Thermal Imaging Buyer's Guide
Purchasing a Thermal Imaging Camera
Wanting to buy an infrared camera but not sure what to look for or where to start? Many factors should be weighed when you buy a thermal imaging camera. This guide goes over some of the basic factors to consider as well as tips to buy the correct camera or system for your application.
If you have any questions please feel free to call us Toll Free at 1-866-861-0788 to discuss your application and how our infrared cameras can work for you.
- Typically you will hear both infrared and thermal imaging used interchangeably; they are the same thing.
- Thermography directly refers to the acquisition, storage and analysis of radiated energy using a infrared imaging system. Temperatures are measured remotely to indicate equipment health and colors are assigned based on algorithms.
- Infrared systems are non-invasive,
meaning touching, poking, and prodding are not required for an accurate reading.
- Infrared instruments DO NOT measure temperature; they measure radiated thermal energy from the first 1/1000th” of the surface of a person or object.
Qualitative or Quantitative?
Determine the type of Infrared Camera that best suits your application; qualitative or qualitative. Most thermal imaging cameras are quantitative, meaning that they have software built-in to produce an accurate temperature reading.
- Qualitative cameras will NOT give a temperature reading but will be able to view thermal differences. These processes are used to identify anomalies where a temperature difference exists rather than determining what the actual temperature difference is between the target and its surroundings.
- Quantitative thermal cameras will give you accurate temperature readings. These readings are especially useful in situations when the exact temperature or temperature difference of the target determines whether it falls in or out of a determined criteria or range of acceptability. It is also important to R & D and process control situations.
Types of Cameras
At ICI we offer a variety of fixed mounted and handheld infrared cameras as well as enclosure systems.
Portable Handheld Thermal Imager
The most popular thermal imaging cameras are our handheld units, which are useful for a number of applications including research, electrical, mechanical, medical, veterinarian, fire fighting, process control, building inspections, and energy audits. Their ease of use, portability, and light weight make them ideal for many jobs and applications.
There are hundreds of different types of handheld cameras, each with a unique set of functions and features.
Fix Mounted and Pan & Tilt
Typically, fix mounted and Pan & Tilt systems are designed for stationary, non-portable use and require enclosures if exposed to weather or harsh conditions. At Infrared Cameras, we will custom design and manufacture these cameras and environmental protections for your applications.
When buying a fix mounted or pan & tilt thermal imaging camera, many factors should be considered:
- Does the camera need to be fix mounted or should it be able to pan & tilt?
- Does the camera need any special environmental protections, e.g. will it be exposed to extreme temperatures? For certain elemental conditions, heating and/or cooling for the camera may be required as well as humidity defense. All weather and environmental factors should be weighed into the purchase of a thermal imaging camera.
- Vehicle mounted thermal imaging cameras require special enclosures. Mounting to vehicles, aircraft, and boats will require stabilization as well as conversion to run off the vehicle's power. We can also modify our cameras to run on alternative power sources, e.g. solar panels.
- If your application requires a portable fix mounted unit, there are several fix mounted units that are small enough to be easily packed and moved from location to location. Thermal Imaging Cameras can be mounted on practically any vehicle, including robots, satellites, etc.
- If a thermal imaging camera is to be in one position, all weather and environmental factors should be weighed into the purchase of a thermal imaging camera. For certain environmental conditions, heating and/or cooling for the camera may be required as well as humidity defense.
- Does the system need to be autonomous? WiFi can allow thermal cameras to be placed in remote locations.
When purchasing a camera you should be familiar with the following specifications:
Weight / Dimensions
If your application requires your camera fit in a tight location you’ll want to keep that in mind when shopping. ICI’s 9320 handheld imager measures 34mmx30mmx34mm without a lens, perfect for small spaces.
Weight is a factor if you will be carrying your camera into the field, but not so much if your camera will be fix mounted.
When looking into purchasing an infrared camera, ensure your camera can measure temperature in the proper range for your application. High temperature cameras are needed to image extreme conditions.
Your camera should also allow you adjust the emissivity settings. If you cannot adjust emissivity you cannot get accurate readings.
Frame Rate / Resolution
Ensure the camera is 50/60Hz with a high resolution for the best possible viewing. See Export Restrictions.
Power / Batteries
Fix mounted systems can have wired connections or be powered using alternative energy sources, i.e. solar power.
Research device power consumption to maximize battery capacity minimize recharging in the field. On-the-go thermographers are encouraged to carry extra batteries.
Image Storage / Capacity
Know how your device will store images: on-board, SD/Micro-SD, external source, etc.
Image / Video Foramts
Buy a thermal imaging camera that outputs to industry standard image formats, i.e. JPEG or Tiff. These formats can easily be e-mailed to clients.
The camera should have video outputs in the event that you need to view or record live video. NTSC and PAL are widely available.
Lens Options / Focal Ranges
Look into all lens options and focal ranges to find the one that best suits your application. See if there are optional lenses available for an upgrade.
Accuracy / Sensitivity
Infrared cameras have varying degrees of accuracy and sensitivity. Our cameras have an accuracy at or better than the industry standard of ± 2°C or ±2%. Thermal sensitivity (NETD) is measured in terms of milliKelvins (mK) or in degrees Celsius (°C).
Know the infrared spectral band your camera can see. There are short wave, mid-wave, and long wave thermal cameras and each one is used for different applications.
Determine if your application needs a visible camera, laser pointer, enclosure, etc.
Cameras with non-proprietary accessories and batteries are better investments. Having the option to buy a back-up battery at your local electronic store can save you a lot of time and money.
Some software comes with alarming features as well as voice and text annotation.
Thermal Imaging Software
Ensure your software has the functions necessary for your application.
ICI’s IR Flash Professional Software comes with all functions enabled (full version). Additionally, there are no restrictions and no charge for multiple users across computers or offices.
Make sure your camera offers temperature measurement points if quantitative data is required as well as an accuracy at or better than the industry standard of ± 2°C or ±2%.
Cameras should come with available drivers installed; if not, the device may not function properly. ICI offers Drivers and Software Development Kits.
Infrared Thermography Training
To ensure accuracy, all personnel using your company's thermal imaging camera should be properly trained in Level 1 Thermography. Instructors will review individual cameras as well as software for the benefits of their students. Training can also help better determine the type of camera needed for the desired application.
Consider renting a thermal camera or seeing a demo unit during your training class before making a final purchase.
Protecting Your Investment
Ensure that the camera comes with a standard 1-year warranty. Many manufacturers offer a 2-year warranty or the ability to purchase an extended warranty. If your thermal camera is critical to your business’s success, make sure that you can be provided with a loaner camera in case your thermal camera needs repairs.
Calibration and Repair
Another consideration is whether the manufacturer you are purchasing from has their own Calibration and Repair center. The majority of thermal cameras require calibration every year or two depending on use.
If the camera has to be sent broad for repair or calibration you may be without a camera for several weeks or even months. Therefore, it is important to find out if a loaner camera will be supplied.
Other Considerations and Tips
At ICI we offer a “Try before you Buy” rental program. You rent the camera as usual; however, if you decide to purchase the unit, we will waive the rental fee up to one week.
When purchasing a thermal imaging camera for medical purposes, ensure that the camera has been cleared by the FDA and has 510k Clearance for use as a medical device; this guarantees that the camera is of high quality and is calibrated for medical use.
ICI has received FDA 510k Clearance to market our S and P series thermal imaging cameras as medical devices.
Some companies, like ICI, offer financing which can help make purchasing an infrared camera camera easier.