Thermal imaging is exploding in popularity as the technology continues to advance and prices are reduced. From using a thermal imaging camera for home maintenance and leak detection to a thermal imaging scope used for hunting at night there are a multitude of uses for thermal imaging technology.
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 cameras detect temperature variations between objects and use this information to generate a thermal image. Thermal cameras today are commonly used to detect leaks behind walls or other solid objects; as well as checking breaker boxes ensuring circuits are not overloaded, and ensuring that electrical machinery is functioning as intended. They are also used to detect missing insulation, and HVAC leaks. Many of today's model's are compact thermal camera's unlike the large bulky ones of years past.
From a commercial standpoint thermal cameras 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 hot and cold temperatures spike 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.
Here are the best thermal cameras you can buy:
- FLIR E8 - Best Thermal Camera
- FLIR E75 - Best Professional Thermal Camera
- FLIR E4 - Best Thermal Camera Under $1,000
- SEEK Thermal CompactPro - Best Attached Thermal Imager for a Smartphone
- FLIR ONE PRO - Best ProGrade Thermal attachment
- FLIR C5 with Moisture Pen - Best Thermal Camera for Leak Detection
- Perfect Prime IR0001 - Best Cheap Thermal Imager for Leak Detection
- FLIR DM284 - Best Thermal Camera for Electrical Inspections
- FLIR K2 - Best Thermal Camera for Firefighters
- Parrot Thermal Drone 4K - Best Thermal Drone
1. FLIR E8
Best Thermal Camera
The FLIR E8 is one of the best thermal imaging cameras you can buy today. Fitted with a rugged drop proof body and industry leading 2-5-10 warranty from FLIR, it is guaranteed to withstand daily use. The FLIR E8 has a 320x240 thermal sensor which translates into 76,800 pixels as well as FLIR’s patented MSX technology that blends visual images with thermal images giving you even more clearer images. The refresh rate (frame rate) is only 9Hz which does mean that images will blur while moving the camera quickly. The E8’s resolution exceeds the RESNET resolution standard which is important for home inspectors.
The FLIR E8 is one of the most known thermal cameras currently available. The E8 can measure object temperatures from –4°F to +482°F; while this is suitable for many uses; some professional applications will require a higher temperature range as you wont be able to detect temperature difference in machinery that regularly operates above this temperature. One button operation is easy to use and the focus free camera lens quickly measures infrared energy quickly although you do not have the laser pointers like in the FLIR E75 which is a great feature as it allows for quick and precise image captures.
The resolution as noted above is 320x240 which is more than adequate for any home inspections and also almost all commercial inspections. Additionally, it has a 640x480 visual light camera as well which is used to produce the MSX images. While we would have liked to see a higher refresh rate than 9Hz its going to be pretty rare that you will need to pan the camera fast while completing your inspections.
Best Use Cases:
The FLIR E8 thermal imager is designed for everyday commercial use and is ideal for building inspectors, electricians, maintenance technicians and other professional fields that rely on a thermal camera. It also makes a good choice for the serious home owner who knows they have lots of projects that need a quality thermal camera.
The 3 inch color screen has a resolution of 320x240 matching the thermal resolution. The 320x240 pixel resolution display provides crisp clear pictures helping you to easily spot potential issues.
Battery operating time is good at 4 hours of continues use, and charging the battery to 90% only takes 2 hours when placed in the charger.
Pros and Cons:
If your a professional looking for a quality thermal imaging camera to use in your job and want to spend less than $3,000 then the E8 is a great choice. Homeowners with multiple projects can rest assured this thermal imaging camera will have the the features you need for any job. It's high resolution, MSX technology, ability to select different measure modes (Center Spot, Area Box, Auto Hot or Auto Cold Spot), integrated report generation software and FLIR's known quality are some of the best features.
