Best Thermal Imaging Camera Buyer’s Guide

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A thermal imaging camera, also known as an infrared camera, is a powerful and cost-effective, easy-to-use, troubleshooting tool. The primary use of thermal imaging is to detect heat, which is at the source of a problem, by being able to “see” behind structures or over a distance, and identify spikes or drops in temperature.

Thermal imaging cameras have become increasingly popular in recent years due to advances in imaging technology and the consequent reduction in price, meaning they’ve become more accessible to us DIY enthusiasts.

Best Pick – Thermal Imaging Camera

Pocket-Sized IR Thermal Imager, Huepar 80 x 60 Infrared Resolution Thermal Imaging Camera Measurement Range -10℃ to 400℃ with 76800 Pixels Display, Temperature Tracking & Adjustable Emissivity HTi80P
46 Reviews
Pocket-Sized IR Thermal Imager, Huepar 80 x 60 Infrared Resolution Thermal Imaging Camera Measurement Range -10℃ to 400℃ with 76800 Pixels Display, Temperature Tracking & Adjustable Emissivity HTi80P
  • FAST THERMAL & TEMPERATURE TRACKING: The fast heat tracking function is convenient for users to quickly select the high temperature location. The temperature values will be displayed on the screen to help users know the highest temperature, lowest temperature and center point temperature.
  • The thermal imager has a high accuracy of ±2.0℃ or ±2% and thermal sensitivity ≤ 150mk(0.15℃), making the measurement results more accurate. And the professional temperature range and infrared resolution, Whether it is home testing or professional testing, it will be your ideal choice. The thermal imaging camera has adjustable emissivity frequency from 0.1 to 0.99 that can be adjusted for different measured objects to ensure the accuracy of the testing results.
  • THREE COLOR PALETTES: There are three color palettes to choose from -Rainbow, Iron Red and White Heat Mode. The Rainbow Mode focuses on display colors and suitable for high thermal contrast conditions, improving the color contrast between high and low temperatures. Iron red mode provides a palette of uniform linear colors, designed for observing the gradual change of temperature. White heat mode can be used in the case of high and low temperature differences between the measured objects.
  • POCKET-SIZE AND 1/4" THREAD: The pocket-sized thermal imaging camera 76mm * 76mm * 22mm body design is only half the size of an ordinary mobile phone, which is lightweight and compact. The thermal imager also offers 1/4"-20 mounting thread to suit for standard tripod. Rechargeable lithium battery and 320 * 240 pixel 2.4 "TFT LCD display provide you with convenient and long time inspection.
  • FREE ANALYSIS SOFTWARE & APPLICATIONS: The test image can be imported to a computer and analyzed by using free analysis software. The machine can store 5000 pictures, and the parameters of the test image can be viewed in the machine. The thermal imager can be applied to car inspection and PCBA inspection, buildings and mechanical systems, which includes water penetration, HVAC Inspection, heat or cooling loss, blockages or leaks in plumbing systems, malfunctioning mechanical systems.

Last update on 2022-06-02 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API / As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

A thermal imaging camera is one of those devices that was invented with one clear aim – to make our lives easier. The best thermal imaging cameras will identify sudden changes in temperature – potentially caused by circuit overload, mechanical failure; moisture intrusion; blockages or gaps in insulation – capture an accurate image and display this clearly. This allows you to quickly get on with rectifying the problem to prevent any further damage occurring.

Only got 5 minutes

Why you need a thermal imaging camera

Thermal imaging technology allows the user to isolate and identify heat patterns, not visible to the human eye, which potentially could be the source of energy wastage, plumbing problems or structural defects. Using a compact, portable, easy-to-use hand-held unit, it is possible to locate issues which can then be acted upon instantaneously with precision and little or no margin for error. In today’s market, the affordability of a thermal imaging camera combined with its impressive resolution as a result of technological advancements, makes it a must-have tool for DIY hobbyists, construction professionals and even wildlife enthusiasts!!!

Features to compare when choosing a thermal imaging camera

The best thermal imaging cameras will come with at least some additional features which aim to make your device as easy to use as possible.

  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth enabled – allows you to download images instantaneously
  • Impressive thermal detector resolution – the higher the resolution, the better quality and more accurate the detail of the thermal image.
  • Built-in visual camera capable of capturing normal images as well as thermal images
  • JPEG file format or has the option to convert to JPEG
  • Generous screen size/field of view
  • Accuracy detection of at least +/- 2%
  • Wide temperature detection range
  • High thermal sensitivity value
  • Laser pointer/illuminator lamp for easy navigation and to improve accuracy
  • Capable of combining thermal images with visible light images
  • Supported by apps that are compatible with your smartphone or tablet
  • Feature to record voice or text annotations
  • Lengthy warranty period

Uses

Domestic use of thermal imaging cameras within the home includes the detection of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) leaks, checking the effectiveness of window seals and other external outlets, and detecting circuit overloads. A thermal imaging camera can also be used by wildlife enthusiasts to detect animals only active at night or in enclosed spaces.

