Professional thermal imaging cameras, sometimes called infrared cameras can run over $10,000 depending upon what features you want or need.
Native high resolution sensor, interchangeable lenses with auto calibration, extra wide temprature range and advances reporting with built in mics all drive up 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 cheap thermal imaging cameras for are:
How Much Is A Cheap Thermal Camera?
Budget 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 C5 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 mobile phone thermal imaging 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.
The 10 Best Cheap Thermal Cameras
206 x 156
-40° to 626°F
32 x 32
-4° to 572°C
220 x 160
4°F to 572°F
pocket all in one
60 x 60
-4•F to 572°F
160 x 120
-4°F to 752°F
220 x 160
-4 to 572 °F
pocket all in one
160 x 120
13° to 716°F
320 x 240
160 x 120
-4°F to 752°F
pocket all in one
80 x 60
–4°F to 482°F
Let's go over at some of the best and highly rated cheap thermal imaging cameras on the market:
1. Seek Compact Thermal Imager
Get into the unseen world with the Seek Thermal Imager. A smartphone thermal imaging device that when connected transforms iOS and Android smartphones into a thermal imager.
This model depends on the screen size and battery life of your mobile phone, but other than that, it is powerful, accurate, and important in thermal applications.
Thermal Imaging Features:
At the heart of the Seek thermal imaging camera is a 206 x 156 thermal sensor. It can identify specific heat sources after you connect it to your mobile phone. The thermal sensor can detect heat radiation through walls as well as heat signatures in total darkness. It is a professional model that is ideal for identifying air leaks, electrical hazards, clogged pipes, etc. and can be used for light commercial use.
Seek Thermal has a working range from of up to 1000ft. It lets you maintain a safe distance from dangerous equipment and areas like a house engulfed in a fire. This way, you can stay safe and get your work done more efficiently.
The Seek Compact thermal imaging camera uses a 36-degree field of view. It is a common feature in thermal imaging cameras in this class. This is because it helps to reveal heat sources over a wide area which is most useful in outdoors situations since you can see further.
Apart from recording photos, you can also record videos which are more revealing. When you want to know the story that an electrical line is telling you, a video helps to follow a path making it easy to identify a problem. It has a 9Hz refresh rate used for steady images however tracking faster moving objects or targets will cause blurry images.
Being compact and small, the Seek thermal imager is stored in a hard carry case that is waterproof and impact resistant. The storage case is pocket size so you can carry it discretely and it weighs very little.
The Seek Compact thermal imager connects using your phone’s charging port. It is compatible with iPhone and Android mobile phones.
The Seek Compact has an adjustable focus lens that gives you the flexibility of viewing images from as close as 6 inches up to 1000ft. It makes a shutter sound that lets you know when you take a still photo. Its images might be a little bit skewed when used in bright outdoor conditions, so you are better in a shaded environment or in low light.
This thermal imaging camera includes a free mobile app. It helps to analyze footage and the images you take for a better understanding. It also makes it easy to control the camera features like the color palettes and the scene modes. Color palettes include black and white, cool, and Tyrian while the scene modes are the spot and high/low displays. This way, you can customize the scene according to the conditions and your requirements.
Seek covers the Compact thermal imaging camera with a one-year warranty for any defects that are as a result of Seek.
2. Perfect Prime IR0001 Thermal Imager
The Perfect Prime IR0001 is a unique and versatile thermal imaging camera with simple features.
If you want to identify heat loss, moisture, intrusion, and other structural defects that are resulting in heat or air-conditioning loss, you will be happy with this brand. It is also a great choice for car mechanics. It is a budget-friendly model with adjustable features to bring thermal imaging accuracy into needed situations.
Thermal Imaging Features:
The IR0001 features a 32 x 32 thermal sensor which is a lower resolution however at the price point of this thermal imaging camera that is to be expected. It can deliver contrasted and detailed images with up to 1024 pixels. This will eliminate all the guesswork when reading results as you can tell the hot and cold spots in an instant. You can take measurements in the temperature range of -20° to 300° C. This makes it possible to use it around hot equipment in an industrial setting or even check the temperature of your food in the fridge.
With a temperature accuracy of +/-2 degrees, it is hard to miss a thing with this thermal camera. It captures thermal images with its 6GHz refresh rate. While not suitable for tacking faster moving objects it is fast enough for stationary images and slow moving ones.
The IR0001 boasts an ergonomic handle that is simple to use even in outdoor conditions. The brand wants to keep it simple that is why you have only one shutter button and six other buttons to operate the camera intuitively.