We would have really liked to see a higher refresh rate than 9Hz but given the price point if they had to cut back somewhere the refresh rate is probably the best choice. This thermal imager also probably overkill for homeowners who want to have a thermal imaging camera just in case and hobbyists as there are many other cheaper options available. We would have also liked to see a higher temperature range as the 482°F limit restricts some of the commercial uses of the E8. Read our full review
2. FLIR E75
Professionals in need of the most accurate measurements and flexibility should consider the FLIR E75 thermal camera. It is part of FLIR's new line of commercial thermal cameras that replaces their older E line. The E-75 and E-85 offer interchangeable camera lens options, greater thermal range, thermal sensitivity and a new touch screen display with 160° viewing angle. The high temperature range allows you to see temperature differences across almost all machinery. Aimed particular at streamlining reporting and quickly sharing inspection information. The E75 allows you to make voice notes, automatically tag GPS locations on the images and store reports in customizable work folders. The E-75 is clearly aimed at professionals.
The E75 has a 320x240 thermal sensor providing high resolution combined with FLIR’s MSX technology which blends thermal and HD 5MP visual images from the visual camera together. The class II laser distance meter helps ensure quick and accurate temperature data measurements. The 30Hz refresh rate (frame rate) ensures that you will be able capture images with little to no blur even while moving the camera quickly.
Best Use Cases:
The E75 (along with other other thermal cameras in the FLIR's revamped E lineup) are targeted at professionals for everyday use in HVAC inspections, commercial building inspections and maintenance.
The 4 inch 640x480 resolution display with touch screen capabilities is more than adequate for clearly displaying the thermal images on the color screen.
Battery life is typically around 2.5 hours which is not great but more than enough for most jobs.
Pros and Cons:
For the professional the E75 thermal camera is a great choice and not overly expensive for the quality of the thermal images and features that you get. For the average home owner or hobbyist the E75 is probably not the best choice as your unlikely to use it enough to justify the investment. Read our full review
3. FLIR E4
Best Under $1,000
What impresses us with this model is it versatility and decent thermal resolution for the price. The 80x60 resolution is not the highest we have seen but given the price point of the E4 the resolution is adequate for many different types of applications from HVAC inspections to home and electrical inspections. The E4 is a great all around budget thermal imaging camera that can be used in some professional situations. While this model has since been discontinued by the manufacturer there is still conitinued support for it. They have released a new version of the E4 that includes WiFi connectivity but with the same resolution. The E4 also includes FLIR's MSX technology which blends the thermal image with the visual image allowing for more detail in your images.
If you purchase the new Wi-Fi enabled version you can either connect it to your SmartPhone or tablet, but only via the FLIR Tools mobile app. This is quite handy as it allows you to share images and send reports from just about any location. As a result, critical decisions can be made faster.
As we noted above the IR resolution is only 80x60 which we would have liked to be higher but for the price we understand the lower resolution. While the resolution is lower than others thermal imaging camera in FLIR's lineup this resolution is still enough for a building inspection, leak detection and some commercial jobs.
Best Use Cases:
As you’re aware the FLIR E4 thermal camera is designed to reveal any underlying issues in HVAC systems, heating leaks, electrical outlets etc. These problems can be anything from heat and energy loss to structural issues. As such this powerful thermal imaging camera is best suited for both home and semi-professional use - particularly for electronics, plumbing issues and many other mechanical and building applications.
The value of this thermal imaging camera lies in its image quality. Only when the display screen provides you with clear images can you better spot the problem and deal with it effectively. Thanks to the MSX technology this camera produces high-resolution radiometric images.
The lithium-ion battery isn’t all that great - approximately 4 hours before recharging is needed.
Pros and Cons:
The biggest pro's for the E4 is the cost which is less than $1,000 for a semi-professional grade thermal camera. We would have liked to see a higher resolution and WiFi (although the newer model does have it) but given the price point this is to be expected. FLIR is one of the most well known and respected thermal imaging camera developers.
