Thermal Imaging Cameras are used to see temperature spikes behind walls or other solid objects to detect overloaded breaker boxes, missing insulation, and water leaks as well as many other things. 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.
Still trying to figure out what thermal imaging camera is best for you or looking to learn more about them and what features may be important to you? Below you will find some of the more common features that buyers look for in thermal cameras. Hopefully this information adds to your knowledge and helps you in your selection of the perfect thermal imaging camera for your needs. Our comparison chart also allows you to easily see the difference between all the cameras that we have currently reviewed.
Detector resolution is the most important factor indicating quality of thermal imaging cameras. The higher the resolution, the more precise and accurate measurements of small targets are going to be. High resolution detectors are going to provide thermal image details that cannot be seeing on low resolution cameras.
Keep in mind, thermal camera displays might have more pixels than camera detector, but your actual thermal image is always limited by the thermal detector resolution. You should think of it as up-scaling on your 4K TV. Your TV might have 4K resolution, but if the source (let’s say DVD player) is only 480P, you are only seeing an upscaled image.
For home use and simply do it yourself types a range of 14 to 300F is more than adequate for almost all scenarios as this will allow you to spot unsealed windows, potential water leaks, and Heat/AC issues.
For professional use in factories or inspections you will need a higher range such as -40 to +600F as this will allow you to spot check heat spots on active machinery that may operate normally at higher temperatures that 300F.
Like many things that depends upon what you are going to use if for and how accurate you need it to be. If you are a small home or condo owner and simply want to have a thermal imaging camera for checking on heat leaks making sure that there are no water leaks etc. then spending a couple hundred dollars at most will probably be good. One of the Seek thermal imaging camera attachments or the Flir One could be great fit as it uses your phone for the display and to save pictures. The cell phone thermal imaging camera is available on Amazon where you can also read customer reviews. Check our article on Flir One vs Seek to get a detailed comparison between these two popular thermal cameras.
If you have a larger home and know you will need to be doing many repairs and checking on old heating/AC systems or a tradesman that has a need for a thermal imaging camera from time to time then it may make sense to spend up to $1,000 for a semi-professional grade camera that is more accurate and will allow you to zoom in on pictures and identify potential problem spots quicker and easier.
Finally, if your profession depends upon daily use of the thermal imaging camera (commercial electrician, inspector, HAVC technician, or commercial property manager) then it may make sense to spend over $10,000 depending on how accurate your reports need to be and the liability associated with an incorrect reading/report.
Many people also fall into the trap of buying the cheapest camera (or other item) for what they need and they realize very quickly that while it may have “all” the features that they needed it may not work as well as other more costly models or may take them longer to complete a project because the camera malfunctions from time to time, processes slower or perhaps the reporting software is not adequate for what is needed.
A common question is whether your camera needs to have WiFi capability; the short answer is probably not unless you are using the camera daily as part of your business home owners and occasional users probably do not need WiFi capability. While it is nice to have this does drive up the price of the camera significantly and unless you are using it every day for professional use it is likely that you will not get the return on the your investment. You should be aware though that if you are using one of the iphone or Android adapters you will be able to to use WiFi so we would suggest checking these out if you want WiFi capability but will not be using the camera day in and day out.
Over the last few years that has been some fairly good thermal imaging attachments and one that have been created for iPhones and Android devices. While at first glance you may think that these cannot be high quality or have any worthwhile features however that is not the case. The Seek Thermal Compact Devices are highly rated and have over 900 individual reviews on Amazon.
While these are not suitable for professional use or for homeowners needing advanced features for a first time buyer or someone who only needs to make use of the camera occasionally this could be a great buy especially considering its sub couple hundred dollar price point.
The FLIR E6 is our pick for best overall thermal imaging camera with its many features, high quality construction and industry leading warranty from FLIR the E6 is a great choice. While this is a professional grade thermal imaging camera it is still reasonable and available in many different configurations to suit your needs. The E6 has a 160x120 thermal sensor as well as FLIR’s patented MSX technology that blends visual images with thermal images giving you even more details. The E6’s resolution exceeds the RESNET resolution standard which is important for home energy inspectors. The E6 is built to withstand every day use on the job site and it also very easy to use with an intuitive interface. The 9Hz refresh rate is not the fastest but good enough for almost all jobs. Finally, the E6 is backed by FLIR’s industry leading 2-5-10 warranty. If you’re looking for a professional grade thermal imaging camera that will not break the bank the E6 should be your choice. Read our review.
