A thermal imaging camera, which is a type of thermo-graphic camera that has the ability to form a heat zone image through the use of infrared radiation, is useful for firefighters, architects, and others who must work through darkness and other factors that obstruct clear visibility. More simply, these devices convert thermal energy, also known as heat, into visible light. With the use of infrared radiation as light, these cameras provide architects, firefighters, law enforcement, power line maintenance technicians, and others who need it in their line of work with the ability to see in sites, crime scenes, or areas, despite the presence of smoke, heat-permeable barriers, and darkness.
If you are in search of a thermal imaging camera, but are unsure of what you need to know and what you should be paying attention to throughout the shopping process, do not fret. These cameras are sophisticated and it can undoubtedly be overwhelming to figure out how and which to choose from all that are available to consumers. In this buying guide, we will supply you with helpful information and tips that will help you make the best purchase decision and decrease your overall time spent shopping. Let us begin by sharing our list of some of the best rated thermal imaging cameras on the market. We will go into further detail about each of these particular cameras shortly.
List of Top Thermal Imaging Cameras:
- FLIR C2 Compact Thermal Imaging System
- FLIR E4 Compact Thermal Imaging Camera with 80 x 60 IR Resolution and MSX
- RIDGID RT-3 57533 Thermal Imaging Camera, High Resolution Infrared Digital Camera for Commercial andResidential Applications
- FLIR Systems, Inc. 431-0008-31-00 Scout III-240 Thermal Imager, Detector 240X180 30Hz, Black/Brown
- Seek Thermal Reveal Xtra Range Camera
- Perfect-Prime IR0004, Infrared (IR) Thermal Imager & Visible Light Camera with IR Resolution 35,200 Pixels & Temperature Range from -20~300°C, 9 Hz Refresh Rate
- Cat Phones S60 Rugged Waterproof Smartphone with Integrated FLIR Camera ( Power Bank, Car Charger and Car Mount)
- FLIR TG167 Spot Thermal Camera
- Seek Thermal XR Imager for iOS-Apple
Key Things to Look for and Know Before Purchasing a Thermal Imaging Unit
Here are some important things to know and look out for before you purchase a thermal imaging unit.
Although they are commonly referred to cameras, thermal imaging devices are actually sensors. Heat, which is also referred to as thermal or infrared energy, and light are a part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but cameras that can detect thermal energy will not have the ability to detect visible light and cameras that can detect visible light will not have the ability to detect thermal energy.
There are both simple and more complex types of thermal imaging cameras. Depending on what exactly you need and want, you have the option to choose from ones that are fairly basic and others that have more complex abilities and features.
Resolution and Sensitivity
The two key components to know about thermal imaging cameras are the detector resolution and the thermal sensitivity.
The detector resolution illustrates the number of pixels that the camera provides. The resolutions that you will tend to see on the market are 160 x 120, 320 x 240, and 640 x 480. A 160 x 120 resolution will produce an image comprised of 19,200 pixels, a 320 x 240 resolution will produce an image comprised of 76,800 pixels, and a 640 x 480 resolution will produce an image comprised of 307,200. With that said, your needs will determine which detector resolution you decide to go with.
Thermal sensitivity is the nominal temperature difference that the camera has the ability to detect. Although the number is small and seemingly unimportant, it actually has significant implications in regards to measurement capabilities and image quality. The majority of un-cooled cameras will consist of a thermal sensitivity of approximately 0.1 degrees Celsius.
Another key component to take into consideration is the temperature range. The temperature range of a thermal imaging camera lets you know the minimum and maximum temperatures that the camera has the ability to measure.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a difference between a thermal imaging camera and an infrared camera? – The answer here is two-fold. Thermal radiation and infrared radiation are essentially the same things, but that is if the radiation sources consist of temperatures that are comparable to the room temperature.
What is the useful life of a thermal imaging camera? – This depends, but it is usually somewhere between 10 to 15 years or longer provided that the camera is properly cared for and has maintenance if that is recommended by the manufacturer.
List of Top Thermal Imaging Cameras and Reviews
Here is our list of some of the top thermal imaging cameras currently on the market.
FLIR C2 Compact Thermal Imaging System
- This pocket portable thermal camera that consists of MSX –enhanced thermal images provides superior detail.
- It consists of up to 500 radiometric images and 4800 pixels that are capable of capturing thermal measurements from 14 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit. The spectral range on this device is 7.5-14µm.
- The MSX on this device adds key details from the on-board digital light camera to the IR image which contributes to clarity and detail.
- The backlight bleeding on this camera is not good quality.
- Basic movement of the camera can cause the display to discolor.
- The useful life of this camera is considerably short.
- It has the tendency to freeze, the touch screen can tend to lag, and the subpar quality of the frame sometimes distorts the screen.
FLIR E4 Compact Thermal Imaging Camera with 80 x 60 IR Resolution and MSX
- The E4 sensor hardware on this camera has a native thermal resolution of 320 x 240, onboard 640 x 480 digital camera resolution, and simultaneous storage of IR/Visual/MSX images.
- It consists of 2% accuracy with a temperature range from -20 to +250 degrees Celsius.
- The Flir E4 also consists of a swappable Li-ion battery that has a 4 hour life.
- It can be considered a high end thermal imager.
- The USB port on this camera can be a bit faulty and sometimes detaches from the circuit board.
- This camera does not allow you to attach an external lens.
