Thermal Cameras Guide
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best thermal video camera

Best Thermal Video Cameras: The Ultimate Buying Guide

Shopping for a thermal video camera?

Choose one from our list of recommendations.

Thermal video cameras help identify heat sources in very dark or otherwise obscured places. Whether you are out hunting or trying to conduct an aerial inspection, a thermal imaging video camera indeed comes in handy.

Due to the number of choices available today, choosing the best thermal video camera is not easy. Plus, since it is an expensive investment, you can’t just choose the first camera you come across.

This is where we can help.


What’s in this Buying Guide

This buying guide includes detailed reviews of the best thermal video cameras along with their pros and cons.

We include a shopping guide that outlines the essential features you need to look out for.

We also explain using a thermal video camera and some care and maintenance tips to keep your camera in optimal condition.

But if you want a budget thermal imager, check out our guide of the best thermal imagers under $1000.

And if you’re new to thermal imaging, here are the ten cool thermal imaging videos for you to check out.


Best Thermal Video Cameras

  1. 1
    Best Handheld : FLIR E8-XT 
  2. 2
    Best Pocket-sized : Seek Thermal – Shotpro 
  3. 3
    Best for Smartphones: FLIR ONE Gen 3 
  4. 4
    Best Thermal Imaging Smartphone: CAT Phones S61

1. Best Handheld : FLIR E8-XT

best thermal video camera

FLIR E8-XT combines an infrared sensor with a high-resolution visual camera for better thermal visibility. It is one of the best thermal video cameras because it packs many features inside the compact body.

Its 3-inch display features a 320 × 240 pixels resolution. The battery life is good and runs for about 4 hours on a single charge. Plus, the wide temperature range from –4 °F to 1022 °F makes it a good choice.

Pros

  • High infrared resolution.
  • Large displaySimple and easy to use.
  • Supports MSX image enhancement.
  • Lightweight and well-balanced.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • Internal storage is relatively small.

Our Review

The FLIR E8 -XT is one of the best handheld thermal video cameras and produces quality images and video footage with high accuracy.

E8-XT features a robust design with a lightweight and well-balanced body. There is a 3-inch display on the back and a 320 x 240 pixels IR sensor in the front. The entire unit is IP54 water sealed and can easily withstand a 2-meter drop test for durability.

FLIR E8-XT also has a low thermal sensitivity of 0.05°C. This means it can easily detect the slightest temperature changes, making it perfect for temperature monitoring, screening, and detection.

The E8-XT is battery-operated and can work for about 4 hours on a single charge, and it charges up to 90% in only 2.5 hours.

There is no SD card support for the E8-XT, but the built-in internal memory can store up to 500 images. 

Plus, you can connect this FLIR thermal imager to your USB or smartphone via USB, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.

Issues and Limitations

Given that the E8-XT is one of the best thermal video cameras, it’s no surprise that it is costly.

The lack of external SD support is also a problem because the FLIR thermal video camera doesn’t have sufficient storage capacity.


2. Best Pocket-sized : Seek Thermal – Shotpro

best thermal video camera

Seek Thermal Shotpro is a compact, pocket-sized thermal video camera that can accompany you anywhere. It is sleek, stylish, and highly durable.

Shotpro boasts a high 320 × 240 pixels resolution that makes it comparable to many higher-end models.

It has a large 3.5-inch display and can detect temperatures between -40 °F and 626 °F. It is Wi-Fi enabled and has long-lasting battery life.

Pros

  • Sleek yet ruggedly build.
  • Lightweight and extremely portable.
  • Supports Wi-Fi transfer.
  • Large 3.5-inch display.
  • SeekFusion Image combination improves image quality.

Cons

  • Video might glitch in places.
  • Wi-Fi sync to the cell phone takes a long time.

Our Review

Seek Thermal Shotpro is an advanced device that can record a thermal video and analyze it immediately.

