Today we have a special treat for you guys! We will be discussing thermal cameras and their applications in combination with powerful thermal imaging drones. Even though this type of combo isn’t really what casual users want (or even need for that matter), it is still an important aspect that should not be taken for granted.
To be quite honest with you guys, I just lately found out that there are several thermal cameras that can be mounted on premium drones. That fact struck me with surprise so I had to explore the area a bit more. And now, after a fair share of research, I am proud to present you this informative article that will definitely bring closer the key aspects of thermal aerial photography to regular Joes. So, without much further adue, let’s start our journey through the world of drones with infrared cameras!
SLIDE DOWN TO:
What is a thermal camera for?
As its name suggests, thermal camera (AKA thermographic or infrared camera for drone) serves the purpose of portraying other important elements from the electromagnetic spectrum that are not visible to the human eye. By using infrared radiation, these infrared cameras are able to effectively display different temperatures of given objects with pinpoint precision. Whether they offer iron palette, black/white/gray palette or rainbow palette color options, their importance is often overlooked by regular jobs. On the other hand, commercial usages for these types of cameras have been exploding for the bigger part of the last 2 decades… even more so with the introduction of commercial drones.
What uses do drones with thermal cameras have?
Before I even start answering this question, I would like to remind you what powerful influence drones have gotten in recent times across a wide variety of different industries. With lawmakers doing their best to cement the position of drones in commercial usage scenarios, it is only a matter of time before they spread across an even larger landscape.
As for drones equipped with thermal cameras, there’s no doubt their possible usages far exceed those of regular drones. Since their cameras show completely different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, it enables much more than traditional cameras. Plus, when combined with drone’s versatility and agility, the two provide a massive boost to performance in certain industries. Want to know more about the industries that could use thermal cameras? Keep reading…
Which industries greatly profit from drones with thermal cameras?
As I have stated above, there are several industries that can greatly profit from the use of thermal camera drones. Below you can see the biggest ones that have already started adapting to their new workforce:
Drones now play a key role in most technologically-conscious agricultural companies. Crop inspection has never been easier to manage with flocks of drones equipped with state-of-the-art HD cameras flying over your property. Drones equipped with thermal cameras, on the other hand, are even more helpful. They collect IR data that shows ripeness, irrigation, crop yield and diseases, making things much easier in the long run.
Search and rescue
Drones are proving themselves exceptionally good for search and rescue missions. That’s even truer on hard-to-reach (and hard-to-see) terrain where thermal cameras do miracles and have been saving lives for many years.
Even though real estate is heavily using drones equipped with standard cameras, advanced users can us IR ones to portray to potential buyers that everything is as good as it can be in terms of insulation and leakage.
- Solar panel inspection: Solar panels are prone to damage. Whether it’s an excess of dust, scratches or mechanical defects, solar panels require frequent IR inspections that can determine solar cells which are overheating and causing issues.
- Power grid inspection: The power grid also benefit from drones equipped with thermal cameras. They are able to effectively recognize parts responsible for the failure and at a much cheaper cost than conventional methods of power grid inspection.
List: 5 Best Thermal Cameras For Thermal imaging Drones:
5. Flir Duo – thermal camera for drones with GoPro gimbal
Flir Duo is a much cheaper alternative to other IR cameras for drones featured in this article. It is not nearly as expensive as other models on this list, but still performs solidly across the board. It features a dual-sensor mechanism that enables you to view thermal and visible light images of decent quality. When I say decent I really mean so – Flir Duo doesn’t provide the best image quality on the market. With that in mind don’t expect to do any professional-level work that requires extreme precision on it as it will most likely be an issue.
As the name suggests, this camera features two sensors, one for thermal imagery and one for full-color one. The latter offers a solid FHD image and video quality and can even output picture in picture effects in combination with its thermal counterpart. You can also set up 2 camera functions that will work via PWM and enable you to have close control of your camera no matter the distance. When it comes to I/O, Flir Duo supports mini USB, microSD for onboard recording and mini HDMI, so it’s safe to say there are no drawbacks here.
