Best Cheap Thermal Camera

Best cheap thermal camera

Professional high resolution thermal imaging cameras, sometimes called infrared cameras can run over $10,000 depending upon what features you want or need.

Native high resolution thermal sensor, interchangeable lenses with auto calibration, extra wide temprature range and advances reporting with built in mics all drive the cost of thermal cameras. But what if you don't need the most demanding specs and all the bells and whistles?

Fortunately, there are plenty of budget or “cheap” thermal imaging cameras that may fit your needs on the market. 

What is a thermal imaging camera used for?

Just because a thermal imaging camera is inexpensive does not mean that it is not capable of helping you with your projects. Some of the most common things that people will use budget thermal imaging cameras for are:

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    Detecting air-conditioning and heating leaks
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    Checking the seal on windows and garage doors
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    Checking for other inefficient sealing within a home or office
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    Checking appliance motors temperature to ensure they are not overheating
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    Automotive applications (engines, cables, connections, etc)
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    Detecting faulty circuits and breakers

How Much Is A "Cheap" Thermal Camera?

Low cost thermal imaging cameras can be divided into two categories; under $1,000 and under $500. Thermal imaging cameras under $1,000 are typically handheld, stand alone devices that have decent native thermal resolution for home use and light professional work. Some of these models such as the FLIR C3 and FLIR E4  have built in WiFi which makes it easier to share and create reports.

Thermal imaging cameras under $500 are typically thermal sensors that attach to a cellphone  and use the phone's display and processing power to capture images that later on can either be saved to phone memory or send them over the internet. The FLIR ONE and Seek Thermal are two good examples of cell phone thermal cameras under $500 which we are looking at here. For a first time purchase as long as you have an iPhone or Android device these can be the best purchase if price is the most important factor to you.

To be clear you will find many "thermal" temperature readers (IR thermometers) on the internet that are not thermal cameras but only measure temperature and display that on an LCD screen instead of an actual picture with different temperature areas shown in different colors.

Budget Thermal Cameras vs Professional and Industrial Thermal Imagers

Below are some of the features that you may find in professional grade cameras. It is up to you to decide whether these are needed in your line of work:

  • Laser pointer for highlighting targets and autofocus 
  • Interchangeable lenses
  • Included Report Generation Software
  • Large Temperature Detection Range
  • High Resolution Images
  • Durability
  • Mic for voice annotation

List of Best Cheap Thermal Cameras

Let's go over at some of the best and highly rated budget thermal cameras on the market:

The FLIR ONE PRO is our best choice for those looking for one of the least expensive semi-professional thermal cameras. It has the same 160x120 thermal sensor and 1440x1080 visual camera which enables the MSX imaging . This thermal camera can fit into any pocket or tool belt making it much less bulky and easier to use than many other thermal cameras; if you need to use a thermal camera in a small or confined space this is a perfect choice.

The FLIR ONE PRO was specifically designed for home inspection, HVAC issues, structural defects and other use cases. It features FLIR's MSX technology which blends a regular image with thermal images. How is it different from the FLIR E4? It does not have built in WIFI and also a higher temperature detection range. 

The FLIR ONE PRO is our best pick if your looking for a fully featured entry level thermal camera.

Features:

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    Super Small - Fits Into Any Pocket
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    Thermal Sensitivity of .10°c
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    Flir Tools Included For Report Generation
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    Focus Free
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    Temapture range of -4°F to 752°F
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    61% of Buyers Rated it 5 stars
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    Prime Eligible
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    Industry leading warranty
best cheap thermal camera

Pros:

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    Good Range Of Features
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    Report Generation Software Included
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    Small Size Makes It Very Portable
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    MSX  does wonders
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    Industry Leading Warranty

Cons:

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    Although it is good - it is not suited to everyday proffesional use
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    Refresh rate could be higher

Overall, the FLI​​​​​​​​R E4 is the best choice for a  thermal imaging camera under $1,000. It is manufactured by a well known brand name in the business (FLIR) with some of the features of higher end thermal cameras such as 3-inch color display, WiFi, MSX image processing and a large temperature detection range. Powered by a 80x60 infrared sensor which can produce a 4,800 pixel image, digital camera with 640x480 resolution - FLIR E4 is easy to use, has a focus free lens, 3 color palettes and a simple navigation.

This is a great thermal imager for homeowners and some professionals who would like to quickly identify issues using thermal imaging technology and have a budget of under $1,000. Large display, navigation that will only take a few minutes to master and Flir's leading 2-5-10 warranty, make this thermal imager even more appealing. We do not recommend this thermal imager for applications that require extremely accurate temperature reading. If you would like to explore recommended models for a particular application, please refer to main menu up top or go to our homepage where we review thermal imaging cameras by categories.

Features:

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    80x60 Resolution
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    Thermal Sensitivity of 15°c
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    Focus Free
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    Temperature range of -4°F to 482°F
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    3 inch display
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    Industry leading 2-5-10 year warranty
best thermal imaging camera under $1000

Pros:

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    Semi-Professional quality camera designed for everyday use
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    Great warranty - FLIR's 2-5-10
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    WiFi Enabled
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    Includes report generation software

Cons:

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    Not the cheapest budget thermal imaging camera
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    Higher end E-series like the E5 (120x90), E6 (160x120) and E8 (320x240) provide better image quality and higher resolution

The Seek Compact is our choice for the best value thermal camera from a well known manufacturer Seek Thermal. 

The Seek Compact is smaller than the FLIR One Pro and does not need to be charged separately from your phone. One of the downsides is the manual focus however it does allow you to choose what to focus on in an image.  The Seek Compact also has a higher resolution thermal camera than the FLIR however it does not have the MSX technology.

The Seek Compact is even cheaper than the FLIR ONE and is a great choice is price is your absolute most important factor.

Features:

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    Patent Pending Technology Combines Thermal and Visual Images
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    -40F To 626F Tempature Range
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    206 x 156 thermal sensor resolution
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    Manual Focus
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    Capture Visual, Thermal, And Blended Images
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    Report Generation Software Included
best value thermal camera

Pros:

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    The Seek Compact has many Features Found In More Expensive Models
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    Report Generation Software Included
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    Decent Warranty

Cons:

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    Not a very high refresh rate
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    Manual focus can take some getting used to

Final Thoughts On Our Best Cheap Thermal Cameras:

Technology is advancing rapidly and the boundaries are being pushed further everyday. What you can find today for under $1,000 is an impressive piece of technology that did not exist 20 years ago. Manufacturers like FLIR and SEEK release thermal camera attachments that are becoming more and more popular, provide decent thermal resolution and cost a couple of hundred of dollars. We welcome your thoughts and will try to provide you with the latest reviews as soon as a product is released. Stay tuned!