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In the picture before you buy

25 January 2013

Like most things in life, the best choice of infrared camera comes as a result of thorough homework. Here,Andy Baker UK & Ireland sales manager of FLIR Systems offers some tips for those considering investing in such a cam

Like most things in life, the best choice of infrared camera comes as a result of thorough homework. Here,Andy Baker UK & Ireland sales manager of FLIR Systems offers some tips for those considering investing in such a camera

Infrared technology is now both accessible and affordable and the camera market is extensive. However along with this wealth of choice are several potential pitfalls so what should you be looking out for?

Accurate, repeatable results You should always make sure that the infrared camera meets the minimum industry standard of ±2% or 2.2°C, whichever is greater. If the spec of the model you are considering can't perform at this level, look for another camera. Why is this important? Quite simply, accurate measurement equals efficient fault finding.

When it comes to repeatability, one of the key requirements is to tune your camera to the application by inputting emissivity or reflected temperature values.

Be certain that your chosen model will allow you to perform this important task.

Image quality You can judge the quality of images from an infrared camera in the same way as you do those from a digital camera; basically the more pixels, the better the resolution and the sharper the infrared image.

There is a caveat here however. If an infrared camera boasts 640 x 480 pixels resolution check that this refers to detector resolution and not just the resolution of the LCD display. The display resolution is irrelevant if the detector is inferior.

Chargeable battery You don't want your infrared camera to 'die' in the field - it wastes time, reduces inspection efficiency and at worst exposes you and your colleagues to the risk of an undetected fault. So always buy a model that has a field-replaceable battery and make sure the kit comes with a charger (preferably an in-car type) and the option of a spare battery. Choosing lithium ion technology is also the best bet as it provides longer battery life.

JPEG output Choose an infrared camera that is capable of outputting an image in standard JPEG format complete with embedded measurement data. Not only does this keep all the image data together, it makes it easy to email the information to a colleague or customer or import it into any Microsoft Word document such as a report.

Comfort and ease of use If you plan to use your camera frequently or for extended period, choose a lightweight, ergonomic model that won't cause you back or arm strain. The positioning of buttons and keypad should also be considered with regard to ease of use. Some cameras have features such as a touch screen keypad or sketch-with-stylus and although they may add a little to the cost they can make a huge practical difference.

Some infrared cameras require multiple steps or complex menu navigation to do simple tasks. Always take the proposed camera for a 'test drive'. Take an image, download it to your PC and create a basic report.

Upgrade path Most cameras come with free software to help you analyse your images and create reports. Many users soon find however their needs become more sophisticated in line with their growing experience. So when you buy a camera make sure there is an upgrade path. Even ask for a demonstration of the capability level above the one you are considering.

Also look out for infrared cameras that allow you to upgrade the firmware to increase pixel counts and infrared resolution as well as features and functionality. Find a company with which you can grow.

Temperature range This is basic but vital - be sure the temperature range of your proposed camera is compatible with the targets you will be viewing.

Adequate fusion There's a lot of buzz about fusion capabilities with infrared cameras but the advice is to be certain that what you choose is advanced and flexible enough to meet your needs. There's no value in choosing simple picture-in-picture functionality when what you really want to do is customise your fusion to the exact target.

… and finally Last but by no means least buy your camera from a manufacturer with strong post-sales technical support and certified training. Go for one whose training arm is ISO 9001 registered and has a good number of ASNT Level II and BINDT Category 3 certified thermographers on its staff.