Handheld thermal imagers or cameras are a helpful tool to use around the home, office and in emergency situations when looking for sources of heat, cold, leaking air and more. Handheld thermal imagers take thermal heat, which is energy, and translate it into visible light, which can be seen on the camera’s screen and is often displayed in a variety of colors or in black and white as a way to show the difference in temperature.
What To Consider Before Buying a Thermal Camera
Handheld thermal imagers are most commonly used by professionals when examining buildings and checking for hot and cold zones. Home inspectors, heating and cooling experts, farmers and firefighters all use thermal infrared cameras in their daily work. Outside of buildings, the cameras are also often used by auto mechanics. These tools can allow you to detect overheating electrical equipment on the hot end, or broken water pipes on the low end, as well as a range of other temperatures.
While often used by professionals, thermal infrared cameras can also be an excellent addition to any personal tool collection. By having one of these high-tech cameras at your disposal, homeowners can check for leaks in pipes, windows, near fireplaces, in the foundation of a building, around doorways and more. This can help homeowners to quickly and accurately diagnose any issues they have in the home and either fix it themselves or call an expert. Though the imagers are costly, being able to accurately diagnose where a heating or cooling issue is stemming from can help avoid having professionals make unnecessary home visits, which often includes a fee.
How We Chose the Best Thermal Imagers
We included options such as traditional handheld thermal guns that are most frequently used by professionals to quickly scan multiple areas. We also included convenient options for homeowners, such as tools that attach to your phone, as well as compact handheld cameras that can be easily kept in a shirt pocket.
Check out our top picks for the best handheld thermal imagers below.
1. HTI-19 Infrared Thermal Imaging Camera
The HTI-19 features 320 x 240 resolution five-color scale palettes that are displayed on the 3.2” color screen, which provides a fast and accurate readout. The HTI-19 includes a built-in 3GB memory card where images can be stored. Download the images and charge the camera at the same time with a USB connection, with one charge lasting for two to three hours of use. We like that the HTI-19 is not only accurate, but easy to use, with straightforward control buttons, including menu, navigational keys, and an image capture key.
Pros: Professional performance. Built-in memory card. Images can be shared through USB as well.
Cons: Can be noisy at low temperatures.
2. Klein Tools TI250 Rechargeable Thermal Imager
Klein Tools is a popular brand for its affordable and convenient measuring equipment, such as this pocket-sized thermal imaging camera. Despite the camera’s compact size, it has 10,000 pixels to help you get a clear thermal image. You can also connect a microSD card if you want to save images. The camera comes with a handy storage pouch.
Pros: Convenient carrying pouch. Small size to take on the go. Camera with 10,000 pixels for a clear picture.
Cons: Some may find the gun-shaped imagers more comfortable to hold.
3. FLIR ONE Gen 3 Thermal Camera
We do everything on our smartphones, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t also use a thermal camera with your smartphone. This camera connects to your phone through the charging port, and it’s available for either USB-C or Apple’s lightning port. The camera has a display range between -4 F to 248 degrees F. The camera works through the free FLIR app.
Pros: Convenient option that connects to your phone. Works with the free FLIR app. Compact size is easy to take on the go.
Cons: Some options have a wider temperature measurement range.
4. FLIR Pocket Thermal Camera
This pocket-sized option from FLIR is a professional pick that’s easy to take on the go. This camera is built for the modern age because it connects over WiFi to the iPhone app so you can save and transfer images and information. The camera captures thermal images between 14 F to 302 F. It comes with a complete kit of accessories — there’s a USB cable, a lanyard and a pouch.
Pros: Comes with accessories. WiFi compatibility to save and share images.
Cons: Battery life could be better.
5. HTI-18 Infrared Thermal Imaging Camera
The HTI-18 Infrared Thermal Imaging Camera has almost all the same features as the HTI-19 model, including a 3GB memory card, a 3.2” color screen with five color palettes, easy button navigation, a USB charging cord that can also be used to download images, and temperature readings accurate to 2.5 degrees F.
Pros: Professional performance. Convenient USB charging cord.
Cons: The HTI-18 has a smaller camera resolution than the HTI-19, with 220 x 160 versus 320 x 240.