Seek Thermal HeroSource: Seek Thermal

Best Thermal Cameras iMore 2020

The best digital camera doesn't necessarily have the highest specs or the biggest price tag. Instead, they serve a specific need. A thermal imaging camera, sometimes known as an infrared camera, measures the energy of objects and displays that information on an LCD. This type of camera is good for hobbyists, firefighters, farmers, home inspectors, and hundreds of other fields. My favorite model is the Seek Thermal Reveal. It's small enough to fit in a pocket, but powerful enough to see up to 500 feet in the distance. Which is right for you? We've put together a guide of the best thermal cameras this year.

Best Overall: Seek Thermal Reveal

Seek Thermal LifestyleSource: Seek Thermal

The Seek Thermal Reveal is the best all-around thermal camera for most people. If you're a hunter, the Reveal will show you animals up to 500 feet in the distance. If you do DIY work at home, this thermal camera can spot drippy water pipes, electrical problems, and heat leaks in windows with ease.

The Reveal includes a 300 lumen LED flashlight and a rechargeable battery that holds on for up to 10 hours. A large color display at the front of the unit gives you a clear picture of things ordinarily invisible to the naked eye. And you can save images directly to a micro SD card for later viewing or sharing.

The Seek Thermal Reveal works day or night, and it's a useful tool for contractors, plumbers, beekeepers, engineers, hunters, and DIY homeowners. There's no way to record video on the Reveal, and at this price point, that seems a shame. If you only need snapshots, the Seek Thermal Reveal is a tough little thermal camera that can handle many a job.

Pros:

  • Rugged
  • Built-in flashlight
  • 10-hour battery life
  • Captures images to micro SD card
  • Accurate to 500 feet

Cons:

  • Can't record video

Best Overall

Seek Thermal Reveal

A rugged workhorse

The tough Seek Thermal Reveal can see up to 500 feet in the distance and captures images on a micro SD card.

Best Value: FLIR ONE Gen 3

Flir One LifestyleSource: FLIR

If you're looking for a lightweight kit that can go anywhere, you've found it. The FLIR ONE Gen 3 is a thermal camera that plugs into the lightning port on an iPhone or the USB-C port on any Android device. The two cameras on the FLIR ONE snap photos and then transmit and display them on your smartphone's screen in real time.

The FLIR ONE reads scene temperatures well and works in various indoor and outdoor environments. Perfect for finding drafty windows around the house, dripping water inside walls, oil leaks in your car, or problem pipes in the basement, the FLIR ONE is a useful consumer-grade thermal camera that won't set you back too much.

The battery life on this model holds out for 45 minutes. It's not terrific, especially if you're in the middle of a plumbing emergency. It does recharge quickly, though, and it reads temperatures clearly at a distance of up to six feet. If you need a thermal camera for home use that isn't big, bulky, and expensive, go with the FLIR ONE Gen 3.

Pros:

  • Accurate readings up to six feet
  • Camera attaches to smartphone
  • Lightweight
  • Recharges quickly

Cons:

  • Short battery life

Best Value

FLIR ONE Gen 3

Attach to your phone and go

The FLIR ONE snaps on the bottom of your phone and pushes images directly to your smartphone. Perfect for at-home use.

Best for Wildlife: Leupold LTO Quest

Leupold Thermal Cam LifestyleSource: Leupold

The Leupold LTO Quest is a thermal camera and viewer in one, and it's designed with hunters and wildlife photographers in mind. A Gorilla Glass display gives this unit a durability not found in other models. The LTO Quest fits nicely in the palm of your hand and tucks easily inside a backpack or camera bag.

The LTO Quest gives you an eight-color palette and detects animals up to 900 feet away. A 300-lumen flashlight gives you eyes in the dark and prevents you from spooking large game animals. The fixed-focus camera takes clean shots, which are stored on a micro SD card, and can be transferred to a computer with the included USB cable.

