This technology has proven its uses in many industries and applications in past dacades, with thermal cameras of varying functionality and price range have found their way into the commercial market place.
If you are looking for the cheapest thermal imaging camera to meet basic needs –
This post will not only guide you on factors to consider before buying, but to give an overview and reviews of top choices available on the market today, to make your life easier.
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Cheapest Thermal Imaging Camera: 10 Budget Yet Powerful Choices in 2021
When in the market for the best cheap thermal image camera among all different brands and models, deciding on one with good value can be quite a daunting task.
We’ve compared the pricing, identified the options with lowest cost, and narrowed our select thermal cameras down to the best top 10 — with other key consideration factors include: Image resolution, temperature range, and user reviews.
1. Seek Thermal Compact Imager – for Android and iOS
Seek Thermal Compact Imager is a powerful thermal imaging camera that is designed to be used on smartphone. Your mobile phone is one of the most convenient device that you have, thus with Seek Compact you can easily take thermal photos and videos by simply powering it up using your smartphone.
The Seek Thermal Compact Imager is tiny and can easily be connected to smartphone or a tablet through the charging port. It is compatible with those that run on iOS 8.0 and Android 4.3 or higher versions.
This highly portable thermal camera can cover temperature range of -40° to 626° F and a distance of 6″ to 1,000 ft. It has a thermal sensor with 206 by 156 pixels resolution which is quite good for a thermal imaging camera.
You can easily mount this Seek on your smartphone and it is easy to use. It runs on low power direct from your smartphone, and will give you useful information that will help you go about the correction measures.
For example, the thermal sensor can detect part that is emitting or losing energy in the insulation, plumbing and electrical systems, including detection of a pipe that is leaking, so that you can take the correct measures to fix the faults.
You can check out 2150+ user reviews here on what they say about Seek Thermal Compact.
2. FLIR ONE Thermal Cam for iPhone / Android-Smartphone
Flir One, the cheapest FLIR thermal imaging camera available, is another alternative that can easily be attached to a smartphone or tablet. It is compatible with iOS or Android devices, and is able to show thermal images on the screen of the smartphone. You can attach it to your Android device using a micro USB or a lightning connector for iOS.
This Flir One thermal imaging device has dual cameras that are fitted side by side on the back, where one is a low resolution regular camera and the other one is a thermal camera (80 x 60 pixels resolution for Flir One Gen 3 and 160 x 120 pixels for PRO version). With the dual cameras you can align the two different images to get clearer and precise image.
Flir One uses an automatic shuttering feature to capture images, therefore you don’t have to reset the thermal sensor manually. The Gen3 version covers temperature range of -20 °C to 120 °C, while the more expensive PRO version covers -20 °C to 400 °C. It can detect cold spots, where cold air is leaking through a window pane.
Flir One thermal cam takes images automatically without having to reset the thermal sensor manually. The touchscreen gestures on its app makes it easier for you take pictures and record videos. You can also share the recorded images and videos easily.
The Flir One App will provide you with all the instructions that you need to use this thermal camera appropriately, and you can customize the color palette to your own liking.
If you are looking for the absolutely cheapest thermal camera that can get the job done, then FLIR ONE Gen 3 for smart phone is the one you should buy.
3. HT-02 Infrared Thermal Imaging Camera
The easy to operate HT02 is a handheld infrared thermal imager that has combined functions of surface temperature measurement and real-time thermal imaging, while its adjustable radiation coefficient and reflection background compensation can help to improve the accuracy of measurement on semi-reflective surface.
This low cost HT-02 thermal camera covers temperature of -4° to 572° F (-20 °C to 300 °C), with a 2.4 inch full viewing angle color screen
This infrared thermal imager has the option of color palette, and the taken images can be stored in PC for printing and report generation.
You can check out more HT02 sample thermal image photos and user reviews here.
HT02 is a great choice of cheap thermal image camera that is available in the market, especially if its relatively low resolution of 60×60 (3600 pixels) is not critical for your needs.
This thermal infrared imager comes with a package that includes a protection bag, drop resistance rope, and user manual. HT-02 is also available for sale at Amazon.
4. Perfect-Prime IR0005 Infrared Thermal Imager/Detector
Covering temperature range of -20 to 300 °C, Perfect-Prime IR0175 is one of the cheapest thermal camera available for sale, but it has a very low resolution of 1024 pixels (32×32).
As such, the best recommended model is Perfect-Prime IR0005 Infrared Thermal Imager with 220 x 160 pixels (35,200 pixels), 5 Color palettes, and 3GB integrated SD card.