It is IP54 rated, so the Shotpro can take some abuse without posing any issues. It has a long battery life that can last for about 4 hours on a single charge. Plus, the Seek Thermal Shotpro is very easy to handle and fits inside most pockets because of its compact size.

A good thing about Seek Thermal Shotpro is that it comes with temperature boxes and a color palette. These allow you to detect problems quickly and accurately.

The large display offers you a visual workspace, making it easy to adjust the thermal analysis tools. These on-device tools enable you to capture, analyze, and edit the picture in the field.

The Shotpro also has Wi-Fi connectivity that allows you to transfer data to your tablet or smartphone pretty quickly.

Issues and Limitations

Many verified users report that the recorded thermal video sometimes glitches in places.

Syncing it to a smart device over Wi-Fi also takes some time.


3. Best for Smartphones: FLIR ONE Gen 3

best thermal video camera

The FLIR One Gen 3 is basically an add-on mobile phone accessory. It plugs into any Android or IOS device, enabling it to function as a thermal camera.

With a resolution of 80 × 60 pixels and a temperature range from -4°F to 248°F, FLIR One Gen 3 is an excellent thermal device for most purposes.

The battery life is decent and lasts for about 1 hour. Plus, this FLIR device saves all the data directly to your phone, eliminating the need to transfer it manually.

Pros

  • Available for both Android and iOS devices.
  • Adjustable connector eases assembly.
  • Lightweight mobile phone accessory.
  • Allows multiple spot meters.
  • MSX Technology blends thermal and visible spectrums.

Cons

  • Battery life is short.
  • The temperature range is relatively short.

Our Review

FLIR One Gen 3 is a thermal video camera attachment with a built-in battery and an adjustable connector that easily connects to your mobile.

FLIR One Gen 3 is available with both Android and iOS connector options so that you can plug it into a variety of smart devices.

We really like FLIR Gen 3 because it is simple to set up and operate. You just need to charge it, plug it into your device, and open the compatible FLIR app. The thermal image will open up in no time.

You can use it for live thermal imagery, capturing thermal images, and recording thermal videos.

Another good feature of the FLIR One Gen 3 is its ability to capture selfies, or “thermies.” You can flip the camera in whichever direction you want and record its thermal video.

Issues and Limitations

While FLIR One Gen 3 is undoubtedly one of the best thermal video cameras, it does not have long battery life. It only works for one hour on a full charge, which is considerably less for a thermal video camera. 

Also, this device has a lower temperature range than most other thermal imaging devices.


4. Best Thermal Imaging Smartphone: CAT Phones S61

best thermal video camera

CAT Phones S61 is the big brother of the original S60. It is a ruggedized smartphone with embedded FLIR’s Lepton® micro thermal camera.

The camera has an IR resolution of 60 × 80 and can measure temperatures from -20 to 400 degrees Celsius.

Pros

  • Virtually indestructible.
  • Incorporates FLIR’s patented MSX® technology.
  • Large 5.2-inch display screen.
  • Laser-assisted distance measurement.
  • 2-in-1 device.

Cons

  • Average visible light camera.
  • Some users think it is big and heavy for a smartphone.

Our Review

S61 is the kind of device that has you covered for virtually anything. Whether you are a hobbyist thermal imager or an on-site worker on the lookout for a multi-purpose device, you will find everything you need in the CAT Phones S61.

It is a durable, ruggedized unit made to withstand tough working environments. The S61 is also IP68 rated, which means it is both waterproof and dust-resistant.

The integrated FLIR’s Lepton® micro-thermal camera is the biggest selling point of the S61. It may be FLIR’s smallest, lightest, and lowest cost thermal imaging camera, yet it ensures excellent performance.

With a 60 × 80 thermal resolution, it can measure a vast range of temperatures from -20 to 400 degrees Celsius. And while the temperature range may be lower than exclusive thermal video cameras, S61 does serve most uses.

Plus, it has a laser pointer for distance measurement and an indoor air quality sensor too.

