Thermal Camera Reviewed

We keep thinking about buying a better thermal camera, as there are plenty of advantages. While [VoltLog’s] review of the Topdon TC002 was interesting though, it has a connector for an iPhone. Even if you aren’t on Android, there is a rumor that Apple may (or may be forced to) change connectors which will make it more difficult to connect. Of course, there will be adapters, and you can get a USB C version of the same camera.

Technically, the camera is pretty typical of other recent cameras in this price range, and they probably all use the same image sensor. The camera provides 256×192 images.

Where the cameras differ is usually in the software and supporting hardware. For example, [VoltLog] was impressed with the software’s ability to allow you to adjust the overlay of the real image with the IR image. This capability is not unique, but the implementation was well done. He was also impressed with the packaging.

He did mention that the camera isn’t set up to do PCB inspection, which is mostly what we would want it for. However, for some uses, this camera seems like it would be functional. He did suggest you try the USB C version unless you are certain you only want to use it with an iPhone.

Since most of the cameras use the same basic sensor, there are few surprises in a review like this. However, it is nice to be able to see the differences in software, packaging, and lensing between different options.

Of course, once you have one of these, it is something else to obsess over calibrating. If 256×192 seems too rich for you, maybe try an 8×8 sensor.

13 thoughts on “Thermal Camera Reviewed

  1. We found with our handheld/standalone FLIR that using zinc selenide lenses off ebay with some careful 3d printing for placing the lens at the right location got us great macro photography, capable of imaging hot spots on a functioning die. We could see which bondwires were hot, or see what part of a microcontroller die was heating up during different operations. I thought that was pretty cool. (TBH mostly it was the internal voltage regulator section that was heating up.)

    1. Very interesting idea, i will love to see results! do you have any website to see some macro?
      (Meanwhile i can repress to remind ZnSe is very very toxic even by contact with a cumulative effect)

      1. “zinc selenide” = CO2 laser lens, CO2 being infrared lasers.

        The lens have a focal distance of 25mm to 150mm (1-6″) with 50mm (2″) the most common. Get the cheapest 2″.

        Look for CloudRay on AliExpress, they have the lens & holders if you need ideas.

    2. We did some similar work using a FLIR handheld, Ebay ZnSe lenses, and old microscope parts (this was 7 – 8 years ago). We were looking for the on-ramp for a specific type of material defect imaging and got “pretty good” results (ca 100 µm resolution) that led to funding for a better camera. The hard part is that ZnSe is opaque, so getting a handle on the focal length and distance was a matter of much adjustment (and some choice invective) while juggling the device.

      Also the issue of ZnSe lens toxicity – don’t eat them, don’t breath the dust, beyond that handling should be fine – I’m no weirder than I ever was.

      MSDS from Thor:

  2. I want to observe the light emitted by Germanium junctions from OC170 “glass bead” transistors. Unfortunately, this is in the medium/low IR range, below the Silicon sensitivity range and in the band that is deemed “military” so finding a cheap real time imager is doomed to fail…

  3. Yeah…pass on the iPhone attachment. They made that mistake at work…bought a name brand thermal imager for the iPhone, instead of the standalone one. Fast forward three years…iPhone battery’s dead, we have lightning connectors instead of the old larger ones, and the “cheaper” thermal imager is now useless.

    1. Stupid question (probably with obvious answer), but were any of the Apple 30-pin to Lightning (or USB) adapters tried for adapting the “cheap” thermal camera to a more modern iPhone, or perhaps to a Macbook (or other computer via USB)? It might be worth the $30(ish) just to try it.¯\_ (ツ)_/¯

      1. Probably, but then you have the problem of the app not beimg up to date. iPhone apps eventually become incompatible with newer versions of the OS, if the developer doesn’t keep updating them. I don’t know what happened to the device, but a couple of years ago, someone found the cash to buy the standalone imager they should have bought in the first place. It’s very useful (if pricey)

  4. Those phone attachment things don’t work with some cases without adapters, some can eat battery,
    and there are standalone options for a similar price. If they were Bluetooth, and there was no risk of the app not working one day, then maybe, but I like my pistol grip style imager.

    1. Not sure which brand brand it was, but some chinese brands make at least their usb-c ones also compatible to desktop PCs. Some can even be recognized like a standard webcam if they’re plugged in. I wish every manufacturer would do this.

      1. I have the usb-c version of this Topdon, the TC001. It has a basically adequate Android app, and Windows drivers which worked fairly well the one time I tried them. On Linux and macOS, it half-works, it delivers a split image, one half IR, one half regular, with no false color for the IR or temp markers. I expect someone could make that work better with some effort… The camera itself is pretty nice, it’s possible to do things like see the studs in a wall thanks to thermal bridging, or to see the warm footprints after you walk across a bare floor (maybe not incredibly practical, but it did help me track down a gap in the weatherstripping around a window).

  5. I’d hope HaD could answer the real question with ANY of these reviews – can you hook it up WITHOUT the proprietary software/app and get images / video / data out of it?

    That’s the main thing stopping me from getting one of these – the fact that the app will be rubbish or will stop working or stop being supported, turning the device into a paperweight.

    So far various cheap cameras (EG USB borescope) I’ve bought from eBay have all identified as standard USB image capture devices that VLC can open & stream, would be great if these thermal devices did the same.

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