The FLIR E8 is great for professional use giving you the features you need to do your job without breaking the bank. This a higher end model that delivers the essential features that professionals will need for everyday use without being overly expensive. For those of you looking for a professional grade camera, this is a great starting point. Read our review. The E8 has a 320x240 thermal sensor giving it high resolution especially when combined with FLIR’s MSX technology which blends thermal and visual images together. The E8 also comes with FLIR’s report tool set allowing you to quickly and easily generate reports after inspections. The 9Hz frame rate could be quicker but does get the job done and the large 3-inch LCD screen is bright and easy to see. Read our review.
If money is no object (and we really mean that) then the FLIR T1020 is the thermal imaging camera for you. Yes, you can buy much cheaper ones with some of the same features but if you’re going all out this is the camera for you. The T1020 has the highest thermal resolution of any hand held thermal camera, 1020x768 as well as an extreme detection range of -40 to 3,632. The 30Hz refresh rate also ensures you are able to cature clear images even when moving. The T1020 is the top of the line when it comes to thermal imaging cameras.
The Seek Compact is our best overall attached camera. Yes, you can purchase a more expensive one that has more features and higher resolution but for the everyday homeowner or first time buyer that does not want to spend a lot of money and wants a compact camera the Seek Compact is the way to go. Read our comparison of the Seek and FLIR ONE.
As we already mentioned above, besides the occasional home use, thermal cameras are used by professional in industries like fire service, electrical maintenance, etc Take a look at each category and best cameras suited for that particular job.
The easiest way to spot a potential electrical issue is to find out an overheating element. Most electrical elements and wires have a certain temperature ceiling, if a wire or electrical component goes above certain temperature, they usually fail or cause fire.
There are several ways of testing for potential issues, but most electricians agree that a thermal imager is a safe and fast way of detecting a potential problem. An on-screen spot meter can show overheating wiring or component and give you accurate temperature reading. Therefore, thermal camera is an essential tool for every electrician. Need to know what camera you should buy? Here are our top 3 best Thermal Imagers for Electrical Inspections. For a complete list of thermal cameras suitable for electrical inspections, please visit this page.
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. 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 in 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 grad Thermal imaging camera you can detect if there is missing insulation broken areas of duct work or other energy efficiency issues. Without a thermal imaging camera you would literally have to each start crawling through the duct work or roof and try to visually diagnose what the issue was which would not only be extremely more difficult but also take a tremendous amount of time. For a complete list of thermal camera suitable for home inspections, please visit this page.
We all know how devastating can humidity and moisture be to your home. Thousands and thousands of houses are ruined because of undetected moisture damages. Mold is dangerous and can spread quickly if left undetected. So how can a thermal imaging camera be helpful detecting leaks and moisture?
A spot in your home that contains water or moisture is cooler than area around it. A high quality camera can easily detect it so you can start fixing the problem. Most professionals use it to spot isolation problems.
Built in software can easily generate reports that you can send to homeowners for reviews. So what are some of the best thermal imaging cameras for leak detection? Here is our top 3 best thermal cameras for moisture damage:
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 suites and equipment, but they also have another tool in their hands - a powerful rugged thermal camera. 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. Here are top 3 most popular thermal imaging cameras for fire service:
While there are many entry level thermal camera’s as well as miniature ones that use your mobile phone for the display output that only could a couple hundred dollars; there are several commercial grade cameras that are much more sensitive that can cost as much as $10,000. Depending on if you are just a home owner trying to justify spending another $300 or a commercial building inspector looking at investing $6,000 in a top of the line hand held thermal camera it can seem easy to think of these as not necessary and just another expense that can be eliminated however the upfront investment can save a large amount of money down the road.
There are a few thermal imager manufacturers on the market today. Some of the most famous names are: Flir, Fluke, Seek and Milwaukee. We would like to point out Flir and Fluke, since these two companies invested a lot of recources and research in thermal imaging. Besides home products and industrial products, you may also find specially designed products for military applications and aerospace.
It is not an incident that we rank Flir and Fluke as some of the best thermal imaging cameras on the market today.
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 identifying these three factors can help you narrow down the cameras to choose from.
Know 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. For the best cheap thermal imaging cameras, click here.
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 vend ducts in your house you probably do not need a very expensive camera with lots of advanced features. 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 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.
Remember you can always upgrade and using your current camera to partially fund your next purchase.