4. SEEK Thermal CompactPro
Best Compact Thermal Imaging Imager for a Smartphone
The Seek Thermal CompactPro is an advanced smartphone thermal imager and our choice as the best attached thermal camera. Equipped with 320x240 thermal sensor typically found in much higher priced standalone cameras, it generates clear and crisp thermal images. The Seek Thermal CompactPro competes with the FLIR One which is also a compact thermal camera that attaches to your phone or tablet.
With a wide temperature range of -40°F to 626°F, decent 15Hz refresh rate, manual focus lens and 9 color palettes, option to adjuts threshold settings, it really outshines other cheaper thermal attachments. These features actually make the SEEK Thermal CompactPro usable by professionals for occasional use. SEEK Thermal CompactPro is available for iOS and Android devices and uses smartphone/tablet battery to power itself.
For a cheap thermal camera that attaches to your smartphone we are impressed by the 320x240 resolution which is higher than some professional grade thermal cameras. This ensures crisp and detailed images making it easy to to identify potential issues quickly.
Best Use Cases:
While the SEEK Thermal CompactPro is clearly aimed at home owner's and hobbyists that don't want to spend a lot on a thermal imaging camera the above specs are very decent in this price range. Some of the most common use cases for the SEEK Thermal CompactPro include home maintenance, such as checking for leaks around windows, and inspecting power outlets. People looking to purchase their first thermal imaging camera and not wanting to break the bank will also find this a good choice. You won't get all the features such as reporting software but for a basic IR camera that attaches to your phone this is a great choice.
The SEEK CompactPro connects directly to your iphone or android and so all thermal images are displayed on your devices screen.
The SEEK Thermal CompactPro thermal camera uses your phones power source so your operating time will depend on how much you use it and if your phone/tablets battery is fully charged.
Pros and Cons:
The Seek CompactPro has a high resolution, small form factor and low price. This makes it ideal if your looking to buy your first IR camera for light home maintenance or simply want to see what the images from a thermal imaging camera are like.
For commercial applications the SEEK Thermal CompactPRO is not a good choice and the lower refresh rate results in blurry images when moving the camera quickly. There is also no reporting software included which makes generating reports along with the thermal images. Read our comparison of the Seek and FLIR ONE.
5. FLIR One Pro
Best ProGrade Attachment for Smartphones
When you’re buying phone accessories you want some flexibility because everyone uses their mobile devices differently. That’s why its connection design was one of the main reasons this model from FLIR was identified for our best ProGrade compact thermal camera attachment for Smartphones. Thanks to the brand’s One Fit design, you can adjust the connection up to 4mm which means you don’t have to remove your phone’s case in order to enjoy thermal imaging features. In a work environment where mobile devices can get damaged, this is a huge plus.
Furthermore, even though Flir One is only a Smartphone attachment, you get to use some impressive technology. You can measure temperatures up to 752°F and it’s capable of picking up temperature differences easily; even as low as 70 mK temperature sensitivity. This is an upgrade to many other of the brand’s products, so if you want to make a long-term investment, we suggest you give Flir One Pro a try. It can outperform the FLIR ONE Pro LT by giving you four times the native resolution and it measures higher temperature than many other FLIR ONE models.
The resolution of the Flir One Pro is 160 x 120 which is a lower rating than many other products on our list. However, this is to be expected from a device that’s simply a phone accessory, we think? The pixel size is 12µm and the electromagnetic spectrum is 8-14µm.
Best Case Uses:
The compact nature of the Flir One and the fact that you don’t have to carry around other thermal equipment, does make this practical for professional use. You can even look around corners if you sync it to a smartwatch. However, the short battery life of the Flir One puts some limit on its usefulness. It’s ideal for home use since you get impressive functions without paying for an entire thermal imaging device.
Whether you look on the display or work with captured footage, you’ll work with a resolution of 1440 x 1080 which is impressive. This makes for quality record keeping of the areas you needed to check by simply taking your mobile phone with you.
Another handy feature on the Flir One Pro is that you can capture a still image, video or use the time lapse feature. Your image files will be saved as jpeg file format and your videos will be viewed as MP4s.
