When they were first invented, thermal imaging cameras were predominantly used by firefighters as a way to fight through the smoke and locate the source of the fire.
However, these devices soon found their way in many different fields as they were thought of as well-built pieces of technical equipment.
Nowadays, they are useful tools for hunters around the globe, as they proved to be quite efficient as a military tool, as well.
So, here we'll review the best thermal camera in 2021. There will be a lot of different models to check out, so we'll divide our list into 3 parts, but more on that later on.
Also, aside from just pronouncing the best thermal camera, we'll throw in a detailed buyer's guide to help you learn more about these products and how they work.
Table of Contents
- Best Thermal Imaging Camera - Top 5 List
- Best Budget Thermal Imaging Camera - Top 4 Picks
- Best Thermal Camera For Smartphone - Top 3 Products
- A Couple of Things for the Road - Buying Guide
- Final Thoughts - Conclusion
Best Thermal Imaging Camera - Top 5 List
When you browse Amazon to search for any product, you'll often find long titles with too many words. This one is simply called FLIR C5, and it lets its specifications do the talking. Here's the best product we could find.
Primarily, there are a couple of FLIR C5 models available, but we'll only cover the first series since the other two are more expensive, and you probably won't need the extra features. Overall, they offer moisture pens and voltage detectors.
As for the standard C5, there are a couple of things special about it. Firstly, it is a 3-in-1 thermal imaging camera, meaning it has visual inspection, thermal processing, and an LED floodlight, which is ideal for low-light conditions.
When you look at C5, the first thing you'll notice is the size since it's quite compact and small. However, that's actually beneficial for the user for two reasons.
Firstly, it's literally pocket-sized, so you'll be able to carry it on you at all times, no matter the clothes you're wearing.
On the other hand, its durability is quite admirable considering its size. It has a rugged design for extra durability, and it's verified with a 2-meter drop test. Also, the 3-inch LCD screen is extremely durable and won't damage that easily.
Furthermore, the MSX technology developed by FLIR is something that we love the most about this device. Some of the key points behind this software are clear images with detailed outlines and edges.
The lighting is incredible, and you probably won't regret it one second if you decide to go for this one.
It doesn't matter if you're a firefighter, contractor, or doing work around the house - this device will surely prove to be one of the biggest assets in your work. We present to you the Seek Thermal RevealPro.
There are some things that make this thermal imaging camera special. It has a high-resolution camera with a 320 x 240 sensor. It doesn't seem like much compared to smartphones, but due to the size and the width of the LCD screen, it is more than appropriate.
Since it's small and compact, owning this device will prove to be a big asset during home inspections, assessing water leaks, or simply calculating the surface temperature of given objects.
Don't be fooled into thinking that this unit is fragile because of its size. Thanks to its rugged design and build, you'll use this thermal imaging camera everywhere without worrying if it'll damage if you drop it.
Moreover, we should mention some of its fancy features. For example, you can use it during the day and night thanks to the powerful LCD screen. It comes with an LED light with 300 lumen that works quite nicely.
The battery is integrated and rechargeable - your standard Li-Ion battery. It's quite refreshing to see that it comes with an included battery since many manufacturers often sell them separately.
However, its thermal sensor works best at about 100 feet of distance. It can give you temperature readings up to 500 feet, depending on the environment, but the image will not be that clear at longer distances.
Overall, that's the only major flaw we can spot with the Seek Thermal RevealPro.
Next up is another Seek Thermal product that will definitely resemble the previous one in some fields, but it still offers some variations to the standard. Without further ado, let's dig into the Seek Thermal ShotPro.
Unlike the previous unit, the Seek Thermal ShotPro comes equipped with Wi-Fi live view - it doesn't really matter if you own an iPhone, Samsung, or a budget smartphone, you'll be able to live-stream everything that your thermal imaging camera captures.
The Seek Fusion technology is something that should also be mentioned as the visibility is through the roof. The rendering process that this technology supplies is one of the best that we've seen so far. Your images and videos will be crisp-clear, and you'll detect any problems with ease.
Like the previous unit, it also features a quality LCD screen with a 3.5-inch diagonal. However, the resolution is 640 x 480, which enables a detailed perception and a pleasing experience overall.
It works with the standard Lithium-Ion batteries that can give you approximately 4 hours of running time with continuous use. So, your thermal imaging camera can be used in various fields, including home inspections.
There are some quirks we don't like, but they still don't diminish the overall value of this device. Firstly, it's the price that's not that affordable, but it's an investment you'll make for a top-notch product.
Also, the colors are not that natural, but that's our subjective take on this matter. Overall, these are small details that shouldn't affect your decision.
