Are you planning on taking up thermal imaging jobs? Are you unsure about which is the best thermal camera for you? Do you need some guidance for building a steady stream of work in the thermal imaging space? Read on to find out how you can do just that.
We use EO cameras for drone videography and photography. However, what is the biggest drawback of EO cameras? Yes, you guessed it. They are not able to “see” at night. For this you need thermal imaging cameras. Thermal imaging cameras 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 heat sensor cameras or infrared cameras, these cameras are a must if you are planning on catering to high paying sectors like oil & gas and mining. According to a recent survey, the hourly rate for drone pilots varies from $180 to $195 for these lucrative sectors. Roofing inspection, solar panel inspection and crop analysis are some of the other applications of thermal imaging cameras.
So, which is the right thermal camera for you? There are a number of factors which 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.
FLIR which cleverly stands for Forward Looking Infrared is the de facto choice for thermal cameras. The flagship offering for this $7 billion behemoth is the Zenmuse XT developed in conjunction with DJI. Recently Yuneec has come out with the highly affordable CGOET camera which has thermal capabilities. We also discuss the Workwell Wiris 640.
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 a temperature reading of every single pixel on the screen. This camera boasts of a thermal sensitivity of 50 mK. 50 mK means that the smallest temperature difference that the camera can detect is 0.050K. You can avail the Zenmuse XT 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.
You can pair the Zenmuse XT with the Inspire 1. Or if you have the requirement, you can attach the Zenmuse XT and Zenmuse Z30/X4S to the Matrice 210 or the Matrice 600. Once you have images from both these cameras, you can match the data.
Choosing the right camera lens is critical and is dependent on your application. You have lens options ranging from 6.8 mm to 19mm. If you want to undertake radiometric thermographic modeling and mapping, we suggest going for the higher end sensor. The 19 mm camera lens will give you the most zoomed in option. Whereas, the 6.8 mm camera lens has the widest field of view.
So, are you balking at the thought of forking out $20k for a high end thermal drone system? There are some cheaper alternatives out there. For instance you can use the Inspire 1 with the Z3 and the FLIR Vue Pro. Yuneec has recently come out with CGOET camera which can be paired with the H520. However, there are significant disadvantages to opting for these workaround solutions.
Cheaper alternatives like the FLIR Vue Pro will not let you switch between recording pictures and videos. Changing the color palette is also not possible. This will lead to significantly more work for the drone pilot, and an inefficient and cumbersome way of working.
You can consider the Workswell Wiris 640 which can be paired with the DJI Matrice 600. This thermal camera will set you back by $6,500. Thermal sensitivity of this thermal camera is 0.03 C compared to 0.05 C for the Zenmuse XT. This thermal camera comes with an extended temperature range of 1500 degrees Celsius. Thermal accuracy is +/- 2 degrees Celsius.
So, what is the best thermal camera for you? We would suggest going for higher end options in spite of their hefty price tags. Higher specifications will result in wider applications and a easier, more efficient way of working. If you know what you are doing, this is surely an investment worth making. 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.