Best Thermal Cameras

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In some cases, improper use and installation may result in a breach of insurance. Even worse, you could be putting yourself or your family at risk as an incorrectly installed electrical device could start a fire. So, don’t risk it - seek the services of a fully licensed electrician instead.

Insulating a house is a challenging job. Not only can the very process of insulating a space be quite expensive, time-consuming, and physically demanding, unless a chunk of cash falls off your energy bill, it can be incredibly difficult to assess the efficacy of your efforts.

It could be that you’ve installed some of your insulation incorrectly, that pre-established insulation is on its way out, or indeed that you’ve missed entire areas with problematic air leaks.

Likewise, you may have spent a lot of time and money on insulating areas that didn’t necessarily need it! 

Best Thermal Cameras

Thankfully, there is a way in which we can streamline this noble endeavor… thermal cameras.

But there are many types of thermal cameras on the market, and some of them won’t be suited to your needs. 

That’s why, after significant research, I’ve curated this list of the best thermal cameras you can buy!

Best Thermal Cameras: Reviews

OUR TOP PICK

With a 320 x 240 resolution display containing a whopping 300,000 pixels, the HT-19 gives the most precise locational readings in this price range, meaning you can zero in on a target, thereby avoiding hours of manual inspection trying to locate the problem area.

You can also switch between 5 color pallets that, once again, aid in target visualization, and thanks to real-time thermal imaging, taking accurate readings from the 3.2” display is a total breeze.

And speaking of accuracy, every single reading this thing takes will only ever be + or - 2.5 °F off the exact temperature, meaning it can be used for multiple pro-grade applications.

I really appreciate the lightweight construction, as it makes inspecting my entire house easy on the wrist and arm.

I found that performance drops a bit if you’re a significant distance from the target, but this is a rather unlikely scenario for normal use, so I don’t consider it a flaw.

Pros

  • 320 x 240 resolution — Accurate placement fast tracks fixes
  • 5 color palettes — Helps identify ill-defined targets
  • Lightweight — Great for long jobs
  • USB — Easy viewing of captured images and footage via USB cable

Cons

  • Range — Quality dips at range, so you’ll need to be relatively close to your target

Also available from eBay

EDITORS CHOICE

Smartphone thermal camera attachments are rarely as good as their discrete counterparts, but the FLIR ONE gets as close as supplementary thermal technology could possibly be to the pro-grade equipment.

Capable of capturing footage composed of 19,200 pixels, it offers very impressive locational readings, making it easier to figure out where problems lie and how you can go about fixing them efficiently.

Thermal sensitivity maxes out at an incredible 752 °F, which means it’s perfectly capable of water heater inspections, HVAC ignition fault detection, and thermal vehicular discrepancies — Not bad for a tiny little thing you stick in your phone’s charging port!

In addition, it uses MSX technology to augment the definition of footage and help you find thermal anomalies within intricate targets, leading to quicker and more accurate diagnoses.

It also arrives with an extendable connection so you can use the FLIR ONE without removing your phone from its protective case, which, if you’re as clumsy as me, you’ll really appreciate. I certainly did during my tests!

Pros

  • Footprint — This thing is tiny. Great if you like to travel light or have lots of other gear to transport
  • MSX — Thermal image enhancement streamlines diagnosis
  • Extendable connection — No need to risk damaging your phone by removing the case
  • 752 °F thermal range — Can be used for much more than structural inspections.

Cons

  • Compatibility issues — Be sure to check this camera is compatible with your smartphone before buying.

Also available from Teledyneflir

BEST VALUE

If money’s no object or you need unlimited flexibility from your thermal imaging tech, then the Enterprise Advanced might just be the perfect option for you.

This compact drone is capable of capturing incredibly detailed 640 x 512 thermal footage, helping you identify discrete targets even through hot obstructions such as smoke.

Bringing a 32x zoom to the equation, you needn’t be close to your target either, so if you’re trying to inspect the exterior of a large building or a dangerous event, it won’t let you down.

In fact, by logging as many as 240 waypoints, not only won’t you need to be anywhere near your target, you won’t even have to control the Enterprise, meaning you can execute recurring inspections with ease and focus up on the footage, ensuring you don’t miss a thing.

Perhaps the thing that had me most impressed during the testing period was the split screen capabilities.

You can observe a target in both thermal and visual modes by splitting the feed, allowing you to identify specifics in record time.