So, with everything taken into play, if you are looking to play around with a thermal camera powered drone, Flir Duo is the one you should check out. It is user-friendly (much more so than others in this list), doesn’t require a demanding setup and best of all, it’s cheap! You’ll be happy when you hear Flir Duo can fit into your GoPro drone gimbal ! Keep in mind there is an R version of Flir Duo which incorporates additional features in the form of a full radiometric system that ensures pixel-perfect temperature measurements for the most demanding of tasks.Show me the best price from: Amazon
4. Flir Vue 336 9mm
This top 5 list consists of 4 Flir thermal cameras. This just proves their magnificent effort in bringing drones and thermal imagery closer together. Truth be told, they’ve made it quite far with a wide selection of their Vue models which are able to greatly help UAVs to become state-of-the-art thermal inspection workforce. Keep in mind that this is a trimmed-down version of a fully-fledged Flir Vue Pro which adds extra functionality such as MAVLink support and PWM controls. But, it is significantly cheaper too which might be a “buy” factor for some of you.
Starting off with the imager, you are looking at the standard Uncooled Vox Microbolometer. It is finely poised with a 336 x 256 resolution. While that is extremely low for today’s standard, when it comes to thermal imagery it is somewhere in the mid-tier area. Sure, there are many higher definition thermal cameras out there, but Flir Vue is extremely lightweight (roughly 100 grams depending on your configuration) and can be mounted in multiple ways. That’s because it sports two m2x0.4 holes on the bottom along with a 1/4-20 threaded one on top which makes mounting rather easy.
With all that being said, even though it doesn’t have that shiny Pro suffix, Flir Vue 336 9mm is still a great thermal camera that can do a fair share of work. If you don’t need extra features such as MAVLink support for geo-tagging and automated imagery or PWM in-flight controls, then there is no real need to up the price and go for the Pro version. On the other hand, if radiometry and those features are a must, then I guess Flir Vue 336 9mm just can’t cut it.Show me the best price from: Amazon
3. Flir Vue Pro 640 19mm
Much like the best-infrared camera for drone on this list (the #1), Flir Vue 640 19mm has basically the same characteristics. As the name suggests, it has 640 x 512 resolution packed together with a 19mm lens that has 32’ x 24 and 32’ x 26’ field of view, depending on the circumstances and your adjustments. So, based on this introduction, it is clear that Flir Vue Pro brings a few incremental improvements over the standard version; not just in terms of resolution but additional features as well.
Moving forward, it is also notable to say that this camera records video in 30hz as well. This is excellent news for people who need constant and accurate temperature sensing in a certain area. When it comes to Bluetooth and other functionalities including PWM controls, onboard video/image recording and so on, Flir Vue Pro does not fail to deliver. As I have already stated above, it features everything just like the Flir Vue Pro R with the exception of radiometric technology.
For those of you who don’t know what that is, there is a thorough explanation down below. For now, I will just state that it essentially allows the camera to pick up additional data revolving around temperatures in captured frames. It is much more complicated than that so make sure you read the explanation down below. With that said, I believe there’s nothing more to add here except perhaps that this camera comes in several different lens sizes depending on your desired FOV. Everything else has been said and I can assure you Flir doesn’t mess around when it comes to creating top-flight thermal cameras.Show me the best price from: Amazon
2. Yuneec YUNCGOETUS Thermal Camera and Gimbal
We are starting things off with a thermal camera made by a popular drone manufacturer – Yuneec. First things first, this is definitely a high-end thermal camera with a price to match it. True, there are more premium options out there (such as the last thermal camera on our list) but Yuneec’s model is pretty solid too. When it comes to the main features, YUNCGOETUS features dual sensors, lowlight, IR together with an integrated gimbal. Best of all, it is able to seamlessly and simultaneously record infrared and FHD standard videos.
When it comes to drone support, this little fella can be mounted on Yuneec’s flagship Typhoon H. The setup is rather simple and intuitive leaving no room for errors. I almost forgot to mention that YUNCGOETUS features several different color palettes that will allow better visualization of heat sources that what is usually the case. All things in mind, if you own Yuneec Typhoon H and you’d like to pair it up with a wicked thermal camera, it does not get any better than this one.Show me the best price from: Amazon
1. Flir Vue Pro R 640 19mm —> Ultimate infrared camera for drone
If any of you guys reading this is thinking about starting their own thermal inspection company, then take notes since this camera is surely number 1 for drone IR imagery out there. Flir Vue Pro comes in several different versions but today we will be focusing on the best one – Flir Vue Pro 640 19mm with Radiometric properties. When you take a look at the price this bad boy goes for, everything will become much clearer to you.
