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Finding the Right Thermal Camera

Finding the Right Thermal Camera for Sale That Suits Your Needs

So you’ve decided you need a thermal imaging solution, and now you are ready to choose the best thermal camera for sale.

The thing is, you aren’t really sure what the right technical specifications are, for what you need to do. You know what you want the camera to do for you, but you aren’t sure how to pick the right thermal imaging camera.

Compounding this is the fact that thermal cameras aren't cheap.

They are the sort of investment that can eventually pay for themselves through time savings and avoiding costly mistakes, but you still need to pay upfront. You’ll most likely have your thermal imager for years, so you need to make this purchase count.

Finding the right infrared camera can be an arduous task if you don’t know what sort of features separate the leading models.

Here are the main things you should consider before purchasing your own thermal camera.

What is Your Thermal Camera Application?

If you are in the market for a thermal imager, you must have a reason in mind.

Are you simply wanting to experiment and learn about thermal imaging?

Are you looking for a solution for your job

Do you need an imager for a home project and maybe to keep around the house to help you troubleshoot a repair, later on?

Using Thermal Camera

If you are just curious about thermal imaging, there isn’t a need to spend big bucks on a high-end imager. A cheaper thermal camera like the extremely popular FLIR One for iOS and Android Smartphones has a enough resolution and features to provide everything you need to dive into the world of thermography and handle a lot of small jobs around the house.

If you are the DIY type who needs a thermal imager to troubleshoot issues in your home, then you also may not need a high-end handheld imager, either. Thermal cameras with a resolution of 80 x 60 and a temperature range of -4°F to around 260°F are good enough for most home applications / inspections.

How Important is Image Quality and Clarity?

While all thermal cameras are obviously able to display a thermal image, some do it better than others, and some have added features that provide even more clarity. Thermal cameras that have a separate visible light digital camera built in are able to superimpose the light image with the thermal one.

Thermal Camera Image

This results in a thermal image that has enough physical characteristics and details to help you better identify what you are looking at. Some thermal images can appear to be blurry and smudgy without a visible light photo blended in to provide a greater context.

If you are going to use your thermal camera to inspect and troubleshoot circuit boxes and HVAC systems, then an overlaid digital camera image is a must, otherwise you may not be able to make out what you are seeing well enough to properly diagnose the issue.

How Close Will You Be To Your Target?

Depending on your desired application, you may be far away from your subjects, or very close.

Thermal imagery in industrial areas, or sites that have heavy machinery and electrical arcing are obviously not places you want to be up close, if you can help it.

Capturing Images From Close

Nearly all thermal cameras have what’s known as “distance to spot ratio” included in their specs. The higher the ratio, the further away you can be when capturing accurate thermal images.

Thermal cameras with a DTS ratio of over 350 are a good place to start.

Do You Want to Save Image Files for Later?

The vast majority of thermal cameras can save hundreds of images on a removable SD card, or transfer them to a USB drive. Others can send the files via wifi or Bluetooth connections to other computers, tablets, or smartphones.

Save the Image Files

Some thermal cameras on the cheaper side simply freeze the image on the screen for you to look at, and replace the image with a different one when you are ready to move on.

If you are performing minor inspections around your home, such as looking for minor air leaks or missing insulation in the walls, a cheaper thermal imager that gives you a quick, temporary image may be all you need.

If you need to save files to look at and analyze later, or need to show them to someone else, or need to create a time lapse series, then you should only consider thermal cameras that can store multiple files.

Pay close attention to the file formats the camera captures, as well, so you don’t get stuck having to purchase additional software. JPEG and MPEG4 are the more common file formats saved by thermal cameras today.

How Mobile Do You Need the Thermal Camera to Be?

Do you need a thermal camera that you can easily keep in your pocket, or throw into a tool box?

Not every thermal camera will be able to accommodate mobility. Many of the most popular handheld thermal cameras are the size of a smaller power drill, making them difficult to pack away into a small space.

Seek Compact XR Extended Range Thermal Imager

For some, this may not be a problem, but if saving space is on your agenda, you should restrict your search to models that are intentionally compact, such as the FLIR C2, which isn’t much larger than the average smartphone.

Do You Need Special Features?

All thermal cameras can capture an image, but not all of them are capable of providing certain features. Some of these added conveniences include Bluetooth connectivity, time lapse modes, multiple color palettes, streaming video, and touchscreens.

Thermal Cameras Additional Features

These may seem like unnecessary bells and whistles, but they can be quite helpful depending on what your applications are.

Bluetooth capable thermal cameras are great team tools, because they can instantly communicate with other devices and share helpful information in real-time.

Multiple color palette choices can give you a different context to view the image in if another palette choice is too busy, or difficult to decipher.

Touchscreens give you a more seamless way to control your imager, whether it’s zooming in on an image, or making an annotation to review later.

Learn More

To learn about the real-world capabilities of today's best-selling thermal imaging cameras, read our Thermal Camera Buying Guide.

About the Author Rob Carson

I work in commercial construction, in Dallas, TX.

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