Thermal imaging cameras are also used by professionals within the emergency services; electrical maintenance specialists; airport security; mechanical engineering; for scientific research purposes; and within the military. 

Primary uses include:

  • To read temperatures behind solid objects
  • To check electrical breaker boxes for circuit overloading
  • To detect gaps in insulation
  • To locate damaged ductwork
  • To locate water leaks/ moisture intrusion (we’ve all heard the horror stories of damp; excess humidity and moisture which is left undetected can cause significant damage to your home!)
  • To locate HVAC leaks.
  • To locate sources of energy loss
  • To identify structural issues
  • To identify the source of overheating within electrical and mechanical equipment

What to look for when choosing the best thermal imaging camera

Image Quality

In order to measure smaller targets with your thermal imaging camera you’ll need one with a decent resolution.

Infrared resolution is the number of pixels captured by the infrared sensor. The higher the resolution, the clearer your images will be. This becomes particularly important if you plan on using your camera to capture images over a distance – where extreme temperatures or other potential hazards prevent you moving in any closer. The best thermal imaging cameras will have a resolution of around 0.08 megapixels, or 320 x 240 pixels, with budget models offering a resolution of around 0.0005 megapixels. Although these sound small compared to the impressive camera resolutions we’re used to getting with our smartphones, rest-assured it’s sufficient for infrared imaging.

Standard resolution refers to the level of clarity with which your images are displayed. Most thermal imaging cameras have a standard resolution of up to 5 megapixels.

File formats

The method of image output on a thermal imaging camera is likely to vary depending on the brand and model of thermal imaging camera you go for. Don’t just assume it’ll provide you with a standard JPEG; It’s worth checking in the product description as, if you end up having to deal with a proprietary format, it can make processing your images far more difficult than it needs to be.  The best thermal imaging cameras will use a radiometric JPEG format with embedded temperature analysis.

Image processing

The best thermal imaging cameras will have wireless connectivity, allowing results to be analysed more or less instantaneously. Alternative or additional connectivity features can include a twin/still camera or Bluetooth, and/or USB connectivity, offering more choice when it comes to the method you use to process your images.

Over the last few years, some pretty impressive smartphone attachments have found their way onto the market; they use your smartphone display; battery power and apps to create an all-in-one thermal device – they attach to your smartphone; take a thermal image and process the image using the app. Granted these attachments might not have the all-singing, all-dancing features of a specialised high-end thermal imaging camera, but they’re good for just the odd bit of wildlife spotting or occasional home use.

Image Storage

The majority of thermal imaging cameras will store images using an SD or microSD card. It’s worth checking whether a memory card is included with the camera, otherwise you’ll need to purchase one separately, and it’s always worth having a couple of spare cards just in case you need more storage or misplace or damage a card. The user manual should state the maximum size of memory the camera can hold and it’s worth investing in a card which holds up to that value, then you’re not having to constantly check how much storage you have left or delete old files in order to make room for new.

Also, make a point of finding out which file formats are compatible with your thermal imaging camera – some types take up significantly more memory than others. If you know roughly how much space an individual image takes up, and the capacity of the memory card, you’ll be able to roughly figure out how many pictures you can take and keep a mental note of how much memory you have left and equate this to the number of pictures you have left to take. 

Fixed or manual focus

A thermal imaging camera with a fixed focus offers less flexibility than one with adjustable focus. The best thermal imaging cameras will have an adjustable focus – this means you’ll be able to get clearer, more accurate images of objects than you would with a fixed range camera.

