Thermal imaging cameras were originally created for military use, but now their reach has extended even further. Firefighters use them to see through smoke, find trapped people and hotspots. Law enforcement uses them for surveillance, locating suspects, investigating crime scenes, and conducting search and rescue operations. They are also used by power-line maintenance workers, building construction technicians, home inspectors, and other types of workers.

These cameras aren’t cheap. A good thermal imaging camera can run you anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Here you’ll find five cheap thermal imaging camera options that won’t put a dent in your wallet.

What Is a Thermal Imaging Camera?

A thermal imaging camera is a type of thermographic camera used in firefighting and other jobs that need to detect heat. This type of camera renders infrared radiation by giving infrared radiation as visible light.

These cameras allow users to detect or seek thermal signatures in areas of heat through smoke, darkness, or heat-permeable barriers. Thermal imaging cameras are typically handheld and can be helmet-mounted or attached to a portable smart device. Many modern infrared cameras feature rechargeable batteries and micro SD card slots to save thermal images. These cameras are constructed using heat- and water-resistant housings and ruggedized to withstand the hazards of hazardous operations and applications.

What Are the Main Features of Thermal Imaging Cameras?

Images from infrared cameras appear to be monochrome because the cameras generally use an image sensor that does not separate different wavelengths of infrared radiation. Color image sensors need a sophisticated construction to separate wavelengths.

Sometimes these monochromatic images are displayed in false color, where changes in color are used rather than changes in intensity to show temperature differences. This process called density slicing.

For use in temperature measurement, the brightest or the warmest parts of the visual image are commonly colored white; mid temperatures reds and yellows, and the dimmest or coolest parts are black.

A scale is shown next to a false color image to relate colors to temperature differences. Its resolution is considerably compared to optical cameras, mostly only 160 x 120 or 320 x 240 pixels. More expensive cameras can achieve a resolution of 1280 x 1024 pixels.

What Are the Main Features of Thermal Imaging Cameras

In general thermographic cameras are divided into two types:

1. Cooled Infrared Detectors

Cooled detectors are usually contained in a vacuum-sealed case. The cooling is required for the use of the semiconductors, and operating temperatures range from 4 K just below room temperature. Most present-day cooled infrared detectors function in the temperature ranges of 6 K to 100 K.

2. Uncooled Infrared Detectors

Uncooled thermal detectors use a sensor that functions at ambient temperature. Many thermal cameras also use a sensor stabilized at a temperature that is close to ambient temperature using small thermal sensitivity control elements.

Modern uncooled detectors all use sensors that work by the change of current, resistance and voltage when heated by infrared radiation. These changes are measured and compared to the accepted temperature range values at the operating temperature of the sensor.

Top 5 Cheap Thermal Imaging Camera Options

These infrared cameras aren’t cheap. A good thermal imaging camera can run you anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Here you’ll find five affordable, but quality, thermal imaging cameras that won’t put a dent in your wallet.

1. DeWalt Imager

DeWalt Imager, a great thermal imaging camera

Image Source: HomeDepot.com

This is an IR thermometer and camera that displays a digital representation of the heat over the video image. It gives you a virtually identical image similar to a full-fledged thermal imager, just cheaper.

It’s good for anyone who needs to spot thermal, air, and/or moisture leaks. If you’re a contractor this thermal imaging camera is handy because you can store pictures taken onto its SD card for later use in quotes and invoices. It also has built-in PC software and offers adjustable emissivity. This gives you accurate results with different surfaces.

Specifications

  • 12-Volt lithium-ion battery and charger that charges in 60 minutes.
  • 3x zoom capability.
  • Large 3-1/2 in. screen.
  • Detachable LCD monitor for remote viewing.
  • Removable microSD card.
  • 12-Volt lithium-ion battery and charger included.
  • Magnet and hook for retrieving small parts.

Battery(DCB120) and chargers (DCB100, DCB101, DCB119) sold separately.

