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The story of a Canon G5 digital camera and a FOTRIC 200 series thermal camera :)

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Fraser:
I was going to write a piece on the FOTRIC 226b thermal camera that is currently on its way to me but have decided to broaden the piece to discuss the case format of thermal cameras, and lack of conventional camera formats in thermal imaging instead :) I hope it makes an interesting read and stimulates discussion :)

Some years ago I bought a canon G5 digital camera. It is a solid lump of a camera that feels like it could survive some pretty rough treatment. Its shape is that of a brick and it is quite utilitarian in its design. I love its solid feel in the hand and the lack of frivililous additions to its brick like design. It just gets the job done and is not built to impress with its looks alone. Substance over looks rather than what can often be the reverse scenario with flashy casings and pretty average contents within. So what has a Canon G5 got to do with thermal imaging cameras you may ask. Well ask yourself this, when was the last time you saw a thermal imaging camera that resembled a conventional digital compact camera or DSLR ?

The photography industry has, for many years, refined its camera designs both in terms of performance and casing design. There have been some disasters along the way but the "Compact" camera and SLR camera case designs have remained common and well liked. Sure the contents of the casings have changed greatly over the years, but the users still want something comfortable and solid to hold whilst composing their pictures. My G5 is about as basic a casing format as a digital compact can be ..... a block with a lens pointing out of one side and a LCD panel on the other side. Nothing too fancy.

So why, I ask, do we not see thermal imaging cameras appearing in a similar format ? Sure in the early days of thermal cameras, the electronics and optical package was just too large to fit into a standard "Compact" cameras case proportions. The Infrared Systems "IR SnapShot" sort of tried and the result was a bit of a monstrosity ..... like an oversized disposable 35mm camera ! It would win no beauty contests and its electronics package was an early attempt at creating a thermal still image camera that mimicked a 35mm film camera.... except the exposure took several seconds per image ! There is no getting away from that cameras ugliness and it was huge ! And yes, I own an example of that camera in my collection  ;D

So since the Infrared Solutions attempt at a "compact" thermal camera design, which other manufacturers have attempted to mimic the format of a conventional visible light photographic camera ? Well NEC-Avio had a go and it was a partial success. I say partial because it was still a bit ugly in appearance !The NEC-AVIO F30 was intended to be a "Compact" style thermal camera for the pocket. It was designed for the trades and surveyors who wanted a decent thermal imaging camera that they could carry in a (large) pocket whilst out on a job. Once again the ball was dropped however ! Whilst the cameras electronics package was more than capable, the casing around it looking like some sort of kids toy ! It was all plastic and had a rinky-dink lens barrel. The whole thing looked a bit odd. Performance wise, the camera had a 160 x 120 pixel microbolometer mated to a half decent Germanium lens that offered both close focus (Macro) and conventional manual focus capabilities. It may have looked kind of "cheap" but it most definitely was not a cheap camera to purchase. For its release date, it was actually a very compact and capable thermal camera.  And yes I own several examples of this camera in my collection :palm:

At this point I say "Next" and consider other cameras that have attempted to mimic conventional photographic camera formats. Only one other comes to mind from the past. It was the Mikron Midas that was similar in format to a large digital compact camera, but it was larger and heavier. A decent attempt though. I do NOT have one of these in my collection as the last one that I saw on the used market was offered at a Bullish price considering its age and capabilities. There is little I can say about that camera as it does not appear to have been that well known in the market.

OK, so now we get to what I consider the interesting bit..... FOTRIC and their 200 series cameras..........

Fraser:
And so to the FOTRIC 200 series thermal cameras  :-+

Readers may ask "who are FOTRIC ?"

FOTRIC are a Chinese thermal imaging equipment brand that dates back to around 2012. They were not well known outside of ASIA and only gained a European representative in 2019. Being relatively unknown in the West is not a sign of poor products or other negative connotations, it just means the company chose to remain in the Asian market. NEC-AVIO is similar in that it is a major player in thermal imaging equipment in Asia, yet is little known in the West. I own NEC-Avio thermal imaging kit and it is equal to FLIR in build and performance.

