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Best Digital Infrared Thermal Imager 2021: Reviews and Buying Guide

Shopping for a digital infrared thermal imaging camera? You have to come to the right page.

Everything around us, whether living or nonliving, radiates thermal energy all the time. Although it is impossible to see it with the naked eye, with a good digital infrared thermal imager, you can observe it from a distance.

You can use them to identify heat sources in dark and obscure places. They even help you save on your energy bills by detecting faulty equipment that waste energy or identify people with feverish temperature amongst a crowd.

Who Needs a Digital Infrared Thermal Imager?

Traditionally, these technology has mostly belonged to the military budgets. But now, since everyone has access to such technology; it is used for a number of purposes. Here is a comprehensive breakdown of who needs a digital infrared thermal imager:

Firefighters

Digital thermal imagers help firefighters in a number of ways. They help them locate survivors in low visibility conditions like when ash, dust, and smoke occlude vision. They also help identify hotspots, hidden fires, and potential sources of ignition.

Drones

Remotely piloted drones (UAVs) often use thermal imaging to analyze dangerous and difficult-to-observe conditions.

In hobbyist drones, the thermal imaging capability allows photographers to put it to a wide range of applications. It is also useful in emergency response situations like search and rescue and tactical military applications.

Wildlife Photographers and Environmental Monitors

Wildlife photographers use thermal imaging to locate animals in their natural habitat. They can detect warm-blooded animals in visual camouflage.

They are useful for comprehensive behavioral monitoring of different species that were otherwise impossible. They are also great for observing nocturnal animals in dark, hard-to-spot conditions.

Hunters

Hunters also use thermal imagers to spot their target in poor visibility. With a thermogram at hand, they will know exactly where to shoot without scaring their catch. It also helps them stay away from non-targets who are otherwise at risk of harm.

Healthcare Workers

With the spread of the covid pandemic, digital infrared thermal imagers have become a necessity for the healthcare industry. They use these devices along with infrared thermometers to observe people with high temperatures who are at risk of infection.

What’s in This Buying Guide

Choosing a high-performance digital infrared thermal imager is not easy. The market is filled with lots of offerings, each claiming to be the best at its job.

However, not every thermal imager is as wonderful as it appears. You have to be sure it is the right unit for your application before you pay for it.

That’s why we have compiled a comprehensive buying guide along with a list of recommendations for you to see. Each of the products we recommend is the best digital infrared thermal imager in its category.

You can also check out the buying guide to help you identify the features you should be looking for.

Best Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging Cameras

Disclaimer: All links below go to Amazon.com

infrared imaging camera
  • FLIR TG165-X

  • Category
    Best Overall

  • Thermal sensitivity
    0.07° C

  • Temperature range
    -25°C to 300°C

  • Dimensions
    8.3 x 2.5 x 3.2 in

  • Battery capacity
    5 hours

  • Storage Type
    Internal 4 GB

  • Refresh rate
    8.7 Hz

  • Weight
    13.9 ounces

best infrared camera
  • PerfectPrime IR0005 Infrared (IR)

  • Category
    Runner-up

  • Thermal sensitivity
    0.07° C

  • Temperature range
    -20 to 300°C

  • Dimensions
    5.71 x 1 x 3.23 inches

  • Battery capacity
    3 hours

  • Storage Type
    4GB integrated memory

  • Refresh rate
    9Hz

  • Weight
    7.2 ounces

infrared imaging camera
  • FLIR C2 Pocket

  • Category
    Best Portable

  • Thermal sensitivity
    <0.10°C

  • Temperature range
    –40°C to +70°C

  • Dimensions
    4.9 x 3.1 x 1 inches

  • Battery capacity
    2 hours

  • Storage Type
    Internal memory

  • Refresh rate
    9Hz

  • Weight
    4.6 ounces

infrared imaging camera
  • Seek Thermal Revealpro

  • Category
    Best Pocket-sized

  • Thermal sensitivity
    0.05°C

  • Temperature range
    -40°C to 330°C

  • Dimensions
    5 x 2.4 x 1.2 inches

  • Battery capacity
    4 hour

  • Storage Type
    4 GB Internal Memory

  • Refresh rate
    15 Hz

  • Weight
    0.176 ounces

best infrared camera
  • Fluke VT04 Infrared Imager

  • Category
    Best for DIYers

  • Thermal sensitivity
    0.25°C

  • Temperature range
    -10° to 250°C

  • Dimensions
    13 x 3 x 24 inches

  • Battery capacity
    8 hours

  • Storage Type
    4 GB Internal memory with SD card support

  • Refresh rate
    8 Hz

  • Weight
    2.6 pounds

1. Best Overall: FLIR TG165-X

best infrared camera module

FLIR is the world’s largest commercial manufacturer of thermal imaging sensors, components, and cameras. They came up with the FLIR TG165-X five years after the success of its predecessor FLIR TG165.

