The manufacture of the thermography cameras is awash with numerous players and brands today. Depending on if you are just a home owner trying to justify spending another $800 for a cheap thermal camera or a commercial building inspector looking at investing $6,000 to $10,000 in a top of the line NIST certified hand held thermal camera there are many thermal cameras that will fit your needs. This site was created to help you find the best thermal imaging camera for your budget!
- 1 What Is A Thermal Imaging Camera?
- 2 What Are Some Applications Of Thermal Imaging Cameras?
- 3 What Is NIST And Why It Matters?
- 4 What Should I Be Looking For When Choosing Thermal Camera?
- 5 Here Is Our Top 3 Best Budget Thermal Imaging Cameras:
- 6 Final Thoughts:
What Is A Thermal Imaging Camera?
Thermal imaging cameras were originally developed for the military in the Korean war and since been adapted to a variety of other commercial and military uses. Thermal imaging cameras today are commonly used to detect temperatures behind walls or other solid objects; as well as checking breaker boxes ensuring circuits are not overloaded. They are also used to detect missing insulation, water leaks and HVAC leaks.
From a commercial standpoint they are commonly used to check the operating temperature of machines and electronics to detect possible issues and/or malfunctions. Being able to “see” behind walls as well as detecting large temperature spikes can help stop thousands and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to expensive equipment and homes. Home owners, Inspectors, electricians, contractors, and auto mechanics are just a few of the people who can make use of thermal imaging cameras.
What Are Some Applications Of Thermal Imaging Cameras?
- Thermal Cameras for Leak Detection:
We all know how devastating humidity and moisture can be to your home. Thousands and thousands of houses are ruined each year because of undetected moisture damage that is unknown until it is too late. Mold is dangerous and can spread quickly if left undetected. So how can a thermal imaging camera be helpful detecting leaks and moisture causing mold?
A spot in your home that contains water or moisture is cooler than the area around it. A high quality thermal camera can easily detect it so you can identify the problem and start fixing it quickly. Most professionals use it to spot insulation problems as well.
Built in software can easily generate reports that you can send to homeowners or landlords for review. View a complete list of thermal cameras suitable for leak detection.
- Thermal Imaging Cameras for Home Inspections:
As a home owner and do-it yourselfer you have gone ahead and switched out some of the light fixtures in your new home as well added a few extra switches to your wall outlet and to save money you have done it all yourself.
What you may not know is if the house was wired to the correct standard when it was built. If you are pulling too much power from one outlet it can cause a tremendous amount of heat that you may not notice when you flip the switch. Prolonged excess heat can damage your wall and potentially cause a fire. With a thermal imaging camera, you can simply point it at the wall and see if there are any heat spikes due to the additional wiring.
As a contractor or building inspector you may be called in to diagnose why the buildings AC or heating bill is so high – with a high grade Thermal imaging camera you can detect if there is missing insulation broken areas of duct work or other energy efficiency issues.
You will also be able to inspect electrical boxes and circuits to ensure the wiring is correct and the circuits are not overloaded. Without a thermal imaging camera you would literally have to start crawling through the duct work or roof and try to visually diagnose what the issue was which would not only be more difficult but also take a tremendous amount of time. View a complete list of the best thermal cameras for home inspections.
- Thermal Imaging Cameras for Fire Service:
Fire fighters face dangers every day. The only way to protect themselves is to have proper equipment and gear. We all have seen expensive flame resistant suits and equipment, but they also have another tool in their hands – a powerful rugged thermal imaging camera that helps them cut through the smoke and haze quickly identifying unconscious people.
They can also use the thermal camera to detect burned out breaker boxes in electrical fires. Having another sense of what’s around you can save lives and help them avoid dangerous situations. Thermal imaging cameras specially designed for fire service are rugged, waterproof and have built in view filters. These thermal cameras should also be NIST certified; more on that below.
What Is NIST And Why It Matters?
What is NIST and what does it have to do with thermal cameras? NIST stands for National Institute of Standards and Technology and is non-regulatory agency of the US Department of Commerce established in 1901.
This agency is dedicated to advancing standards and technology around measurement science. Again, you are probably asking why do I care; well if you are using or will be using a thermal imaging camera in commercial applications or as a firefighter you very well may need a thermal camera that is NIST certified.
Thermal cameras that have been NIST certified cost more but are essentially guaranteed to produce the most accurate data and information. FLIR offers their As Received As Returned calibration certification ensuring that you get the most accurate thermal images.
This can be essential if you are a first responder using a thermal imaging camera to locate people who may be trapped in a burning building or other emergency situation where visibility is very limited.
