SEEK and FLIR Disrupt IR Camera Technology

May 18, 2016
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Fall 2016
This online-only article is a supplement to the Fall 2016 print edition of Home Energy Magazine.
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Infrared (IR) cameras have gotten better and cheaper over the last couple of decades. New products from upstart SEEK Thermal and old-timer FLIR verge on being disruptive technologies, given their pocket size and remarkable pricing.

SEEK Thermal has worked with Raytheon to develop technology that turns a normal smartphone or tablet into an IR camera. Download the app, plug the small, lightweight attachment into the phone, and presto: instant infrared. The thermal sensor is rated 206 x 156, providing quality suitable for typical building science fieldwork. Imaging is fine even at very low Delta T. The SEEK even takes good, albeit slightly choppy, IR video. The detail is not comparable to the detail provided by cameras costing much more, but how often will that matter?

David Kaufman
is an energy consultant with Energy Solutions in Portland, Maine.

The SEEK is easily sensitive enough to detect not only insulation voids but also infiltration. As the photographs show, air leaks are easiest to spot when the difference between the two temperatures is greatest. Though images may not be sharp when printed, LED images live on the phone are bright and very easy to read. The SEEK is also useful for identifying problems within the building. For example, it will spot water inside walls and roofs. The camera has a number of helpful features, such as temperature reads, split-screen images, and various color options. It is powered by the phone and is “designed for low-energy consumption,” according to the manufacturer.

The SEEK attachment comes in a number of models. SEEK recommends the basic Compact version, with a 36º field of view for viewing buildings ($249). SEEK also offers the REVEAL, a stand-alone handheld (no smartphone needed) with essentially identical specs for $399.

Not to be outdone, FLIR has brought to market the FLIR One. Similar idea—download the app, plug in the (even slightly smaller) gadget, and your phone is an IR camera. But FLIR takes a slightly different approach: The thermal sensor has a pixel density of only 160 x 120, but a second, optical lens overlays outlines, providing greater visual acuity than the specs alone might suggest. The field of view is 55º, a wider angle than that provided by the SEEK models.

The FLIR One is easy to work with, and the software is quite intuitive. As the photos show, image quality is perfectly suited to common building science applications. Leveraging its industry pedigree, FLIR has worked with developers to encourage use by other products. For example, the FLIR One has been incorporated into Owens-Corning’s Comfort Tracker home energy assessment app.

One practical difference between the FLIR One and the SEEK is the fact that the SEEK can be stored and used immediately at any time, while the FLIR One must be charged before it can be used. This takes 30 minutes, but once charged, the FLIR One (unlike the SEEK) won’t draw off your phone battery.

Be aware that not all phones or tablets are compatible with these devices. The SEEK and FLIR websites list what will and won’t work with their respective models. If the port on your device happens to face the wrong way, SEEK links you to a third-party adapter, while FLIR just supplies one. SEEK allows returns for any reason within 30 days. Although returns are not mentioned in the FLIR warranty, a FLIR representative assured me that FLIR doesn’t want anyone using its product if they are not satisfied with it.

learn more

Get more information on the upcoming smartphone with built-in IR camera.

For the money and convenience, these gadgets are a game changer in IR camera availability. But this isn’t the end: There’s more to come. SEEK will soon be offering new models of REVEAL, while FLIR has announced an even cheaper (very basic) handheld IR camera and a rugged smartphone with a built-in IR camera. Stay tuned.

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