We use EO cameras for drone videography and photography. However, these EO cameras are not able to “see” at night. To “see” at night, you need drones with thermal cameras. Thermal drones work on the principle of heat differentiation. As a thumb rule, while reading thermal images, you need to remember that “Blue is hot while white is not”.
Also known as “Thermal Imaging Drones” or “Drones with Infrared Cameras”, these drones are being used for firefighting, search and rescue, building inspections, industrial inspections, and agriculture.
So, how can you zero in on a thermal drone that perfectly meets your end requirements? These are some important factors that can help you determine this:
Let us start with detector resolution. 160 x 120, 320x240 and 640x480 pixels are the most common resolutions. A higher resolution has a higher number of pixels associated with it and hence, produces a clearer image.
Thermal sensitivity is the smallest temperature difference that a camera can detect. Smaller the thermal sensitivity, the better.
And last but certainly not the least, a thermal camera will either be radiometric or non-radiometric. Using a radiometric camera, you can get temperature measurements for every single pixel on the screen. Whereas, a non-radiometric camera will allow you to capture a thermal image only (without temperature measurements)
FLIR which cleverly stands for Forward Looking Infrared is the de facto choice for thermal cameras. The flagship offering from this $7 billion behemoth, the Zenmuse XT has been developed in conjunction with DJI. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the tiny FLIR Lepton which is compatible with the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual.
So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each of these thermal cameras.
Specs (Thermal Camera):
When this DJI thermal drone was launched, many analysts were skeptical about the capabilities of this tiny drone. In fact, the FLIR Lepton is FLIR’s smallest thermal micro-camera. However, this DJI thermal drone uses FLIR MSX (Multi-Spectral Dynamic Imaging) technology which makes it possible to overlay EO images over thermal images. Moreover, this is a radiometric camera – which means that you can accurately measure temperature for every pixel on the screen.
Built-in software extracts key visible image elements—outlines, words, numbers, and other high-contrast edge details--and adds them to the thermal image. This helps give the image definition and makes it easier to tell what you’re looking at.
Life imitating art, or art imitating life? It’s hard to say with the FLIR ONE Pro.
?: @akai_tem pic.twitter.com/Kysl8iPV4T
— FLIR (@flir) August 8, 2018
The Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual comes with two gain modes. In its low gain mode, this thermal drone can capture information until 400 degree Celsius.
Equipping a small drone like the DJI Mavic with this powerful technology has given end-users a great alternative to larger, more expensive birds like the DJI Matrice. In addition to the dual camera, the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual is also equipped with some awesome accessories like the speaker, beacon, and spotlight. Note that the M2ED does not come with an optical zoom.
You can check out our detailed Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual review here:
Click Here to buy the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual.
This is another radiometric thermal camera from FLIR. On the flip side, you cannot to switch between pictures and videos or change the color palette while your drone is up in the air.
Price: $3,349 (Radiometric), $2,349 (non-radiometric)
Click Here to Buy the FLIR Vue Pro R
The DJI Zenmuse XT is a high-end thermal camera developed in collaboration with FLIR. If you need really precise temperature measurements, you will have to opt for the DJI Zenmuse XTR or the XT Radiometric. The XT-R is professionally calibrated and lets you take temperature readings of every single pixel on the screen.
This camera comes with thermal sensitivity of 50 mK. 50 mK means that the smallest temperature difference that the camera can detect is 0.050K. The Zenmuse XT comes with a resolution of 640x512 or 336x256.
The XT-R is significantly more expensive than the XT. The higher resolution version will set you back by 14 grand. Whereas the 336, 30 Hz model will cost you around 9 grand.
If you are doing cellphone tower inspections and require thermal and zoom capabilities, you can attach the Zenmuse XT AND Zenmuse Z30/X4S to the Matrice 210 or the Matrice 600. You will need a larger drone like DJI Matrice to handle this dual payload.
Additionally, choosing the right camera lens is critical and is dependent on your application. You have lens options ranging from 6.8 mm to 19mm. The 19 mm camera lens will give you the most zoomed-in view. Whereas, the 6.8 mm camera lens has the widest field of view.
Price: Contact FLIR for pricing information
The CGOET thermal camera is compatible with the Yuneec Typhoon H and Yuneec H520. However, this is a non-radiometric camera. Additionally, while this is a more affordable option, you cannot control the sensor from the ground. This will result in an inefficient and elongated workflow.
Click Here to Buy the Yuneec CGOET.
Check out this ADU show where we discuss why are you are better off investing in a higher-end option like the Zenmuse XT.
If you wish to learn more about thermography, you can always check out our Drone Thermography course by becoming a member at just $47 per month.
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