You will like that you can view the thermal images on a 2.4-inch full angle LCD screen that has a visible resolution of 0.3MP. It can save the pictures on a 4GB SD card that comes with the unit. The saved images form the basis of analysis since you can transfer them to your computer for an in-depth look. While it would be nice if the screen had a higher resolution this is a budget thermal camera and it gets the job done.
Battery Life and Warranty:
The Perfect Prime IR0001 showcases reliability in the field thanks to the use of four AA batteries. They are easy to pop out when changing them which means you will never have to rely on a charger.
We do like that this camera has a warranty of two years on all the parts. We would have loved if the thermal sensor had an extended warranty. Either way, the Perfect Prime has a decent warranty length for a very cheap thermal camera.
3. HTI-Instruments HT-A1 Pocket Thermal Camera
The HT A1 thermal imaging camera has an extremely high resolution, pixel rate and image quality. This IR camera has sharp detail with 35,200 (220x160) pixel infrared resolution and 640x480 (300,000 pixels) visual camera resolution. The refresh rate for the HT-A1 camera is 9Hz. which is suitable for many types of detection and measurement.
Temperature Measurement Range:
To detect subtle temperature differences the camera has a temperature measurement range of -20°C-300°C (-4°F-572°F). The thermal sensitivity is ±2°C or 2% to help professionals identify hot or cold patterns resulting from structural defects, plumbing issues and other invisible trouble spots.
The thermal sensitivity of the camera is 0.07°C which creates an entirely new level of awareness for professionals when working on a project. Professionals have quality viewing options that allow the user to adjust the step length by 25% with allows the thermal image to overlaid on the visual image which adds additional detail. The emissivity can also be adjusted from 0.01 to 1.0.
The Storage Space:
HTI Instrument’s HT-A1 thermal imaging camera has a built-in 3Gb card that allows you to store up to 2 million images, although although these will be lower res images if you save that many. You’re able to work on myriads of projects by creating folders to store your images. This feature makes it easy to retrieve the images for viewing quickly and easily for each project you work on.
Use the camera’s USB port to connect your device to a laptop or PC so you can create more detailed reports on your projects. The file format is JPG which is compatible with any computer or laptop.
This thermal camera has a full-featured color display screen allowing you to detect the temperatures of different objects easily. There’s an option of five different effective color palettes for a better detailed display of the target. The color palettes are as follows: Rainbow, Iron oxide red, Cold color, Black and white, and White and black.
The HTA1 thermal imaging camera has a 3.2” full-color display screen with a 220x160 screen resolution. The camera screen also has full TFT (thin film transistor) to accompany the high-resolution detailed imagery.
For a compact and streamlined design, the HT-A1 device has the compact dimensions of 140mm×80mm×28mm for easy storage. The camera weighs less than half a pound (208g,) so it won't weigh you down on those busy days on the job.
There’s also a 2.0 USB port for charging capabilities and to connect the device with a laptop or PC.
Battery life for HT-A1:
HT-A1 has a built-in rechargeable 1800 battery that can be charged through a PC, laptop or wall plug. The device will also power off automatically when not in use. Pick a timeline from five minutes to 20 minutes. The automatic shut off helps preserve battery life when the camera is not in use.
You get a two-year warranty against factory defects on the device. So if you’re experiencing any problems you can get it exchanged or fixed hassle free.
4. Pyle UPTIMGCM83 Infrared Thermal Imager
The beauty of handheld thermal imaging cameras is that you don’t need any specialized training to know what the screen is telling you. The Pyle Infrared IR Thermal Imaging Camera is at the center of the competition in this market.
Thermal Imaging Features:
Pyle utilizes a digital, fixed focal, thermal sensor that offers detailed readings that are accurate for HVAC and electrical inspections. The device has a 2.4-inch digital display that lets you see the images in grey, iron red, high contrast, and rainbow color palettes. You can preview and delete the pictures using the digital LCD screen.
This device uses a simple point-and-shoot design where you only need to point the camera to the point of interest and press the shutter button in one click. It comes with a 4GB SD memory card that allows you to store the images. It can also take larger SD cards up to 16GB.
With a detecting temperature range from -4°F to 572°F, this thermal imager is applicable in a variety of situations from building projects to repair, and maintenance jobs. It displays the hottest and coldest parts on the screen to allow problem issues to be quickly seen and diagnosed.
However, Pyle has a slightly smaller field of view at only 20 x 20 degrees. It has a fixed focus distance of 0.5m. This means it is faster to do your scans with this thermal imaging camera since it does not require a regular change to the focus system. Being a low-resolution model, you will have to be close to the target image to obtain the details you need.