Before jumping to a thorough explanation, let’s first digest its name. Flir Vue Pro R (R stands for Radiometric) 640 (stands for 640×512 resolution) 19mm (lens size). Now that we have that covered, I’d like to start off by saying that this is probably the most advanced thermal camera for sUAVs currently available for purchase. This is because, for the first time ever, Flir implemented Radiometric technology in one of their thermal cameras. What is that for? Well, radiometric technology allows this camera to effectively detect and read temperature data with pinpoint precision. Now, some of you might be wondering isn’t this what all thermal cameras do? Well, not really. You see… Standard thermal cameras only have IR sensors that can distinguish different temperatures and differentiate them through different color palettes or adjustable temperature filters. On the other hand, Flir Vue Pro R gives out precise temperature readings of each pixel in the frame (yes, you read this correctly), giving you a massive amount of data at disposal.
As is the case with other Flir Vue models, the Pro R also supports onboard video and image storage. More precisely, it can capture MJPEG and H.-264 video formats as well as 14-bit images to a microSD card located onboard. Continuing with the features, it is also notable to add MAVLink compatibility for automated imagery and geo-tagging. PWM commands are present as well. You’ll be able to control color palettes, recordings and even zoom ratio on your camera far away from the action. Moving forward, Flir Vue Pro R 640 19mm uses Uncooled Vox Microbolometer as its thermal imager and effectively outputs 640×512 max resolution. As you can see, this model comes with a 19mm lens and has 32’ x 26’ FOV for full sensor digital output and 32’ x 24’ for NTSC analog output. Last but not least, this IR camera records 30Hz videos. While that number might seem low for some of you at first, when you take into consideration the fact that this is data-embedded thermal imagery, you’ll realize just how much 30Hz really is…
All things considered, there is no doubt this Flir Vue Pro R 640 19mm is, at the moment, the best deal for all IR inspection companies and virtually any type of work that demands pixel-perfect thermal readings. When combined with Flir apps (yes, it can communicate with iOS and Android apps via built-in Bluetooth module), it is capable of delivering extraordinary amounts of data together with a fully-fledged thermal report for each and every pixel you recorded on the removable microSD card.Show me the best price from: Amazon
Gimbals for thermal cameras:
Now that you know a bit more about some of the best thermal cameras for sUAVs available on the market, and drones with infrared cameras in general, it is time to find out how to mount them. The process can actually be a proper pain in the butt to handle, especially if you have no prior experience with drones or thermal imagery equipment. On the bright side, there’s a special solution for you at the very end of this article… But for now, I will keep it as a surprise!
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at 2 best thermal-camera-ready gimbals for drones:
Feiyu-Tech Flir Vue Pro Gimbal
What’s the point of a state-of-the-art thermal camera if you cannot mount it on your drone, right? Well, Flir Vue pro doesn’t fall short in that department either. Feiyu-Tech Flir Vue Pro/R gimbal offers 3-axis brushless solution to image stabilization. More importantly, it allows you to mount Flir Vue thermal cameras with ease on most modern-day drones. The official website claims 100% support for the following DJI models: Inspire 1, Matrice 100, Matrice 600, S9000 and S1000). Additionally, you can also set it up on a number of fixed-wing and multirotor sUAVs since we are talking about a universal gimbal. But, it would be a good idea to do more research to see if your particular drone supports it.Show me the best price from: DSLR PROS
If you need some professional thermal work done, then Zenmuse Xt provides the perfect solution. It has been born with seamless cooperation between DJI, leaders in the drone industry, and Flir, leaders in thermal imagery. With that being said, it comes as no surprise that the fruit of their labor is nothing short of spectacular. Zenmuse XT is basically a camera + gimbal combination that can be mounted on a wide variety of high-end drones.
To start off, you will have to choose between 2 models with only resolution differentiating them. 640 x 512 and 336 x256 are the available picks if we are to be more precise here. Moving onto the camera specifications, the exportable frame rate is 9Hz while direct recordings go up to 30 with NTSC and 25 with PAL. You can choose between 8-bit and 14-bit photos, with JPEG and TIF formats respectively. There’s a wide array of available lenses ranging from 6.8mm all the way to 19mm. All of them incorporate a different FOV so make sure you check out the specs sheet before jumping to purchase. I would also like to say a couple of words about its integrated image enhancement software. With features such as digital detail enhancement, active contrast enhancement, smart scene optimization and information based HEQ, Flir made sure you have everything you might need when you encounter difficult tasks. These features provide the optimal image quality and will maximize all possible details on captured frames for further analysis later on.
