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Got Infrared? Complete Guide to the Best IR Cameras

Whether you fly a drone as a hobby or have recently received your commercial drone license, you might be looking for additional accessories and gear to enhance your flying experience or expanding your money-making opportunities.

In our guide, we discuss what IR cameras do, how they work, which industries use the cameras, and review some of the best IR cameras available for drones.

What Is Infrared And How Do IR Cameras Work?

Infrared cameras are often also known as thermography, thermal imaging or thermal vision cameras. Infrared measures the heat that radiates from an object, which is not visible by the human eye.

Radiation is produced when atoms and molecules in an object move around. High temperatures have more active atoms and molecules and produce more infrared (which is visible with an IR camera). Every object that has a temperature over absolute zero will emit infrared.

Since infrared is a light that we cannot see, IR cameras are an easy way to collect information and accurately read and record infrared light from a variety of products from buildings to even terrain.

An IR camera is designed to detect infrared energy, converts it into an electronic signal, produces a thermal image, and performs temperature calculations. Many infrared cameras display colorful images, with red representing the hottest areas while some images are grayscale with white as the warmest temperature.

Not only are IR cameras relatively easy to use, but they are also able to operate efficiently and accurately in all types of weather, which includes fog and all types of environments, such as dust or smoke.

Industries That Use Infrared Cameras

Some hobbyists may use infrared cameras in activities such as hunting, but the use of IR cameras is most popular in a variety of industries.

As a drone operator, who has a commercial license or wants to earn a profit with your drone, you may want to consider using an IR camera and work in the following industries.

Public Safety

Thermal imaging is frequently used by various departments throughout public safety. Whether you are hired as a freelance drone operator or volunteer your time, your drone and infrared camera can greatly benefit public safety and your community.

Firefighters often use thermal imaging to take a closer (but safer) look at damaged buildings or structures that may be on fire. Check out this video to see a drone camera with infrared capabilities accurately display where a fire is burning underground.

Drone cameras with thermal imaging can also be an effective tool when searching for a missing person or if a fugitive is on the loose.

Inspections And Maintenance In HVAC And Construction

Maintenance and inspections in industries like construction or even in HVAC can be time-consuming, expensive, and even dangerous depending on the condition or height of the structure.

A drone with an IR camera can easily detect and record any issues in a short period while keeping workers at a safe distance. Since an infrared camera can spot temperatures that cannot be seen with the human eye, many mechanical and other maintenance issues can be accurately assessed.

Other Industries That Utilize IR Cameras On Drones

As the use of drones continues to be “in demand” in nearly every industry, more industries are likely to use thermal imaging to troubleshoot, increase safety, and gather information quickly and accurately. Some industries include, but are not limited to:

  • Agriculture
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Wildlife Management
  • Ranching

Becoming A Commercial Drone Pilot With An IR Camera

If you are interested in making a profit as a drone operator, you can specialize in thermal imaging and widen your field of employment opportunities.

Whether you build your own business as a drone pilot or join a company who wants an in-house drone pilot, it’s important that you have your commercial drone pilot license. Keep in mind that you may also need additional certifications or experience.

If you have limited experience with thermal imaging or using an IR camera, it’s a good idea to learn how the cameras work before you purchase one for your drone. As someone who plans on specializing thermography, you need to be confident and accurate in what you’re doing as much of your work is time-sensitive or life-threatening.

Consider taking a drone course, either online or in-person, that specifically focuses on operating infrared cameras with your drone.

It’s also important to note that if you’re serious about using thermal imaging with your drone, you want to invest in a high-quality IR camera.

There are dozens of drone cameras on the market that have minimal infrared capabilities. While these “budget-friendly” cameras may be suitable and fun for a hobbyist, they lack the finely tuned technology needed in a professional (and profitable) setting.

Top Five Picks For The Best IR Cameras For Drones

Now that we’ve given you a few things to think about before purchase an infrared camera for your drone let’s take a look at our top picks for the best IR cameras for drone use.

1. FLIR Vue Pro

FLIR System Inc is one of the leading manufacturers of infrared cameras for drones. They specialize in a variety of thermal imaging cameras that have various sizes of lens, resolutions, Field of View (FOV), measurement accuracy, and other features.

The FLIR Vue Pro might be a bit of a “bare bones” model compared to some of the other FLIR drone cameras, but it doesn’t mean that it lacks in its capabilities. FLIR Vue Pro is a great starter camera for first time IR camera owners and users.

