Guide to Thermal Cameras

Keeping watch in a disaster situation or finding people can be a challenge, but thermal cameras can make these tasks much simpler. Even things that are not alive often emit some degree of heat. Thermal imaging allows people to see these things. However, there are so many different kinds of thermal cameras that choosing the correct one for the need it must fill can be daunting.

What is a thermal camera?

A thermal camera, also known as a thermographic camera, is a device that can view and record things based on how much heat is being released. The infrared spectrum, discovered in the early 1800s by Frederick William Herschel, is found between the microwave band and the visible band on the light spectrum. He referred to the area as “dark heat.”

The first device that could ‘see’ that heat was called a bolometer. It was invented in 1878 by Samuel Pierpont Langley, and by 1900 the technology could be used to find a cow 400 meters away by its heat. In 1929, the first infrared electronic camera was created by Kálmán Tihanyi, a physicist in Hungary. He named it the Evaporograph; it was used by the British to detect enemy aircraft.

Texas Instruments joined the U.S. military in developing the first infrared line scanner in 1947. These have been upgraded so now they can capture HD video at a range of up to 25 km. A tiny version of the bolometer was created in 1978, called the microbolometer.

Study continued onusing the infrared spectrum and in 1982, thermography became a way to find breast cancer without needing to resort to surgery. It is possible to detect up to 95% of cancer in early stage with this method.

Thermography was introduced to much of the general public in 1987 through the movie Predator. The alien used thermal radiation to track his prey. To make the contrast greater between the actors and the background plants, the plants were sprayed with cold water.

Thermal cameras became a common tool for firefighters in the 1990s, because they can assist in finding people in rooms filled with smoke or trapped under things, as well as being prepared for hot spots that can hide in buildings. They were quite expensive then, but now are much more affordable.

In 2014, smartphone attachments that turn them into a thermal camera became available. A phone designed in 2016 had the technology built in.

What can I see with a thermal camera?

Because the infrared is able to convert the heat levels into visible light, pictures of otherwise invisible things – due to darkness or obstructions – can be seen and captured.  This is used by firefighters, law enforcement, inspectors, and others to aid in their occupations. These can be used to determine what is there, detecting leaks, finding hotspots, finding animals that have hidden themselves in attics or basements, and evendetecting fever. Some businesses have installed thermal cameras at their entrances to check those entering the building for fever before admitting them.

What are the camera features to look for?

  • Options such as being able to capture images,the ability to store images with temperature analysis, Bluetooth connectivity, and the ability to view on monitors via USB may be needed for some applications.
  • Price is definitely the first thought of most people when looking for a thermal camera. However, it is important to be willing to spend the amount needed to handle the tasks required. The lower priced cameras are likely to be sufficient for the average home use, while the more professional devices are worth the price.
  • The range of temperature needed will depend on what is being viewed. A lower-end device is likely to have a range of 14-300 degrees Fahrenheit, while professional versions may go from -40 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Resolution, or image quality, can be important. Regardless what the display size is, if the resolution of the thermal camera is very small, the image quality will not be good. The higher the resolution is of the thermal camera, the more detail can be seen in the captured image.
Where to Buy

Hti HT-02D Thermal Imaging Camera, Handheld Infrared (IR) Thermal Imager & Visible Light Camera with IR Resolution 1024Pixels & Temperature Range from -20~300°C,6Hz Refresh Rate

FLIR ONE Gen 3 - iOS - Thermal Camera for Smart Phones - with MSX Image Enhancement Technology

Pocket-Sized IR Thermal Imager, Huepar 80 x 60 Infrared Resolution Thermal Imaging Camera Measurement Range 14°F~752°F with 76800 Pixels Display, Temperature Tracking & Adjustable Emissivity HTi80P

FLIR TG165 - Spot Thermal Camera - with 2-Meter Drop Durability for Your Toughest Jobs

220 x 160 IR Resolution Infrared Thermal Imager, Handheld 35200 Pixels Thermal Imaging Camera,Infrared Thermometer with 3.2" Color Display Screen

Thermal Imaging Camera with WiFi - 320 x 240 IR Infrared Thermal Imager with 3.5" 640x480 TFT Display - ennoLogic eT450C


Where can I get a thermal camera?

There are many places to get a thermal camera, including online. Here are a variety of the highest rated thermal cameras available on

HT-02D Handheld IR Camera

At around $200, this handheld thermal image device would be convenient for use at home. Its range is from -20 to 300 degrees Celsius, and its infrared resolution is 32*32 pixels. The 2.4” display screen is high resolution, with the visible image resolution of .3 mp. It has a fixed focus and a place for a micro SD card. It uses the file format .bmp. It uses four AA batteries which are not included.

FLIR ONE Gen 3 for iOS

This device attaches to an iPhone and turns it into a thermal camera. It allows images to be captured and shared. Its range is from 4 to 248 degrees Fahrenheit (20-120 Celsius). The app offers ideas for using the thermal imaging and makes it easy to share images.

Pocket-Sized Imager

80×60 infrared resolution provides a view of a range from 14 to 752 degrees Fahrenheit with a display of 76,800 pixels. Three color palettes allow users to choose a color scheme that works best for viewing. The 320×240 LCD display makes it easy to see where the heat is. Up to 5000 pictures can be stored in the machine.

Durable Thermal Camera

This focus free device can focus as little as four inches away, with a minimum measurement distance of 10 inches. Its range is -25 to 380 Celsius (-13 to 716 Fahrenheit). Easy to use, the included micro SD card can hold 8GB of images. Durable enough to withstand a 2-meter drop, this sturdy device is excellent for professional use.

220×160 IR Resolution Camera

3.2” display screen shows full color images in resolution of 220×160, in five different palettes of color. The included 3GB SD card will hold images for viewing later on a larger screen. It is lightweight and portable with a handle geared to be ergonomic for comfort.

Thermal Imaging Camera with WiFi

A 320×240 resolution infrared image can be viewed on the 3.5” display which is 640×480 TFT. The unit has WiFi built in for ease in transferring images to a mobile device or computer, or even streaming them in real time. Any web browser can be used to connect; the camera has a web server built in. Temperature is automatically read and displayed, and images can be stored internally up to 6.8GB. Users can select one of five color palettes. The included Lithium-ion battery is rechargeable and provides up to four hours of continual use.