You'll probably wonder why this device wasn't placed higher on the list after reading the review. Stay tuned and learn all about the FLIR E4, and we'll explain it along the way.
As you could guess by now, FLIR makes some outstanding units, and this one isn't really an exception to the rule. It's packed with an abundance of features that makes this unit the most advanced thermal imaging camera on the market right now.
However, it's a premium device, and therefore quite expensive, so we had to place it in fourth place.
Unlike the C series, the E series is a line of professional units that are mostly used by firefighters or extreme hunters that require the best. The E4 possesses the same MSX rendering software that delivers beautiful imagery with sharp details.
Furthermore, the camera resolution is 80 x 60, but since the screen is quite small, this resolution is absolutely respectable. Also, it works with some handy modes, such as the automatic detection of hot and cold spots with the center spot.
The design is user-friendly, as evident from the Amazon images. It has an ergonomic design with a firm-grip handle that doesn't create blisters on your hands. As expected from a FLIR device, it's durable and made to endure tough falls and damages.
The flaw is quite evident - it's expensive. As this is a premium unit, you'd expect the price to be high, but $800 is too much for a thermal imaging camera. However, it pays off since you'll probably be using it for the years to come.
All in all, it's up to you.
The last item in this segment is slightly unusual, considering it's not your average camera. In fact, it's a thermal monocular with plenty to offer. Here's the FLIR Systems Scout II 320 Thermal Camera.
FLIR is one of the stronghold names in the industry when it comes to optical devices, and thermal imaging software is not new to them. Therefore, the prowess of this unit is no surprise to us as it's highly demanded on the market.
Let's talk about the features that constitute this unit. It has a 320 x 240 camera resolution combined with 2x magnification properties.
As it's technically not a camera, it's not a surprise that it costs a lot, but when you consider the fact that it's developed for serious hunters, it all comes together.
Since it's a handheld device with an objective lens, you'll have to hold it close to your eye, but it has a 19 mm eye relief, so it's not a problem. Also, the refresh rate is 9 Hz, which is fantastic for these types of devices.
As for its performance, we can safely say it follows all the requirements for a quality thermal imaging camera. It has two color pallets - White Hot and Black Hot and they provide a crisp image of the environment.
It is a bit larger than the average thermal camera, but when you take its performance into account, it's worth it. Just noting, it weighs 12 ounces, which amounts to 0.75 lb.
Aside from the price and the overall bulkiness, there's really nothing that could keep you away from purchasing this unit. Just think of the wonders it'll do during your hunting sessions.
Best Budget Thermal Imaging Camera - Top 4 Picks
It's no surprise that we're opening this segment with another FLIR device since they've proven to be some of the best manufacturers when it comes to thermal imagery. Let's see why we've picked this one as the best affordable. It's the FLIR TG165-X Thermal Camera.
First of all, the TG series comes with different models that do differ a bit, but they are similar in the way they were built and how they function. Therefore, we've chosen the TG165-X as it's the middle ground in terms of price and functionality.
This device is perfect for home repairs and home inspections due to its non-contact detection that goes up to 300 degrees Celsius, which is around 570 degrees Fahrenheit.
It's straightforward in the way it works - point the laser toward the area that needs inspecting, and you'll receive all the relevant information on the 2.4-inch screen.
Also, the design is quite simple and comes with intuitive buttons on the front that will eliminate the need and hours of reading the manual. In fact, many customers buy these thermal imaging cameras for their children.
It doesn't have an SD slot, but it can store up to 50,000 images, which is probably more than you'll need.
Also, we should note that the integrated battery proved to be quite efficient as it can give you up to five hours of running time.
The one thing we do mind is the fact that it doesn't have a long-distance range when it comes to detecting heat signatures, so it's best to use it in proximity with the target. This is why you should probably consider this device if you're looking for a home-repair device.
Moving on, we have another great affordable item for you. Say hello to the HTI Handheld Thermal Imaging Camera.
So far, we've covered products from the old reliable companies that have proved their worth on today's market. However, this thermal imaging camera comes from the brand HTI, a Chinese company that specializes in developing optics, but primarily thermal imagers.
If you're slightly worried about getting a device from a foreign developer, you can relax as they continually strive to show their worth to their customers.
After all, you can't really go wrong with your purchase if you're buying from someone that focuses on developing thermal imagers.
As far as our camera is concerned, we have a couple of things to note. Firstly, you can see right away that this unit was designed with the customer in mind. It's a user-friendly camera with a firm and comfortable grip that won't allow for any stiffness in your hand.
