Thermal imaging cameras. Just a few short years ago these high tech devices were too bulky, overly complex to operate, and far too expensive for the regular Joe to just go out and buy. With prices starting at around $2000 (and sometimes costing more than triple that) they were firmly reserved for government employees or those among us with extremely deep pockets.
But the times they are a-changin! In the last decade, we have seen monumental jumps in the technology. And with these jumps have come huge drops in the price of the tech. To the point where now thermal cameras are priced low enough for pretty much anyone to be able to afford one!
But, the question still remains – How much does a thermal camera cost? And what exactly do you get for your money?
Well, stick around because I have done all the necessary research and have scoured the internet to not only answer those questions but also find all the best deals available right now!
These days, the list of thermal imaging options available to consumers is truly extensive.
From small units that plug directly into your smartphone, to standalone handheld devices powerful enough to be used in firefighting situations, thermal camera equipped drones, and everything in between.
So hang about as I present to you all the thermal imaging options available today, the pros and cons of each system, and how much you should expect to spend.
The Cost of Consumer Thermal Imaging Devices
The price point for different consumer thermal imaging cameras varies wildly, depending on which certain features and specifications the camera utilizes.
These days it is possible to find a product that is more than capable of handling the job at around the $500 mark, with some options being much cheaper than that. That’s not to say that these cameras are as high tech, or offer as much as the units sitting at the $2500 mark – but they are surprisingly powerful units more than worthy of your attention!
There are 2 companies that dominate the world of consumer thermal cameras – FLIR and Seek Thermal. Both have long standing repuations for producing top quality products and have captured the vast majority of the market share.
There are other companies that produce great thermal imaging cameras, but as a general rule I would almost always recommend choosing a unit produced by either FLIR or Seek Thermal.
That’s not to say that there are no worthy competitors, and I have included all the best products available regardless of the company that produces them.
Smartphone Attachment Thermal Camera Options
No part of the market has seen as much rapid change in the last few years than the smartphone attachment thermal camera options. Until recently there were zero options available, but with some huge shifts there are now multiple products to consider!
In terms of price, you are looking at anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks up to $600 or so for the top of the line models.
At less than $300 for the bottom end, these are the cheapest options available right now for thermal imaging – but don’t let that fool you into thinking these are not worthy of your attention. With multiple options available and a range of features on offer, there may be one that perfectly fits your needs!
Seek Thermal has 4 smartphone adapters available, with 3 of them being usable with iOS. Their most powerful unit, the CompactPRO XR, is only available for Android phones.
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These 4 units cover almost all the bases and offer fantastic useability and functionality.
The lowest-priced unit is the Seek Thermal Compact coming in at around $250 with the highest priced Seek Thermal CompactPRO XR costing closer to $550.
As you can see from the table above, the more you spend the more you get! The Seek Thermal Compact offers a 206×156 thermal sensor, 1000 foot detection range and with a generous FOV while the Seek Thermal CompactPRO XR packs a 320×240 sensor, 2400 foot detection range with a slightly thinner FOV.
One of the big upsides of these units is the lack of batteries. They run purely off the phone battery and can last for hours upon hours of use.
FLIR also offers a range of thermal imaging units that plug directly into your smartphone.
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You may have noticed that the thermal sensors have a lower pixel count when compared to the seek options. Seek cameras also offer a wider temperature range, especially when these temps dip into the negatives.
There are some upsides for the FLIR options though. Flir offers multiple “Image Presentation Modes”. The handiest of these is what they dub MSX or Multi-Spectral Dynamic Imaging. By incorporating a visible light camera into the mix, FLIR units capture both a thermal and regular image simultaneously and merge the two, which in turn aids in image definition and makes it easier to tell what you’re looking at.
There are other companies producing smartphone thermal camera attachments, but I cannot recommend any of them. If you are looking for a Smartphone Plugin Thermal camera then I would suggest going for either the Seek Thermal CompactPRO XR or the FLIR ONE Pro if they are in your price range. Both offer a great range of features and can be used for a long list of applications!