Issues and Limitations

While we do love the thermal image output from this CAT phone, its visible camera imagery is not up to par.

Some verified users also find it heavier than regular smartphone devices currently available on the market.


Thermal Video Camera Buying Guide

What is a Thermal Video Camera – and How Does it Work?

best thermal video camera

All objects emit infrared energy, known as a heat signature. Whether an imager or a video recorder, a thermal camera detects and measures infrared energy emitted by the different objects.

It converts this information into an electronic image that shows the object's surface temperature you point the camera at.

While most thermal imagers only capture and display thermal images, some models can also record and live stream video recordings.

Thermal videos are also useful for surveillance purposes and hunters.

Uses For Thermal Video Cameras

While thermal imaging cameras were originally designed for military usage during the Korean War, today, they have migrated into other fields and have many uses.

Here are some practical uses of a thermal video camera:

Building & Construction Inspection

Thermal video cameras play a vital role in the building and construction industry.

Technicians who work with thermal insulation use these cameras to identify leaks quickly. Any leaks in the building’s insulation can greatly reduce its efficiency at temperature regulation.

With a thermal video camera, workers can record thermal videos that they can study later to detect problems points. Especially while repairing and remodeling an existing construction, the device comes in very handy.

Surveillance & Security

Military groups worldwide use thermal imaging and video cameras, either mounted on the individual’s gear or vehicles, to keep an eye on their surroundings.

Since the technology can pinpoint hotspots even on pitch-black nights, thermal video cameras make it easy to spot intruders hiding behind bushes or thin veils.

Aerial Inspection

best thermal video camera

Many drones now come with thermal technologies. These are used for aerial inspections.

Farmers rely on them to gain insight into plant health and look out for irrigation issues.

Construction professionals perform rooftop inspections with thermal drones for a faster and more convenient turnaround. They are also great for maximizing the output and efficiency of solar panel arrays.

Industrial Uses

The best thermal video cameras also play a significant role for many industrial purposes.

The oil and gas industry comes across numerous maintenance issues, from failing mechanical and electrical systems to invisible gas leaks.

The electrical industry also has to troubleshoot problems before they turn into expensive failures.

The production industry also faces delays if any of the mechanical equipment and electrical connections fail unexpectedly.

A thermal video camera can prevent these issues by detecting the problems in the initial stage so they cannot cause any significant damage.

What to Look for in a Thermal Video Camera

Whether you are looking for a handheld model, a pocket-sized variation, or a high-end thermal video camera with all the bells and whistles, here are some key features and specs you should consider:

Thermal Image Resolution

Thermal cameras have two resolution values – detector resolution and spatial resolution.

The detector resolution denotes the number of pixels on the camera. Now, most thermal imaging cameras may have lower pixel counts than visible-light cameras, but you should still choose the highest resolution you can afford.

Spatial resolution combines the field of vision (FOV) and Detector resolution specs to define the area the imager sees at any given moment. In other words, the spatial resolution indicates the size of the smallest object whose temperature the camera can easily detect.

The lower the spatial resolution, the better the image quality.

Frame Rate

The frame rate is the rate at which the infrared detector creates images. You should choose a thermal video imager with a high frame rate.

A 9 Hz thermal camera generates 9 new thermal images every second. Similarly, a 70 Hz model does so 70 times per second.

Fortunately, thermal video cameras available these days capture thousands of points of high-speed thermal measurement, and they tell you exactly where and how fast the heat flares.

Weight & Form Factor

best thermal video camera

The weight and form factors are important since you will use the thermal video camera to shoot videos. That’s why handheld thermal cameras are a popular choice. They are easy to hold and shoot with but tend to be a little heavy.

If you are after something more portable, you can choose an add-on thermal device that plugs into your smartphone. Such devices are lightweight, easy to use, and generally more affordable. You can also purchase a compact, pocket-sized model that easily fits inside your pocket.