When it comes to this thermal imager's specifications, we can safely say that it proves to be called one of the best. The 3.2-inch screen will show images in 220 x 160 resolution, which is the perfect combination for the size of the screen.
Furthermore, the colors are natural, and you even have five pallets to choose from - Iron Red, Cold Color, Rainbow, Black, and White.
A nice addition is the 3 GB memory card that comes with the thermal imaging camera. It's not something you'd normally expect, so that's a nice bonus.
On the other hand, this device faces a similar problem as one of the devices that we had previously covered. In fact, this is a short-distance thermal imager and won't really allow for long-range detection. Other than that, it's a fantastic unit that you should own.
If you're not a hunter, but you still need a thermal camera for various applications, this will be the most appropriate device for you. We give you the PerfectPrime IR0005 Thermal Imaging Camera.
There are some reasons why this high-quality thermal camera has so many applications. Firstly, it's the design.
This infrared camera practically resembles a smartphone, given its appearance and size. The controls are on the front, and it has a large 3.2-inch screen that relays all the information regarding the heat signature.
Then, you have to account for the wonderful screen with five different color pallets that further increase the user experience. Not only will you have a crispier image, but you'll also be able to look at images in complete dark thanks to the thermal resolution and natural coloring.
Thanks to its impressive features, this IR camera is most suited as an aid at home repairs in terms of finding pipe leaks, hot and cold.
Still, it can find an application in many other fields, such as hunting, locating air leaks, and it's a great tool for home inspectors.
We should also note that it comes with a standard 18650 battery that allows it to push for multiple hours before shutting down. Overall, it looks like it has no flaws.
However, the biggest downside that puts PerfectPrime IR0005 in third place is its comparison with the previous unit. It's simply not better in terms of technology and image quality, and yet it retains a similar price tag. If it were a bit cheaper, we'd consider placing it higher.
Still, it's an excellent thermal imaging camera, so make sure to check it out.
Even if you're not an American citizen, you've probably heard of Klein tools and their manufacturing business. They continually strive to provide the most quality products, and the Klein Tools TI250 Thermal Imager is just one of the examples.
Upon inspecting this thermal image camera, your first instinct might be to think of it as a toy, and you wouldn't be that wrong. It's a straightforward unit with a simplistic design that satisfies the needs of customers in many ways.
Not only is it straightforward, but it's intuitive and therefore offers a nice solution to everyday needs. Also, the charging process is quite modern and doesn't require any adapters as you can simply connect it via USB cable to any port, and you'll get the much-needed juice.
Of course, it has a Micro SD slot, but it doesn't come with the package, so you'll have to buy it separately. The slot is located at the bottom of the unit, and it's quite accessible.
It's one of the finest high-resolution thermal imagers on the market. Its specs can account for this as it possesses 10,000 pixels that can troubleshoot the designated area.
Furthermore, there are three color pallets to choose from, depending on the environment and the area you're scanning.
Even though this is a budget list, it's important to know that this thermal camera has the best price to quality ratio among these four products. It's not impressive as some FLIR units, but what it has to offer is undoubtedly worth the money it is sold for.
The only remark we have is the speed at which it calculates heat signature, as it tends to be slow at times. Aside from that, it's a perfectly well-built product that should be in your toolbox.
Best Thermal Camera For Smartphone - Top 3 Products
Moving on from traditional thermal imaging cameras, we have entered the modern era and present to you the best Android thermal camera, the Seek Compact Thermal Camera.
We've already had products from Seek industries, so there's no need to speak of their abilities as manufacturers. We just want to note that there are a lot of smartphone thermal cameras, but Seek has prevailed yet again.
Even though this model has proven to work quite nicely with Android systems, it also comes in an iOS form for iPhone users, but we'll have a FLIR product later on that's more suitable for iOS. As for now, we want to mention that the Seek Thermal Compact comes in both Micro USB and USB-C for Android users.
When it comes to characteristics, there's no mistaking it - this is one quality product. It has a 206 x 156 resolution camera that'll work quite nicely with any phone you have.
Of course, the image might not be that clear if you have a 7-inch screen, but we tested it on the standard 5.5-inch screen, and the image was quite clear.
The detection range is set between 40 and 626 degrees Fahrenheit, while the unit itself has a 36-degree field of view, more you'll need for thermal image scanning.
There's really nothing left to say except for the fact that it's quite cheap considering the prices of these units on the market. All in all, we highly advise you to get this thermal camera while they're in stock.
Of course, we can't have a segment without a FLIR product, as they seem to be dominating the thermal camera field in every way possible. Here's the FLIR ONE Gen 3 USB-C.
This FLIR One product is a truly authentic piece, to say the least.