This affordable PerfectPrime IR0005 thermal imager has received very good user reviews, so it’s a great choice for someone looking for the best thermal imaging camera under $500:
5. Seek Thermal Reveal Thermal Imaging Camera
This handheld thermal camera has a combination of 300 lumen LED light and a thermal imaging that is displayed on a large 240 by 320 resolution color display screen. It can detect heat of temperature range from -40° to 626°F (-40° to 330°c), with a viewable range of 500-ft.
There is also Seek Thermal Reveal XR (Xtra Range) Camera model which has an extended range that can detect heat signatures at a distance of up to 275 meters (900 feet). It use a military proven technology that gives it the power to detect heat at such a long distance.
This affordable camera has a rugged design and a rechargeable battery that is long lasting. It is a great thermal camera for people whose tasks are always outdoors as well as public safety professionals. This can record images even in total darkness.
Easy to set up and use, this thermal camera comes with a Micro SD card that provides more storage for your photos and makes it easy for you to transfer the photos to your computer.
Seek Thermal Reveal is also an excellent choice of inexpensive thermal camera here.
6. FLIR TG167 / TG165 Spot Thermal Camera
TG167 / TG165 thermal inspection cameras, equipped with FLIR’s exclusive Lepton micro thermal sensor, provide better accuracy and clarity than a traditional infrared gun.
These low-cost FLIR thermal cameras are capable to take images with 24:1 spot size ratio under a temperature range of -13 to 716°F (-25 to 380°C), that allows user to keep a safe distance while taking the measurement.
You can also check out the older version FLIR TG130 here for stock availability and pricing comparison. ( Hint: TG130 is normally cheaper than TG165 so you can save some bucks. )
FLIR TG167 / TG165 thermal imaging cameras have large and easy to read graphical thin film transistor (TFT) LCD screen, so you can easily find unseen hot / cold spots for problem troubleshooting as necessary.
7. HTI HT-18 IR Resolution Infrared Thermal Imager
Covering measuring range of -20 to 300°C, HTI HT-18 Thermal Imager is equipped with 220 x 160 infrared image resolution, 3.2″ color display screen, and built-in 4GB microSD.
This is another top option for people who look for reliable and best cheap thermal camera for the money under $500.
The following video gives an unboxing overview of this budget thermal imaging camera and its application for home inspection:
8. Milwaukee Infrared M12 Thermal Imaging Camera Kit
The M12 is known to be the first imaging camera in its class to deliver a great 7,800+ pixel image detail for full reporting capabilities than single-point infrared thermometers. It uses the leverage Milwaukee exclusive dual sense pixel technology that provides very clear images for fast day-to-day troubleshooting.
The Milwaukee M12 (2258-21H) displays images of temperature readouts on a screen. It actually utilizes an 83:1 distance-to-spot ratio which is designed to provide a user with an accurate, precise, real-time readings from a distance.
The clear and crisp images provide useful information on household problems, like on heat loss, water damage, electrical resistance and mechanicals issues in various appliances that are used at home.
This thermal camera comes along with a USB cable for charging it and a micro SD card for extra storage of the captured photos. The M12 is also fully compatible with Milwaukee Thermal Reporting Software which is normally utilize for archiving, analyzing and reporting.
9. Fluke VT04A Infrared Imager with Thermal Heat Map
This device has powerful sensor resolutions that make it a more thermal imaging camera than just a visual thermometer.
The Fluke VT04A Infrared imager allows you to blend visual image and infrared so that you can get the detail that you need. With the ability to blend the visual image and infrared you can quickly identify the location that has a problem.
You can easily capture accurate temperature readings without having to take your eye off the screen. It has more inbuilt options, and also it can help you find intermittent problems due to its ability to monitor equipment over time and give you alerts whenever the temperature is out of the expected range.
Fluke VT04A Infrared Imager with thermal heat map overlay has hot and cold markers that help to instantly identify the hottest and coldest spots within the field of view. Once you have captured the images, you can generate a professional report and easily edit it if need be.
10. FLIR C3 Compact Thermal Imaging Camera with WI-FI
If you are searching for the best cheap thermal camera with wireless Wi-Fi function, then look no further than the very popular FLIR C3 –
which falls in a ‘sweet spot’ between DIYers and professionals, as this full featured thermal imaging camera offers significant values to help uncover hidden heat patterns for work or personal use.
