrate on low price solutions.
Notebook and laptop computers.
In the past if you wanted to use a TV camera with a small computer, then that computer had to be fitted with a video capture card. With the widespread introduction of 'web camera's' (webcams) the trend was to interface the camera to the computer using the standard USB socket, that all modern computers have. This means that if you own a laptop or notebook, you already have half of a very high quality portable CCTV system.
There are many different programs available that process the signal from the camera and present the resulting TV image on your computer screen. A very popular program for this purpose is is called ManyCam2.4 and it can be downloaded free from ....
Many of the effects within the program will not be required, but it does have a 10:1 zoom facility, which may be useful under certain circumstances. A 'snapshot' facility is built into both the camera (button) and the software.
Many types of webcam's are available on EBAY for under £10. First I think we need to consider exactly what we want our webcam to do and for that we have to look at typical applications. An obvious one is to mount the camera on the end of a letter box tool so that one can see what the tool is doing on the hidden side of the door. The camera must be slim enough to go through the letter box, when it is mounted on the tool and this includes the cable that can protrude from the back of the camera.
Next the area behind the door is going to be dark, especially at night, with the occupants on the wrong side of the door !. So it is important that the webcam we choose has it's own light source or we must provide it separately.
Different makes of webcam's have different minimum focus lengths. Most will have minimum focal length below 10cm, but if a choice can be made, choose one with a short focal length as this will give you a better depth of focus.
OK let's have a look at a typical low priced webcam. The average price for these with postage and packing is about £8, but I have seen them advertised for half that price, ex China.
As you can see, the attachment clip is bigger than the camera !, however for our purposes the clip can be removed, Typical minimum focus length is about 3cm. Six built in LED's provide the illumination which can be adjusted in intensity externally, by a control that is built into the camera's cable about 400mm from the camera. For some applications, it means pre-setting the light level before the tool is inserted into the letter box, because this level control will end up on the wrong side of the door to operate. If required an adaptor could be produced that would put the level control on the outside of the door. Also USB extension cables are available from Poundland. The camera cable is terminated with a standard USB plug that enables it to be connected to any laptop, notebook etc.. One advantage of using a laptop is that, commercial versions of this tool, often use very small LCD screens, whereas with a portable laptop you get everything full screen. If used in bright daylight, the screen will need some kind of hood, otherwise contrast may be very poor.
Many of the adverts for these camera's state "Fixed Focus", but in fact the focus can be manually adjusted, between the minimum focal distance and infinity, by rotating the lens housing. A microphone is also built into many of these camera's and is terminated by a 3.5mm plug on the end of the camera cable, which can be plugged into the microphone socket of the laptop etc..
Conclusions on Letterbox CCTV attachments.
On a well designed letterbox tool, the tool should locate itself, without the use of mirrors or CCTV. However it can be useful with existing designs to make life easier. It also has the advantage that it's use increases the customers perceived value of the work done.
CCTV for the inside of locks.
For advanced lockpicking, ie safes and mortise security locks it is often helpful if we can see inside the lock. The traditional tool for doing this has been the optical endoscope, but is now more often a flexible endoscope fitted to a small CCTV camera. These are commonly used in surgery and other internal medical examinations, but cheap versions are available. Some are intended for the internal inspection of machinery, such as car engines through the spark plug hole etc. Many of the cheaper ones have a diameter up to half an inch and a small one would be about a quarter of an inch in diameter, which will be far to large to enter any lock keyway. Maplins 'snake' camera is an example. Remember that everything inside a lock is very close to the lens, so a very short focal length is required and this usually results in a narrow depth of focus.
These are close focus camera's with magnifications typically up to x400. These would probably not be required for lockout work, but have been included for the sake of completion. They cost from about £30 upwards (Maplins). Typical USB microscope pictures follows ....
CCTV systems can be as expensive as you want them to be. and an alternative to the above would be an MP4 device with an external camera, which would also allow you to record what you see and play it back later. On the negative side MP4 systems can cost many times more than the £8 scheme suggested above. They also have the disadvantage that they employ small screens, which would make it difficult to see small detail. Eventually someone will bring out LCD spectacle type stereo viewers, which will bring down the size ... at a cost