The best thermal imaging cameras allow you to explore the world in a whole new way. They let you see, measure, and capture temperature differences, accurately and from a safe distance.
Beyond the visible spectrum, there is an unseen world of heat radiation. Arty infrared film photographs aside, the practical uses of thermal imaging devices – also known as infrared thermal imagers – traditionally belonged only to military and professional budgets.
But now anyone can access thermal imaging, whether you want to spot heat sources in dark places – ideal for wildlife spotting – or identify where heat is being lost from your property. If you simply want to measure temperatures, you may prefer our guide to the best infrared thermometers, but for HVAC, electronics, and plumbing these are now essential.
Find out more about how thermal imaging cameras work at the bottom of this guide. Below are the best thermal-imaging cameras you can buy right now, which I have either personally tested or sought expert advice and first-hand experience of.
Our top picks
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The latest and best thermal-imaging camera for phones has a wireless connection and a great app, plus a rugged build.
- Easy-to-read hybrid images
- Top-notch app
- Rugged build
FLIR’s Cx-Series of thermal-imaging cameras has features for DIY and pro users, a built-in screen, and a rugged design.
- Rugged build
- No need for phone
The best thermal-imaging cameras in 2023
The FLIR ONE Edge Pro is a wireless thermal-visible camera for camera phones and iPads. It's designed with a spring-loaded clip, which allows different users (or companies with several workers) to attach the camera to both iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Unlike previous FLIR thermal imaging models that plugged into the bottom of the phone, the ONE Edge Pro doesn't actually have to be connected at all – and can be used up to 30 meters (100ft) away with a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection.
Is a compact, easy-to-use imaging device for builders, mechanisms, building inspectors and even homeowners who want to see how much heat their home is leaking! IP54-rated, it can measure temperatures up to 400°C (752°F) and has a maximum 1.5-hour battery life.
Teledyne FLIR promises that it's easy to recognize where problems are located and identify targets, thanks to FLIR's MSX (Multi-Spectral Dynamic Imaging), 160 × 120 (19,200 pixels) thermal resolution and VividIR, which combines multiple image frames together to deliver a clearer image.
The FLIR C3-X and FLIR C5 are good-looking compact thermal imagers that are well suited to DIYers and contractors. With a rugged body that’ll survive a bit of workplace rough-and-tumble, both have two cameras and a 5-megapixel optical lens. The IR maxes out at 160 x 120 on the pricier C5, allowing it to take advantage of Flir’s MSX technology. This patented method uses an edge-detection algorithm on the higher-resolution visual light image, overlaying this with the IR image to make the picture easier to comprehend.
Both versions have a 3-inch touchscreen and can store around 500 images onboard to transfer via Micro USB. The ability to type notes via a touch keyboard can be handy, too. If you can stretch to it, the FLIR C5 model adds more analysis features and Wi-Fi so you can get images to your phone and to your software.
FLIR’s analysis software, FLIR Tools, allows you to change the color palettes and take readings from 4,800 measurement points in the image files, a little like using the eyedropper in Photoshop.
Read our full FLIR C5 review for more details
This amazingly compact device nevertheless beats more expensive alternatives in a number of ways. It only works when connected to a phone, and the connector – a lightning or USB-C plug – must be specified at purchase. But the app is good and offers a choice of easy or pro modes.
Another stroke of genius is the magnetically attachable macro lens, which is ideal for those examining circuit boards or other electronics, making this a very versatile tool. We worry that for some the connection might be delicate, but it is reversible (both USB-C and Lightning ports are) and you can see the level of detail in my full InfiRay P2 Pro review, in which I tested the device against simple insulation, plumbing, and electronics situations.
While the FLIR C-Series produces useful images in good light via MSX, this camera can do so at any time, since it doesn’t rely on visual light to boost its resolution. For our money, that makes it the best thermal-imaging camera for night use today.
Combined with its 15Hz refresh rate (many are only 9Hz), it can easily be used to spot animals or people in the dark, or through dense foliage. There’s also a 300-lumen LED light, should you want to surprise someone you’ve spotted in the dark. The simple menu system provides access to other useful features too, such as Level and Span adjustments (a little like manual exposure, allowing you to isolate a thermal range), and Emissivity adjustments (manual or pre-sets).
The fixed-focus camera works between 30cm (12 inches) and 550m (1,800 ft) and the 2.4-inch color screen is protected with Gorilla Glass. The 4GB memory can capture as many images as you’d need to (you can hold the shutter down if you like). For distance temperature readings, you can use the 4x digital zoom, though be warned that the resolution suffers.