OK, now that we have got the "who are FOTRIC" question out of the way, let us discuss the 200 series cameras that they offer  :-+

The 200 series have the general appearance of a conventional photographic "compact camera" not that dissimilar to the Canon G5 that I mentioned earlier. This fact immediately attracted me to the FOTRIC camera. OK, I know the similarity is only passing and slight, but it was enough for me OK ?  ;D

The 200 series were first introduced to the market Circa 2016 and new models have been released over the years to meet market need. The 200 series remain a current product. The basic design is, as I have said, similar in format to a conventional compact camera but with a significant deviation in the form of a mobile phone attached to its rear panel ! The 200 series do not have a built in LCD display and the manufacturer decided to create a camera that was more of a USB thermal camera dongle on steroids married to either a Samsung J7 or other mobile phone of the users choice. The 200 series Camera section provides the casing in which to mount the microbolometer, a decent lens, a large capacity battery and ancillary items. The mobile phone connects to the camera via USB and is held in place by an integrated mobile phone clamp. The mobile phone provides the image processing, display, storage, communications and a visible light camera for dual image type collection (Thermal + Visible light).
The end result of combining a compact camera style thermal imaging head with a mobile phone is unusual to say the least. It does not displease me however as there are options open to the user for different configurations if desired. A smaller mobile phone may be used and the overhang removed if a visible light image is not required. The 200 series cameras may be connected to a mobile phone or even a PC via a standard USB cable if desired. Both Android and PC software is available for image collection and analysis. Of note is the fact that FOTRIC provide the Android software and the PC analysis software free of charge. There was an opportunity to charge extra for PC image analysis software but FOTRIC decided against it  :-+

The 200 series employ a good quality lens in front of the microbolometer. It is of unknown brand but is demountable so other lens options may be installed if desired. FOTRIC offer a range of lenses for use on the 200 series and the range includes a Macro lens for close-up inspection of PCB's. Sadly the lenses are quite expensive and range in price from ~$700 to $2000+. The lens mount thread is currently not known, but it may be the common M34x0.5mm format. The ability to change lenses is welcomed as it opens the door to lens experimentation  :-+

The identity of the microbolometer behind the lens is an interesting topic as some FOTRIC cameras appear to have used FLIR components. The "AnalyzIR" image analysis software has FLIR related elements within its file list. The latest 200 series cameras use a modern high performance Lynred (was ULIS) microbolometer and this is confirmed in FOTRIC sales documentation.

As previously stated, the 200 series has developed since its introduction in 2017. The 225 model offered 320 x 240 pixel resolution at 30fps and this is an excellent choice for general work, including PCB analysis. A bench mount was introduced to permit mounting a 200 series camera above a PCB for thermal analysis work. A newer model was added to the 200 series titled the "226". This model contains a Lynred Pico 384 x 288 pixel microbolometer. The NeTD of these modern Lynred microbolometers is truly excellent  :-+ The frame rate is 50fps so these cameras are export controlled. A higher resolution model called the "228" has been released and this offers a Lynred Pico 640 x 480 pixel microbolometer. All of the 200 series cameras have the same outward appearance with only labelling and lens model differences between them. I will include pictures of different models to show the case design etc but from a distance the models all look the same.

It is at this point that I should mention that OMEGA also sell these cameras under their brand and model numbering. They are sold as the Omega Ti120 series and they are basically rebadged Fotric 200 series cameras. Expect to pay a premium for OMEGA branded versions.