To wrap up, Smartphone Attachment Thermal Cameras cost anywhere between $300 – $600 depending on the model you choose.
Standalone Handheld Thermal Camera Options
Moving away from the smartphone attachments, next up we have the true workhorses of the thermal imaging world – Standalone Handheld Thermal Camera Options.
These units come with everything you need in one convenient package and are the go-to for many people looking to buy their first thermal camera.
Prices range immensely here, as does functionality. The more budget-friendly options can set you back around $450, but the more advanced units can go for a fair bit more than this. Let’s have a look at a few of the best options available right now!
Designed for the rough and tumble of an everyday workplace, these are well-designed thermal cameras perfectly suited for builders, plumbers, electricians, DIYers, and even just as a home addition.
Just like the FLIR One Pro, the FLIR C-Series combine a powerful optical lens with an infrared imager to produce MSX images that are easy for anyone to read and understand, no matter your experience.
There are a few options but let’s just look at 2 of them – The cheaper FLIR C3-X which retails for about $450 or the FLIR C5 which tips the scale at around $700.
Both come with 3-inch touch screens that are well made and easy to interface with, can store up to 550 images onboard, and are fully weather and waterproof. The C5 comes with wifi capabilities, a slightly better thermal sensor, and a bigger battery.
Both units are great at what they do, and you can find the C5 here:Amazon product
and the C3-X here:Amazon product
Seek Shot Series
The Seek Shot series are the direct competitors to the FLIR C range, and they definitely put up a serious fight!
Again, let’s look at the 2 best options from the range.
First up, let’s take a look at the Seek Shot. This is the lower priced of the two, but still comes with a super powerful 206 x 156 thermal sensor, a wide 36° field-of-view lens, and Seek’s proprietary “ seekfusion” technology.
Seekfusion is essentially the same as FLIR’s MSX tech, and combines a thermal image with a regular photo to make fault finding and diagnostics a whole lot easier! There is also a range of new on-board thermography tools, and you easily and quickly create time-saving reports on the spot thanks to the spot measurements and temperature boxes.
Then we have the Seek ShotPro. This has all the same great features as the Seek Shot, but with some boosted specs and a few handy additions.
The thermal sensor in this bad boy is a huge 320 x 240 pixels, and the touchscreen is 640 x 480. These two combined produce crystal clear results and make diagnostics a breeze! The battery has also been boosted (4+ hours of continuous use), and there is live wifi streaming available.
Out of the four handhelds, I would recommend the Seek ShotPro as it has the best sensor resolution, battery life, and is built to last a lifetime!
The Shot can be found hereAmazon product
The ShotPro can be found right hereAmazon product
But hold up! We are not finished with handhelds just yet!
Both companies have multiple other options. From ruggedized, worksite ready units such as the Seek Thermal Revealpro and the FLIR 87501-0101 up to firefighter ready options like the Seek Reveal FirePRO X and the FLIR K33. These options can set you back anywhere from $500 to $1500.
Other Thermal Imaging Camera Devices
More and more we are seeing thermal imaging sensors being fitted onto a range of different devices for differing uses.
From thermal imaging drones, to security cameras with thermal sensors onboard, thermal bio scanners, thermal imaging binoculars and monoculars, and even rifle scopes with thermal capabilities – it seems every year we see new units with thermal capabilities hitting the market!
If you are hunting for a thermal enabled security system there are a few options at your disposal which range wildly in price. The FLIR Systems M232 tips the scale at just over $3300, but there are a lot of budget friendly options also available although these may not be true thermal imaging.
Thermal drones are quite new to the consumer market, and as such they are still pretty expensive. The pick of the bunch is the Parrot Thermal Drone 4K. This cutting edge thermal drone features a dual camera setup and delivers truly stunning 4K vision with 3X zoom capabilities. Expect to part with about $2500 if you want to grab one of these.
- This Certified Refurbished product is tested and certified to look and work like new. The refurbishing process includes functionality testing, basic cleaning, inspection, and repackaging. The product...
