Top 10 Best Thermal Imaging Cameras

Thermal Imaging Camera

Main Difference Between Thermal Imaging Cameras and Night Vision Devices

Thermal imaging cameras have a wide variety of uses in both residential and commercial applications. For the average homeowner, a thermal camera can help detect points of energy loss, such as poor weather stripping and leaking window seals. They can detect wiring issues behind walls, and identify potential maintenance issues due to overheating motors or fans.

Thermal cameras also bring value to many professional applications. They can be used for preventive and predictive maintenance, by looking for “hot spots” in wiring, fuses, motors, compressors, and a wide variety of electrical and mechanical instruments. They also have value in search and rescue operations, with their ability to detect sources of heat in completely dark locations. This is especially valuable for police and firefighting operations.

If you ask our opinion, these are two most best fitting thermal imaging cameras considering quality and affordability:

HTI Thermal Imager

Our rating:  4.2
 out of 5
 

Pyle Infrared Thermal Camera

Our rating:  4.6
 out of 5
 

The initial development of thermal imaging cameras goes back to the 1920s, where an infrared-sensitive, or night vision, camera was invented for a military application – giving the British a night vision camera for anti-aircraft defenses. The US Military and Texas Instruments worked together in 1947 to develop infrared line scanners, which have military applications even today (Wikipedia.com).

Moving into the 1990s, the focus of infrared imagers moved toward civil applications, as improvements in the technology drove costs further and further downward. Major markets included environmental controls, medical diagnosis, and automobile guidance systems. However, because of their military applications and development, many models of thermal imaging cameras are still under export controls.

While a thermal imaging camera has many similarities to normal digital cameras, there are some key differences. An ordinary camera will detect visible light. An infrared camera will detect infrared energy, emanating from a different part of the light spectrum. As temperatures rise, objects will emit more infrared rays, captured as black body radiation. This can be captured even in total darkness, which is why thermal imagers are so effective in rescue missions, such as from burning buildings where smoke would normally block visibility.

We’ve selected ten thermal imaging cameras from Amazon.com, and, in the course of this article, will be giving you an overview of them, and discussing features available which might influence your buying habits. We’ll then move to a detailed review of each of the twelve, and close out with recommendations on which cameras might be best for you, and for specific applications.

The cameras in the table below are sorted by their ratings on the Amazon site. If the ratings are the same between two products, the more expensive of the pair will be listed second. Prices shown are for the base camera only, with no additional options included.

Product Best Features Rating Price Range View on Amazon
Perfect-prime-IR0005

Perfect Prime IR00005

  • large 3.2” screen
  • high-resolution
  • excellent warranty
  • lightweight

4.9** out of 5

$399

View on Amazon

HTI Thermal Imager
HTI Thermal Imager

  • large 3.2” screen
  • 35000 pixels
  • 3 GB built-in memory card

4.6** out of 5

$410

View on Amazon

Flir TG-165 Spot Thermal Imager
Flir TG-165 Spot Thermal Imagerr

  • 2” LED screen
  • rechargeable batteries
  • 8 GB SD memory card included

4.1 out of 5

$299

View on Amazon

Seek Thermal Reveal
Seek Thermal Reveal

  • built-in LED flashlight
  • scans at up to 500 feet (150 meters)
  • 2.4” screen

4.1 out of 5

$335

View on Amazon

Flir C2 Compact Thermal Imager
Flir C2 Compact Thermal Imager

  • 3”, 4800-pixel screen has high resolution
  • lightweight at 4.6 oz.

4.0 out of 5

$449

View on Amazon

Pyle Infrared Thermal CameraPyle Infrared Thermal Camera

  • 4 GB memory card included
  • 4 color palette for screen display
  • 2.4” screen

3.9** out of 5

$345

View on Amazon

Flir one pro ltFlir One Pro LT

  • сamera only, for attachment to IOS phone or tablet
  • аree app for training, other uses

3.8 out of 5

$279

View on Amazon

Flir One Thermal Imaging CameraFlir One Thermal Imaging Camera

  • built-in flashlight
  • 10-hour battery life
  • 7 color palettes for viewing
  • 2.4” screen

3.7 out of 5

$199

View on Amazon

Seek Thermal Compact CameraSeek Thermal Compact Camera

  • built in flashlight
  • 10-hour battery life
  • 7 color palettes for viewing
  • 2.4” screen