As a handheld model, this thermal camera is simple to work with and take to the project site. Weighing in at only 12.8 ounces, you will never notice its weight of this camera as it is less than 1lbs. You can even use the included wrist strap when your hands are occupied.
The device has six intuitive buttons. Four of the buttons help to navigate the images, and the other two give you access to the menu and allow you to select the different options like the color palette. And when you are done performing inspections, the thermal camera can be stored in its case for safety.
It boasts a sturdy plastic chassis that will withstand most falls in the field. It is even safe in the hands of kids so if they want to explore the world of thermal imaging, this device is all you need.
Pyle thermal camera operates using four AA batteries. These cells are readily available, and they always come cheap. The batteries can run for months depending upon how much you use it, and it is easy to change them without any tools.
Pile offers a 1-year warranty for this product. Although not nearly as long as high-end models considering its price, it is good to know for a year, you don’t have to worry about the components and the thermal sensor.
5. FLIR ONE PRO Thermal Camera
Professionals, DIYers, outdoor enthusiasts, and hobbyists are all fascinated by the world of thermal imaging. Today, we compare three of FLIR’s top performing smartphone thermal imagers; the FLIR ONE, FLIR ONE Pro, and FLIR ONE Pro LT.
All the three thermal imaging cameras are available in iOS and Android versions. Making them available to use for almost all mobile phone owners.
Flir ONE Pro model is aimed at homeowners and outdoor enthusiasts who like to explore and identify problems in their home without the help of a professional. It can see in total darkness and transmit contrasted 1080p footage; note that this is the visual camera resolution.
This camera is built around a Lepton Imaging Core which has 160 x 120 pixels resolution. It gives you crisp videos that are easy to deduce the right information from, before calling in a professional if needed.
The FLIR ONE Pro connects using your mobile phone’s charging port. It is an adjustable height connector so that you don’t have to remove the phone’s case when you plug it in.
The FLIR ONE Pro operates at temperatures from -4°F to 752°F. It shoots radiometric video images and MPEG file formats for iPhones and MP4 for Android phones. It also incorporates MSX technology which involves interlacing a digital visual image with a thermal image for more clarity.
This thermal imaging camera relies on the battery life and storage space of your mobile phone. FLIR ONE Pro has a one-year warranty.
6. PerfectPrime IR0005 Thermal Camera
The PerfectPrime IR0005 has an IR resolution of 220x160 which is 35,200 pixels. It has a visible light camera with 640x480 resolution. The PerfectPrime thermal imaging camera provides crystal clear imagery so you can have a better detection on your troubleshooting projects.
Temperature Measurement Range:
PerfectPrime’s sensitivity range is -20 to 300°C with a temperature accuracy of ± 2 % or ±2°C. The wavelength coverage is 8-14µm and thermal sensitivity of 0.07° which gives you ultimate clarity when you’re searching for hot or cold spots.
The emissivity can be adjusted from 0.01 to 1.0 so you can easily detect various objects at different temperature levels.
The Storage Space:
With your PerfectPrime IR0005, you get a 3GB micro SD card so you can store all your images from a session straight onto the device. The image file format is JPG which is compatible with PCs and laptops. You can easily transfer your images onto your laptop or PC to manage your data effectively.
The PerfectPrime is a pocket sized thermal camera with a 3.2" full HD display screen. PerfectPrime’s IR0005 thermal camera has a robust streamlined black exterior with easy to use key functions on the interface.
With the keys, you’re able to easily navigate through your camera’s settings and select the functions you need to aid you in your projects. It also has a charging port on the side so you can charge your device easily.
The PerfectPrime has a built-in rechargeable battery that requires no maintenance. All you have to do is charge your camera when the battery runs low. You can use the integrated USB port to charge your camera through a laptop or PC.
PerfectPrime offers customers a 60-day money back guarantee if there are manufacturing faults. But if you’d rather replace the device you can get a brand new product to replace the defective product. Simply send your defective PerfectPrime IR0005 back to the manufacturer and you’ll get a brand new device.
What’s Included in the Package?
A USB cable is included with your PerfectPrime product so you can easily transfer files on to other devices such as laptops and PCs. You can also use the USB cable to charge your device wherever you’re working. There’s a user manual that gives you all the information on how to operate your device effectively.
7. FLIR TG267 Spot Thermal Camera
The FLIR TG267 is designed for identifying hidden hot and cold spots by targeting heat in a specific location. The thermal sensor has an 160x120 pixels infrared resolution. It can detect heat changes in a temperature range from 13°-716°F which is good for a cheap thermal imaging camera.
This is a super wide range which means it can detect heat changes in hot machines and equipment which helps to identify potentially dangerous zones.