Battery life is one area the brand may have to improve if it wants to draw large numbers of supporters. You get a relatively short battery life of about 60 minutes. This may not always be enough in professional applications, where your site inspection could take hours. Luckily, it takes only 40 minutes to recharge Flir One Pro and you only need a USB cable.
Also note that the software tends to drain a mobile device’s battery.
Pros and Cons:
Flir One Pro is a winning phone accessory, whether you plan to use it for personal or professional reasons. You get more impressive specs than with many of FLIR’s other thermal cameras and you get it all in a device that only weighs 36.5g. We’re extremely impressed by the One Fit connection that makes for easy use. One drawback of the Flir One thermal imager is that it won’t automatically work on all mobile phones. It’s designed mostly for iOS and if you use it for Android you need at least Android Version 4.4.2. The software should improve as well and hopefully the brand will find a way to increase operating time.
6. FLIR C5 with Moisture Pen
Best for Leak Detection
Not all thermal cameras have to be weighty. In fact, one of the major draws for this model is its slim profile design. You can easily slide it into your work bag or jacket pocket; Plus it’s super lightweight. Thanks to the built-in LED spotlight you can also use it as a flashlight - particularly for photo-illumination. Since it’s designed to provide digital imaging in the background, it’s easier to tell where particular photos were taken. The FLIR C5 also comes optionally with a moisture pen, or voltage pen. These options allow the FLIR C5 to be very versatile for different situations.
The resolution is decent for occasional standard inspections. The 160 x 120 resolution is adequate for leak detection but In-depth analysis will probably require a more expensive camera with better resolution. The 9Hz refresh rate could be higher but again for leak detection purposes this is typically adequate.
Best Case Uses:
The FLIR C5 thermal camera works well for quick structural inspections - particularly any leak detection's to see if there is any moisture infiltration. The C5 is also very compact and can be easily transported anywhere making it great to carry with you if the need for a quick inspection arises. The optional moisture pen and voltage pen allow for a lot of versatility.
For such a small camera we’re impressed with the clarity of the images it produces. This is thanks to its clear color LCD display screen.
The battery life isn’t that long at only 2 hours however the short battery life is due to its small size. The FLIR C5 can be recharged easily via the USB-C port.
Pros and Cons:
Aside from its portability, this thermal imaging camera is very easy to use. It’ll provide you with accurate & reliable temperature information. Best of all it’s a relatively inexpensive unit. For homeowners or hobbyists it can be a great first thermal imaging camera purchase. While this is cheap thermal imager that can be used in a variety of situations its low (160x120) resolution don't make it ideal for commercial applications.
7. Perfect Prime IR0001
Best Cheap Thermal Imager for Leak Detection
Here is a thermal imager for professional use because it can blend both the visible and infrared images. The infrared image is viewed in a 32x32 resolution which is quite impressive. It can quickly turn the thermal image into a visual image so you can swiftly determine the problem.
Together with the Perfect Prime IR0001 thermal camera, you’ll receive an SD card, manual and protection bag. You can store a sizeable number of images in the 4GB micro SD card. This compact thermal imaging camera is a great choice is your shopping on a budget.
With a sensor resolution of .3 mega pixels, you can tell it displays considerably clear images. The remote sensing is said to be both accurate and reliable making it a very effective device - with minimal mistakes.
Best Case Uses:
As mentioned earlier this camera works best for detecting leaks. Bearing that in mind you can use it for a car engine overhaul or for air conditioner repair to mention a few examples.
This thermal camera, in particular, features a 2.4” display screen. Though not very big, it nonetheless displays images in full HD.
Battery life is around 6 hours and it uses AA batteries. We recommend buying rechargeable ones to save money in the long run.
Pros and Cons:
At least you won’t be spending much to own this unit as it’s very reasonably priced. Performance wise, it works better when you’re viewing multiple objects on the color screen thanks to the visible light images provided.