But all this comes at a price, a big, BIG price!


Pros

  • Remote inspecting — The sky is literally the limit. You can inspect hard-to-reach or dangerous areas with ease and without putting anyone in danger.
  • Split feeds — Observe real-time visual and thermal footage side by side to aid in identification and diagnosis.
  • Waypoints — Automated inspections save time and allow you to focus on what’s important.

Cons

  • Price — It’s not for the faint of heart!

Also available from Adorama

RUNNER UP

When your every day involves inspecting construction sites, plumbing, and buildings in a state of disrepair, there are a few thermal camera musts… portability, durability, and a beefy runtime, and the Seek Thermal Reveal Pro delivers on all three fronts!

Fitted with a ruggedized enclosure, this thing is built like a tank.

You could drop it off a rooftop and it would still work just fine, though a drop is unlikely as it’s very comfortable in hand and easy to grip, keeping those sensitive hand joints happy.

In terms of battery life, this thing is unbeatable, and although the display is a little on the small side, the 320 x 240 resolution and -40–626 °F sensitivity range mean you still enjoy premium thermal imaging.

And it fits right into your pocket, which is very handy indeed when getting from A to B.

Pros

  • -40–626 °F — Suitable for inspecting all manner of thermal issues
  • Pocket-sized — Easy to get around
  • Battery life — Will last a full day of professional inspections

Cons

  • Screen size — Can make problem identification hard at times

Also available from Digikey

RUNNER UP

If you thought the Reveal Pro was compact, get a load of this diminutive dynamo!

The C5 is smartphone-sized, so if you're looking for true convenience, this is it.

And despite being only a little thing, it’s not short on fantastic features.

It has the same MSX technology as the FLIR ONE Pro, capable of sharpening up the 160 x 120, 19,200 pixel resolution, so you can pick out intricate details of your target, even among nearby objects of similar temperature.

But in my opinion, the headlining feature of the C5 is the auto transfer protocol that utilizes integrated Wi-Fi facilities to automatically store shots and footage to the cloud, offering you effortless access to everything on your computer.

Other than typing your password into your laptop, you don’t have to lift a finger!

Pros

  • Dimensions — Fits nicely into your pocket
  • Auto transfer — All captured images are automatically stored on the cloud.
  • MSX — Sharp images make identification and diagnosis far easier.

Cons

  • Resolution — Not the best, but MSX saves the day

Also available from Teledyneflir

Buyer’s Guide

Thermal cameras aren’t exactly an everyday purchase, so it’s unlikely that the average buyer will know much about them, until, that is, they read this amazing buyer’s guide that covers all the essentials!

Choosing The Right Type Of Thermal Camera

Let’s get the ball rolling here by discussing the three main categories of thermal cameras available:

Handheld Thermal Cameras

These are exactly what they sound like, small handheld devices that you’ll use for most standard interior property inspections.

They tend to have an ergonomic grip to make long-form inspections a little easier on the hands and wrists, but some upscale models take a slim-line smartphone-esque form.

While commonly pricier than the variation we’ll discuss in just a moment, they do bring some major benefits to the table — We’re talking better resolutions, laser guides, contactless body temp readings, etc.

Smartphone Thermal Cameras

You can also find thermal camera attachments for your smartphone. These peripheral cameras plug into your phone via the charging port and are controllable via your touchscreen.

They’re comparatively inexpensive, but they lack some of the trimmings that make discrete thermal cameras so versatile.

Accuracy is another area where costs are cut with these attachment cameras. Lacking in image acuity and precision measuring capacities, they simply aren’t as advanced as their standalone counterparts. What’s more, they can eat up your battery life in a flash.

Even so, I wouldn’t discount them, as they’re a great option for the odd DIY inspection from time to time.

They’re just rarely up to snuff when it comes to comprehensive, pro-grade inspections.

Thermal Drones

Thermal drones are the ultimate tool for inspecting external areas of a building at altitude.

They’re not essential, as you can accomplish the same thing with a large ladder, a discrete thermal camera, and some spare time, but that’s not nearly as fun.

The downside is that these little heat-seeking robots can cost a pretty penny, but if you’re serious about insulating every last square inch of your home as well as protecting it from infestation and general disrepair, they’re worth that pretty penny and then some!

Manageability

In my opinion, a comfortable and robust grip is essential if you’ve got some serious ground to cover.