RIDGID RT-3 57533 Thermal Imaging Camera, High Resolution Infrared Digital Camera for Commercial and Residential Applications
- This device can quickly detect costly system and building problems in order to minimize downtown in work flow.
- It can identify overheated connections, leakages, and more.
- It consists of an infrared resolution of 160 x 120 pixels and is extendable to 320 x 240 pixels via super resolution technology.
- For optimal consistency, the Scale Assist automatically sets the optimum thermal image scale, which contributes to easier evaluation. Thus ensuring comparable, error-free infrared images.
- It offers a thermal range of -20 to 280 degrees Celsius, thus making it ideal for commercial and residential contracting.
- It is on the higher end in terms of price.
FLIR Systems, Inc. 431-0008-31-00 Scout III-240 Thermal Imager, Detector 240X180 30Hz
- The various modes on this camera contribute to its versatility in use. It consists of a detector resolution of 240 x 180.
- It has the ability to provide clear visibility even through obscurities of a 100 foot distance and has great quality color palettes.
- The level of detail on this camera is so high that it can be used for almost any application.
- It is ideal for hunting since it can quickly identify targets. Additionally, it is small and lightweight.
- This camera is on the very high end in regards to price.
- It does not have a zoom, which can be considered somewhat limiting.
Seek Thermal Reveal Xtra Range Camera
- This camera is built for long range detection and has a narrow 20 degree field of view. Additionally, it can quickly scan up to 900 feet (275 meters).
- It consists of a high performance thermal sensor of 206 x 156 and a temperature range of -40 to +626 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The rechargeable battery on this camera can last up to 10 hours of continuous thermal imaging on a single charge. It also includes a recharging USB cable.
- The Seek model is a durable all –in-one device with intuitive controls. It also consists of a rugged, rubberized casing which makes portability very convenient.
- The useful life of this camera is considerably short.
- The display is not great quality and can be fuzzy.
- The memory card on this camera is somewhat faulty.
Perfect-Prime IR0004, Infrared (IR) Thermal Imager & Visible Light Camera with IR Resolution 35,200 Pixels & Temperature Range from -20~300°C, 9 Hz Refresh Rate
- This camera consists of an IR image resolution of 220 x 160, 32,200 pixels with a visible light image of 0.3 mega pixels.
- The storage memory consists of a micro SD card and 4 GB for image storage.
- It consists of a thermal sensitivity of 0.07°C and a temperature range of -20 to +300 °C.
- The temperature accuracy of the camera is +/- 2.5 % or +/- 2.5 °C and the display screen consists of 2.4″ full angle HD, visible image.
- The useful life of this unit is considerably short.
- The device clarity is not particularly good quality.
- Overall this camera is not durable.
Cat Phones S60 Rugged Waterproof Smartphone with Integrated FLIR Camera ( Power Bank, Car Charger and Car Mount)
- This super bright device is comprised of Corning Gorilla Glass, 13MP autofocus plus a FLIR thermal rear camera, and 5MP front camera.
- It is waterproof for up to 5 meters for 60 minutes. It is also dust resistant, which is ideal for use on construction sites and others alike.
- This model is drop-proof for up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) and consists of a category 4 vibration withstand-ability.
- Its micro SD card has a capacity of up to 128 GB.
- The signal and reception of this device may have the tendency to be faulty.
- The battery life on this device is considerably short.
- The photo quality is not necessarily good.
- The microphone on this device can also be faulty at times.
FLIR TG167 Spot Thermal Camera
- This pocket portable and rugged camera has the ability to withstand a 2 meter drop and it consists of intuitive controls.
- It is comprised of extended range material.
- It consists of an 80 x 60 IR resolution and a 2 inch bright LCD screen. Its temperature range is from -25to +380 degrees Celsius.
- This camera consists of an 8 GB micro SD card, power supply, and USD cable.
- The batteries for this camera are irreplaceable.
- The calibration and accuracy of this camera are rather poor.
Seek Thermal XR Imager for iOS-Apple
- This camera consists of a 206 x 156 thermal sensor, a 12μ pixel pitch, and a Vanadium Oxide Micro bolometer.
- The Chalcogenide lens on this device has a 20° field of view, which makes it ideal for outdoor use.
- It also consists of long wave IR of 7.2 – 13 microns and a -40F to 626F detection.
- It includes a pocket-sized, waterproof carrying case, thus contributing to it being highly portable, versatile, and durable. Additionally, it can be plugged directly into your smart phone.
- This camera has a detectable temperature range of –40 to 626 degrees Fahrenheit and can easily track wildlife, thus making it ideal for hunters.
- It provides a detection range of up to 1800 feet.
- The image resolution for this camera is considerably low.
- It has a fairly short useful life.
Our Concluding Thoughts
Since they are specialized devices, thermal imaging cameras usually have a high price point. But when you factor in useful life, these cameras can be considered fairly long term investments. Ultimately, the type of thermal imaging camera that you decide on will depend on your specific needs, preferences, and whether or not cost is a factor for you. If cost is not something that you are concerned about, then you will have a multitude of options to choose from.
Now that we have covered some of the most important things that you should know before purchasing a thermal imaging camera, it is fairly safe to say that you have the essential information needed to make an informed selection and purchase. Shopping for a quality thermal imaging camera does not have to be a daunting process now that you are aware of what you should look out for. Adding to that, it is important to remember that although thermal imaging cameras generally have a high price point, one that is efficient and well-designed does not have to be super expensive.