What we must warn you is that it’s not ideal for applications that require detailed images. For those scenarios, you’ll have to opt for the higher resolution cameras. The general consensus is the image quality is not on par with other similar devices. Most users cite it’s too low in quality and some get pixelated images.
8. FLIR DM284
Best for Electrical Inspections
Here you’re not just receiving a thermal imaging camera but the full digital multi-meter for electrical inspections. Sure you’ll have to pay a bit more but you’ll be getting value for your money. The kit comes together with a lithium rechargeable battery pack as well as a flex clamp probe. This way you’ll always have everything you need for inspections. The included multi-meter is great as well and the while the temperature range of 14-302°F is adequate we would have liked to see a higher range. With this compact thermal camera, you can perform both thermal and electrical measurements at the same time. Also, by downloading FLIR software from the brand’s website you can easily create reports, edit, and color change your thermal images.
The 160 x 120 resolution FLIR thermal imager allows you to clearly see exactly what you’re pointing at. While still not the highest IR resolution it is certainly a step up from the 80x60 resolution seen in cheaper thermal camera's.
Best Case Uses:
It’s ideally suited for electrical inspections of a commercial nature. This encompasses anything from commercial to light industrial and everything in between. It will show you precisely where the electrical problem is which ultimately speeds up troubleshooting.
The 2.8 inch display is quite attractive to look at. It’s very easy to read the text and gauge the details of images, which helps when you are troubleshooting.
Battery life is decent (depending on what settings you use) and you should be able to get 6 hours from a single set of batteries if your somewhat conservative in use.
Pros and Cons:
We particularly love the convenience this kit has to offer where handling is concerned. You can carry this all in one tool and enjoy the multiple functions while simply moving around with one device. Another of its advantages is you can pinpoint the exact problem in no time with this unit, making it ideal for emergencies. This IR camera and digital multi-meter is ideal for contractors and electricians. Because of the included multi-meter and specific use cases that the DM284 is targeted at this unit is probably not going to be ideal for homeowners or if your doing commercial machinery inspections.
9. FLIR K2
Best for Firefighters
The FLIR K2 thermal camera was designed for firefighters and first responders first and foremost. With a very high operating temperature of up to 500°F, large buttons and small size it is no wonder that the K2 one of the most popular choices for fire departments and EMS units. This K2 model uses FLIR’s patented MSX technology that’s designed to provide you with the extra imaging perspective needed to make your job easier and decision making quicker which is essential in emergency situations. You can set it up to seven different user modes depending on the emergency you need to handle at that moment.
With this heat sensor camera, you can measure temperatures from a distance. This especially helps you by giving you the necessary advance warnings so you know how to deal with the situation swiftly, even though you haven’t seen it up close yet.
The 160x120 IR sensor resolution while not as high as other thermal cameras is still quite good and high enough for the typical use cases of firefighters and first responders.
Best Case Uses:
As noted above this thermal imager was designed from the ground up for fire departments and first responder's. While it could be used in other commercial applications we would recommend one of FLIR's E series camera's if your not part of a fire department or EMS unit.
The 3” LCD screen with a back-lit screen is very bright which is very useful in smoky situations.
During typical use you will get 4 hours out of a single charge of the rechargeable battery, however in high tempature situations it will be less. You can also hot swap a new battery if needed.
Pros and Cons:
For fire fighters and first responder's this is an ideal choice due to its rugged construction, ability to function in high temperature environments and and large easy to use buttons even when wearing gloves. This should be on your short list if you are a firefighter. The K2 is not great for every day commercial use as you can find a thermal imaging camera with the same or better specs for less money as the heavy duty construction of this unit and ability to function at high temperatures is one of the reasons for its higher price.
10. Parrot - Thermal Drone 4K
Best for Drones
Your Parrot thermal drone kit is one of the best thermal camera and drone combo models on the modern market because you get high tech combined with exceptional user friendliness. We appreciate the brand providing three batteries, meaning you don’t have to put an inspection on hold just because of low power levels.
