Products > Thermal Imaging

So where can I get a 640x480 LWIR camera for under $1000?

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Ben321:
I know that these are usually SUPER expensive (about $20000 for FLIR T620, and even some of their cheaper 640x480 cores/modules are still like around $5000), but I'm wondering what is really driving up the cost. Would it be possible for a company to manufacture a 640x480 LWIR camera for a very low price that would let them then sell it for under $1000? I can't imagine that the manufacturing process for a 640x480 vanadium oxide microbolometer focal plain array, actually costs the company over $1000 per chip. I also can't imagine the manufacturing costs for making a small (1cm diameter) lens out of germanium, would be over $1000 per lens. It feels like FLIR and all other thermal imager manufacturers are just inflating costs well beyond what they need to to make a profit, in order to make an INSANELY HUGE profit. I'm guessing their profit margin is something like 5000% to 10000% based on the prices they are selling these things at, compared to what I believe their manufacturing costs are.

So back to this thread's title question. Is there any company out there, who's set out to make the most dirt-cheap 640x480 thermal imager possible, with the intent of providing the public with a with a decent resolution thermal imager, at a reasonable price? Is there any company who's managed to get the price of a 640x480 LWIR camera below $1000? If so, I'd love to know what that company is, so I can check out their website.

Chanc3:
You can get really lucky in the used thermal imaging camera market. We recently picked a 640x480 camera for a fraction over £1000.

I'm waiting for a FLIR A15 to arrive as if it's anything like the Ex range, you maybe able to hack it to 640x480. (from 160x120)

Sent from my ONE A2003 using Tapatalk

Kilrah:

--- Quote from: Ben321 on May 07, 2016, 07:52:19 pm ---I know that these are usually SUPER expensive (about $20000 for FLIR T620, and even some of their cheaper 640x480 cores/modules are still like around $5000)
--- End quote ---
As was already pointed out to you but you seem to keep ignoring, you can find offerings for around $3500.


--- Quote from: Ben321 on May 07, 2016, 07:52:19 pm ---Would it be possible for a company to manufacture a 640x480 LWIR camera for a very low price that would let them then sell it for under $1000?

--- End quote ---

Probably, but now put yourself in the manufacturer's seat - why would you do it? Your typical customers are highly trained, have "tactical" needs and will happily shell out anything you ask for. No point loweing the entry point, making less money for more work, and ending having to support the average Joe who has no clue what he's doing.

Nobody will move from their comfortable seats unless a new player manages to catch up and forces them to. Hasn't happened in that segment yet.

Ben321:

--- Quote from: Chanc3 on May 07, 2016, 08:05:55 pm ---You can get really lucky in the used thermal imaging camera market. We recently picked a 640x480 camera for a fraction over £1000.

I'm waiting for a FLIR A15 to arrive as if it's anything like the Ex range, you maybe able to hack it to 640x480. (from 160x120)

Sent from my ONE A2003 using Tapatalk

--- End quote ---

1GBP > 1USD. Last time I checked, 1GBP ~= 1.5USD. So 1000GBP is obviously well over the price of $1000 I was looking for.

You guys here on this forum must be super rich hobbyists. For me, $1000 is a MAJOR PURCHASE. I wouldn't ever consider spending > $1000 on a thermal imager. Maybe an oscilloscope. Maybe a programmable function generator. Maybe a new laptop. But certainly not on a camera who's resolution is 640x480 (I don't care how exotic of a wavelength it's sensing). You can get a webcam with a silicon CMOS visible light sensor array, which has a resolution of 640x480, for about $50.

In general, technology gets cheaper. Some of the oldest consumer level digital cameras (when they came out in the early 1990s) did cost about $1000, and did have a resolution of about 640x480, or maybe a 800x600 if you were lucky. However as time went on, prices have come down. Now days, a simple point-and-shoot digital camera, has 640x480 is a MINIMUM resolution (selectable in a settings menu), and usually has like 20megapixels as its default resolution, and the price is usually like only $200. So as you see, the longer that a technology exists on the market, the more prices tend to come down. That is a general trend in the consumer electronics industry.

