Resolution plays a major role in the way your thermal images turn out. Higher resolution means more detail, and the best infrared cameras usually have impressive resolution. Unfortunately, they're also the most expensive.
Cameras like the FLIR E50 give you high-end features, sturdy construction and much of the functionality of the best infrared cameras, but with reduced resolution and, therefore, a reduced price. Because of this unique combination of features, we chose the FLIR E50 as our pick for the Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award.
Although this thermographic camera sacrifices some pixels in favor of a lower price, it still has better resolution than most cameras we reviewed. At 240 x 180 pixels, only the FLIR E60 and Fluke Ti400 beat it, with 320 x 240 pixels. You can see a difference between the two resolutions, but it's not as big as your price savings might suggest, and it's still well over the RESNET standard of 120 x 120 pixels.
This device features a secondary standard digital camera you can use to capture reference photographs of a scene or to overlay with an infrared image for improved detail. The digital camera provides a decent 3.1-megapixel image, which should be more than enough for the purposes of thermography.
There is no autofocus, meaning you'll have to focus manually every time before shooting. We prefer cameras that let you switch between manual and autofocus to suit the occasion. This is a flaw for the E50, though not a fatal one.
Speaking of convenience, there are two major types of radiometric image formats. The more convenient of the two is an altered version of a JPG, called a radiometric JPG. The E50 uses this format to store its infrared information. Because you can open the files using nearly any photo viewer, this format is useful for sharing information with people who don't have thermal imaging software.
Having a good sensitivity rating is crucial for capturing accurate thermal data. Sensitivity in thermal imaging is the ability to distinguish subtle differences in temperature. FLIR's E50 is capable of distinguishing differences of 0.05 degrees Celsius – equal to the best infrared cameras. The range extends to 0.15 degrees in lower-end cameras.
In addition to its best-in-class sensitivity, the E50 also offers the second best temperature range available. At -20 to 650 degrees Celsius, it vastly outperforms lower-end models, which can typically only measure up to 250 degrees. It falls short of the best models, which can measure up to a scorching 1,200 degrees. For the vast majority of applications, -20 to 650 should be more than enough.
Supporting features are very important to power-users of infrared cameras. The main ones you'll want to look for are Wi-Fi connectivity, voice and text annotation, an illuminator lamp, a laser pointer and radiometric video recording. The E50 doesn't shed any features to cut costs; it has all the features the very best FLIR cameras can offer.
Wi-Fi connectivity means that you can capture an infrared image, transfer it to your phone or tablet and share it quickly without ever having to head back to the office. While this might not be a necessity for some, sharing information with coworkers and clients quickly speeds up your work and lets you get the go-ahead quickly for tasks that require immediate action.
The E50's voice and text annotation tools are also very useful when working in the field. If you're spending a lot of time inspecting, keeping track of your images can become difficult. Taking written or spoken notes helps you keep things organized and makes images easier to recall later.
When you're shooting in some dark corner of a work site or in an attic or basement, sometimes there isn't enough light to work efficiently. For this reason, the E50 is equipped with an onboard flashlight, which keeps your hands free for other tasks. In addition to the flashlight, there's also a built-in laser, which helps with targeting a subject.
Lastly, there are its video capturing capabilities. There are two ways that infrared cameras capture video. One is by saving directly to an SD card, and the other is by streaming to a PC. The E50 is capable of both, but only when streaming does it save the actual radiometric data. If you save to an SD card, you'll have a visual representation of the data but no actual infrared measurements to back it up.
The FLIR E50 runs for up to four hours on a single charge, just like the vast majority of thermographic cameras. It also comes with an additional battery and an external charger, which is useful for charging one battery while you shoot with the other.
The device features a 3.5-inch touchscreen and safeguards that protect it from damage occurring from dust, water or drops. While these durability features are nice to have, any of the thermal cameras we reviewed will include them.
FLIR offers the best warranty available for infrared cameras. The camera's sensor or detector is covered for 10 years, its battery for five, and parts and labor for two. Other companies offer a two or three-year overall warranty.
If you have any issues with your camera and need help troubleshooting, you have several options to receive help. The first is to consult the user manual. If that doesn't help, you can search through the helpful tips on FLIR's website. If all else fails, you can contact a FLIR representative by phone or email.
The FLIR E50 is an excellent infrared camera that offers the best features, construction and design available. Although its resolution is slightly lower than that of the top cameras, it still provides enough detail for the majority of circumstances. Going with this lower resolution, however, can save you thousands of dollars without missing out on high-end features.