3.6 out of 5

$249

View on Amazon

Perfect Prime IR0002Perfect Prime IR0002

  • 3600 pixels
  • 2.4” screen
  • 4 GB SD storage card included

3.5** out of 5

$220

View on Amazon

** – very limited number (under 100) of customer reviews for this product

BUYING GUIDE

To make an informed buying decision, it’s good to evaluate available features on thermal imaging cameras. Some will be standard on some cameras, optional on others. The same spec may have wide variation from camera to camera. The best way to decide what’s right for you is to look at each of these features, and grade it as either must have (camera would not be useful without it), nice to have (could live without it, but may make sense), or bells and whistles (features I’ll never use).

Specifications are drawn from either manufacturer’s data or the Amazon web site. Not all manufacturers will report the same specifications, so you may need to do further research to finalize your comparison of these models.

Power source and life

Power source and life

These cameras may operate from standard AA or AAA batteries, lithium-ion batteries, rechargeable batteries, or be powered from an external device, such as a cell phone. Some models may also charge from a computer. Battery life will be related to the type of a charging device, and may have wide variation from model to model.

Viewing distance

Viewing distance

Viewing distance will determine how near you must be to an object to conduct the thermal sensing and imaging. You should expect that, as distance increases, detail decreases. Distance also factors in from the opposite sense – you want to stay a minimum distance away from extreme sources of heat, for instance.

Thermal image resolutio

Thermal image resolution

This will be expressed in pixels, with the greater the number of pixels equating to more detail in the on-screen image. Your application will determine the resolution needed. For example, if checking window seal leakage, you will not need deep resolution, while you would if looking for an overheated wire within a motor.

Display screen

Display screen

The combination of pixels and display screen size will determine the level of detail in your final image. Many models will also give you the option of downloading the images to a computer or tablet for optimal viewing size.

Durability

Durability

In many cases, these cameras will be used in outdoor or other rugged environments. Some manufacturers will conduct drop tests to use as one measure of the durability of the camera. Materials of construction will also factor in, where engineered plastics will offer greater strength than some other composite materials.

Thermal sensitivity

Thermal sensitivity

Thermal sensitivity is the smallest temperature difference that the camera can detect. Sensitivity will normally be expressed as +/- a number of degrees in the Centigrade or Fahrenheit scale.

Temperature range

Temperature range

Each camera will have a range of sensitivity, ranging from the lowest temperature to the highest. Some cameras will be more sensitive at the lower end; for example, those used in refrigeration applications. Cameras used in fire fighting situations would need a higher end temperature range.

File format

File format

Many of the thermal cameras will capture the images, typically through built-in memory or supplemental SD cards. For the greatest flexibility, downloads should be in a format compatible with other devices, such as computers. JPG formats are most common for this type of application.

Reporting

Reporting

Some thermal cameras allow you to create and export reports, including captured thermal images, in either PDF or DOC formats. This feature is probably most useful for those using the camera professionally, so they can make a presentation to potential clients after doing an evaluation.

Weight and ergonomic consideration

Weight and ergonomic considerations

These units are typically very lightweight, with several weighing less than a pound. However, if you are a professional, and going to be using the thermal camera extensively, it is wise to consider the overall weight and ergonomic features of the unit. Consider how the unit is held and operated, as that will impact strain on your hand, wrist, and fingers.

Options

Options

Commonly available options include carrying cases (both soft and hard-shell), stylus/pens for touch screens, moisture testing kits, voltage testing kits, and rechargeable batteries.

Field of view

Field of view

Field of view is the observable area you can see through an optical device such as a thermal camera. If you imagine a straight line through your body as you look in the viewfinder, that would be a 180o field of view. Most of these cameras will be in the range of 30 – 50o.

Warranty and technical support

Warranty and technical support

Check the manufacturer’s warranty for the base term, and also look into extended warranties, particularly if you are buying a more expensive unit, versus a low end “throw-away” camera. Check technical, operational documentation available, and look into human support in the event you have questions not found in the documentation.

PRODUCT REVIEWS

Perfect Prime IR0005 – Best Professional Model, Highest Rated

This is not the most expensive thermal camera on the list, but it is one of the Cadillac models. It has one of the larger screens of all the models at 3.2”, and weighs in at only seven ounces. It’s heavy duty, and designed for the frequent use of the professional. It comes with a two-year warranty, which can be extended to three years simply by registering the purchase with the manufacturer.

