The 9 Best Thermal Imagers

Updated May 02, 2018 by Jeff Newburgh

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We spent 47 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top options for this wiki. Whether a task requires searching for the source of significant heat loss, diagnosing the need for electrical repair, scoping out wildlife, or finding the survivors of a collapsed building, our versatile selection of thermal imagers will be a huge help to almost any construction professional, HVAC technician, or emergency responder in need of a specialized camera to quickly pinpoint a problem. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best thermal imager on Amazon.

9. FLIR DM284

The multifunctional FLIR DM284 combines the use of both infrared guided measurement technology and a true RMS digital multimeter to rapidly pinpoint electrical issues and hot spots. Its built-in work lights and laser pointer make it ideal for accessing dark locations.
  • 10-year warranty
  • vfd mode ensures voltage accuracy
  • replacing the batteries is a pain
Brand FLIR
Model DM284
Weight 4.1 pounds
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

8. Perfect-Prime IR0002

The Perfect-Prime IR0002 delivers simple push-button and trigger operation along with a 2.4-inch display for easy viewing in almost any environment. A thermal sensitivity of 0.15 degree Celsius makes it well-adept at detecting temperature fluctuations in small appliances.
  • relatively durable construction
  • manual is easy to follow
  • low image resolution
Brand Perfect-Prime
Model DT-29925
Weight 12.8 ounces
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

7. Seek Reveal

The Seek Reveal is an all-in-one option complete with an integrated LED flashlight and a rugged, rubberized casing that protects it from heavy impacts in or out of the toolbox. An ergonomic grip and angled display make it easy to carry and read from the palm of your hand.
  • 500-foot detection range
  • comes with a microsd card
  • doesn't store or transfer videos
Brand Seek Thermal
Model RW-AAA
Weight 1.1 pounds
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

6. Milwaukee 2260-21

Good for electrical contractors or HVAC technicians, the Milwaukee 2260-21 boasts a resolution of 160 by 120 pixels for easily diagnosing problems with motors, air handlers, and other large equipment. The M12 battery system facilitates quick charging and field replacement.
  • carrying case with foam inserts
  • usb cable is included
  • slow to load data
Brand Milwaukee
Model 2260-21
Weight 12.3 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

5. FLIR Scout II

Be it hunting, recovering game, tracking predators, or maintaining awareness of your surroundings at night, the FLIR Scout II is a dependable option. It quickly detects animal and human heat signatures from up to 550 yards away on almost any type of terrain.
  • ergonomically designed
  • very fast startup time
  • no ability to capture still images
Brand FLIR
Model 431-0008-21-00S
Weight 2.4 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

4. ATN Thor-HD 640

If you want to increase the effectiveness of most hunting and nighttime surveillance activities, the ATN Thor-HD 640 is the device of choice. The patented recoil activated video functionality automatically buffers everything that comes into the unit's line of sight.
  • wi-fi streaming capability
  • auto calculates bullet trajectories
  • it's very expensive
Brand ATN
Model TIWSTH641A
Weight 2.8 pounds
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

3. FLIR E8

When locating a problem is a top priority, face the challenge with the FLIR E8. The multi-spectral dynamic imaging technology enhances visual data with numbers, letters, and textures for target identification, eliminating the need for time-consuming visual comparisons.
  • picture-in-picture mode
  • convenient one-handed operation
  • quick-release lithium-ion battery
Brand FLIR
Model E8
Weight 5.8 pounds
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

2. Therm-App TA19A17Q

Good for law enforcement, security, or search and rescue efforts, the Therm-App TA19A17Q is a powerful, Android-compatible device offering basic thermography and high-resolution image processing modes, ensuring you're always one step ahead, regardless of the surroundings.
  • includes interchangeable lenses
  • compact size makes it easy to carry
  • withstands extreme temperatures
Brand Therm-App
Model TA19A17Q-1000
Weight 12.3 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

1. Fluke TI100

The professional-grade Fluke TI100 features a lightweight, point-and-shoot design for efficiently detecting thermal anomalies in almost any industrial or commercial setting. Its large buttons and 3.5-inch LCD allow for easy operation when you're wearing gloves on the job.
  • integrated laser pointer
  • app allows for remote data sharing
  • led charge level indicator
Brand Fluke
Model FLK-Ti100 9 Hz
Weight 6.4 pounds
Rating 4.8 / 5.0

A Picture Really Can Be Worth A Thousand Words

Just as the microscope has allowed scientists, doctors, and researchers to perform cutting-edge diagnoses and to study both the structure and function of cells, so has the thermal imager expanded our capabilities with respect to identifying structural inconsistencies, potential problems, or variants using heat signatures. Regardless of whether you're a construction worker or an emergency responder, a thermal imager can keep you informed about your circumstances and even allow you to save lives.