Your footage will be of high quality thanks to the 4K HDR camera and the tilt functionality opens up more angle options. You can even zoom, which isn’t the case with other kits of this nature. Your footage is of high quality and won’t blur, thanks to a quality gimbal.
It’s not the best resolution on the market, but 160 x 120 is still impressive. The photos you obtain will have 3264 x 2448 resolution and videos, with 9 frames/second, will give quality views at a resolution of 1440 x 1080.
Best Case Uses:
The high quality imagery matched with the drone’s ability to maneuver into hot spots humans can’t, makes this a practical solution for professionals in various roles. First responders and energy suppliers benefit from gaining information as quickly as possible after a problem occurs. It’s helpful for security personnel and anyone doing building site inspections or infrastructure maintenance. You can also consider it for wildlife protection services.
View the images on your mobile device by using the app. The software will show you the feed from both cameras—the 4K HDR with 21MP Sony sensor and the Thermal FLIR Lepton ir imaging engine 3.5—giving you ample information to work with.
You get 26 minutes of flight time with the unit, which gives ample time to obtain information. The bonus is that your purchase includes three batteries, so you don’t have to wait to recharge before taking off again.
Pros and Cons:
This kit empowers users to do much more than before, with the tilt feature and gimbal ensuring quality footage at almost any angle. The three included batteries make the kit true value for money and you can have Wi-Fi connection up to 4km away. The customizable geofence and RTH (Return home) functionality also ensure your drone will always return to you. Unfortunately, the one area the brand should give attention to is customer service and providing replacement parts. They often take their time helping clients and new components will cost you quite a lot.
Things to Look for When Choosing a Thermal Imaging Camera
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 as well as more information about them. Hopefully this adds to your knowledge and assists you in your selection of the perfect thermal imaging camera for your needs. Our comparison chart of all thermal cameras also allows you to easily see the difference between all the thermal imagers that we have currently reviewed.
As we already mentioned above, beside home use to detect HVAC leaks, check window seals and outlets, thermal cameras are used by professionals in industries like fire service, electrical maintenance, the military and scientific areas. Thermal scopes are also often used by hunters for hunting at night.
Thermal Camera Resolution
Thermal detector resolution is the most important factor indicating the image quality the IR camera will produce. Do not be misled by the manufacturer saying that the display is 640x480 but the thermal image resolution is only 206 x 156. This will never produce high quality thermal images. Many thermal cameras will also have a regular camera as well and you have to be careful of the visual resolution and thermal resolution as the visual resolution will always be higher than the thermal resolution.
The higher the resolution, the more precise and accurate the measurements of small areas are going to be and the better the image quality allowing you to see finer details. High resolution thermal detectors (206 x 156 and move) are going to provide better thermal image details that cannot be seen on low resolution thermal cameras.
Keep in mind as stated above, thermal imaging camera displays might have more pixels than the camera detector, but your actual thermal image detail is always limited by the thermal detector/sensor 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 a DVD player) is only 480P, you are only seeing an up-scaled image and not a true 4k image.
For home use and simple do it yourself types a temperature range of 14° to 300°F is typically 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 temperature range such as -40° to +600°F+ as this will allow you to spot check hot and cold spots on active machinery that may operate normally at temperatures higher than 300°F.
Thermal Imaging Camera Prices
Like many things that depends upon what you are going to use the thermal imager 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 heat leaks making sure that there are no water leaks etc. then spending a couple hundred dollars on a thermal imager might be enough.
Small Home & Condo Use
One of the Seek thermal imaging camera attachments or the Flir One could be a great fit as it uses your smart phone for the display and to save pictures. These cell phone thermal imagers are available on Amazon where you can also read customer reviews. Check out our article on Flir One vs Seek to get a detailed comparison between these two popular thermal cameras. Another inexpensive option would be the Flir TG165 with a proven lepton micro thermal sensor.