If you are monitoring multimillion dollar manufacturing facility or electrical equipment with very tight tolerances it can be essential that all the data being collected is as accurate as possible to ensure there are no breakdowns or damage to the equipment from operating temperatures that exceed the norm.
If you are just going to be using your thermal camera around the house and for small non commercial home inspections then you probably do not need a NIST certified thermal camera and can save a few dollars on your purchase.
What Should I Be Looking For When Choosing Thermal Camera?
The following are some of the factors to look up to when finding a suitable thermal camera:
- Detector Resolution
Generally speaking, you ought to settle for the highest resolution you can possibly afford. You may consider the 60 by 60 and well to the 640 by 480.
A good device should have a built-in camera which is used to capture the normal images. These serve as the references as well as the thermal images. At the same time, these cameras should also be able to convert any image into the JPEG besides e-mailing the same to the clients.
- Excellent Detections
Needless to say, the best camera ought to be able to detect the accuracy within the minimum range of +/- 2%.
- Temperature Range
It is necessary that the right thermal imaging camera possess as wide temperature range as possible.
- Laser Point
For the sake of easier navigation, find a camera that has a laser point.
- Maximum Versatility
The camera of choice has to ideally be capable of combining visible light images and thermal images. To guarantee this, the camera ought to ideally possess the Image Fusion and the FLIR’s MSX Technology, typically present in the high-end cameras.
- Computer Apps
If possible, the camera should have an app that is compatible with the tablet or smartphone you have in mind. This app will often help you in generating appropriate reports.
- Manufacturer’s Warranty
It goes without saying that the right camera should be backed by a generous manufacturer’s warranty. This is to shield you from unnecessary risks and dangers that ordinarily arise in the time of use.
Here Is Our Top 3 Best Budget Thermal Imaging Cameras:
1.FLIR E4 Thermal Camera
The FLIR E4 thermal camera is a rugged device which is hand-held, sleek in design and rugged rubberized finish. It has the ability to withstand falls from 6 feet. The 80 by 60-pixel resolution gives off detailed outcomes while viewing images.
It brings together the thermal sensor and the 3.1 mega-pixel visible light camera. The latter captures high-resolution images which possess greater details. The MSX image enhancement extracts finer details from the camera and embeds the same to the thermal image.
In all, the camera has a pretty wide (45°) field of view. Its fixed focus means you will have to adjust your distance accordingly to obtain the best images. The camera is super easy to navigate courtesy of the one-button controls.
- Wi-Fi Connectivity
This feature allows you to transfer your files wirelessly. By use of the smartphones and tablets, you can also edit those files and send the same to your clients wherever you are. The feature allows for timely responses which save you some bit of time.
- Accessories and Battery Life
It draws its power from the Lithium-ion batteries. This provides hours of uninterrupted services which is sufficient to analyze structures and perceive the alterations in the heat, plumbing cogs, and other pertinent details. It is encased in a transport case which shields it from damages. This is not to point out that it has a USB cable for manual file transfers.
- Warranty Information
Lastly, the camera comes with comprehensive warranty coverage. It is governed by the 2-5-10 warranty scheme which is valid for 10 years on the thermal detector, 5 years on the battery, and 2 years on parts and labor. To qualify for this warranty, you have to register it on the customer care website.
- Wide temperature range (-4°F to +482°F)
- 9Hz refresh rate
- Four color pallets i.e. black, rainbow, iron, and white
- Focus-free lens
- MSX imaging provides further details in the images
- One-button navigation
- Four measurement modes i.e. auto cold spots, auto hot, center spot, and area box
- Great warranty provided that you register
- A budget camera which can nevertheless serve commercial purposes
- Limited resolution to cater for the heavy applications of thermal imagery in building inspections
- Low refresh rate
You have this camera for your thermal imaging details, comes at a lower price, and great for key building inspections. Its compact size and a user-friendly design combine to provide optimal functionality. It MSX technology, on the other hand, helps to generate realistic images which bring about conclusive reports.
2.Fluke VT04A Infrared Imager
On the whole, this camera is 40% smaller than most competitors. It is hence suitable for industrial and home applications. The device is mainly optimized for fragile objects and those that are remotely located.
- Thermal Imaging Features
With this camera’s PyroBlend plus Optics, you are certain to obtain high-resolution objects. The sensor is the 31 x 31 which aligns with the thermal image to give you awesome visual pictures. Other than this, the camera has an awesome field of view that measures 28° by 28° too.