This thermal-imaging camera is easy to use in the workplace but fully equipped with wi-fi and Bluetooth to share data with a phone. Held with a pistol grip, the image can be frozen with a trigger and saved using the camera icon below the screen. The design, with a built-in lens cover and rubber guards to protect the 3.5-inch screen, is strong and IP53 dustproof.
The device includes a picture-in-picture context function, which places the thermal image in the centre of a frame with a visual image around the outside providing context. Also useful on-site is the lock feature which fixes the minimum and maximum temperature (like an exposure lock).
Bosch also provides a supporting app so you can transfer images beyond the 600 the device will hold. This is great for additional analysis and report creation, and the radiometric data is there for later analysis (but it’d still be nice to store more onboard).
This thermal-imaging camera also connects to your phone but provides more resolution (320 x 240 pixels) as well as higher sensitivity (-40˚F to 626˚F) than the Flir One – even the Pro version. And while that pushes up the price, it does make it a great choice for contractors, engineers, inspectors, and others looking for more detailed images.
With adjustable focus, the lens can be set on subjects as far as 550m (1,800ft). That’s not only handy for outdoor pursuits but allows you to take full advantage of the relatively high resolution to get sharp thermal images at any distance.
On the downside, while the FLIR One includes a visible light camera, the Seek CompactPro uses your phone’s camera to provide a split-screen picture-by-picture function, which is subject to some parallax issues.
On the plus side, the 15Hz refresh rate makes for better video (but can raise export issues when leaving the US, as it becomes “military grade”). Also, the app can give center-spot measures, or automatically highlight the hottest and coldest spots in a scene.
Featuring a laser and a continuous-scanning IR thermometer, the FLIR TG267 is a kind of hybrid between a non-contact thermometer and a thermal imaging camera.
The grip shape is ideally suited to tasks like car maintenance, since the one-handed operation is easy, and the cool bullseye-shaped laser dot makes it simple to direct the point of interest. The 2.4-inch color screen (refreshing at 8.7Hz) gives you plenty of confidence that you’re getting the right readings for your work, boosted by the MSX tech for a sharp view.
The generous battery will provide five hours' use in the workshop, and charges via the same USB connector, which can be used to offload the saved images – up to 50,000 of which will fit on the built-in 4GB. The system also allows for emissivity correction (manually or with four handy pre-sets) and includes a tripod mount at the bottom of the grip.
Enthusiast mechanics may prefer to hunt down the cheaper TG165, an earlier FLIR product aimed at this category that still features a laser and IR thermometer, while the near-identical TG275 can perceive an even greater temperature range.
The Seek ShotPRO is a compact IR camera that boasts a much better thermal resolution than its immediate competitors but, unlike some other accessibly priced Seek products, also includes the ability to mix visual light. The technology, SeekFusion, allows you to adjust a live overlay with an on-screen slider, a little like changing opacity in Photoshop layers. It lacks the edge enhancement of FLIR MSX, but on the other hand, the greater thermal resolution means that isn’t really needed.
The Short Pro, like the FLIR C3, is capable of Wi-Fi streaming (it partners with a free app called SeekView), though still boasts 4GB of memory to capture stills and video. Even without the app, the 3.5-inch touchscreen can be used with built-in analysis tools; you can create up to three boxes and monitor the minimum, maximum, and average temperature in each. Using the tripod mount can be handy for watching things change over time.
Combining a 160x120 pixel sensor with a 640 x 480 pixel LCD display means the Scout TK has the resolution and tech to identify a mammal – a person or a deer, say – hiding at around 100 yards (91m) away while being no harder to use than a traditional scope. That’s not a stunning level of detail, but without the scope your eyes might well not make out targets at a much shorter distance, giving this device a broad range of security and hobby uses.
The compact size and rechargeable battery boost the practicality; there will be no trouble fitting this into a decent coat pocket. The USB image download is convenient, and there's a cable included too, although no wireless transfer.
With a fixed field of view (20˚), the controls are not challenging: just brightness and the option to switch the color palette (White Hot, Black Hot, InstAlert, Graded Fire, and others). A single button handles recording, with a short press for a still and a long press for video. The 9Hz refresh rate is fast enough to make hand-holding practical.