Best Budget – Thermal Imaging Camera

Infrared (IR) Thermal Imager, Professional LCD Display Screen Handheld Infrared Camera, 300,000 Pixels & 320 x 240 Resolution & 2.4”TFT LCD (Battery Included)
6 Reviews
Infrared (IR) Thermal Imager, Professional LCD Display Screen Handheld Infrared Camera, 300,000 Pixels & 320 x 240 Resolution & 2.4”TFT LCD (Battery Included)
  • [USER-FRIENDLY] Easier to read greater detail and accuracy with improved 320 x 240 resolution. In order to increase the recognition of the thermal imager, the product is also equipped with a visible light camera.
  • [PRODUCT DETAILS] Viewing Angle: 33°, display type: 2.4”TFT LCD. Overall dimensions: 210*101*60mm, instrument net weight: 220g, perfect for easy storage and taking anywhere. It has a built-in memory of 8M (7.8m can be used and canstore about 52 photos), supports the expansion of 32G Micro SD memory card at most, and only supports SD card in FAT32 file format.
  • [OPTIMIZED USE] Choose from 3 palettes , Iron red/rainbow/gray, choose the ideal color scale for your job, make readings more useful and easier to visualize, Improve work efficiency.
  • [PROFESSIONAL CHOICE] Widely used in building inspection, vehicle maintenance inspection, floor heating detection, electrical inspection. Also it Can be used in fields of medical treatment, fire fighting, archaeology, traffic, agriculture, geology, energy, smelting, electronic manufacture, etc.
  • [AFTER SALES SERVICE] We offer 1 year warranty with 30 days worry-free return, so 100% satisfaction and zero hassle returns guaranteed. Please don't hesitate to contact us when you use the item.

Last update on 2022-06-02 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API / As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

Thermal Precision

When choosing the best thermal imaging camera, particularly if you intend on using your camera with complex electronics, you’ll need to compare the temperature range and sensitivity.

Sensitivity is the device’s capability to detect and record subtle changes in temperature. The lower the sensitivity value, the better. 

When it comes to temperature range, this can be anywhere from -20˚C to 1200˚C. If you only intend on using your thermal imaging camera for occasional domestic use, a temperature range of -20˚C to 250˚C should be sufficient for what you’ll be using your camera for – this temperature range is more than adequate for identifying unsealed windows; damp spots and HVAC leaks.

For professional use, a higher temperature range is likely to be needed. The best thermal imaging cameras designed for professional use will offer a temperature range of around -40˚C to 400˚C+ as this will allow you to locate hot spots on machinery that is likely to operate at temperatures in excess of 300˚C.

Battery life

Mid-range thermal imaging cameras tend to have a battery life of around 3-4 hrs, with charging time ranging from 2 ½ – 4 hours. The best thermal imaging cameras will come with an additional battery, which gives you greater flexibility as you’ll have a longer use time – particularly helpful if you don’t have access to a charging point.

Weight & Dimensions

The best thermal imaging cameras will be compact, lightweight and easily portable. You want a model that  balances features, power and size. A camera that’s too big or bulky will be difficult to carry, use and store.

Spectral Band

When choosing the best thermal imaging camera,  it’s important to be clear on what you intend on using your camera for, as different brands and types of thermal imaging cameras detect different wavelength ranges.

There are three wavelength categories: short, mid and long.

Short-wavelengthMid-wavelengthLong-wavelength
Capable of detecting from approximately 0.9 microns (µ)  to 1.7µ.   Is the closest wavelength to visible light.   Short-wave infrared cameras need to be high resolution in order to capture details accurately.Capable of detecting from around 2-3µ             up to 5µ.   Providing you invest in a decent model, this is the best wave-length range to go for if you plan to use your camera in extreme temperatures.  Capable of detecting wavelengths between 7-12µ. High-end models can detect up to 14µ.   As a result of the decreased atmospheric absorption of long wave-length cameras, they are capable of capturing accurate images with precise detail.

Durability

Whether you’re working on a building site or checking the energy efficiency of your home, you’re going to need a thermal imaging camera that can stand up to the occasional knock or drop.  All imaging technology, regardless of price, needs to have been designed with durability in mind – you should be able to use your camera freely without the worry of damaging it.  Whilst resolution and image quality are considered the most important features when purchasing a thermal imaging camera, and yes indeed they are important, it’s always worth reading the product description and finding reference to the device’s durability and robustness, just to give you that piece of mind.

Having fun with your thermal imaging camera

Wildlife detection

Thermal imaging cameras are capable of detecting warm-blooded animals even in the darkest of conditions – unlike the majority of other night-vision systems, most require no light whatsoever to produce a clear image. Badgers, foxes, bats and hedgehogs are just some of the species that are most active at night, who use the cover of darkness to try and avoid detection from predators, however by using a thermal imaging camera you are still able to locate and obtain images of these nocturnal creatures!

