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What is a Thermal Camera?

Friday Oct 29th, 2021

thermal camera scanning crowd

From farming and transportation to fire rescue and law enforcement, public and private organizations use thermal cameras for a wide variety of industries and applications. If you're interested in learning more about infrared technology and how it can help you, this article is for you. In it, TherCam reviews what thermal cameras are, who should use them, where people can buy them, why they're beneficial, and more.

What is a Thermal Camera?

A thermal camera, short for a thermographic camera, is a contactless device that detects an object's infrared energy (heat signature). You may also hear people use the term infrared camera, thermal imaging camera, or thermal imager. These devices create an image by converting infrared (IR) radiation into an image that is visible to the human eye. This process is called thermal imaging.

A wide variety of professionals use infrared cameras to capture, analyze, and display IR radiation data in a practice called thermography.

Hungarian physicist Kálmán Tihanyi invented the first infrared-sensitive electronic television camera, the technology of which was later used by Britain for anti-aircraft defense.

How Do They Work?

drone camera

The primary source of infrared radiation is heat or thermal radiation. But just because an object is cold doesn’t mean it doesn’t emit infrared radiation; it just radiates less of it. However, humans are unable to see infrared light.

We use thermal cameras to capture infrared radiation data. This data detects differences in temperatures and then assigns colors to different degree ranges. Typically, high temperatures appear as warm colors (yellow or orange), and colder temperatures appear as cool colors (blue or purple).

Thermal cameras detect infrared radiation with microbolometers. A microbolometer is a type of bolometer, a device used by scientists, engineers, and physicists to measure the power of radiation. Bolometers work by using temperature-dependent electrical resistance.

When infrared radiation strikes the detector, the detector changes its electrical resistance. The camera then processes this resistance change to create an image people can see.

What Industries Use Thermal Cameras?

thermal camera used for electric and power

People use thermal cameras in various industries and for a multitude of applications. Industries that typically use infrared cameras include, but are not limited to:

  • Agriculture
  • Automotive
  • Defense
  • Electric & Power
  • Fire & Rescue
  • Healthcare & Public Safety
  • Industrial
  • Law Enforcement & Security
  • Marine
  • Petrochemical
  • Professional Trades
  • Science & Research
  • Smart Cities Infrastructure
  • Storage & Waste Management

Between safety, security, and research, there are numerous applications for which each one of these industries uses thermal cameras such as:

  • Aerospace
  • Automation
  • Border Security
  • Building Diagnostics and Inspection
  • Commercial Security
  • Commercial Marine
  • Condition Monitoring
  • Critical Infrastructure
  • Defense, Protection
  • Driver Assistance Systems
  • Energy Audits & Electrical Maintenance
  • Environmental, Health, & Safety
  • Facility Management & Maintenance
  • Farm Management
  • Firefighting & Law Enforcement
  • HAZMAT Response
  • Hunting
  • HVAC
  • Manufacturing
  • Surveillance (Coastal & Maritime)
  • Oil & Gas
  • Parks & Wildlife Management
  • Petrochemical
  • Public Health & Safety
  • Quality Inspection
  • Repairs & Maintenance
  • Research & Development
  • Restoration & Remediation
  • Search & Rescue
  • Smart Builds
  • Transportation Security
  • Urban Planning

Use of TherCam Cameras During COVID

A man using COVID thermal imaging cameras to detect temperature.

While thermal technology has been around for nearly 100 years, it’s recently gained more attention due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many organizations are using thermal cameras in their elevated skin temperature (EST) systems. As the name implies, these systems screen for signs of high temperature.

As people walk into a building, EST systems can alert security teams of people with signs of elevated temperatures. This kind of public health surveillance is helpful as a fever is one of the most common indications of illness, including COVID-19.

For large venues such as stadiums, theaters, and arenas, investing in an effective and efficient EST is a helpful way to expeditiously screen for COVID-19 symptoms. This method is also non-invasive to customers and event-goers.

How Much Do Thermal Cameras Cost?

Depending on the image quality, accuracy, sensitivity, and a myriad of other features, the cost of infrared cameras is wide-ranging. While there are some exceptions, typically a thermal camera will cost between $1,000 - $10,000.

Night Vision Vs. Infrared

One question people frequently ask is about the difference between night vision and infrared. While thermal technology is now integrated into night vision, the terms are not interchangeable. Night vision works by collecting ambient light and amplifying it so that the user can see in darkness. Infrared uses infrared radiation emitted by heat to identify objects.

However, traditional night vision technology faces challenges in total darkness, whereas infrared technology doesn't depend on any light. Those using night vision goggles equipped with infrared capabilities can use heat signatures to see camouflaged targets or hidden objects.

Shopping for Thermal Cameras

When it comes to finding quality thermal cameras for affordable prices, TherCam is your go-to provider. We provide infrared solutions for a wide range of commercial, security, and industrial applications.

With a knowledgeable, customer-focused team, we help public and private organizations flourish through improved and streamlined safety and surveillance IR technology. If you're interested in learning more, please browse our latest selection of products and solutions.