Now that that’s been said, let’s take a closer look at the gimbal stabilization system. Given the fact it is made by DJI, there’s no doubt it is pure genius. First of all, it is noteworthy to add that Zenmuse XT has full DJI GO app support. This means that it effectively brings controls to your fingertips inside of a low-latency environment that shows a live feed of Flir thermal camera. Additionally, it also supports core camera functionalities such as digital zoom, changing color palettes, isotherm mode, region of interest and, of course, temperature measurements.Show me the best price from: DJI
Yuneec Typhoon H —> drone with the infrared camera
If you like what you see with YUNCGOETUS, then you must be looking for a thermal imaging drone that fully supports it. Unsurprisingly, Yuneec’s own top model offers full support and can get the best out of it. Even though there are professional grade (read significantly more expensive) drones on the market, if YUNCGOETUS is your #1 choice, Yuneec Typhoon H is the perfect aerial platform for you. But it’s not an overly expensive model, that’s for sure! With that said, don’t think Yuneec Typhoon H has drawbacks or is to be considered a cheap drone. Not by a long shot! This is a highly versatile UAV with 6 powerful brushless motors and excellent build quality packed in a beautiful design. Other than design, Typhoon definitely has a lot more things to offer.
Safety is one of the biggest concerns for folks over at Yuneec. That’s why, in addition to their standard features such as auto return to home and one key RTH, they’ve also included 5-rotor fail-safe mode. What this essentially does is allows the Typhoon H to flawlessly land even if one of its 6 rotors fail in mid-flight. Needless to say, there aren’t many drones out there with such a feature which greatly goes in Yuneec’s favor.
In terms of specifications, Typhoon H is more than capable of turning quite a few heads down its way. Battery duration is somewhere around 25 minutes although you will most likely be getting 20-23 in normal usage scenarios. The range is not to be ridiculed either. With its dedicated controller that features a special touchscreen (Drones with screens on remote), Yuneec Typhoon H can go up to 1 mile without losing connection. As I have already mentioned above, safety is a priority so don’t be surprised when you see it going right back to you as soon as it loses connection or gets short on battery. And lastly, it comes with a CGO3+ 4K camera on a 3-axis gimbal for improved stabilization. You can easily mount YUNCGOETUS thermal camera without any issues, as well as other models that come with their own supported gimbals.Show me the best price from: Amazon
Are there any all in one drone kits for thermal imagery?
You have read through this entire article and it seems to you that the entire process of finding a good thermal camera, a proper aerial platform for it and topping it off with a supported gimbal is a big hassle? Now you must be wondering if there are any preassembled kits for you to purchase. Well, consider yourself lucky because I have a solution for you. Keep in mind that it’s quite pricey… But in the end, you get exactly what you pay for.
DJI Inspire 1 with Zenmuse X5 and XT
This bundle will set you back for more than a couple thousand dollars, but it is definitely worth it. There are numerous options that you can choose from in terms of resolution and lens size of the Zenmuse XT thermal camera + gimbal combination. On the other hand, you will also get the ever so popular Zenmuse X5 combination that ensures crystal clear 4K images/videos nicely poised with brilliant quality and buttery smooth stabilization.
This entire package is powered by one and only DJI Inspire 1. Even though it is slightly inferior to the newer (and more expensive) Inspire 2, Inspire 1 can still provide unparalleled performance across the board. With roughly 2 kilometers of range and cca 15 minutes of flight time, some of you will think DJI Inspire isn’t that good in terms of specifications. Still, it must be said that this is quite a bulky drone that weights a lot, even more so when equipped with either Zenmuse X5 or XT. With that in mind, flight time is more than solid… but the range could’ve been slightly improved although it should not cause any major issues.
So, whether you want to capture standard 4K aerial videos or thermal imagery for further data analysis, this all in one bundle has you covered and will surely prove worthy of the money sooner rather than later.Show me the best price from: DSLR PROS
I’m afraid that is it, guys. Technically, there is nothing more to be said about thermal camera drones as I believe I’ve covered all the basics. If you are interested in more of a technical side of the matter, make sure you do more research on thermal imagery. With that being said, I’ll leave you here.
Enjoy your day!