The CAT S62 Pro is designed to take serious abuse, with the construction that means that it can be dropped without having to worry about dents or cracking its Gorilla Glass 6 screen. With an IP68 rating, CAT phones can be submerged in 3m of water, too, without fear of ingress. And this industrial design also comes with some useful additional features that you don't find on a phone – including a very capable thermal imaging camera built on the FLIR 3.5 sensor (160 x 120).
This is useful because it reduces the things you need to carry and avoids any connecting with IR cameras via Bluetooth or cables. The phone, too, is a perfectly serviceable affair with a 660 Octo Core 2GHz CPU that will run your favorite apps and 6GB storage for them. Even if it may lack some of the refinements of the top camera phones, it has a 12MP Sony sensor, comes with Android 10, and supports the Android Enterprise feature set.
Note: the older CAT S61, still available in places, had a lower resolution IR camera, but offered laser measuring, offering an alternative with even more flexibility.
FLIR’s rugged E-series, of which the E8-XT is the top of the line (I have reviewed the E5-XT, which has a similar build). It offers the advantages of the company’s image enhancement, which merges visible light with the IR thermograph for easier-to-understand imagery. At this price, it seems a little unfair that the visible light camera is only 640x480, but in this context, it works well enough.
Of more concern to a working professional is the combination of Wi-Fi/Bluetooth and the FLIR Tools app, which enables timely delivery of your assessment, with imagery, to clients. This is well-realized, easy to operate, and can also be used, via screen recordings, to capture video from the camera.
When you’re regularly working in rough environments, the E8 represents the kind of reliability you need. The autofocus makes it easy to use and the lenses and 3-inch screen are well-shielded in a drop-proof IP54 enclosure.
The benefits of MSX-enhanced IR imagery are clear in any scenario, but especially when you just want to get the job done. Here the extra contrast from the natural light camera combined with the detail (in line with FLIR’s patent) makes identifying moisture problems, air leaks, and insulation issues a relative breeze for anyone in the field.
The 8GB of internal memory will store up to 15,000 images, and their associated hygrometer readings and measurements from the laser measure, the beam of which is directed from a lens near the cameras.
The IR202 is an ideal home inspection tool, made extremely portable by its compact design and piggybacking off the power from the host phone (Android only). At 15fps, the imaging is faster than some thermal images, though the 80 x 60 resolution means you’ll want to be relatively near your subject – meaning that hunters might want to look elsewhere for a tool to scan the woods.
It is nevertheless a noticeably higher resolution than the device’s immediate predecessor, the IR0102, which had a 32 x 32-pixel resolution. As a low-priced device, adding this to your toolkit is a lot less painful than some of the devices on this list, and with fuel prices on the rise, locating leaks (an ideal task for this adapter) could cover the cost surprisingly soon.
How thermal imaging cameras work
For the most part, the best thermal-imaging cameras work like regular ones, except that the image sensor detects invisible IR light and it is translated to a visual “thermogram”. This is what you see through the creature’s perspective views in The Predator and Prey.
Like visual cameras, these images are made of pixels but start at lower resolutions such as 80x60 pixels, or 0.003 megapixels. That sounds limited, but it's enough detail to pick out hotspots in wiring, for example.
See also Best thermal drones
Higher resolutions are always better, allowing you to work at a distance, which is especially important in security and rescue scenarios. Digitally overlaying the thermal image with a high-resolution, visible one can make understanding the picture easier, and many devices on this list do that.
The sensors are also of varying detail (150mK sensitivity means each pixel takes readings to the nearest 0.15˚C, so lower numbers are better). Meanwhile, refresh rates aren’t always high; 9Hz is typical, which is fine for locating hotspots, but not exactly cinematic.
Read more: Best indoor security cameras or Best outdoor security cameras
Thermal imaging works in the dark, or through smoke, but can be fooled by the reflectiveness (emissivity) of a surface. Because IR is part of the electromagnetic spectrum, like visible light, it also has similar properties when it encounters lenses or rain. For professional use, it pays to read up a bit on understanding thermograms, but you’ll understand the basics the moment you power on your thermal camera. Depending on the software, you can also take retrospective measurements from the thermal JPEGs.
How we test thermal cameras
Although there are several of us on the team, including me (Adam Juniper), we generally test thermal cameras by using them in day-to-day tasks like inspecting ventilation/insulation, heating equipment (radiators, boilers) and plumbing (hot water pipes and taps). We also test any special claims made by the manufacturer about individual products, as well as the overall experience.
You might also like the best inspection cameras and borescopes and the best night vision goggles.