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What is an infrared camera
Infrared is a type of light that is invisible to the eye. It’s the light that we get from the sun that makes us feel warm.
Infrared cameras give us a picture representation of the infrared energy(heat) coming from an object. The camera lens picks up the infrared waves and changes it into an electrical signal which turns it into an image and calculates the temperature of the area being viewed.
Cameras display an image in the screen which usually has a centre point that can measure temperatures of the object it is pointing at. There is usually a colour display bar on the side of the screen too with temperatures assigned to the colors so you can have an idea of what the temperatures are anywhere in the display by the colors.
You can also get the display in monochromatic view which literally shows you white for hot and black for cold which can sometimes can make it easier to see what you’re looking for. You can also do it the other way and make black the hot.
You can use the cameras to take photographs and on some cameras you can take a normal digital photographs at the same time so you can show the pictures side by side for reports. Some cameras allow you to fit the infrared image within the normal view(screen in screen) which is helpful to record the problem areas. If you’re camera allows you to tag the images that makes it easy to track where it is and what you’ve idenitified when you upload them to be printed.
Other useful options for contractors are torches on the front of the camera for if you have to work in dark places and if you are looking at areas which are up high a zoom function can be invaluable.
Infrared cameras are a valuable diagnostic tool for many contractors.
There are now thermal imagers that can be plugged into your smartphone and used with an app which aren’t super expensive but can do the job for simple identification of problems. This makes it more affordable for small businesses and for use at home if you want to identify problem areas in your house.
You have to be careful when interpreting the thermal images as if you are looking at a reflective surface it can just reflect the infrared coming from the camera, it just can’t see through glass. On the other hand it can’t see through walls either, it can identify hot spots or cold spots but can’t see through.
“Can be used to check for heat loss and cold areas”
Infrared cameras used by contractors
Building inspectors are using infrared cameras to help to check the quality of a build. This can be used in electrical inspections, checking for hotspots on electric panels or circuits and to check for loose wiring.
If you check walls you can see the panels and the studs which are usually colder so you can identify where the studs are and you can also check if there are cold or hot spots in the walls which might mean insulation problems in a certain area.
Also the roof can be checked to see if the fitted insulation is sufficient to hold in the heat.
Infrared can be used to detect leaks in flat roofs, it can detect the water which retains the heat if you check it later in the day when the roof has cooled down. Can be used to check for leaks in heating pipes especially underfloor
Windows and doors can be checked for air leaks by using a special blower door cover and fan that can lower the air pressure in the room causing the air from outside to move into the lower pressure room. You can see this air movement through a thermal camera. This works well for checking building standards.
Plumbers can use cameras to check for clogs in pipes and hot and cold pipes in the walls. You can easily use it for checking water leaks as the water under the floors or in the walls is colder so shows up on the screen. You can quite often follow the water to the source of the leak using the thermal camera. You can even tell from the camera if it’s a hot water or cold water leak from the color on the screen. Once the repairs have been done you can double check it has fixed the issue by checking on the camera again.
Electricians can use infrared cameras to check on electrics for overloads or unbalanced loads on the system. Lots of electrical problems go undetected until something fails, with infrared you can check for problems as part of normal maintenance checks. Loose connections or deteriorating connections can be picked up too. Often connections can be repaired before major damage occurs reducing the cost of replacement.
Electrical surveys in commercial buildings checking for hotspots in the electrical systems can save thousands of dollars in downtime just by preventing escalation of problems that can be repaired.
Double glazing suppliers have found that using infrared cameras can show potential customers what heat loss is happening through the windows and doors if they are old and single glazed. If you choose an early part of the day when it is still cool outdoors you can see where the heat is escaping at different points on your home. Seeing is believing and suppliers often take before and after photos at the same time of the day to show the differences in heat loss.
“Can be used to find people”
Search and Rescue
It’s nearly impossible to hide from a thermal camera. Infrared light can be seen through thick smoke even though it’s near impossible to see through it, which is why firefighters use infrared cameras to identify people and animals in smoke filled rooms. There are special cameras designed for use in an area with fire, to make it easier to see in an environment that has fire they tend to work in black and white which gives a colour image above a certain temperature for the high heat of the flames. They have managed to save many lives using infrared cameras.