Such cameras are typically designed to handle the rigors of construction sites and other professional environments, so you’re guaranteed a long service life.

That’s not to say you absolutely should go for a beefy camera with a huge handle.

Something with a sleek profile that slides easily into your pocket may be more appropriate for what you have in mind, particularly if you have to carry a lot of other gear by hand.

You should also consider the weight of your prospective thermal camera, as you don’t want to be lugging an anvil around with you during lengthy property inspections, and although drones don’t need handles, it’s worth considering the comfortability of their controls.

Thermal Range

The thermal range of a camera dictates what it's capable of.

 For instance, phone attachments are usually sensitive from -4–248 °F, making them fine for general air leak inspections, but unable to detect problems with HVAC systems, vehicles, or water tanks.

For comprehensive protection against all of the above, you’ll need something with a range more along the lines of -13–716 °F.

Resolution

The resolution of a thermal camera is crucial as it determines how precise the readings you can take will be.

Cameras with lower resolutions may be able to detect a temperature anomaly and pin it to a broad zone, but you will be unable to glean precisely where the issue is.

The more precise the readings, the less work you have to do to find and resolve the issue, saving time, energy, and money.

Precision

While a stacked resolution is the key to locational precision, thermal precision is an entirely different ballpark.

In certain scenarios, general temperature readings are all we need, if you’re just looking for cold spots, for example. But other times, precision is everything.

For example, Occupational Health states that a heater needs to be able to heat water to a minimum of 140 °F to sanitize its content, so a broad assessment of the thermals at play isn’t going to tell us whether the heater is working correctly and the water is safe.

Enhancement

There are two primary forms of enhancement you may find helpful:

Thermal Image Enhancement

This handy trick involves layering non-thermal footage over your thermal reading, providing greater contrast, so you can make out otherwise low-contrast images, and, more importantly, tell them apart.

This kind of tech can help you find studs or pipes in your walls, and if need be, obstacles in a dark room that you need to avoid.

Visible Light Image Enhancement

Visible light image enhancement follows the same principles, but the overlay will be low-light footage, the effect of which will be defined outlines, helping you to identify your targets.

Some cameras with this feature may also permit you to customize the tone of the overlay, again, improving visuals on various targets.

A Note On File Formats

As I’m sure you’re aware, JPEG is the most common image file format, so if you want to share your footage and photos with others easily, be sure to check if your prospective camera uses this popular format.

Most will, but some thermal cameras prefer BMP files, which aren’t as readily readable on the majority of devices.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Thermal Cameras Used For?

Although thermal cameras are now commonly used to locate leaks, infestations, faulty installations, and vulnerable spots in insulation, much like a lot of popular tech, they were developed initially for the military and were used as surveillance tools.

Not only has this tech tricked down to professional contractors and the general public, but the emergency services too.

Police use them very much like the military did, and firefighters use thermal imaging to aid in rescue missions.

Can Thermal Cameras See Through Walls?

Thermal cameras technically can’t see through opaque objects, X-ray style, but they can detect the heat signatures on the other side of a wall, which in a thermally dynamic space, may be akin to seeing straight through it.

How Much Does A Thermal Camera Cost?

Thermal cameras have an extraordinarily wide price range. You’re looking at $200–$300 for a low-grade unit, and between $1000–$3000 for some pro-grade tech.

If you want the best value for your money, come up with a wish list containing things you need your camera to do and things you want your camera to do, then look for models that satisfy all the needs, as well as a few nice-to-haves.

Don’t just blow your savings account on the latest and greatest thermal camera on the market, as it will likely be brimming with features you’ll never get any use out of.

How Far Can Thermal Cameras See?

Thermal cameras don’t have a set range as such. Their depth of sight depends on the size and temperature of the target.

For instance, generally speaking, a decent thermal camera might be able to detect body temperature from 15 km and small vehicles from 20 km. Larger vehicles, such as ships and aircraft may even be observable from 30 km away.

Final Thoughts

Instrumental in such a wide range of scenarios, thermal cameras are incredibly difficult to shop. Each can differ so greatly from the next, which is why it’s essential that you use the buyer’s guide in this post to hone in on exactly what it is you’re looking for.

Once you’ve decided on core abilities and a suitable feature set, you’ll find it much easier to select which of the five cameras listed here is the right one for you.