Perfect Prime IR0005

Features and specifications:

- accurate to within +/- 2% or 2o, 35o field of view (FOV)

- high-resolution images, with 35200 pixels

- operating range 0oC – 45oC

- 3GB built-in storage capability

 - five different color palettes available for viewing

Check Price!

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Pros
  • a lot of features and capabilities for the price
  • thermal sensitivity is 07oC
  • 3” touch screen gives plenty of visibility and detail for the user
  • comes with rechargeable batteries, lanyard, charger, and USB cable
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Cons
  • operating temperature range is not as wide as some other models. Might result in some restrictions to use.
  • limited number of customer reviews, so even with a high rating, detailed inspection and review should be conducted

 

HTI Thermal Imager – Runner-Up Best Professional

Similar to the IR0005, this unit has a 3.2” color screen with the same 35000 pixels display. It also has a two-year warranty, and comes with lifetime technical support. Geared for the working professional, the camera is in a “gun” shape for improved ergonomics.

HTI Thermal Imager

Features and specifications:

- five different color palettes to choose from for viewing display

- built-in 3 GB storage capability

-  35200-pixels display, measuring accuracy +/- 2.5%

- operating temperature 0oC – 50oC

 - rechargeable lithium-ion battery with listed life of up to 5000 hours

Check Price!

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Pros
  • thermal sensitivity .07oC
  • automatic power-off time selectable from 5 – 20 minutes of non-use
  • lanyard, case, USB cable, battery included
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Cons
  • slightly better operating range than the IR0005, but still may drive some restrictions
  • limited number of customer reviews, so even with a high rating, detailed inspection and review should be conducted
  • some complaints in reviews relative to China-based customer service and support

 

Flir TG165 Spot Thermal Imager – Best Homeowner’s Model

This unit falls just below $300, but also falling with it are some features. The screen pixels are 80×60 resolution, compared to 640 x 480 in the first two units. For the home user, this should be sufficient, but might not be enough detail for the professional. Other specifications (see below) are similar or better than the first two units.

Flir TG165 Spot Thermal Imager

Features and specifications:

- comes with an 8 GB removable memory card for data storage

- screen size is 2”; it is not a touch screen

- operating temperature range from -30oC to 55oC

- thermal sensitivity .5oC

Check Price!

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Pros
  • decent 4.1 rating, under $300 price makes it attractive to the homeowner
  • passes a 2-meter drop test, 2- year parts and labor warranty, 10-year thermal detector warranty
  • gun shaped for improved ergonomics
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Cons
  • some users experienced out of the box calibration issues around temperature, especially at lower temperatures
  • batteries cannot be replaced; they are inside a sealed unit

 

Seek Thermal Reveal – Best All-Around Model

Screen pixels are 206×156, so this unit falls in between the TG165 and the Perfect Prime unit. It has a 2.4” display screen and comes with a built-in, 300 lumens flashlight, all at a weight of just over 6 ounces. Operating temperature ranges are not given in the specifications, but detection range is listed at 500 feet (obviously with limited screen detail).

Seek Thermal Reveal

Features and specifications:

- rechargeable battery can be used for up to ten hours

- rubberized case increases protections from dropping the unit

- SD card (no size given), lanyard, and USB cable included

Check Price!

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Pros
  • features and price are such that this unit could appeal to both homeowners and professionals
  • built in flashlight is a nice extra not included in other units
  • seven color palette options available for viewing
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Cons
  • several reviews report unit as inoperable right out of the box
  • concerns also reported about device temperature reading calibration

 

Flir C2 Compact Thermal Camera

The unit is truly compact at only 4.6 ounces, but still having a 3” touch screen with 80 x 60 pixels resolution. The operating temperature range is -10oC to 50oC, with the accuracy of +/- 2oC. The unit comes with lanyard, battery, charger, and USB cable. A 41o field of view is among the best in this list.

Flir C2 Compact Thermal Camera

Features and specifications:

- thermal measurements are captured from 14oF to 302oF, which is a fairly tight range, with an accuracy of +/-2%

- “Professional level” reporting software is included with the unit

- moisture pen, voltage pen, and case available as options

- highest priced camera on this list

Check Price!