This model is rated IPX7, so it's waterproof and will hold up to all of your outdoor adventures when submersed in water at a depth of one meter for up to 30 minutes. My only beef is with the LCD. It's 2.4 inches and plenty big enough to see, but it's also very bright. It's so bright that you risk the possibility of scaring animals off if you're standing close enough for them to see you. I'd love to be able to adjust the brightness level. Other than that foible, this is an impressive thermal camera that meets hunters and wildlife photographers' needs.

Pros:

  • Captures images up to 900 feet away
  • Tough build
  • 22-degree FOV
  • Built-in flashlight
  • 2.4-inch display

Cons:

  • Display brightness not adjustable

Best for Wildlife

Leupold LTO Quest

Watch animals in the dark

Hunters and photographers will love the LTO Quest. It has a long range, a built-in flashlight, and takes superb images.

Best Size: PerfectPrime IR0005

Ir0005 LifestyleSource: PerfectPrime

The PerfectPrime IR0005 is small enough to tuck in your back pocket and yet powerful enough to spot animals after dark or leaks in your heating system before the sun comes up. This thin thermal camera weighs just 7.2 ounces and gives you an infrared view any time of day or night.

The IR0005 can spot movement and heat up to 900 feet in the distance, so it's useable for wildlife observation and work around the house. You'll get super crisp images from the IR0005, which are stored automatically on the 3GB internal drive.

Images are astonishingly good on this model. There are no issues with pixelization or graininess. The battery life is also strong, though the battery is not replaceable. Whether you're doing engine diagnostics, scoping out animals in the woods, or checking air leaks in the attic, the pocketable IR0005 is an excellent piece of gear that's well worth the investment.

Pros:

  • Captures heat/cold accurately
  • Sees 900 feet
  • Thin and lightweight
  • Includes hardshell carry case

Cons:

  • Battery not replaceable

Best Size

PerfectPrime IR0005

Thin is in

The thin and lightweight IR0005 takes crisp photos day or night and works as a wildlife or DIY camera.

Best Ergonomics: HTI-Xintai HT-18

Ht 18 LifestyleSource: HTI

If you're a home inspector, firefighter, farmer, or work a job where you're handling equipment all day long, you know how important ergonomics are to your health and energy levels. For those who hold a thermal camera day in and day out, we recommend the HTI-Xintai HT 18. It has a generously-sized, ergonomically-designed handle that allows you to move the camera freely from place to place without straining your arm and hand muscles.

The HT 18 has a 3.2-inch color screen with a 220 x 160 resolution. It detects temperature variations and displays them in various color scales, including rainbow, iron red, cold, black and white, or white on black. There's also 3GBs of internal memory for storing shots, which can be taken off the camera and put on a laptop, TV, or other devices via USB cable. And herein lies my only complaint: there's no option to add memory. It's true that 3GBs is a lot of space to work with, but if you're on the job for a week and don't have time to download images, it would be nice to have a memory card slot available.

The HT 18 comes with a holster case that slips over your shoulder. It's a nice touch and again saves wear and tear on your muscles and joints. We like the easy-to-use menu system on this thermal camera and its lightweight build. If you use an infrared camera for work, this is the model that will give you eyes in the dark and prevent overuse injury.

Pros:

  • Outstanding resolution
  • Comfortable handle
  • 3GB internal memory
  • Holster case included
  • Easy menu system

Cons:

  • Cannot add memory

Best Ergonomics

HTI-Xintai HT 18

A comfortable camera for pros

If you spend hours behind a cam, you want the HT 18 from HTI. It's ergonomically-designed and produces clear images.

A few parting thoughts

It used to be that you needed to purchase a thermal camera based on your specific needs. Hunters would use one type of camera, and contractors were drawn to another. The best thermal camera, the Seek Thermal Reveal, works well on a variety of jobs.

If you're a hunter, you'll love that the Reveal can spot an animal up to 500 feet away and capture that image on a micro SD card. Contractors, plumbers, and those who enjoy DIY work will dig the Reveal's small size and the clear, accurate picture output. The built-in LED light is also a nice touch.

You can't take videos with the Reveal, which is my only gripe. If that doesn't bother you, this rugged, well-made thermal camera will serve you well, no matter what your needs.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Jodi Owan works behind a keyboard and a camera. Find her on Instagram and her website.

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