- Convenient audio controls adjust volume
- QuickPair technology for fast set up
- On-off switch to save battery when needed
- Convenient audio controls adjust volume; QuickPair technology for fast set up; On-off switch to save battery when needed
True thermal binoculars are not for the faint of heart, with units costing in the couple of thousand dollar region. My favorite set is the
- Ultra Sensitive Next Gen Sensor With A 60Hz Refresh Rate Provides Long-Range Performance Like Never Before, Helping You Detect Heat Signatures
- Color Modes Displays Moving Objects In Your Preferred Color Settings E.G. Black Hot, White Hot And More
- Built-In Laser Rangefinder Ranges Target Distance Down To A Yard For Precise Measurements Up To A 1000 Yards
- Ballistic Information Exchange Enabling The User To Range The Target And Transfer Ballistics Data To Your Atn Rifle Scope Resulting In Quick Point Of Impact Adjustments
It is possible to pick up a thermal imaging monocular at a much cheaper price. The
And for any avid hunter among us, the introduction of thermal imaging scopes is a true game changer! The
Thermal Imaging Cameras Explained
Thermal imaging cameras can capture images of heat (or thermal energy) and convert those images into the visible light range that we humans are able to interpret. In layman’s terms, they capture the temperature of everything and anything they are pointed at and convert that data into a sight picture that allocates a different color or shade for different temperatures.
Usually, the redder the color displayed, the hotter the target is. The bluer, the colder the target is. Simple, right?
Inside the camera
Thermal cameras contain a lens, the thermal sensor, the electronics for image processing, and the housing or chassis and use internal measuring devices called microbolometers. These microbolometers are what record the temperature and assign a color to each pixel to represent the sight image.
Every single pixel has its own microbolometer, which is why the resolution of thermal imaging camera sensors may seem very low, especially when compared to other modern devices such as TVs or DSLR cameras.
The most important specifications to consider before purchasing a thermal imaging camera are:
- The sensor resolution
- The display resolution
- The FOV (field of view)
- The thermal sensitivity
- The sensitivity, stability, and temperature range
- The frame rate
- The build quality or durability
Sensor and Display Resolution
Top-of-the-range models may offer HD thermal resolution, but these units are still prohibitively expensive. Most consumers targeted units are in the range of 160×120 to 320×240.
This specification should be the main driving force over which camera you decide to buy. The higher the resolution, the higher the price of the camera.
If you are wanting a thermal imaging camera for use around the house then one with a 160×120 sensor will most probably work absolutely fine. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a unit to use for electrical fault finding or gas leaks you may want to consider one of the 320×240 sensor options.
Keep in mind that some of the companies out there are sneaky, and try to trick unwitting consumers by using an HD display (720×1080) and plastering the advertising with this number. Always be careful to check that the number you are referencing is the sensor resolution and not the display resolution.
It’s important to check the spectral range of any thermal camera you are considering to purchase.
The vast majority of consumer thermal cameras are classed as longwave and are set up to detect the spectral range from 8µm to 14µm. These cameras are perfect for most applications, with one exception.
Gas detection cameras are a specific type of thermal imaging tech. They capture a smaller spectral range of 3µm to 5µm and are classed as midwave.
Remember, no one single specification will give you a full and clear indication of the strength of a thermal camera. It’s all about finding that product that does a good job of balancing it all. Luckily, there are multiple options available!
Thermal Imaging Applications
The potential list of applications for thermal cameras is almost never-ending. They were first developed for military surveillance and observation tasks, but are now widely used across a wide range of industries.
The most common applications of thermal imaging in day to day industry are:
- Electrical maintenance.
- Heating and cooling maintenance (AC).
- Fire and rescue.
- Automotive repair.
- Gas leak detection.
- Public health
- Animal welfare
- Pest control
The Wrap Up
So, what have we learned?
Well first up, thermal imaging cameras come in a vast array of units for a huge amount of varied applications.
They can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred bucks up to a tens of thousands, depending on what sort of capabilities you are looking for.
But one thing is for certain. If you are looking to get your hands on a thermal imaging camera then the time is now.
There are just so many fantastic options available right now that there really has never been a better time to grab that thermal camera you have been dreaming of!