Starting from small details and moving up to the major pros, we even considered putting it in the best overall list. However, there are some things we didn't like, which we'll cover later in the review.
FLIR One's MSX technology helps deliver perfect images in every environment. Thanks to multispectral imaging, the rendering process results in extremely visible images over the thermal camera.
Moreover, the thermal resolution is 80 x 60, which works for hand in hand with most Android smartphones, except if they have a screen larger than 6.5 inches. In that case, the image becomes a bit pixelated, but it's nothing that'll ruin the overall quality by a wide margin.
A great addition to this set is the OneFit connector that comes with the package. It's quite practical because it allows you to freely adjust the length, so it doesn't interfere with your phone's case.
In most instances, you'll need to remove the case before plugging in the infrared camera, which is not the case with the FLIR One.
Also, we need to mention one of the strongest benefits of owning this thermal camera, which is the weight. It weighs only 1.22 oz, which amounts to 0.08 lb. It practically weighs nothing, so you won't even feel the added weight when you attach it to your smartphone.
However, we didn't like the fact that there was no autofocus. That's usually not a major flaw, but we noticed that keeping a focus manually was a bit hard if you don't have steady hands. Hopefully, this will be improved in future generations.
Finally, we've come to the ending of the lists, and we're, of course, finishing with a FLIR One camera that has some upgrades from the previous model. Here's the FLIR ONE Pro.
Now, this unit is in a league of its own, not to be confused with the fact that it's taken third place. It's an iOS thermal camera that resembles the previous one in many ways.
For example, they share the same thermal resolution, which rests at 4800 pixels, meaning 80 x 60. The temperature range is set between 14 and 302 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a bit standard when it comes to thermal imaging cameras.
Unlike the earlier unit, this one has an announced battery life that lasts up to an hour with an incredible 40-min charging time. When you add the two and two together, you'll see that the 1-hour battery life is not a real problem due to such short charging time.
Of course, it is equipped with the newest MSX technology that, as we said, is something special when it comes to FLIR units. They offer extreme clarity and detailed rendering of the images.
On the other hand, we felt that, even though this is a high-quality camera, FLIR One didn't meet the expectations that its price set. It is a fantastic unit, but it should cost way less. Aside from this, you'll see that you're in for a treat.
A Couple of Things for the Road - Buying Guide
Before we wrap up our article, we have a couple of tips to tell you before you order your brand new thermal camera.
Stay tuned and absorb all the info!
When we say application, we mean what will you use the infrared camera for? You'll get a specific product based on your needs.
If you're a hunter, we recommend you go for premium and durable products that are tested in the field and proven as resilient.
You have one try to guess the manufacturer.
2. Thermal Resolution
Thermal resolution is probably the first thing you'll need to look at before getting a new infrared camera. It's the same deal as with your regular camera - the higher resolution, the better.
However, if you find a solid camera with a 320 x 240 resolution but it has a large LCD screen, you probably won't enjoy the resolution since it'll be pixelated.
It's okay to go for low-resolution cameras if they have small screens. That's, of course, if you're not planning on saving images on other devices.
If we're not talking about the best thermal imaging cameras for smartphones, Wi-Fi is a pretty useful tool to have.
It saves you the hassle of storing images on a memory card and then uploading them to your PC.
What is the best thermal imaging camera?
After digging through Amazon and Optics Planet, the best we could find was the incredible FLIR C5.
The other FLIR models are quite impressive, but they do not stand a chance against the C5.
What is the difference between an IR camera and a thermal camera?
Nowadays, they are used synonymously as they both utilize infrared energy to detect heat signatures.
However, the salient difference lies in the way they do it since IR uses short wavelengths, while thermal cameras utilize long wavelengths.
How much does a thermal camera cost?
As you could see, it depends on the model and the application.
It can vary anywhere between $100 and $1000, but the average is around $300 if we're not taking into account the premium models.
What is the best budget thermal imaging camera?
It is the FLIR TG165-X Thermal Camera based on our research. The FLIR industries strike again with another fantastic thermal imaging camera.
What is the best budget thermal imaging camera?
Absolutely YES. Products such as FLIR ONE Pro utilize powerful technology that transforms your phone into a premium thermal camera.
Final Thoughts - Conclusion
As we've covered all the points, it's time to pronounce the winner of the best thermal camera and give credits to some fantastic thermal imagers.
Firstly, FLIR has dominated this list, and it's quite obvious where you should look for a new thermal camera.
If you're looking for the very best, it's the FLIR C5.
Of course, you can always go for a cheaper version and try your luck with the FLIR TG165-X Thermal Camera, but it will turn out to be a good purchase.