It is a waterproof device with a bigger display and USB-C connectivity. With all its advanced features, it is a suitable device for you to consider.

Pros

  • Can detect both hot and cold spots
  • Simple point-and-shoot design is very easy to maneuver
  • Can store up to 50,000 images
  • Features a bull’s-eye laser to indicate the measurement area
  • It comes with a 2-year warranty for the entire device and a 10-year warranty for the thermal vision sensor

Cons

  • Infrared resolution is not very high.

Our Review

The best thing about this thermal imaging camera is its simple point-and-shoot design. It features a handle and a trigger that make it easy to hold and wield.

Any hobbyist or professional will find it a great choice because, with its natural design, it is easy to work for hours.

It has a wide temperature range of -25°C to 300°C so it can detect not only hot spots but also the cold spots in roofing and insulation responsible for letting out heat from your home.

You can also use it to inspect the heating and cooling components of your HVACR systems to identify issues.

The device is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can last up to 5 hours of continuous usage. It also comes with a 4 GB internal memory that allows you to save up to 50,000 images.

It also supports USB-C connectivity, so you can transfer the images in JPEG format to your PC or any other device.

Issues and Limitations

Although the device is an upgrade to the FLIR TG165, FLIR has not improved its IR resolution a bit.

 Each thermal image it captures has a resolution of 4800 pixels that is low when compared to the 20,000 pixels you can get nowadays with a thermal camera in a similar price range.

At 2.4 inches, the display size is fairly standard in most thermal imaging cameras. However, there are some units that feature bigger displays for better deciphering.

FLIR TG165-X Tool Upgrades

FLIR sells many other thermal imaging tools that may help you overcome the shortcomings of the FLIR TG165-X Thermal Camera imaging tool.

FLIR C5

FLIR C5 is a solid option for its larger screen size. With a 3.5-inch display, it also boasts a higher infrared resolution. This handheld unit is easy to use and fits inside your pocket quite comfortably.

FLIR One Pro

FLIR One Pro is their smartphone thermal imager that offers their highest IR resolution yet. At 19,200 pixels, it is a high-performance device that delivers accurate and consistent results.

2. Runner-Up: PerfectPrime IR0005 Infrared (IR)

infrared imaging camera

PerfectPrime is a leading name in the thermal imaging industry. The manufacturer is known for producing affordable thermal imagers and bringing them within everyone’s reach.

Thanks to their innovative designs and economical devices, the company has gained trust and value. Here is a good digital infrared thermal imager from PerfectPrime for you to consider.

Pros

  • Features a handle-less design in the form factor of a digital camera
  • Compact size easily fits inside a pocket
  • Versatile thermal imaging device can also double as a visible light camera
  • Simple and easy to navigate through
  • It comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee

Cons

  • Display screen definition is quite low
  • There is a time lag between thermal images and ordinary photos

Our Review

PerfectPrime IR0005 is a step away from the standard point-and-shoot thermal cameras from PerfectPrime.

It is a small device virtually the size of a smartphone that can slip inside your pocket easily. It features a handheld design shaped more like a traditional digital camera.

It features a 3.2-inch display with a resolution of 35,200 pixels, producing clear and sharp images of whatever you point at.

 It has a temperature sensitivity of 0.07°C and can accurately detect temperature differences at a distance of 900 feet.

You can save the images on the device with its 3 GB integrated memory.

The IR0005 supports micro-USB connectivity to transfer files on your PC. You can also use it to charge the device anywhere. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery gives about 3 hours of continuous usage.

It comes with a 60-day money-back guarantee and 24-month warranty coverage. And if you choose to register your device, you can avail of an additional 12 months of warranty coverage.

Issues and Limitations

Since it is an affordable thermal imaging camera, PerfectPrime IR0005 does not have a good screen resolution. The screen appears to be made of plastic which greatly affects its performance.

