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Cheap Solutions for Thermal Imaging

What is the Best Choice for a Cheap Thermal Imaging Camera?

When thermal imaging cameras were first developed, they were anything but cheap. The units were big, bulky, hard to move around -- and cost thousands and thousands of dollars. As time passed, thermal imaging cameras became smaller, and more widely available, but still remained expensive.

The last decade has brought about even more thermal imager manufacturers, and prices have continued to fall on some of the most basic and entry-level IR cameras. The drops in prices and improvements in technology have been good for consumers, and now a cheap thermal imaging camera is easy to acquire.

When I say “cheap,” I don’t mean cheap i quality. I literally mean cheap in price..as long as you think a couple hundred dollars is cheap. Compared to some of the older versions of thermal imagers, and some of the top of the line ones available, that is cheap.

While these cheap thermal imagers make capturing infrared images much more attainable for the average consumer, they are in fact still of very good quality. No, they aren’t as advanced as some of the models that run $2k+, but they are more than capable of getting the job done.

Flir One

FLIR, one of the top thermal imaging manufacturers in the world, currently has three distinctly different imagers on the market, each below $500. These three thermal imagers are very different, but all are able to capture quality thermal images for a variety of applications. Here is a quick rundown of each one.

FLIR One

We’ll start with what is perhaps the cheapest FLIR thermal imager available. The FLIR One is indeed a thermal imager, but not as a stand alone unit. This particular imager is made for use with either Android or iOS devices, giving you an accurate thermal imager with a simple interface that is very easy to use.

FLIR ONE for iOS and Android

The FLIR One connects through the phone or tablet’s charging port, displaying the images onto your screen. The size of the unit is very small, and weighs around 2.75 ounces.

The FLIR One has a thermal resolution of 80x60 pixels, which is the standard for lower-end thermal imagers. This device combines the thermal sensor with the visible light camera to provide a more detailed image that combines the two together, giving you a better context to observe the temperature variance.

The temperature variance of the FLIR One ranges from -4°F to 248°F (-20°C to 120°C,) with a temperature differential detection of 0.18°F (0.1°C.)

Summary

The FLIR One has easy-to-use file sharing features, along with seven different color palettes. It even has video, panoramic and time-lapse modes. The adequate screen resolution and numerous added features makes the Flir One a bargain, and the perfect entry into the world of thermal imaging.

If you want to do smaller tasks in and around your home such as check for air leaks, inspect a wall outlet, or even search for an animal in the dark, the FLIR One has got you covered and then some, all from your phone or tablet.

FLIR TG130

FLIR’s TG line of thermal imagers offers many of the same features and conveniences of higher-end thermal imagers, but in a simpler, bare bones package. The TG130 is the base model for the TG line, and is one of the most affordable handheld thermal imagers you’ll encounter.

The FLIR TG130

The TG 130 has a resolution of 80 x 60, allowing it to accurately provides a precise thermal image for any objects with temperatures ranging from 14°F to 302°F. This makes it perfect for tasks like locating missing insulation, finding wall studs, locating wind drafts and moisture leaks, and even gauging temperatures for drinks and food items, such as a baby bottle

The TG 130 does not store images to look at later, but it does provide a frozen thermal image on its 1.8 inch LCD screen for viewing. An ergonomic handle and shape makes the TG130 easy to hold, and easy to aim at objects you are capturing. This is done by pointing at the object and squeezing the trigger, resulting in a thermal image with a temperature reading as well.

Summary

The TG 130 is a very inexpensive thermal imager perfect for beginning users who want a way to have a quick thermal image for DIY projects and small uses around the home, without any other added features that could drive the price up.

FLIR C2 Compact Thermal Imaging System

The FLIR C2 is an incredibly small, handheld thermal imager that is the first of its kind as far as size goes. The C2 is not much bigger than the average smartphone, and sort of functions like one as well. Its small size and flat profile makes it easy to carry around in a shirt pocket, or really any other pocket.

FLIR C2 Thermal Camera

While the C2’s size and shape is one of its biggest advantages, it’s not just a novelty device. The C2’s thermal sensor resolution is 80 x 60, and it includes the same MSX technology that allows for you to inlay a visible light image with the thermal image to create a contextual and detailed image.

The C2 has a temperature range of -14°F to 300°F, making it suitable for reading temperatures in walls, pipes, ceilings, roofs, engines, and elsewhere. Image files are stored in a JPEG format, which can later be transferred to a computer via USB cord and further enhanced and analyzed with FLIR’s proprietary software.

Summary

The FLIR C2 offers the same basic 80 x 60 resolution as other low-level thermal imagers, but in a much smaller package. The easy-to-use interface and numerous features only help to push it to another level.

Whether you are an experienced thermographer, or a beginner just getting into thermal imagery, you’ll have an appreciation for the unit’s size, as well as the clarity that MSX image inlaying provides.

If you lack the budget to acquire a higher-end thermal imager, but still want quality images that you can view instantly and further analyze later, the C2 will be to your liking. It’s the most expensive of the three we’ve featured here. But it’s also the most versatile.

About the Author Rob Carson

I work in commercial construction, in Dallas, TX.

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