Larger Home & Semi Professional Use
If you have a larger home and know you will need to be doing many repairs and checking on old heating/AC systems. Or maybe a tradesman that has a need for a thermal imaging camera then it may make sense to spend up to $1,000 for a semi-professional grade thermal camera (like the FLIR E4 displayed above) 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, HVAC mechanic, or commercial property manager) then it may make sense to spend up to or even 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 infrared 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 thermal cameras due to low thermal resolution or may take them longer to complete a project because the thermal imager malfunctions from time to time, processes slower or the reporting software is not adequate for what is needed.
Thermal Imaging Cameras for Electrical Inspections
The easiest way to spot a potential electrical issue is to look for an overheating element as in the picture above. Most electrical elements and wires have a certain temperature ceiling, if a wire or electrical component goes above a certain temperature, they will fail or cause the machine to shut down causing potentially thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage. If you are using your IR camera for this type of commercial application it should also most likely be NIST certified.
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 potential problems. An on-screen spot meter can show cold spots and overheating wiring or components and give you accurate temperature readings allowing to see if they are within acceptable tolerances. An infrared camera is an essential tool for every electrician. View a complete list of the best thermal cameras for electrical inspections.
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 with your naked eye 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 homes AC or heating bill is so high – with a high grade thermal imager you can detect if there is missing insulation broken areas of duct work or other heat loss 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 Cameras for Leak Detection
We all know how devastating humidity and moisture can be to your home. Thousands and thousands of houses and commercial buildings 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 thermal cameras 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 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 and the path of the fire. 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 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.
The Best Thermal Imaging Camera Brands
There are many thermal imager manufacturers on the market today. Some of the most popular names are: FLIR, Fluke, Seek and Milwaukee. We would like to point out FLIR and Fluke, since these two companies invested a lot of resources and research in thermal imaging. Besides home products and industrial products, you will also find specially designed products for military applications and aerospace. It is not an accident that we rank FLIR and Fluke as some of the best thermal imaging cameras on the market today.
Budget thermal imaging cameras vs high end cameras
While there are many entry level thermal imagers like FLIR Tg165 as well as smaller ones that use your mobile phone for the display output that are only a couple hundred dollars; there are several commercial grade thermal imagers 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 to $10,000 in a top of the line NIST certified handheld thermal camera, there are many thermal imagers on the market that will fit your needs. This site was created to help you find the best thermal imaging camera for you!
What is NIST and why it matters?
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 IR 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 multi-million 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.
Should I Buy A Thermal Imaging Camera That is WiFi Enabled?
A common question is whether your thermal camera needs to have WiFi capability; the short answer is probably not unless you are using the camera daily as part of your business. Homeowners and occasional users probably do not need WiFi capability. While it is nice to have this feature, it does drive up the price of the camera and unless you are using it every day for professional use, it is likely that you will not get the return on your investment.
You should be aware though that if you are using one of the iphone or Android adapters you will be able to use WiFi so we would suggest checking these out if you want Wi Fi connectivity but will not be using the camera day in and day out.
Should I Buy a Thermal Imaging Camera that Attaches to my iPhone or Android?
Over the last few years that has been some fairly good thermal imaging attachments created for iPhones and Android devices such as the Seek Compact and the FLIR ONE. These are convenient to use accessories that use your phone display, battery power (in case of SEEK Thermal) and downloadable applications to create all-in-one easy to use thermal devices. Simply attach when needed to take a thermal image, and generate reports using iPhone or Android apps.
While these are not suitable for professional use or for homeowners needing advanced features (drop proof body, laser pointer, high refresh rate, etc), they are great choice for a first time thermal camera buyer or someone who only needs to make use of the camera occasionally especially considering its sub $500 price point.
The Seek Thermal Compact Devices are highly rated and reasonable.
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.
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. 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 non professional setting it probably doesn’t not make sense to buy an expensive IR camera like the FLIR E75. 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 like the E75 or E85.