Although the unit is quite sturdy;  it does not appear so. The build quality feels somewhat cheap and not quite up to the mark, though the performance is great and the results are accurate.

3. Best Portable: FLIR C2 Pocket 

digital cameras infrared

If you want a portable digital infrared thermal imager that will make your life at a worksite and home easier, take a look at this offering from FLIR. This is their first pocket-sized, full-featured offering.

It gained popularity right from the beginning and is a preferred choice amongst hobbyists and professionals alike even now.

Pros

  • Delivers an extremely user-friendly experience
  • Equipped with FLIR’s MSX technologies
  • Start-up time is considerably short
  • Quick at capturing and storing images
  • Highly customizable with a responsive touchscreen

Cons

  • It does not allow for memory expansion
  • The rubberized surface does little to hide scratch marks

Our Review

C2 came as FLIR’s entry-level thermal imaging camera to bring the technology within everyone’s reach. A bigger screen and slightly better resolution made this unit a hit within the FLIR lineup.

It was a walk away from the traditional point-and-shoot cameras and featured a more compact design that closely resembles a digital camera.

The MSX dual-lens system also earned it much-deserved fame. This technology enables it to capture both visible and thermal images at the same time.

The MSX capability allows it to superimpose the thermal image over the visible image so that the boundaries are identifiable and you can better understand the thermogram.

One of the best things about C2 is its lighter weight. An unsuspecting individual may actually assume it to be missing some parts.

Being light, it is very easy to carry around with you. The size is perfect for slipping inside most pockets without any difficulty.

For added sturdiness, it features a rubber-molded overlay that completely covers its exterior.

Issues and Limitations

Although it boasts a slightly higher resolution than many of its counterparts, it is still lower than what other cameras offer. At 80 × 60 resolution, it does deliver clear and sharp images but they are still difficult to decipher at times.

The internal memory of this device is also limited. It can save up to 500 sets of images at any time. But if you want to store more, it does not support external SD cards so you cannot expand its memory.

4. Best Pocket-Sized: Seek Thermal Revealpro

best infrared camera

Ruggedly designed with a high resolution, Seek Thermal Revealpro is made for industrial usage. The company worked very hard to create an improved version of their already successful Seek Thermal Pro.

It offers everything that a high-quality thermal camera offers but inside a compact and portable body. But if you want an add-on thermal camera for android or IOS, check out The Seek Compact XR thermal imager.

Pros

  • Features a compact yet extremely rugged design
  • Equipped with a LED flash-light of 300 lumens with controllable brightness
  • Can accurately detect heat up to 1800 feet away
  • Allows you to zoom on objects with digital zoom
  • It offers nine different color palettes to choose from

Cons

  • The top-located sensor makes it awkward to hold
  • There is no manual focus

Our Review

The first thing you will notice about this device is its design. Both the Infrared sensor and LED lights are located along the top of the device.

You will want to point it in front to capture images. It may seem awkward at first, but it is certainly very useful in certain situations.

It has a very high infrared resolution. With 76,800 pixels, it works as well as any high-end thermal camera, producing a clear and sharp image that is easy to understand.

Although there is no image blending, the resolution and color palettes make sure you won’t miss it.

Another noteworthy feature is its thermal sensitivity. It can detect temperature differences as little as 0.05°C.

Its temperature range is also quite vast. It can measure temperature as low as -40°C; hence it can detect issues and problems with refrigeration units as well.

The highest temperature it can record is 330°C, making it useful for a variety of industrial and home applications.

Issues and Limitations

Seek Thermal tried very hard to come up with an ergonomic design, but their Revealpro is not the most comfortable device to hold and use. There is a learning curve involved that you need to cross to get used to it.

The device supports auto-focus that is a good thing, yet it does not support manual focus. Although auto-focus can capture high-quality images, sometimes we need manual focus to achieve the desired results. That is not possible with the Seek Thermal Revealpro.

5. Best for DIYers: Fluke VT04 Infrared Imager

infrared camera for phone

Fluke is a well-known electrical metering and calibration equipment company. All the devices they have manufactured boast quality, ruggedness, ease of usage, safety, and portability. Their popular units include Fluke Ti400, TIS20, TIS65, 279FC, etc.