This model is attached with a gimbal and only displays a thermal image, but you have more control over the camera’s movement.

Specifications:

  • 2.26” x 1.75” with the lens
  • Weighs between 3.25 and 4 ounces
  • Input supply voltage: 4 to 6 VDC
  • Resolution: 336 x 256
  • Lens: 45 x 35 degree
  • Operational altitude: over 40,000 feet
  • Bluetooth, MAVLink, and USB interfaces

Pros:

  • Compatible with iOS and Android apps
  • Works with Pix4Dmapper
  • Easy to use controller for changing color palette, start/stop record
  • Onboard memory card

Cons:

  • Lower resolution than other IR cameras
  • Bluetooth connectivity may be problematic
  • Some users note issues with colors looking “washed out”

The FLIR Vue Pro R looks virtually the same as the Vue Pro, but it has a few extra features that makes it a popular choice among professional commercial drone pilots.

The camera is radiometric, which means that you can have thermal imaging and accurate temperature measurements, which makes it an ideal IR camera for inspecting infrastructure or use in public safety.

Specifications:

  • 2.26” x 1.75” with the lens
  • Weighs between 3.25 and 4 ounces
  • Input supply voltage: 4 to 6 VDC
  • Resolution: 640 x 512
  • Lens: 45 x 35 degree
  • Operational altitude: over 40,000 feet
  • Bluetooth, MAVLink, and USB interfaces

Pros:

  • Easy to configure
  • Accurate readings
  • Higher resolution

Cons:

  • Some users had issues with color contrast
  • Bluetooth connectivity may not always work well
FLIR_VUE_PRO_R

3. DJI Zenmuse XT2

DJI pairs up with FLIR to make the Zenmuse XT2. It has a high-resolution FLIR thermal sensor as well as a 4K visual camera. The Zenmuse XT2 is a radiometric IR camera, so you have accurate temperature readings as well as high-quality thermal images.

Specifications vary by lens and model (visit site for full specifications)

  • With 25mm lens: 123.7×112.6×127.1 mm
  • Resolution: 336 x 256 or 640 x 512

Pros:

  • Image stabilization and polarity control
  • Capture and record imaging
  • Micro SD card included
  • Built-in applications like DJ Pilot
  • Full-color visible data

Cons:

  • May be a difficult camera to use for beginners or inexperience with IR cameras
  • Significantly more expensive than other IR cameras for drones
Zenmuse XT2

4. Yuneec CGOET

The Yuneec CGOET is a dual drone IR camera that operates in low light and is non-radiometric. The thermal imaging is 1080p with simultaneous HD and infrared recording. You can adjust the temperature measurement and detection for specific ranges.

Specifications:

  • 3.19 x 5.43 x 4.25”
  • Weighs 0.6 lb
  • Resolution: 160 x 120

Pros:

  • 3-axis self-stabilizing camera
  • 360-degree rotating gimbal
  • Compatible with CGOET app (available in App Store or Google Play)
  • View in real time on your remote control as picture to picture or as an overlay
  • Good for beginners or hobbyists

Cons:

  • No Bluetooth connectivity options
  • Low resolution
CGEOT IR Camera

5. Yuneec E1OT

The Yuneec E10T has many of the same design features of the CGOET, the most notable features are improved resolution and image stability. You also have the option to view your thermal images with a color palette or as white hot.

Specifications:

  • 123 x 81 x 140 mm
  • Weighs about 13 ounces
  • Resolution: 320 x 256 or 640 x 512

Pros:

  • Easy to swap with other compatible gimbal cameras
  • Professional-grade
  • Ideal for serious commercial drone pilots

Cons:

  • Not an ideal option for beginners
  • Costs more than other Yuneec models
e10t IR Camera

 

Our Winning IR Camera

There are plenty of high-quality IR cameras for drones on the market and in time, we can expect many companies to “up their game” and add some features that might make it even more difficult to determine which IR camera is best.

While we like many of the features of the Yuneec E10T and Zenmuse, our overall winner is the FLIR Vue Pro R. Not only does FLIR have a solid reputation when it comes to making IR cameras for drones, but we think it’s an easier camera to use overall.

It has features that are not too overwhelming for a beginner but enough high-quality and high-tech specs that will help you grow as a drone pilot. The quality of the thermal imaging is good enough to use in nearly every industry you choose.

Editor's Choice for Best IR Camera

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