Best Cheap Thermal Camera

What is the best cheap thermal imaging camera?

While professional thermal imaging cameras, sometimes called heat cameras can run over $10,000 depending upon what features you want or need there are also many budget or “cheap” thermal imaging cameras that may fit your needs. Cheap thermal imaging cameras typically cost less than $1,000 (such as the FLIR E4) and some even under $500 (such as the FLIR ONE PRO) . While these cameras do not have all the features or the highest resolution of premium thermal imaging cameras they are perfect for hobbyists and homeowners who do not need all the extra features and would like to save some money.

iPhone and Android users also have the option of using a thermal imaging camera that connects to their phone. We have chosen two of  these modles FLIR ONE Pro and the SEEK Thermal for our best cheap thermal cameras becuse of the quality you get for the money. You can find more information on these two attachments as well as a comparison between just these thermal cameras on this page.

We have identified what we feel are the 3 best budget “cheap” thermal imaging cameras below:

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

Budget Thermal Cameras Comparison Chart


FLIR E4 - Best Thermal Camera Under $1,000

Flir E4 Camera Review
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    WiFi Enabled​​​​
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    80 x  60 Infrared resolution
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    -4° To 482° F Temperature Range
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    Fully Automatic & Focus Free
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    MSX Image Enhancement System
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    2 meter drop protection
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    Industry leading FLIR's 2-5-10 Warranty
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    Report Creation Software Included
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    4 Hours of battery life

FLIR ONE PRO - Best Cheap Thermal Camera

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    Iphone & Android Compatible
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    160 x  120 Infrared resolution
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    -4° to 752° F Tempature Range 
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    MSX Image Enhancement System
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    Wide FOV
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    FLIR 2-10 Warranty
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    43 Degree Field Of View
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    Can Stream Video
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    1 Hours of battery life

Seek Compact - Best Value & Runner-up

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    206 x 156 Infrared resolution
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    -4° to 626° Temperature Range
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    Image Blending Technology Makes Problem Identification Easier
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    36 Degree Field Of View
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    Hard Carrying Case
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    1000 Ft. Detection Distance

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; in fact, many people spend too much money on a thermal camera thinking that they need a thermal camera built for professional use when in fact they could have easily have bought a much cheaper one that is more than adequate for their use.

Budget thermal imaging cameras are best suited for home owners or hobbyists that only need a thermal camera occasionally. For those people who are going to be using their thermal camera in their job every day or need wide and precise temperature reading should either look for imagers with higher specs or make sure that a budget thermal camera will meet their needs and has all the features that they will need.

Some of the most common things that people will use cheap thermal imaging camera's 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
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    Many others

What to Expect In a Budget "Cheap" Thermal Imaging Camera?

Cheap heat cameras or thermal imaging cameras as they are better known can still come with many features but they will certainly not have all the bells and whistles of premium thermal imaging cameras.

FLIR E4 has a thermal sensor as well as a regular photo camera. Using the FLIR's unique MSX technology, you will be able to see a bland of an infrared image as well as the regular image on the built in 3 inch color screen. Don't expect a super high resolution sensor on cameras under $1,000 but the FLIR E4 does a great job with the 80 x 60 infrared resolution. Focus free operation and simple menu makes it a very easy camera to use on daily basis. 

The FLIR ONE PRO has some similar specifications to the FLIR E4. It has a 160x 120 infrared sensor which is higher than the E4, and same 9 Hz refresh rate. The object temperature range is better than the E4 (-4°F - 752° F on the ONE PRO vs -4°F - 482°F on the E4). The E4 comes with a shock protecting body (up to 2 meter drop) and twice the battery life (4 hours vs 2 hours of operating time).

The below features will most likely NOT be included in a cheap heat camera.

  • 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

How much do they cost?

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 hand held, stand alone devices that have decent resolution for home use and some features. Some of these models such as the FLIR C3 and FLIR E4  have built in WiFi which is a huge plus.

Thermal imaging cameras under $500 are typically thermal sensors that attach to your 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. Read our comparison of the FLIR ONE and Seek cameras 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.

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!