Of course, our list would have been incomplete without one of their products. Here’s our take on the Fluke VT04 Infrared Imager:

Pros

  • One of the more affordable units on the market
  • Boasts a long battery life of up to 8 hours
  • Capable of blending thermal and visual images
  • It comes with a soft carry case for safekeeping
  • Point-and-shoot design is simple and easy to use

Cons

  • Does not store thermal data in the images
  • The temperature range is not very wide

Our review

Fluke VT04 Infrared Imager stands out because of its affordable price. That’s why it is a popular choice amongst homeowners and DIYers. It is a perfect addition to their home maintenance toolbox.

The size is compact enough to fit inside a pocket or inside a toolbox. They’ve also provided a soft protective case for better storage as it protects the screen and controls from damage.

The device is thoughtfully designed to give the benefits of an infrared camera and a spot thermometer on a single device.

It has a high/low-temperature alarm that flashes when the temperature rises or falls below your set threshold.

It also allows you to blend the thermal and visual images for better interpretation. You can choose between four different modes; 0%, 25%, 50%, or 75% thermal. This way, it will blend both images into one, giving you a better idea of what you are looking at.

Another standout feature is its SD card support. Although the built-in memory itself is huge, you can further expand it with a memory card.

Issues and Limitations

We found this device to be extremely easy-to-use. However, there were some things we did not like. For starters, it takes about 20 seconds to startup.

 It always starts at the settings menu, so this includes the time it takes to navigate to the camera mode.

At 2-inches, the display size is also not big enough for our liking. However, 2 inches is the industry standard, so it’s not something we should complain about.

Another issue is its inability to store thermal data in the images. Maybe that’s why they call it a thermal imager and not a full radiometric camera.

Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging Cameras Buying Guide

infrared thermal imaging cameras

A digital infrared thermal allows you to see things that are otherwise difficult to spot. From a leaking coolant to a deer cowering amongst trees; these units can identify anything.

The range of units currently available on the market is vast and varied, so it’s difficult to pick up the right one.

You should look for a model that comes from a highly regarded manufacturer and is durable, accurate, sensitive, and consistent in its readings.

Whether you go for a simple point-and-shoot model, a pocket-sized one, or a high-end imager with all the bells and whistles, there are some features and considerations you should pay more attention. Let us have a look.

Resolution

The device’s resolution determines its image clarity. The higher the resolution, the better the image quality.

Although many units offer color palettes to enhance image quality, most have low-resolution screens.

This won’t be a problem if you are locating wildlife or identifying hotpots, but they are not good enough to pick up an electrical fault within a panel. That’s why you should look into getting the highest resolution device you can afford.

Degree of Sensitivity

The degree of sensitivity is the minimum temperature difference a thermal imager can identify. It is usually denoted in milliKelvins (mK).

Although the values may be meaningless for hobbyists, the degree of sensitivity is a very important consideration for professional users as they often need to compare different readings during the course of work.

It’s better to bear all this in mind and choose a unit according to your specific application.

Temperature Range

The highest and the lowest temperature a device can detect constitutes its temperature range. Choosing a unit with a vast temperature range is always a good idea as it covers most applications.

If that’s not possible, choose a unit whose temperature range covers your specific application.

Better yet, go for a thermal imager that offers a wide temperature range that either automatically adjusts it according to the situation or allows you to manually choose a suitable range.

Lens Options

Different thermal imagers are equipped with different lenses. Some are fixed, while others allow you to change lenses for different applications.

This capability increases its versatility and allows you to inspect many different equipment and situations.

The different lens options include standard; wide-angle, macro, and telephoto lens. All of these are useful under different circumstances.

What is a Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging Camera & How Does it Work

Every object with a temperature higher than absolute zero emits heat in the form of infrared radiation. Although invisible to the naked eye, it can be felt as heat if the intensity gets high enough.

For example, hold your hand over some burning coal inside a grill. You will feel the heat because the coal is emitting a ton of infrared radiation.

The hotter an object is, the more infrared radiation it emanates. Thermal cameras can see this radiation when we cannot.

Each thermal imaging camera is equipped with tiny measuring devices called bolometers. They capture the infrared radiation emitted by an object and measure its temperature.

Every pixel has a bolometer. So, after they’ve measured the temperature, they assign their pixels an appropriate color to make up the thermogram of the scene or object you are capturing.

Why Should You Buy a Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging Camera?