There are infrared cameras that can now be mounted on a drone which can cover a larger area quicker when looking for people. In extreme conditions or when the light is fading it can make a difference to be able to fly a drone to find a lost person especially when time is of the essence. Rescue teams can now fly the drone over an area before they set off which can give them a better idea of where to start.
It can save hours of time and when it gets dark and the temperature is dropping it can be the difference in a successful rescue. Once they have a sighting through the thermal imager they have technology which allow them to get the coordinates of that person so that they can direct the rescuers right to them. Some drones are strong enough to carry things and it is a useful option in a rescue if you can lower a phone to speak directly to that person. It is also more cost effective than having to use a helicopter.
There are medium range and long range can be mounted onto vehicles and marine vessels which can mean the difference when searching for a man overboard or a missing hiker. In a drone trial in Australia 2 swimmers were identified in the water in difficulty, the drone was able to drop a floating device so they could use it to help get themselves back to shore.
The areas that you might be aware of the most is the use of infrared cameras by the police force. They usually have thermal cameras mounted on helicopters which they can use to search for suspects who have committed a crime and can’t be seen by the officers on the ground. The benefit of an infrared camera is that it’s reading a heat signature and not looking to visually see a person. If suspects are trying to hide in trees or peoples gardens it’s amazing to see how easily the helicopter can pick out the thermal image and direct the officers on the ground to the right area. Working in tandem they are a force to be reckoned with. Thermal cameras have also been used to detect excessive heat in buildings used by people growing cannabis.
Don’t forget you can run but you can’t hide! Check out the video below for examples.
Infrared Cameras used for health
Medical thermography(digital infrared thermal imaging – DITI) is used for early diagnosis. ECG and EEG are probably the most recognisable tests used that we tend to know about. Thermography is a useful tool because it is non invasive using body heat to help in making a diagnosis. This is perfectly safe using no radiation. The cameras used can easily measure body temperatures accurately and the information is easily stored in computer databases allowing easy access to doctors. Thermal imaging systems are also very economical to use, while being quick and easy for examining and following up on patients.
Thermography is used in breast screening. Using the cameras to identify areas of excess heat which can identify areas requiring further investigation.
Thermal imaging is also useful for checking blood flow issues, the skin temperature can show restrictions in blood flow especially in the skull and neck areas checking for potential vascular disease. This kind of assessment is only done by fully trained medical professionals who know what they are looking for and can interpret the thermal images.
Thermography now being used to check circulation issues in other areas, it can be used for checking for neuropathies in diabetic patients especially in the feet before they lose sensation. This can give time for treatments before permanent nerve damage occurs.
Thermal imaging is often used by chiropractors checking for heat patterns in the back which can show areas of spinal injury, it can also show them areas of stress related to the injury that they can work on. It can also show cool areas of nerve damage.
One of the areas of development for infrared cameras are in identifying potential dental issues with gum infections creating more heat and showing up on thermal images. Easier and safer than x-rays and much quicker
Private thermal imaging clinics
Most things can be measured with a thermal camera and now you can go to clinics and have thermal images done if you feel you have a problem and then you can take the image to your doctor for further investigation. You can get thermal images done of the breasts, back if you have back pain, the jaw for dental issues, areas you feel you may have arthritis. These can’t be used for diagnosis but can give your doctor evidence of excess heat that might require further investigation.
Infrared Cameras used by Vets
Infrared cameras are being used by vets to help in diagnosing health issues in small animals. An animal can’t tell you if it’s in pain but various problems create heat which can be seen on a thermal image. The benefit of this is the fact that a picture can be taken without having to touch the animal or having to sedate it for x-ray. It can help show up potential cancerous areas or areas of inflammation. One vet likes to check a thermal image of a pets footprints as she can tell if they are favouring any of their paws when walking which can help identify where to look. It can also be helpful in identifying areas of arthritis in older animals when their natural instinct is to hide any weakness. It can show areas of heat in the joints. Although this can’t diagnose it is a helpful tool in the arsenal of the vet which is non invasive for the animals.