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Pros
  • wide field of view gives the user a substantial screen with reasonable clarity, based on the pixels and display screen
  • reporting software is a nice option, offering standardized reporting to support your IR photos taken
  • lightweight for easy transport and use
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Cons
  • fairly limited range of thermal measurement, topping out at about 300oF, where the HTI Thermal Imager goes to almost 600oF
  • highest price camera on the list, but still several complaints about the overall quality and operation of the unit

 

Pyle Infrared Thermal Camera – Runner-Up Best Homeowner’s

This camera has a large, 4” digital display screen, but with only 3600 pixels resolution. Four different selectable color palettes and an ability to switch from Centigrade to Fahrenheit scales are standard. This unit is the first to drop below a 4.0 rating at 3.9, but the price is relatively in line with that type of rating; in other words, nothing exceptional in price or features.

Pyle Infrared Thermal Camera

Features and specifications:

- the unit is powered by four – AA batteries.  Batteries not included

- a 4GB memory card is included

- measurement accuracy +/- 2%, maximum measuring capability 300oC, minimum -20oC

Check Price!

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Pros
  • unit has the ability to preview and delete images on the display screen
  • introduces a new potential use – checking food temperature safety
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Cons
  • no warranty information available. Warranties may be purchased through Amazon at additional cost
  • only five reviews on this product, so potential purchases should investigate the unit fully rather than rely solely on the ratings

 

Flir One Pro LT

The One Pro represents a different approach from most of the other imagers on this list, as this one is a camera attachment, designed for use with your iOS phone. Many of the specifications, therefore, are not listed separately but are controlled by your phone. This would include pixels resolution, screen size, memory capability, etc. Given the small size and weight, and since virtually everyone carries a phone, it might be a nice tool for the contractor with an occasional need for an imager.

Flir One Pro LT

Features and specifications:

- very small unit (2.7 x .6 x 1.4 inches, 2 ounces) can be kept virtually anywhere.  Simply clip to your phone when needed

- one-year warranty

- object temperature range a very limited -4oF – 248oF

Check Price!

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Pros
  • A nice setup for a contractor occasionally needing a thermal device. Would not tie up a lot of room in the toolbox, and not huge cost investment
  • passes a 1.8-meter drop test, comes with installed reporting app
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Cons
  • not warmly received by reviewers at a 3.8 rating, and 15% of reviews at one star
  • depending on the configuration, you may need to remove the protective cover from your phone or tablet to install the imager

 

Flir One Thermal Imaging

This unit, like the One Pro, is a camera attachment, with configurations available for use with both iOS and Android phones, each priced the same. While the cost is much lower than the One Pro, there is also a drop off in functionality. Operating ranges are very tight, and only just over 40% of users give this unit a five-star review.

Flir One Thermal Imaging

Features and specifications:

- very small unit (2.7 x .6 x 1.4 inches, 2 ounces) can be kept virtually anywhere.  Simply clip to your phone when needed

- warranty is not specifically noted, but most likely the same at one year

- same object temperature range as the Pro model, usable in temperatures of 32oF – 95oF

Check Price!

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Pros
  • fairly low price makes it suitable for household use, and possible light use by contractors
  • software app is included with the unit for printing, reporting, filing, etc.
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Cons
  • like the Pro model, low overall rating, and 16% of ratings were one star
  • rated for one-hour battery life, but many complaints that it would not even last that long

 

Seek Thermal Compact Imager

One more of the camera attachment imagers, with this one specifically for Android technology. This one, however, has some specifications and ratings more in line with dedicated units. It will measure temperatures all the way up to over 600oF and has a 36o FOV. It has a similar quality rating as the Flir units, and a similar distribution of one- and five-star ratings.

Seek Thermal Compact Imager

Features and specifications:

- has video capabilities, subject to the memory capabilities of the phone

- price is right about in the middle of the two Flir units, likely making it attractive to both homeowners and casual use contractors

- does not require batteries or charging, and a free Seek mobile app is included

Check Price!

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Pros
  • better specs than the Flir units, price in between the two. Other similar Seek units are available, but not reviewed here
  • software app gives contractors a tool for client presentations
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Cons
  • overall ratings are mediocre
  • complaints have been raised about responsiveness to Android updates and unit functionality failing

 

Perfect Prime IR0002

At least in principle, this model is the little brother of the IR0005. It has 3600 pixels compared to almost 36000 on the IR0005, with 60 x 60 resolution against 220 x 160 on the big boy, but otherwise, the features are very, very close to each other. Operating ranges are the same, and this model has a 4 GB removable SD card and AA batteries, but this model is also almost half the price.