As previously mentioned, FOTRIC responded to market need with the 200 series as it developed over the years. When the SARS and Corona Virus pandemics struck FOTRIC wanted to offer a solution to thermal screening large numbers of people in a very efficient manner. I will not go into the pros & cons of fever screening using thermal camera technology here but it is fair to say that there are some issues with that approach, especially when done "at speed". Fotric decided to use their well specified 226 camera as the basis of a fever detection and screening system. The combination of a QVGA+ microboolmeter and 30fps refresh rate made that particular camera a good choice. It was decided that the camera would feed its data to a PC host as that would offer the processing power needed for what FOTRIC had planned in the way of Fever screening software. They were creating a software that could screen multiple persons simultaneously using face detection and AI to analyze the readings being captured. The HAWK software is taught the characteristics of human "targets" using a configuration stage that involves different people walking into its field of view to set the baseline for healthy human targets. I am sure it is much more sophisticated than my simple description but the system is supposed to be very capable and less prone to false positives. The PC needs the processing power to cope with the AI elements of the screening process and a laptop computer is supplied with the complete kit for fever screening. Measurement accuracy is claimed to be +/-0.5 Celsius in stand-alone configuration and +/-0.3C when used with a Blackbody temperature reference within the thermal scene. Now with the use of a PC rather than a mobile phone host, the visible light imagery was lost. FOTRIC addressed this loss by adding a Logitech webcam to the kit. They were then faced with the challenge of how to mount the webcam close to the thermal camera lens to reduce parallax error effects when aligning the visible and thermal images during image analysis and display. The Fever detection software has various modes of operation and these include visible light facial recognition, thermal facial recognition, visible image with thermal measurement overlay and saving of the visible light image when a fever temperature is detected in order to positively identify the person later. FOTRIC created a webcam mounting assembly that slips over the thermal lens mount and this bracket positions the webcam just above the thermal lens. A neat solution to the problem and it is easily removed if desired  :-+

OK, so why I have I gone into so much detail on the 226b fever screening camera model ? Well I have one on its way to me this week 8) I had to do some investigation of the model before deciding to purchase it (surplus stock disposal). Thankfully I found FOTRIC to be a very friendly and helpful company who know their product well. They confirmed that the Fever Detection 226b model will still operate with their AnalyzIR (PC) and LinkIR (Android) software that is used with their general use 200 series cameras  :-+ They did warn that the temperature measurement range would be limited by the 226b firmware as it needed to be far more accurate than the standard 226 model. I do not know what the designers did to improve the measurement accuracy in the 226b but it required constraints on the measure to range. I found the same with the Hikvision TP-31B fever detection cameras. For me, this is not an issue as I intend to use the 226b for general thermal photography and not for demanding temperature measurement applications. I have plenty of other, very capable, thermal cameras for those tasks  ;D

So I will be receiving a camera that is close to a standard "compact" camera in appearance and versatile enough to be adapted to my personal preferences  :-+ I have several small smart phones that will sit nicely on the rear of the 226b casing without ruining its lines

Happy Days.

I attach lots of pictures of the FOTRIC 200 series  :)

So what do others think about the format of thermal imaging cameras ? There are the dongle type that dangle off of a mobile phone using nothing more than the connector friction (!), the dongle cameras that attach to the mobile phone using bracketry and short USB cables (similar in principle to the FOTRIC 200 series), the mini tablet thermal cameras such as the Seek Shot and FLIR Cx series, the compact handheld that is the Seek Reveal, the pistol grip large display handheld, the eye level scopes and viewers like the FLIR HS, PM and TK scopes. Then we have the more industrial formats that either look like weird camcorders or "box cameras" designed for static installations. Finally we have the "thing" that FLIR introduced that appears to mimic the Sony DSC-F707 or Nikon Coolpix 900 cameras. The main viewing screen "tablet" is attached to the lens assembly via a single axis rotating joint. An unusual design and not one of my favourites.   

What are the readers views ?

Fraser:
The optional lenses and desk stand......

Fraser:
The 226b Fever detection system (camera available in white or black casing)

Fraser:
I just found another thermal camera that is trying to mimic a photographic compact camera case format ......

It is the Cordex TP3rEX Toughpix (explosive environment rated model) and the standard TPr3 Toughpix for less hazardous environs.

What can I say.... yet again it looks like a camera that was designed to be a childs toy  :palm: Have the designers never seen a decent quality compact camera ? Added to the laughable appearance, these cameras cost  £1794 for the EX version and £1440 for the standard version. For that you get 80 x 60 pixels @ 9fps ! I think we can guess about the identity of the imaging core can't we....a FLIR Lepton 2.5 ! I am somewhat underwhelmed by the whole package.

https://www.pass-thermal.co.uk/cordex-tp3rex-toughpix-digitherm-intrinsically-safe-digital-and-thermal-camera-9hz

https://www.pass-thermal.co.uk/cordex-tp3r-toughpix-digitherm-digital-and-thermal-imaging-camera-9hz

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