Regardless of what you choose, be sure you are comfortable with the weight and form factor.

Battery Life

Whether you plan on shooting a thermal video for fun or for conducting an inspection, the last thing you want is the camera dying before you’re done.

So it's not just essential to have a device with long battery life; it should show the battery percent too.

Another important consideration is the ability to switch batteries (in the case of handheld units). It should be easy and quick to change the battery so that you can quickly get done with your work.

A short charging time is also a huge plus point.

Temperature Range

The temperature range of a thermal video camera is the temperatures it is calibrated to and capable of measuring.

Some cameras have multiple ranges, allowing them to measure a wider span of temperatures accurately. Others have a limited temperature range and are left guessing when the hot spots exceed their temperature range.

Knowing the temperatures that you’re likely to encounter will help you choose a corresponding unit for your application. This way, you will have accurate readings without any guesswork involved.

A typical example of a good thermal range is -4°F to 2,192°F.

Useful Range (Distance)

The useful range means the distance at which the thermal video camera can accurately detect and measure temperatures.

Not all thermal cameras have a long-distance range, though.

So if you plan on using your thermal video camera to quench your curiosity, a small to medium-range device is a good option.

But if you want to use it for more serious applications like hunting or professional HVAC work, you should go for a thermal imager with a long-distance range.

Thermal Precision

best thermal video camera

Thermal precision is the slightest degree of temperature change that the thermal imaging camera can measure.

For example, if the thermal precision of a thermal video camera is 0.05°, it can separate two surfaces with a difference of 0.05° between them and denote colder and hotter surfaces with different hues of color.

If your application involves high precision in detecting temperatures of different objects, you should look for a device with a small thermal precision.

Video Recording

The most significant difference between a regular thermal imager and a thermal video camera is the latter’s video recording capability.

When choosing between different models, go for one that records high-quality video and allows you to live stream the video you record.

Others

Some other features to look out for include focus, the field of view, image fusion, etc.

A fixed focus camera automatically adjusts the focus on the object, while with a manual focus camera, you have to set the focus yourself. Make sure you choose the one you are more comfortable with.

The camera lens determines its field of view. For close-up work, you need a lens with a wide-angle FOV (45° or higher). For long-distance work, you need a telephoto lens (12° or 6°).

Image fusion is the thermal camera’s ability to superimpose the thermal image over the visible light image. This feature enables you to clearly present findings in temperature differences, so it’s better not to skip out on it.

How to Use a Thermal Video Camera

Thermal video cameras come in a vast and varied range. Each device has its own way of operation, from plug-in units that convert your smartphone into a thermal camera to drones.

To gain better insight into how to use your thermal video camera, we suggest that you consult the user manual. You can also find the device's limitations in the manual, so make sure you read it.

Pros and Cons: Thermal Video Camera

best thermal video camera

From detecting minor household electrical issues to military surveillance, thermal video cameras have slowly become a bare necessity. However, they have some drawbacks, too.

Pros

Ease of Usage

Thermal video cameras are pretty simple and easy to use. You don’t need to arrange and set up multiple pieces of equipment to use one.

Instead, most come as pre-assembled, one-piece handheld units that you can focus on any suspicious object and record its thermal footage.

The hotspots show up immediately, telling you where the problem is.

Suitable for a Home Inspection

Thermal video cameras are incredibly apt at detecting electrical issues, like loose connections, burnt fuses, and interrupted circuits that might be preventing your appliance from working efficiently.

You can also use one to detect leaks in your home insulation that might be causing your HVAC system to overwork.

Great for Security Purposes

Thermal video cameras are excellent security devices. They can see even when it is pitch dark, allowing you to keep an eye on your surroundings.

They capture heat emitted by different objects and show you their accurate thermal image so that you can easily differentiate an animal from a human being.

Function Equally During Day or Night

The most significant advantage of a thermal video camera over a visible light camera is that the former functions equally great at any time of the day, be it day or night.