Similar in shape to a camera, a thermal imager is a device that leverages infrared radiation to form an image from the simple measurement of small, relative temperature differences within and among objects. The imager detects these temperature differences and converts the otherwise invisible heat patterns into clear, visual data that can be seen through a viewfinder or monitor. While the device cannot see through walls, glass, or other solid objects, it can detect heat that has radiated toward the surface of those objects.

Using different infrared wavelengths, the imager measures the thermal signature of a particular area ranging from anything as small as an electric box to an object as large as an entire building frame. The device then interprets the data it collects and presents it to the user as a colorized representation of the heated areas, making it easy to detect places of thermal variance. The device does not measure temperature directly, but rather, the energy that has radiated out from the presence of thermal variance.

The thermal imager includes a series of components that allow it to do its job. A special lens is used to focus the infrared light waves coming from all the objects in its view. The focused light is then scanned by the device's internal infrared detector elements, creating electric impulses. These impulses are then sent to the imager's signal processing unit, which ultimately translates the information into visual data for its display. The final result is a thermographic representation of the selected area, or in simpler terms, a picture showing the spectrum of heat signatures that a person couldn't ordinarily see with their naked eye. The spectrum appears as various colors depending on the intensity of the infrared emissions.

The device can use one of two different types of detector technologies to accomplish this, cooled or uncooled. Cooled infrared detectors are usually cryogenically cooled and contained within a vacuum-sealed case. This cooling is necessary for the semiconductor material that these types of imagers utilize to function. Depending on their performance level, most modern cooled detectors operate in a temperature range of between sixty and one hundred degrees Kelvin (converted to between -213 and -173 degrees Celsius or -351 and -280 degrees Fahrenheit). Without this cooling, the sensors would be blinded by their own radiation.

Cooled detectors offer improved spatial resolution due to their ability to function at shorter wavelengths. They are also typically smaller in size than the microbolometer elements of uncooled detectors. However, cooled infrared detectors are typically more expensive to maintain and require additional equipment and energy to operate, which makes them less practical than some of their uncooled counterparts. Imagers using uncooled thermal detection feature sensors capable of operating within ambient temperatures. When heated by infrared radiation, uncooled sensors operate through changes in resistance, voltage, or electrical currents instead of through the use of cryogenic coolers, allowing them to remain small and lightweight and making them easier to transport as opposed to those imagers using cooled detection.

Industry Matters

Thermal imagers have many field and industry applications, including use by the military, law enforcement, medicine, construction, and even for archaeology. That said, one's profession and reasons for using an imager will really help narrow down the type of device that will work best for a given application.

The technology can be used to spot electrical issues or moisture leakage within large building complexes, which can be a valuable asset for building inspectors, construction workers, and those responsible for analyzing a building's structure. With such applications, the imager should have a relatively large liquid crystal display to spot structural inconsistencies quickly through the infrared spectrum.

The device can perform technical surveillance or assist with search and rescue operations, which can come in very handy if you're a police officer, firefighter, or naval officer at sea. If you're a veterinarian or doctor, an imager can assist greatly with medical diagnoses and spotting problems in your patients early.

A Brief History Of Thermal Imagers

The birth of thermal imaging technology has its origin as far back as the year 1800, when Sir William Herschel first discovered infrared. The first bolometer was invented in 1878 by Samuel Pierpont Langley with the ability to detect radiation from a cow from up to four hundred meters away. Langley's device was also sensitive to temperature differences of one hundred thousandth of a degree Celsius.

In 1929, a Hungarian physicist named Kálmán Tihanyi invented the first night vision electronic television camera for anti-aircraft defense in Britain. The birth of the thermographic camera is attributed to both the United States Military and Texas Instruments in 1947. Through the late 1950s and 1960s, a combined effort between Texas Instruments, Hughes Aircraft, and Honeywell companies lead to the development of single-element detectors designed to scan scenes and produce line images.

However, the military was still the primary source of benefit for the technology due to its sensitivity and cost. Civilian (or non-military) use of thermal imaging technology became more common by the 1970s. By the late 1990s, costs for uncooled thermal imagers came down dramatically, allowing the technology to proliferate into many other industries where it is still in use today.

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Last updated on May 02, 2018 by Jeff Newburgh

A dedicated writer and communications professional spending his days lost in the intricacies of both proposal and freelance writing. When not sharing the knowledge of both fully and self-insured medical benefits to employer groups of all industries within California, Jeff Newburgh can be found at home spending time with his family and 3 dogs, pondering the next chew toy to be thrown, while kicking back and relaxing with a nice glass of red wine.

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