Purchasing a thermal imaging camera

Wanting to buy an infrared thermal imaging camera but not sure where to start or what to look for when purchasing? Many factors should be weighed when you buy an infrared thermal imaging camera. This guide goes over some of the basic factors to be considered as well as tips to buy the correct thermal camera for your application.

If you have any questions please feel free to email us at support@obsetech.com to discuss your application and how our infrared cameras can work for you.

General information

Typically you will hear both infrared and thermal imaging; they are really the same thing. Infrared instruments DO NOT measure temperature; they measure infrared radiated energy only. Thermography is the discipline concerned with the acquisition, storage and analysis of radiated energy using a thermal infrared imaging system. Thermography directly refers to the active collection and interpretation of infrared data, and is the measurement of temperature remotely to indicate equipment health and assigning a color based on the temperature.

Qualitative or Quantitative?

Basically, qualitative means that you will not get a temperature reading, but will be able to view thermal differences, while a quantitative thermal camera will give you accurate temperature readings. Most thermal imaging cameras are qualitative; meaning that they have the built in software to produce an accurate temperature reading.

Determine the type of infrared camera that best suits your application; qualitative or qualitative?

  • Qualitative measurement – the process of obtaining and interpreting thermal images based on thermal contrast in order to identify anomalies; the purpose is more to determine where a temperature difference exists than what the temperature difference is between the target and its surroundings.
  • Quantitative measurement – the process of obtaining thermal images with correct temperature readings. 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. Also important to R&D and process control situations.

Portable, Fix Mounted, or Pan & Tilt thermal Iimaging unit?

At OBSETECH we offer a variety of infrared cameras and enclosures ranging from airborne vehicle mounted, fix mounted, vehicle mounted with stabilization, pan and tilt, handheld thermal imagers, etc.

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 hand held thermal imaging cameras, each with a unique set of functions and features. When purchasing a handheld camera the buyer should be aware of the following:

  • Weight and design can be a be factor if the camera will be used for any extended period of time.
  • Battery Charge time, accessories, etc. should be considered depending on the job at hand.
  • Other considerations:
    • Voice annotation
    • Size of LCD – ability to rotate or move screen for difficult angles
    • Lens size
    • Image storage capacity
    • Video output
    • Resolution
    • Image refresh rate

Fix mounted and Pan & Tilt

At OBSETECH, we will custom design and manufacture to your specifications. Depending upon your particular application, there are several designs and models from which to choose.

When buying a fix mounted or pan and tilt thermal imaging camera, many factors should be considered:

  • Does the camera need to have any special environmental protections, e.g. will it be exposed to extreme heat/cold or will it be exposed to humidity?
  • Does the camera need to be fix mounted or should it be able to pan and tilt? Vehicle mounted thermal imaging cameras require specially outfitted enclosures. Mounting to vehicles, aircraft, and boats will also require stabilization as well as conversion to run off the vehicles power.
  • 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 vehicles, drones, robots, satellites, etc.
  • Does the system need to be autonomous?
  • 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.
  • How thermal camera will be hooked up to power and monitoring stations should be considered as we can modify our thermal cameras to run on an alternative power sources, e.g. solar panels. Wifi can then allow thermal cameras to be placed in remote locations.

Thermal imaging software

Ensure software has the functions necessary for your application.

Several unscrupulous companies may try to sell you a “watered down” version or a lite version of their software to allow viewing only of the images or limited functionality. At OBSETECH we offer several software packages, but all of them are the full software suite with all functions enabled. 

IR flash professional thermal imaging analysis software

Ensure the Thermal Imaging Camera has the built in features necessary for your application.

Our infrared cameras offer single and multiple temperature measure points and should have accuracy at the industry standard of ± 2°C or ±2%; this is the industry standard and anything above that may provide unreliable or inaccurate temperature measurements. When purchasing your infrared thermal imager, you need to be aware of the following:

  • Make sure your camera allows you adjust the emissivity settings. If you cannot adjust emissivity you cannot get accurate readings.
  • Buy a camera with video output in the event that you need to view or record live video. Also, ensure the camera is HD 50/60Hz with a high resolution for the best possible viewing.
  • Buy a thermal imaging camera that outputs to industry standard format image, i.e. as a JPEG or Tiff, that can easily be e-mailed to clients.
  • Ensure your camera will be able to measure temperature high or low enough for your application.
  • Buy a thermal imaging camera with trade in potential, i.e. you should buy from a manufacturer that offers loaners, trade-ins, rentals, and demos.
  • Make sure the manufacturer has an experienced sales staff trained in thermography.
  • Determine if the camera includes temperature tracking, visible camera, laser pointer, alarming features, correct focal length, and the correct angle of lens.
  • Look into all lens options to find the one that best suits your application, and see if there are optional lenses available for an upgrade.
  • Discover all of the available accessories, i.e. case, battery, charger, etc., for the best deal.
  • Buy a camera with no proprietary accessories or batteries. Having the option to pick up a back-up battery at your local Radio Shack can save you a lot of money and time.

Other considerations and tips

  • Warranty – Ensure that the camera comes with a standard 1-year warranty. 
  • Thermography Training – To ensure accuracy, all personnel using the thermal imaging camera should be properly trained in Level 1 Thermography. Training can help one better determine the type of camera needed for the desired application.
  • Consider renting or getting a demo unit during your training class before actually purchasing the thermal camera. Instructors will review individual cameras as well as software for the benefits of their students.
  • Thermal Sensitivity or NETD – Thermal sensitivity is measured in terms of milliKelvins (mK). The lower the sensitivity the more sensitive the camera. A low sensitivity indicates the camera’s overall image quality and, thus, can affect accuracy when calculating temperatures.
  • Calibration and Repair – Another good point to consider is whether the manufacturer or seller you are purchasing from have their Calibration and Repair center. 

For more information, please email us on support@obsetech.com

This buyer’s guide was written by professionals from Infrared Cameras Inc. for general informational purposes.