A visible camera may need external light to capture clear footage, but a thermal video camera does not. Instead, it detects the heat signature of different objects to capture their thermogram.

Cons

The Relatively High Upfront Cost

Most buyers usually hesitate in purchasing a thermal video camera because of the high initial procurement cost.

Even the cheapest thermal video camera costs a few hundred bucks, so you should be very careful about choosing the model you invest your money in.

However, we do believe that the longevity and performance of thermal imaging video cameras make them a cost-effective option.

Cannot Work Through Glass or Water

This is a limitation of any infrared device. Unlike normal light, infrared rays cannot pass through glass or water. They simply reflect upon hitting glass or water.

Since a thermal video camera also uses infrared radiations to capture images, it cannot function through glass or water.

Care and Maintenance: Thermal Video Camera

best thermal video camera

While most thermal video cameras are user-friendly, they still require proper care and maintenance to keep them in their optimal working state.

Careful handling, proper storage, and regular cleaning are crucial for your thermal video camera. Here are some ways you can keep yours protected and functional:

Read the Instruction Manual Thoroughly

While you can quickly figure out how to use your thermal video camera without referring to the instruction manual, we advise you not to do so. You should read it carefully at least once to save the device from potential issues.

The manual will include how to set up the camera and use it effectively. It will also list some care and maintenance tips as well as a troubleshooting guide in case you run into problems.

Never Take Your Thermal Video Camera Apart

No matter how simple it appears, a thermal video camera is a highly advanced device, so you should never take your thermal video camera apart.

Its components are so fragile and complex that putting it back together is nearly impossible.

So even if your unit is damaged or does not work properly, don’t try to take it apart yourself. Doing so can prove to be a costly mistake that can actually damage your device.

Clean it Properly

If you want your device to work optimally, you should be vigilant about its cleaning.

To know how to clean the camera properly, make sure you consult the user manual.

Setting a periodic cleaning routine is a good way to maintain your camera.

Be Very Particular About its Storage

A thermal video camera is not a toy. You cannot leave it lying around.

Again, you should consult the user manual to know how to store it properly. However, here are some general guidelines.

  • Turn it off after use.
  • Remove the battery if you want to store the device for an extended period.
  • If there is a storage case, always store the camera inside it.
  • Always store in a cool and dry place.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is a thermal video camera?

Thermal cameras are categorically more expensive than visible light cameras. Previously, the technology cost so much that only military and professionals could think of getting a thermal camera.

However, thermal technology is relatively affordable now. Still, you should be ready to spend a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to get your hands on the best thermal video camera.

Can I use my phone as a thermal video camera?

Although there are some smartphones with integrated thermal video cameras, if you want to use your existing smartphone as a thermal video camera, you should look into getting a plug-in thermal video camera like FLIR One or Seek Thermal CompactPRO.

These devices plug into both Android and iOS systems and allow them to function as thermal video cameras.

How far can thermal video cameras see?

Depending upon their configuration, most thermal video cameras can detect humans beyond 15 km distance, ground vehicles or small boats beyond 20 km, and larger ships or vessels and aircraft beyond 30 km.

Do thermal video cameras work through walls?

Unlike what many television series and movies portray, thermal video cameras can most certainly not work through walls.

Thermal cameras can detect hot or cold pipes and support beams within the walls, but the walls are thick enough - and insulated enough—to block any infrared radiation coming from the other side.


Final Verdict: What is the Best Thermal Video Camera Sold Today?

We believe that the FLIR E8-XT is the best handheld thermal video camera because of its ease of usage and good image quality.

But if you are looking for a pocket-sized model, the Seek Thermal Shotpro is a good option.

FLIR ONE Gen 3 is also a good option. It is a versatile yet highly functional thermal video camera for smartphones.

Lastly, the CAT Phones S61 is also an efficient thermal imaging smartphone.

About the Author Rob Carson

I work in commercial construction, in Dallas, TX.

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