With 3 inch touch screen and digital camera display at high resolution of 640 x 480 pixels, the pocket-sized FLIR C3 Compact Thermal Imager is surely an excellent choice of budget thermal camera with Wi-Fi ability.
Powered by FLIR proprietary MSX technology, the enhanced thermal images can be shared with others easily via Wi-Fi, for improved efficiency and convenience.
It also contains several additional features that can generally only be found in high-end thermal imagers that are much more expensive –
eg. “picture in picture mode”, and “area box measurement” that allows user to select a square measurement area then determine the highest or lowest temperature in the defined box.
This is the best thermal imaging camera under $1000 that we recommend.
Buying a Cheap Thermal Image Camera: 10 Other Factors To Consider (Besides Cost)
Most of the times when people want to buy a thermal imaging camera, they rarely have an idea of where to start from or what they really should look for when purchasing.
While getting a cheap thermal infrared camera below $200 is not a dream nowadays —
For most people, it is not just a matter of buying one and using it, as every camera is built for its specific thermal imaging tasks, and there are various factors that should be looked at when buying a thermal imaging camera.
Here are 10 other factors that you may want to consider and determine whether they are important for your needs, in order to make sure you buy the correct thermal imaging camera for the tasks/objectives you want to accomplish.
But of course, you also need to consider your budget, as higher-end thermal camera with greater performance and features tend to cost more.
1. Accuracy and Sensitivity
When it comes to accuracy, the application or your needs for a thermal imaging camera matter. The accuracy of the camera is influenced by the sensitivity of the camera, which is its ability to show the difference between two objects.
According to Bill Warner, Education Director for the National Association of Commercial Building Inspectors & Thermographers –
The best high-end thermal imaging cameras are those that are able to provide a temperature measurement with a high accuracy of ±2% or ±2°C, and 50mK (0.05°C) thermal sensitivity. Whereas thermal cameras with ±5% or ±5°C accuracy and a sensitivity of 100mK (0.10°C) is considered good and adequate.
Taking the best budget thermal cameras above as examples — product specification wise, the handheld FLIR TG167 thermal camera with 1.5°C (2.7°F) or ±1.5% accuracy is more accurate than the phone-based FLIR ONE thermal camera at ±3 °C (5.4 °F) or ±5%.
Most thermal imaging cameras have fewer pixels than the visible light picture cameras. However, if you really want to obtain better thermal images, you need to always go for those cameras that have the highest resolution.
What matters in an image resolution is the camera focal point array (FPA). For most of the digital cameras, you can easily adjust the FPA to what looks best for you.
In video below, certified thermographer Devin Flynn shares useful tips on how to choose a thermal camera, including the detailed elaboration on the “resolution” factor.
As recommended in the video above, thermal image camera with 160×120 resolution (19,200 pixels) is considered average good quality, and resolution of 320×240 (76,800 pixels) is regarded pro level high quality.
Based on above, while phone-based Seek Thermal Compact Imager (206×156) and Flir One Pro thermal camera (160×120) are considered having average good quality resolution —
option like FLIR C3 Compact Thermal Imager with 640 x 480 pixels resolution is categorized as “pro level high quality”.
3. Temperature Range
Thermal imaging cameras are built with their own ability to measure a specific range of the temperature, with the range indicates the minimum and maximum temperature a camera is able to measure. The application of your camera matters a lot when it comes to choosing the range of the temperature.
For instance, a camera that measures upto to 600 °C is good enough for many applications, but it is not sufficient for applications involving furnaces and kilns that require temperature measurement upto 2000 °C, says the Institute of Infrared Thermography.
It is always great to go for broader and higher temperature range, yet this is heavily determined by your intended application.
In case you are wondering how does a thermal image camera work, check out this video:
When it comes to buying any useful gadget you need in life, durability is always crucial factor to consider. This applies to thermal imaging cameras since it will sometimes or even most of the times be used in harsh conditions.
Sometimes, the equipment will be used in some spots that may be difficult to reach easily and it may even be dropped, and the impact it hits down with can dismantle a weak camera. A strong camera is able to resist impact in case it gets dropped down giving you more years of its application.
The overall design of a camera influences the durability of the camera. The design should comprise of a double-molded housing which provides the camera’s delicate parts with the protection they need in case of an impact, and also it should be able to prevent dirt from getting into it. A dust-proof design protects the camera’s sensitive mechanism or parts from harmful materials.
The newer thermal imaging cameras are built with newer designs such that they look more rugged and are usually more powerful than larger cameras built with older designs. You can easily carry the smaller cameras since they are usually one-handed and be able to perform your operations easily.