However, that trend seems to have ZERO effect on the prices of thermal imagers. 640x480 thermal imagers cost $20000 about 15 years ago, and they still tend to cost that much now (T620 for example). Some have slightly dropped their price, such as the $3500 one you were talking about. But that's still not a significant improvement. That only represents a price per pixel that has gone from 6.5cents per pixel to 1.2cents per pixel. This is an 82% decrease in price. Compare that though to what has happened with consumer digital cameras. It's gone from about 0.3cents per pixel to 0.001cents per pixel. That's a  99.7% decrease in price, which is a FAR GREATER decrease in price, than the 82% decrease in price that FLIR is offering for LWIR cameras. And that assumes it's even a decrease at all. More likely it's just that the $3500 thermal imager you were speaking of, simply has fewer features than the T620. The T620 cost about $20000 several years ago, and it still does.

Yes companies deserve to make a profit, but should it really be such an obscene profit as this? I'm guessing that it costs FLIR no more than maybe $100 to $200 to manufacture a single T620 unit. Should they really then be selling it for $20000? They could still make a profit if they sold it for $500. And by the way, this would actually bring in MORE CUSTOMERS. I predict, that this surge in customers would not only offset the decrease in profit-per-unit, but over time they would actually make MORE MONEY this way. You see, not only would people in military or industry be buying them, the average person would ALSO be buying them.


Fraser:
The cold but realistic response to your question is why should a 640 X 480 pixel thermal camera be made available to you for less than $1000. 320 X 240 is still the standard for most applications. There are people with very deep pockets willing to pay significant sums of money for higher resolution cameras. Until that situation changes, there is little incentive to supply 640 X 480 resolution cameras at anything but premium prices.

Also be aware that 640 X 480 resolution cameras do not always have 640 X 480 true pixels. As you may be aware, TESTO used a feature called Super Resolution to create 640 X 480 pixel images from a 320 X 240 pixel resolution detector array. They used the unavoidable movement when hand holding the camera to create a stacked image and tidied it all up in the image processing stage. When mounted on a tripod, Super Resolution does not work.

I have to ask the question.... Why do you need 640 X 480 pixel resolution ?
There are applications for such in areas like the military, science and broadcast programs but 320 X 240 is sufficient for most applications. This is not visible light imaging. Thermal, sources are by nature, less well defined due to a combination of conducted, radiated and convection heat transfer within the DUT. Sharp Delta T transitions usually only occur when a thermal insulator is in play or a DUT is contrasting against a background of differing temperature.

In the early days of thermal imaging the resolution could be quite low and this could make life difficult for the user as they found it hard to spot references against which to interpret the thermal image of an area.  On some cameras Visible light camera image merging was used to provide a reasonable context for the thermal image detail. As camera resolution improved, it was possible to see enough detail on the surface of the DUT to establish the location of heat sources and Delta T across surfaces. 320 X 240 pixels are adequate in most circumstances for such image interpretation.

Visible light Image merging was of some benefit but the visible light image could cause confusion with regard to the thermal information in the combined image. FLIR decided to use edge detection techniques to capture edge detail only from the visible light image and overlay only that detail onto the thermal image. The edge detail provides the user with very useful context within an image without producing contrasts that could be confused with thermal data. The MSX system works well in good light but can add noise to the images in low light conditions as the visible light camera AGC increases the gain and produces noise.

Higher thermal resolutions are used in military weapons aiming systems that needed excellent target acquisition and aiming capability at long ranges without a very small FOV. The minimum detectable target size at long range is an issue for defensive weapons systems. Some very high resolution cooled thermal camera systems are deployed on ships etc, but they cost a small fortune and are tightly controlled technology.

Do remember that 640 X 480 pixels just allows you to be twice the distance from the DUT using the same FOV and obtain a similar level of detail in the image. Conversely, if you can obtain the required image at half the original distance you get similar thermal detail of the DUT as when using a 640 X 480 camera with the same FOV at the original distance. I hope that makes sense.

I own X2 and X3 Auxilliary telescope lenses for some of my thermal cameras. These may be fitted with Close Up lenses of 6" and 12" that I also own. These allow me to effectively use my 320 X 240 pixels very close to the DUT and at X2 or X3 magnification. The FOV is effectively reduced by a half or two thirds providing greater detail of a smaller area of the DUT.

If you tell me why you need a resolution higher than the industry nominal of 320 X 240 pixels, I may be able to suggest options that are open to you.

If it just that you want more bang for your buck........ Well I cannot help you there, but can say that you have never had it so good on the thermal imaging front and maybe should just be grateful for what is already available for less than $1000 :)

Fraser

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