2. FLIR One

FLIR ONE Thermal Imager for Android

Image Source: Amazon

This is a thermal imager, but not a stand-alone unit. You must use this imager with either an Android or iOS device, making for an accurate thermal imager with a simple interface that’s easy to use. FLIR One connects through a phone or tablet’s charging port and displays thermal images onto your device. It’s good for smaller tasks like checking for air leaks, inspecting wall outlets. It’s also great for searching for an animal in the dark.

Specifications

  • Has two cameras: Lepton thermal sensor and VGA visible camera.
  • 2.75 ounces with dimensions 2.8 x 1 x 0.7 inches.
  • Battery switches to low-power mode when not in use.
  • Takes battery 2 – 4 hours to fully charge.
  • MSX Technology for top image quality.
  • Automatic shuttering Lepton module.
  • Provides time-lapse videos, panoramic images, MSX blending, and color pallettes.

3. FLIR C2 Compact Thermal Imaging System

FLIR C2 Compact Thermal Imaging System

Image Source: Amazon

The FLIR C2 is a small, handheld thermal imager. It’s not much bigger than the average smartphone, and it functions in a way similar to the phone as well. Its size makes it easy to carry around in your pocket. Its thermal sensor resolution is 80 x 60. It has a temperature range of -14 F to 300 F, which makes it great for reading temperatures in walls, pipes, ceilings, roofs, engines, and the like.

This thermal imaging camera is good for anyone to use, from the experienced thermographer down to the beginner just getting into thermal imagery. This is good for someone who wants high-quality images without the hefty price.

Specifications

  • Fully radiometric with high-sensitivity detector.
  • MSX image enhancement.
  • Amazing 3″ touch screen.
  • FLIR Tools professional reporting software included.
  • C2 JPEG images store 4,800 thermal measures you can process with FLIR Tools.

4. Fluke Visual Handheld Infrared Thermometer and Imaging Camera

Fluke VT02 Visual IR Thermometer

Image Source: Amazon

Despite the name, the Fluke thermal imaging camera gets the job done and comes with a thermometer temperature measurement applications. It’s cheap, durable, versatile, and easy to use, especially for contractors and property owners.

It has a wide range for temperature detection, with temperature ranges between 14 to 482 degrees Fahrenheit, coupled with precision within several degrees in either direction. Its accuracy is pretty good, and for leak detection and inspection, it’s a great thermal imaging camera.

Specifications

  • 4 pounds, product dimensions are 10.8 x 8.7 x 3.5 inches.
  • 28° x 28° field of view.
  • Near and far modes align visible light and thermal lenses from as close as 15 cm (6 in.).
  • Temperature alarms alert to values outside the expected range.
  • Center measurement box.
  • Uncooled pyroelectric ceramic sensor.
  • Intuitive interface requires no training. Start using it right out of the box.
  • SD card can store up to 10,000 images per GB.

Unlike DeWalt, this thermal imaging camera is not rechargeable. You need AA batteries for its operation. You should consider investing in rechargeable AA batteries.

5. FLIR E5

FLIR E5 Compact Thermal Imaging Camera

Image Source: Amazon

The E5 is one of the cheapest thermal leak detectors FLIR offers, but it doesn’t mean that it’s of low quality. It’s still not cheap though. This thermal imaging camera is amazing and affordable for insulators, HVAC specialists, electrical contractors, and automotive experts.

The FLIR E5 is a true thermal imaging camera, meaning the visual you see is an authentic heat signature that’s being picked up, not a digital representation of a thermometer’s readout. You also have warranties for the following parts: 2 years for the parts and labor, 5 years for the battery and 10 years on the detector. This is why it’s a pricey option for an infrared camera.

Specifications

  • Display: 3″ color LCD.
  • On-board 640 x 480 Digital Camera.
  • MSX Imaging Technology.
  • Simultaneous storage of IR/Visual/MSX images.
  • 2% accuracy.
  • Area Box Measurement mode.
  • Li-Ion rechargeable battery included.

Final Thoughts on the Best Cheap Thermal Imaging Camera

These are some of the cheapest thermal imaging cameras you’ll find. All of the following cameras are good for anyone, from beginners up to advanced users such as thermographer experts, HVAC specialists, firefighters, and the like. Hopefully, you will find one of these thermal imaging cameras to suit your thermal imaging needs. Be sure to choose wisely.