Perfect Prime IR0002

Features and specifications:

- as noted above, 3600 pixels, and 60x60 resolution.  Not like the IR0002, but comparable to almost everything else on the list 

2.4” display screen, and thermal sensitivity of .15oC, +/- 2% temperature accuracy

Check Price!

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Pros
  • almost all the features of units that are double the price
  • a mid-range unit, suitable for either the homeowner or a general contractor
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Cons
  • the lowest rating of the ten we have reviewed here, although only 28 reviews to date. Might be worth waiting for further input before pulling the trigger

CONCLUSION

Just to get everything in one place, let’s take a look at our “best of” compilation, based on the price, ratings, features, specifications, and pros and cons of the reviewed thermal cameras:

Best Professional Model

Perfect Prime IR0005

Runner Up Best Professional Model

HTI Thermal Imager

Best Homeowner’s Model

Flir TG165

Runner Up Best Homeowner’s Model

Pyle Infrared Thermal Camera

Best Overall Value

Seek Thermal Reveal Imager

If you are considering purchasing a thermal camera anytime soon, hopefully, this will give you some tips in selecting the unit that’s exactly right for you and your application. The commercial technology around thermal imaging is only a couple of decades old, and still in a state of flux. Advancements in personal security and automotive applications for self-driving cars will enhance features while driving down costs. Be aware of these advances, as today’s hi-tech may well be tomorrow’s garage sale item.

FAQ

1) Is there a difference between thermal imaging and night vision?

Yes, a very important difference. Night vision equipment relies on the small amount of light that is present and magnifies that light so you can “see” in the darkness. If there is complete darkness, however, night vision equipment will not work. Thermal imaging equipment, however, will work in complete darkness, as this equipment senses heat, not light.

2) What would be the main difference between a $300 thermal imaging camera and a $3000 thermal imaging camera?

While you would expect some additional functionality in the more expensive unit, such as moisture reading or voltage measuring, the primary difference you will see is in the picture quality, or resolution, of the displayed image. Resolution is defined by the number of pixels. A pixel is the smallest image that a device is able to print or display. So, the greater the number of pixels, the clearer the object will be on the viewing screen. Some cameras have as many as 76,800 pixels, while cheaper models may have only a few thousand pixels.

3) What can I do with a thermal camera around the home?

Since thermal cameras measure a difference in heat, one of the more common applications at home is looking for heat loss. For example, if you point your camera at a wall or ceiling location, and see a hot spot, that would be a good indication that a lack of insulation is heating up that spot more than other areas. Similarly, if you see cold air leaking around a door or window in the winter, it could mean that your insulation or weather stripping is failing and letting in cold air.

They can also be used for more mundane tasks, like trying to find your dog in the dark (his heat signature will be different than the ambient temperature). You could check food temperatures to make sure they have reached a safe level for eating. You could even use it to find the coldest bottle of beer.

4) Why are thermal imaging cameras more expensive than standard cameras?

The light waves required to shoot photos with a regular camera will filter through the standard glass, so the lens cost on a regular camera is a relatively minor part of the total cost. However, the infrared rays read by a thermal camera will not filter through a normal glass lens. A special lens is required, typically using rare materials such as germanium, calcium fluoride, or crystalline silicon (Wikipedia.com), and then an anti-reflective coating is applied to the lens. This makes the cost significantly higher than a camera lens.

5) How much does a top-end thermal imaging camera cost?

The thermal imaging cameras featured in this review qualify as “budget” cameras, as all of them are priced under $500, with some just over $100. However, if you want to buy the best of the best, you could expect to pay $8,000 – $10,000 for a high end, top quality camera. In fact, some cameras for specialty applications, such as a combined thermal and night vision camera for marine tracking can cost as much as $85,000.

6) What’s the next big development for thermal imaging technology?

It’s big, and it’s likely not very far into the future. Thermal imaging technology is being used in driverless car systems which are under development by several manufacturers from all over the world. These imagers would sense upcoming temperature changes, which would be indicative of another car, pedestrian, cyclist, barricade, and so on. The cameras would feed data to the computer systems and trigger actions such as stopping, slowing or turning. Because these cameras are thermal, they also work in challenging environments like smoke, smog, darkness, fog, and glare (Flir.com).

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