We like that it has a 57° × 44°field of view lens, a 2.4-inch LCD screen, and a 8.7Hz refresh rate. It allows you to focus on small details even from a distance. Although we would note that for tracking moving objects the images will be blurry due to the low refresh rate. The TG267 stores images at bitmap (BMP) color images that you can save using the 4GB onboard storage. Onboard storage is also expandable to 32GB. You can transfer the files using a USB-C cable or the SD card to a PC for analysis.
It is super easy to operate this thermal camera. It comes with a printed document to guide the process. It has only four controls and a shutter for the functions. Even if you may never have handled a thermal camera, we don’t see you fumbling with the controls as they are very intuitive. It has a rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery to give you five hours of continuous usage.
The camera comes in a rugged design as it can withstand being in the harshest temperatures and falls of up to 6ft. It has a warranty of ten years on the infrared detector and two years on parts and labor. This guarantee gives a pretty good idea about the lifespan of the product. This means you can easily get repairs if issues arise long after buying this thermal camera. FLIR has one of the best warranties in the industry which is one reason we like them so much.
Using it in the field is also easy with the help of a wrist lanyard. It will come in handy when you need your hands for something else other than using the thermal camera and also helps prevent the chance of dropping it. But it is compact, so it can comfortably fit in your pocket when it’s not in use.
If you are out the elements and are wondering if the FLIR TG167 is going to take it, you can always use a case that is sold separately.
8. HTI-Instruments HT-19 Thermal Camera
The HT-19 now has a new and improved IR resolution of 320x240 and a 640x480 visual camera. This type of resolution displays crystal clear imagery for many projects such as auto diagnostics, home inspections and building maintenance.
Temperature Measurement Range:
HTI Instrument’s HT-19 thermal camera has a temperature range of -20°C-300°C (-4°F-572°F) with a measurement accuracy of ±2%/±2°C. The frame rate of the camera is 9Hz and the wavelength coverage is 8-14µms. It also has a thermal sensitivity of 0.07°C giving you the ultimate reading accuracy.
You’re also able to make adjustments to the emissivity from 0.01 to 1.0. The integration of thermal technology has 25% step length which overlays the thermal image on the visual image adding greater detail.
The Storage Space:
The built-in 3Gb card allows you to store up to 2 million images on your device. You’re able to work on many different projects and categorize them so you can retrieve the images easily for viewing. You can use the camera’s USB port to connect it to a laptop or PC.
By uploading your images onto a laptop or PC you can manage all the data you’ve gathered from a project. The file format is JPG which is compatible with any laptop or PC application.
The color palettes are an important feature on any thermal camera. Different color palettes allow you to detect certain objects to troubleshoot more accurately. There are five color palettes to pick from here such as: Rainbow, Iron red, Cold color, Black and white, and White and black.
HT Instrument’s HT-19 has a screen display of 3.2" with a full angled TFT (Thin Film Transistor) The visible image resolution is 300,000 (640x480) pixels providing you with crystal clear accuracy from your thermal display.
The HT-19 thermal camera also has a 35°x26°/0.15m with a fixed focus mode for ultimate picture clarity. HT Instruments manufactured the HT-19 thermal camera with an ergonomic slip-resistant handle to make it easy to point and detect objects more accurately.
Overall the design of the HT-19 isn’t as compact because of the handle feature but it does come with a carry case that you can store the camera in. The case is quite easy to carry and also adds extra protection to your device.
The built-in 18650 rechargeable battery provides you with two to three hours of device life on a single charge. You can charge the battery through a laptop using the integrated USB port or you can charge it through a wall plug. Charging time can vary between four to five hours.
The device will power off automatically after five to 20 minutes to preserve battery life when the camera is not in use. You can adjust the automatic shut off time in your settings menu.
A warranty guarantees that you’re able to replace or fix your device at no extra cost to you during the warranty period. The HT-19 has a two-year warranty with a 100% cash back guarantee.
9. FLIR C5 Compact Thermal Imager
FLIR has redefined the way we view thermal imaging. It’s now about time you grab a thermal camera as part as your toolkit. These cameras have become affordable without making any compromises on the quality. Today, all eyes are on the FLIR C5 which replaced the popular FLIR C2 model.
New for 2020 this camera is a standalone thermal imager designed for the building, inspection industry and home owners due to its small size. If you are a home inspector, contractor, electrician, HVAC specialist or plumber, this thermal camera is a must-have. It will save your client’s money on maintenance costs as it allows you to see energy leaks, plumbing clogs, and hot spots. This means you get to catch structural defects in time which can potentially help your clients save a lot of money.