It also you to vary the temperature ratings and sets off the thermometer when the selected temperature is exceeded. You are spared of the need to put in too much attention. This is not to mention that it blends images automatically courtesy of the one-touch button.
Though small, this camera is quite remarkable. It has a wide temperature detection range of around 140°F to 4820°F. You will find it applicable for heating ventilation and air-conditioning systems, mechanical industries, and electrical inspections.
Given that its thermal sensor is uncooled, it takes measurements from afar off. This is not to mention that it maintains higher accuracy levels due to its ability to align visible lights in near and far operational modes.
The camera stores up to 10,000 images due to its possession of 4GB SD card storage device. This combined with its SmartView software simplifies the process of accessing and editing images.
- Battery Life, Warranty and Accessories
The camera requires four AA batteries to operate, unlike the VT04. You will thus enjoy a longer running time of around 8 hours. It is accompanied by a soft case and 2-year warranty.
- Contains quick hot and cold spot markers
- Possesses a center measurement box
- Has six color pallets
- Battery-saver modes
- Auto-monitor alarm
- Occasionally generates inaccurate readings some by as much as 5° variation
- Fluke VT02 vs. Fluke VT04
The former is cheaper than the latter. Over and above that, it comes in a pocket design which makes use of uncooled pyroelectric ceramic sensors to capture the visual and thermal images. It also contains three-blended modes rather than five. They are however similar in all regards.
By its design, it greatly simplifies the troubleshooting activities. At the same time, it brings about professional quality readings and images without asking for any training. It is your best bet if you are on a budget as well.
3.FLIR C2 Compact Thermal Imager
The FLIR C2 is a highly sensitive detector camera which reveals heat changes from -140°F to 3020°F. You are hence capable of picking up the minutest changes in temperature. This allows you to identify the hidden insulation leaks with ease.
Generally speaking, this camera incorporates the detector and the thermal camera to produce detailed images. It boats of possessing the VGA 640 x 480 pixels resolution camera. It further has an 80 x 60-pixel thermal sensor. These two jointly generate images with resolution measuring 320 x 240.
Lastly, it has space for around 500 radiometric images which are stored in the JPEG format. Each image has a capacity of 4,800 individual temperature measurements.
- Battery Life and Accessories
With a full battery, the camera can operate continuously for around two hours. It does have a charger which is easier to plug. Moreover, it also comes along with the useful pieces of hardware which make work easier in the field. To transfer data, you will make use of a USB cable.
- FLIR Software
The camera allows you to add relevant information and analyzing the images courtesy of the FLIR Tools Professional Reporting Software.
This suite is top-performing by virtue of possessing all the tools requisite for showing minimum, maximum, and average temperature information. Other than these, it contains change color palettes and adds spot meters.
- Warranty Information
To spare you unnecessary losses, you have some 2-10 year warranty with this camera. The thermal detector is backed by a 10-year warranty whereas other parts get 2 years. You have to register with the customer care to be eligible though.
- FLIR C2 vs. FLIR C3
These two cameras are the same in many regards. The C3 has Wi-Fi connectivity though. As such, you can stream contents to and from the device wirelessly. The camera can capture more details than most others also.
- Contains plastic and rubber shells which enhance durability
- Packed with the MXS image enhancement
- Operable by buttons and touchscreen
- Supported by the FLIR tools software for the analysis of images
- Generates high-resolution images
- Handles a wide temperature range comfortably
- Has an optional LED lighting
- Cannot transfer files wirelessly
All factors considered, this is not an entry-level model as it possesses features which exist only in the high-end models. These notwithstanding, it does not cost too much. Get hold of it to save yourself some money.
With so many different thermal imaging cameras out there it can be difficult to find the right camera however at the end of the day keeping these three factors in mind can help you narrow down the cameras to choose from.
- What is your budget?
- What are you going to use the camera for?
- How often are you going to use the camera?
Knowing how much you can and want to spend is the most important step. Once you are realistic about what you can afford it’s time to narrow down the camera’s in that price range.
Next, you want to think about what are you going to use the camera for: if you are only going to use the camera to look for unsealed windows or HVAC issues in your house you probably do not need a very expensive camera with lots of advanced features a cheap thermal camera can handle these job. Here is it important to be realistic and truthful with yourself and what you will use the camera for.
Finally, how often are you going to use the camera? If you are only going to use the camera a few times a year in a nonprofessional setting it probably doesn’t not make sense to buy an expensive thermal camera.
On the other hand, if you have your own business doing building inspections and will be using the camera every day for earning your living then it makes sense to spend more money and buy a top of the line thermal camera.