“Can be used to protect animals”
Infrared cameras used by conservationists and animal watchers
If you have a job managing estates, working in national parks or whether you are a member of a conservation group you may find a benefit in using a weatherproof hand held infrared camera. Whether it’s dark or the weather is bad or an animal is using natural camouflage you can track it using it’s heat signature in it’s natural habitat with an infrared camera. Because these cameras can run silently they can detect the animals covertly.
The cost of hand held thermal cameras are low enough to have brought them into a price range that more people can afford. They can be used by hunters and conservationists to identify and monitor animals not easily seen in the daytime or at night.
A wildlife camera can be set up on trails or areas of specific interest to check out what wildlife is in the area.
If you have animals that are being targeted by predators you can keep track with one of these wildlife cameras.
Thermal imagers can help identify animals and dens otherwise unseen so that photographers can identify the best places to set up and watch the animals or take pictures.
If you’re trying to do animal surveys to track different species then a thermal camera can help with that making it easy to pick out individual heat signatures, helping you to watch the animals either in the daytime or night going about their business and giving you the chance to track their normal routes and if they are breeding. If your camera has a zoom function then you don’t have to be too close so that you don’t spook the animals.
Infrared cameras are being used by wildlife parks to detect poachers. The parks are large and hard to monitor but static cameras set up in areas favoured by poachers are giving the rangers a fighting chance in capturing them and saving the animals. They’re all wired into a central control which can pick up movement and send the rangers to the right areas. It is certainly showing some positive results in deterring the poachers.
We often see some fantastic films by documentary teams on tv who are using infrared cameras to film animals and their habits. Infrared cameras have been a useful tool in discovering lots of facts about wild animals. Thermal technology was used to identify that asian elephants lost heat through their trunks at night. Penguins have cooler coats than the surrounding air, their feathers act as an insulator for their skin against the freezing temperatures. Biologist are tracking the whales with thermal imagers with can identify areas warmed by them taking a breath. They are also used in bat conservation, tracking movement of bat colonies.
Used in agriculture
There are thermographic cameras being installed in drones to check on irrigation in the ground especially in places like vineyards. The thermal images can find areas of dry ground and areas where there may be leaks in the irrigation. This gives a chance to sort out issues to get the best yield at harvest.
It can also be used to check crops from the air where the thermal images can show areas of hot ground which means that there is a lack of water in that area. A quick tool for farmers to see areas they need to focus on.
NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) which measures the amount of live vegetation in an area. Cameras can be attached to drones to check the health of the crops in the fields. Using the reflection of the infrared can show plants that are under stress. Because these fields can be checked with a drone it can be bought by the landowners for quick surveys of growing areas. It can give early warning signs of pests causing stunted growth.
This is another area where drones can make a difference.
“Can be used to protect your home”
Ways you can use an infrared camera at home
Home surveys inspections
If you’ve got this far you might be interested if you can use an infrared camera at home and where it would be useful.
You can use a camera to do a home energy audit. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive camera to give you enough information that you can act on it. There are now cameras that can be plugged into your smartphone and view through an app.
These can be very useful for checking on your insulation. If you look up at the ceiling of your house you can see hot spots where there is thin or no insulation. You can go into the loft and check for yourself if that is what the thermal image is showing.
You can also see heat leaks around doors. If you do the same as window installers and take a photo of your house from the outside in the early morning while it is still cool you should be able to see how much heat loss you are getting from your windows and doors. You can check out to see if there is any easy fixes that can sort that problem for you like looking at door seals. You can then take a photo and check if it’s made any difference.
In the summer time when it’s hot outside the last thing you need are appliances in your house creating more heat if it can be avoided. You can use your camera to check which items are generating heat when not being used, might be useful if your using air conditioners to keep your house cool as you’re expecting it to work harder. Be careful of reflective surfaces reflecting the infrared heat coming from your camera giving you a false reading.