Best of the Rest

Bosch Professional 601241200 Inspection Camera GIC 120 C (cable length: 120 cm, display: 3.5’’, 4x AA batteries, in cardboard box), 8.0 cm*34.2 cm*21.0 cm
99 Reviews
Bosch Professional 601241200 Inspection Camera GIC 120 C (cable length: 120 cm, display: 3.5’’, 4x AA batteries, in cardboard box), 8.0 cm*34.2 cm*21.0 cm
  • INSPECT HARD-TO-REACH PLACES: Inspect and document even the hardest-to-reach places thanks to a 120 cm camera cable with bright LED light
  • KNOW WHICH WAS IS "UP": Using the ‘Up is Up’ feature automatically turns the display to show users which way is up, for better orientation
  • EASILY TRANSFER DATA: Transfer images and videos using the microUSB cable or MicroSD card for fast and easy documentation and data storage
  • DUAL POWER SOURCE: For added flexibility, the endoscope can be used with either a 12 V Li-ion battery or standard AA batteries using the battery adapter
  • ITEMS INCLUDED: Inspection camera GIC 120 C, 4x AA batteries, battery adapter, camera cable, hook, magnet, mirror, MicroUSB cable, 4GB MicroSD card

Last update on 2022-06-02 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API / As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

Sale
Bosch Professional 12V System Thermal Camera GTC 400 C (12V Battery + charger, w/app function, Temperature Range: -10°C to +400°C, Resolution: 160 x 120px, in L-Boxx)
121 Reviews
Bosch Professional 12V System Thermal Camera GTC 400 C (12V Battery + charger, w/app function, Temperature Range: -10°C to +400°C, Resolution: 160 x 120px, in L-Boxx)
  • CONNECTIVITY: Transfer thermal images to a mobile device, take notes and customize images using the Bosch Thermal App. Or use the PC software to edit thermal images and create detailed reports.
  • EASY-TO-USE: The thermal images are easy to understand and all important functions are accessible with just one click. The picture-in-picture function helps to easily locate measurements
  • WIDE TEMPERATURE RANGE: The digital thermometer has a wide working range and can measure temperatures between -10°C and +400°C with an accuracy of ±3°C*.
  • HIGH IMAGE QUALITY: The thermal camera has a resolution of 160 x 120 (19,200px), and delivers high-quality thermal images which make it easy to visualize temperature differences
  • ITEMS INCLUDED: Thermal camera GTC 400 C, Bosch Thermal App, 1 x battery 12V 2.0Ah, quick charger, hand strap, micro USB cable and L-BOXX

Last update on 2022-06-02 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API / As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

FLIR TG165 Spot Thermal Imaging Camera for General Use
755 Reviews
FLIR TG165 Spot Thermal Imaging Camera for General Use
  • Featuring FLIR's enhanced Lepton IR Imaging engine
  • Intuitive to operate with no special training required
  • Easily save images and data for documentation. Operating temperature range: -10 to +45°C (+14 to 113°F)
  • Download images fast over USB or from removable micro SD
  • Compact and durable, easily stored in a crowded tool bag. Display -2.0 in. TFT LCD

Last update on 2022-06-02 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API / As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a thermal imaging camera detect leaks?
Yes, a thermal imaging camera can be used to detect leaks as an area penetrated by moisture will be cooler than the area which surrounds it. Water leaks, moisture intrusion and mould, if left undetected, can cause significant damage to your home so the quicker you locate the source, the better.

Do thermal imaging cameras need recalibrating?
Most thermal imaging cameras will need recalibrating. Typically, you need to take your camera in to be re-calibrated every two to three years. It requires trained experts to recalibrate cameras properly and should not be attempted by a non-specialist as if done incorrectly, it can cause permanent damage to the device. Some manufacturers have their own specialist repair and calibration centres.

Can a thermal imaging camera be used to find electrical faults?
A thermal imaging camera is the easiest, safest and quickest way to spot potential electrical issues such as an overheating component or overloaded circuit. Most elements and wires have a maximum operating temperature and, if they go above this, the component is likely to fail and cause the machinery to malfunction; potentially causing significant damage to the wiring/electrical system.

About Mike Jones 193 Articles
I have been a keen DIY enthusiast for over 15 years, I’m constantly tinkering in my garage, taking things apart and building things. Along the way, I seem to have acquired a bit of a tool collection, as you do. The issue I found was that the information online when it comes to finding out what you need to know when buying new tools was somewhat limited. I didn’t necessarily need to know which tool to buy, but more what was important when making that buying decision. Also, a bit like a child in a sweet shop when I see new tools and things I can do with them I find it hard to resist. I started this blog back in 2017 to try and put together some buying guides, not really reviews but more what you may want to know before going and deciding on a new tool. I’m also a keen gardener and if there is a tool or gadget that helps me in the garden I’m going to let you know. I hope these musings and buyers guides are of use to you in some way. All the best, Mike.

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