Thermal Imaging with the FLIR C5:
This thermal camera uses a highly sensitive detector that can reveal heat changes from -4°F to 752°F. This enables it to pick up subtle changes in temperature so that you can see a thermal pattern that will help identify the hidden insulation leaks. For an HVAC specialist, this is vital as it affects the comfort in a home. It affects indoor air quality when you have leaky doors, failing windows, etc.
The FLIR C5 combines a thermal camera and the detector to bring out details in the images. It boasts a 5 mega pixel resolution camera and an 160 x 120 pixel thermal sensor (vs 80 x 60 pixels on FLIR C2). It’s incredible to see all the colors represented on the images which makes it much easier to identify the issue.
The FLIR C5 stores up to 5000 radiometric images in JPEG image format. Each image can store 4,800 individual temperature measurements which come in handy in the analysis process. New for 2020 Flir Ignite cloud storage is also available.
This camera also includes MSX thermal imaging enhancement. It adds critical details to the image by overlaying the thermal image on the regular image. It leads to instant recognition of temperature changes. This is because it presents a visible light picture and a thermal image on a 45-degree field of view making it super easy to see all the details in the image that you would not be able to if you were only looking at the lower resolution image.
The FLIR C5 has a 9Hz refresh rate . It is ideal for this type of thermal imaging since you won’t be out chasing after a moving target which would cause very blurry images.
Battery Life and Accessories:
The FLIR C5 has a running time of 2 hours with a full battery. It comes with the UCB-C charger, so it is just a matter of plugging in to recharge. You will also like that it is supplied with all the useful hardware to make work easier in the field. This goes for the lanyard where you can hang it around your neck or casually around your wrist. You also get a USB-C cable that’s useful for transferring images and videos.
Analyzing your images and adding the relevant information makes your report more conclusive. That’s why FLIR has their FLIR Tools Professional Reporting software. It is a top-performing software suite that has all the tools you need to show min, max, and average temp information, change color palettes, and add spot meters.
The FLIR C5 enjoys the 2-10 warranty that applies to all FLIR’s handheld thermal cameras including the outgoing FLIR C2 model. The thermal detector is covered for ten years while the parts and labor get coverage of 2 years. You must register your new FLIR thermal camera on their customer care desk available online for the 2-10 warranty.
10. FLIR E4 Thermal Camera
FLIR has a reputation for producing some of the best thermal inspection tools. The FLIR Ex line boasts incredible products from the FLIR E4 to E5, E6, and E8. The FLIR E4 is the cheapest in the line (although for a budget thermal camera it is near the high end) and it forms the basis of our review today.
The FLIR E4 is a rugged handheld thermal camera that features a sleek design in a rugged, rubberized finish. It can withstand falls of up to 6ft making it a remarkable tool in the hands of a contractor who spends their days around hard floors or concreate.
With an 80 x 60 pixel-resolution thermal sensor, the FLIR E4 is capable of capturing images with decent detail when viewing general areas. It combines the thermal sensor with a 3.1MP visible light digital camera. The digital camera helps to capture high-resolution images which makes the photos more detailed.
It even brings in MSX image enhancement which extracts details from the visible light camera and embeds them in the thermal image so that the picture has more information. This way, you can do a detailed analysis on your photos as they will be clearer than normal thermal images with the same resolution. It is a feature that makes this thermal camera useful and on par with models that cost much more.
The FLIR E4 has a 45-degree field of view. It has fixed focus so you will need to adjust your distance according to the target to get the best images. It is easy to use the camera thanks to the new intuitive menu. There’s only one button for the onscreen settings. This button reduces the stress that comes having multiple buttons and trying to navigate around the screen menus.
The camera stores images in JPEG format giving you a total of 4800 pixels in each image. It can save a total of 500 images.
This feature is the change we have been looking for in a budget thermal camera. Instead of analyzing files in the office, you can pick your tablet or smartphone, transfer your files wirelessly, edit them, and send them to your client even before you leave the field. It allows for timely feedback which will save you from coming back to execute repairs at a later date.
Accessories and Battery Life:
The FLIR E4 comes with a removable Lithium-Ion battery. It gives you four hours of continuous operational time. That is all the time you will need to analyze structures and detect changes in heat, plumbing clogs, and other inspection details in buildings.
This thermal camera comes with a hard transport case to protect it against damage. It also has a USB cable for the manual transfer of files to PC.
You will love the coverage offered for the FLIR E4. It is under the 2-5-10 warranty which guarantees coverage for ten years on the thermal detector, five years on the battery, and two years on the parts and labor. To receive this warranty, it’s vital that you register your FLIR E4 on FLIR’s customer care website. FLIR is known for their industry leading warranty length.
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 a 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!