They are useful to check if your radiators a working efficiently or need bleeding. You can use it to check for water leaks in pipes in the walls, if it’s a cold water pipe there should be cold spots on the wall and opposite for a hot water leak. Sometimes you can track where a leak is coming from by following the color trail. Although you can’t see through the wall with the camera you can usually track pipework because of the cold and hot temperatures.
If you want to install a security system in your home then infrared cameras can let you see in the dark. You can set them up internally and externally and you can record any footage on a recorder to view on a monitor. You can buy wide angled cameras which a weatherproof and vandal proof to give you peace of mind in your own home.
Infrared security systems use led’s to produce infrared illumination. The higher the wavelength means that your camera can be undetectable.
It’s helpful to get some professional help as you can get wifi controlled, hard wired, cameras that need a subscription to access the recordings, cameras that record to a memory card all needing different levels of installation.
You may need to check how far they can see in the dark, how many led sensors it has as the more you have the better picture you will get in the dark.
If you like to go camping then an infrared camera can be a great tool for keeping a check for any animals coming too close to your tent or people. If you’re interested in the wildlife it’s easier to track animals with an infrared camera because it is tracking the heat signatures and you can get handheld infrared cameras that are weatherproof that can see thermal images in the distance as well as close up so it can help you get close enough to see animals in their natural habitat and view them in infrared even if it’s not possible to see them in normal light.
Create unique photographs
You can take photographs of your pets with a different look than the normal type of photos. You can take different thermal images get them printed off and have them framed. If you have an artistic eye then you will see many ways that you can take different types of pictures or your friends, of different objects with a heat signature. Nature photos with hidden animals are always wonderful to see.
Tips for buying an infrared camera
#1. What do you want to use if for the most
#2. What resolution is required
#3. What temperature range is required
#4. Size and weight
#6. Ease of use
#7. Battery life
#9. Data storage
#10. Software required
When you think about buying an infrared camera there are a lot of choices and price ranges so to start with you need to think about what you want to use it for. If it’s an important tool to allow you to do your job you may need to invest in a camera with more options than someone who just wants it to confirm issues or use at home. You need to know what size is important to do your job and whether you need a camera that can fit in your pocket.
The higher the resolution the clearer the picture you get. If you are buying a security camera you might need more resolution than on a camera to check for heat spots. Does it allow you to overlay the thermal image over a digital one to give clearer information to customers.
If you’re an electrician checking heat load on connections the temperature range available might be more important than the resolution. Being able to set temperature alarms so you can easily be alerted to anything out of the norm.
The size and weight of the camera depends on if you’re carrying it a lot, if it’s an extra in your tool box small and simple might be best like a Seek Thermal XR Imager for iOS-Apple which can be attached to your phone.
The price can be a definite decider. If you want a home camera then you probably won’t want to spend a fortune or have a large camera, on the other hand if you’re buying a camera for your business then you might have minimum specifications required so the price would be based on that and would have to be costed into the business.
No matter what you are buying the camera for you will want something that is easy to use straight out of the box with no training. Simple touch button options for quick screen change to different hot color options with easy to take pictures.
Battery life is obviously important, especially if you take this out with you to work. You want it to be able to hold a charge for your working day and be easily rechargeable. A lot of cameras are chargeable by usb which you can set up in the car which can be helpful
Warranty and support is a must, this is a tool with a high cost so you need it to do what it’s supposed to and you need someone to talk to if there is any issues with the operation of the camera or just advice on the best way to use it.
Data storage is a must if you have to take a lot of pictures throughout the day, whether that is through an sd card or on board memory where you can then load pictures to the cloud or to your computer.
If you need to do reporting and want to include these thermal images you need to know if any professional software is included and make sure that you will have the system capability and the knowledge to be able to use it. You want to make sure it can do the kind of reports you need for your customers.
I bet you didn’t realise how many people use infrared cameras and in such a diverse range of ways. It’s amazing how much easier it can make detection of things from animals, disease, people and potential problems. The great thing about infrared is it’s safety so whether you are using it or having it used on you there is no fear of radiation.
I love it when technology can improve so many things.
If you’re interested in owning your own infrared camera why not check out what’s available on Amazon.com, the costs especially for attachments to your smartphone like the Seek Thermal Camera make them more affordable to everyone.