Ever wondered why your energy bills are jacking up even when you are the most energy-conserving person? Is your house experiencing insulation issues, but you can’t tell where? Are your electrical appliances running too hot? Or are you planning to conduct a home inspection yourself?

A digital infrared thermal imaging camera may hold the solution to all these problems. It is an investment but truly worthwhile. Here’s how it can help you:

Ensure Structural Integrity

Investigating the structural integrity of a house or building is an important step when you want to purchase it. In fact, the law requires every new building’s structural integrity to be checked upon its completion.

While there are other ways to do so, we think thermal imaging is the most convenient way for such inspections. It can easily reveal wrong installations or spots that need repairs even if they are out of sight.

Finding Electrical Faults

infrared heat cameras

Thermal imaging is the only way to inspect an electrical system while it operates. Any other method would require you to switch off the device and use trial and error to find the issue.

Thermal imaging, on the other hand, produces a clear thermogram, and since temperatures across an electrical device are not subtle, you can easily pick up the hot or cold spots to identify the issue.

Identifying Issues in an Insulation System

A functional insulation system prevents you from incurring massive bills from your heating and cooling systems. It prevents the heat and cold from escaping outside, so your HVAC system does not have to overwork.

A good thermal imaging camera can easily detect insulation leaks by identifying the temperature difference inside and outside the house.

What to Look for When Buying a Digital Infrared Thermal Imaging Camera

When it comes to digital infrared imagers, there is no single solution to all applications.

Whether you are purchasing one for building inspections, detecting HVAC issues, identifying electrical faults, security and surveillance, or any other thermography application; you have to find the best unit in your budget.

Here are some aspects to look out for when buying a digital infrared thermal imaging camera:

Focus

The focus of a thermal camera is extremely important because an accurate focus delivers a sharp image with accurate temperature measurements.

The three types of focus systems for thermal cameras are fixed focus, auto-focus, and manual focus.

A thermal imaging camera with manual or auto focus is generally the best choice because they deliver the highest performance.

Field of View

Field of view refers to the extent of the scene a thermal imaging camera can capture. The greater its field of view, the more area it can cover.

Knowing the field of vision will allow you to set up the camera at a distance where it can capture the smallest detail you want to measure.

Some models also come with interchangeable lenses that allow you to focus on the right objects within the scene.

Durability

Durability is an important consideration in any tool. Since they are mostly used for industrial and surveillance purposes, thermal cameras have to be sturdy and durable.

Even for hobbyists like hunters and wildlife photographers, durability is the most important because they use it in extremely rugged conditions, so it has to hold its own against harsh conditions.

Image Fusion

Oftentimes, we need to compare the thermogram with visible light images to understand the findings in temperature differences.

So, it’s better to look for a model that can fuse both images to highlight the temperature differences between the different objects. This quality makes thermal imaging applications much easier.

Limitations

Thermal cameras are an advanced piece of equipment that is simple to use and doesn’t require additional lighting. They are great at detecting temperature differences amongst different objects and capture very high-contrast thermograms for you to analyze.

However, there are some limitations to their usage. These include:

Cannot Capture Accurate Images Through Transparent Mediums

infrared imaging camera

The biggest limitation of a digital infrared thermal imaging camera is its inability to capture accurate images through glass, water, or any other shiny medium.

Such objects tend to reflect the infrared radiations of the objects both in front of and behind it. That’s why the thermal image you get is highly skewed.

Sometimes Capture Confusing Images

At times, you will notice that your captured image is not very accurate or quite difficult to decipher. This happens because the surrounding environment has a profound effect on the camera’s ability to capture images.

Essentially, the cameras detect temperature discrepancies between objects that come within their field of view. Everything you see in the image is a comparison to what is around it.

Display Blurry Images

Blurry and disheveled images are common in many digital infrared thermal imaging cameras. This happens because they require greater stability than a standard visual camera. If your hands are shaky; your image will blur.

Although some high-quality models can withstand blurriness to a great extent, it can still happen.

Final Verdict

All the thermal imagers listed above are the best choice for any professional or hobbyist user. However, we recommend the FLIR TG165-X Thermal Camera imaging tool as our top pick.

It is closely followed by PerfectPrime IR0005 Infrared (IR) Thermal Imager & Visible Light Camera for its versatile application and ergonomic design.

And if you want a simple point-and-shoot version, go for the Fluke VT04 Infrared Imager.