5. Screen Size
Thermal imaging cameras have varying display screen size. If you want to view large images, you will need a camera that has a larger display to meet your needs. You should always go for a screen size that is 3.5 inches and above since it will make it easier to read the displays, or even view more images on the screen.
A camera with a large display is actually ideal for professionals who need to the appropriate and correct decisions on the field. A large display also makes it easier for you to explain the findings on the display screen to your clients before you even making a report of the findings.
6. Ease of Use
Cameras are built with several buttons that make it easier for you to change functions as you go about your operations. The menu is often displayed on the display screen which you can easily navigate by just making the selections of the functions that you want to perform.
There are cameras that are more user-friendly than others since are built with more buttons which make simply their functionality. Others have fewer buttons, less than three, where you will have to go through multi-step routines in order to perform your basic tasks. More buttons allow the user to navigate easily to perform their desired functions.
7. Image Format
The most common image storage format of a thermal imaging camera is JPEG format, which can easily be used by anybody who wants to access the images saved. It is always wise to choose the JPEG format because the stored images can easily be accessed using a computer by just plugging in the camera with a USB cable. You can easily transfer the images to your computer, which makes it easier for you to share with anyone.
Cameras that rely on the bitmap (BMP) image storage format usually strip out the temperature information so that they can be stored; Whereas compatibility issue can be a huge concern for other less popular image storage format that requires specific application to open the file.
Some of the best thermal imaging cameras feature a reporting software that is often powerful to provide high-quality reports. The reporting software should be easy to use with a simple to follow procedure.
You will find that there are those with a software that allows to perform basic image analysis and create simple but professional reports, while there are those that come along with a more advanced software for in-depth analysis for sophisticated reports.
You can also find cameras with a free software that you can easily customize, whilst some cameras are equipped with wifi feature for easier and faster files transfer.
9. Built-in Visible Light Camera
Built-in visible light camera allows you to do your inspection in low-light environments. This saves you the hassle of having to carry a lamp in order to perform your inspection in dark areas. A camera that does not have a built-in light can provide images that are not clear, thus this will hinder the accuracy of your analysis and report.
Most of the times, clients want a more comprehensive result or report, even if it is low-light areas, therefore having a built-in visible light camera is a must.
10. Battery Life
The battery life of your camera matters a lot, you don’t want that will die while you are out there in the field. Therefore, you need a longer battery life. It is wise to acquire a camera with a swappable battery so that when one does you can easily switch to a spare battery.
Other cameras have built-in batteries that cannot be removed, if it dies you will have to connect to a power supply and for you to on with your operation will depend on the length of the extension cord.
Benefits and Top Applications of Thermal Camera
Thermal imager is a non-contact device with heat sensor that detects infrared radiation (heat energy) emitted from an object, and converts it into a visual image.
The created image represents the temperature of the object, with various intensity levels of invisible infrared light are presented in different colors. By default, bright colors (such as red, orange, yellow) indicate warmer temperatures, while dark colors (such as black, purple, dark blue) indicate cooler temperatures.
Thermal imaging was once restricted to military purposes, however the application of this technology has expanded to many civilian usages, whilst it is getting less expensive and much more affordable nowadays.
For instance, as shown in Top 10 Benefits and Uses of Thermal Imaging Camera with videos and case studies –
Thermal camera has been widely used by home inspectors, building maintenance professionals, equipment service professionals, electrical/mechanical engineers, and house owners who like DIY home improvement projects for:
- Electrical inspections to early detect wiring faults, hot spots, overload etc.
- Diagnosis of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, air flow, HVAC issues.
- Home energy audit to detect heat loss, heat gain, missing insulation etc.
- Roofing inspection with drone equipped with thermal imaging camera.
- Detection of moisture and mold/mildew in buildings and walls.
- Water leakage, sewage leak, plumbing problems, pipe clogs.
- Mechanical inspections on machinery, equipment, tooling.
- Circuit board troubleshooting, electronics repair.
- Termite inspection, pest control.
- and much more.
The good news is, even a cheap thermal camera can already meet most of your basic needs pertaining to the usages and applications indicated above.
But of course, people also use various models of thermal imaging camera for many other purposes – such as hunting, wildlife scouting, agriculture, automotive and vehicle check, fire fighting, search and rescue mission, PCB design and research, body temperature and fever check, law enforcement, personal security, long range surveillance, and more.
( Header Image source: Wikipedia )