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 C2) . 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 buying a thermal imaging camera that connects to their phone. These are relatively cheap and may be all that you need. Some of the popular models are the FLIR ONE Pro and the SEEK Thermal XR. You can find more information on these two attachments as well as a comparison between the two on this page. However, in this article, we would like to go over stand alone thermal cameras (dedicated devices) vs attachments like the Seek Compact or the Flir One.
We have identified what we feel are the 3 best budget “cheap” thermal imaging cameras below.
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:
We review some of the most popular budget thermal imaging cameras below; hopefully they will help you select the best thermal camera for you.
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 C2 by FLIR has very similar specifications to the FLIR E4. It has the 80 x 60 infrared sensor, same 9 Hz refresh rate and the same 3 inch 320 x 240 cold LCD. The object temperature range is not as wide as the E4 (14F - 302 F on the C2 vs -4F - 482F 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). To get the built in WIFI, you will need to get the C3 model. Overall, if you prefer the smaller body, get the FLIR C2 or the FLIR C3. If you need shock protection, wider temperature range and longer battery life, E4 is your choice.
The below features will most likely NOT be included in a cheap heat 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 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. 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.
The FLIR C2 is our best choice for those looking for one of the least expensive semi-professional thermal cameras. It has the same 80x60 thermal sensor and 640x480 visual camera as the Flir E4 in a very small form factor. This thermal camera can fit into almost 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 C2 was specifically designed for home inspection, HVAC issues, structural defects and other use cases. It features Flirs MSX technology (blend regular image with thermal image), has a bright 3 inch display and a built it LED flash. How is it different from the FLIR E4? It does not have built in WIFI (even though there is a Micro USB for file/data transfer) and has a lower temperature detection range compared to the FLIR E4; only 302F. Not having WiFi makes it little more difficult to transfer images however you can upgrade to the C3 (review here) which does have WiFi.
Ultimately, if you are okay not having WiFi and a lower temperature detection range, this is a great thermal camera for under $500.
Overall, the FLIR 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.
The Dewalt DCT416 is our choice for the best value thermal camera from a well known manufacturer DeWalt. It belongs to the 12V series line up and most of you will recognize that body and the colors. It comes with a carrying/storage case, fast charger, micro SD card, and a report writing software.
Dewalt DCT 416 blends the thermal and visual image together giving it a clearer image. The blending is adjustable from 100% thermal only to 100% visual only (with 25% increments). In fact, because the thermal imager resolution is so low ( only 15x15), it has to rely on regular camera to reconstruct the image for you. This may be good enough for home owners, but definitely not good enough for most professionals. We would recommend stepping up to FLIR E4 if you need a higher resolution sensor for work. The temperature range is almost identical to the E4.
DeWalt DCT416 has a 2.2" screen (smaller than Flir E4) but comes with 5 built in color pallets (iron bow, white hot, black hot, rainbow and high contract). The battery is good for up to 10 hours of operating time, and the body is not drop proof (unlike the E4). In the end if price is the deciding factor in buying a full size thermal imaging camera with quality features the Dewalt DCT416S1 is a good choice.
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!