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Thermal cameras have long been
considered the best way to detect people in the outdoors. At one time, they
were used primarily only for the most critical sites. But innovations and
advancements, along with price reductions, now make them available for more
common security applications, like for preventing theft and vandalism. Thermal imaging is used in all sorts of different scenarios—utility and energy
companies use it to see where a house might be losing heat through door and
window cracks. Police helicopters use it to locate suspects at night. Weather
stations use it to track storms and hurricanes. It’s used in the medical field
to diagnose different disorders and diseases. Also it is one of the favorite
types of equipment for hunters and outdoorsmen. We’ve written this article to
help explain how a thermal imaging camera works and why it represents a great
choice for outdoor security.
In the most basic of terms, thermal imaging allows you to see an object’s heat radiating off itself. Thermal cameras more or less record the temperature of various objects in the frame, and then assign each temperature a shade of a color, which lets you see how much heat its radiating compared to objects around it.
Colder temperatures are often given a shade of blue, purple, or green, while warmer temperatures can be assigned a shade of red, orange, or yellow. For example, in the image at the top of this post, you’ll notice the person is covered in shades of red, orange, and yellow, while other areas are blue and purple. That’s because she’s radiating more heat than surrounding objects.
Some thermal cameras use a
grayscale instead. Police helicopters, for instance, use a grayscale to make
suspects stand out.
Thermal cameras detect temperature by
recognizing and capturing different levels of infrared light. This light is
invisible to the naked eye, but can be felt as heat if the intensity is high
All objects emit some kind of
infrared radiation, and it’s one of the ways that heat is transferred. If you
hold your hand over some hot coals on the grill, those coals are emitting a ton
of infrared radiation, and the heat is transferring to your hand. Furthermore,
only about half of the sun’s energy is given off as visible light—the rest is a
mix of ultraviolet and infrared light.
Thermal night vision is great to have, since
it can easily differentiate a person from the rest of the environment. This not
only makes it easier to spot suspects in the dark, but even in broad daylight
it makes it much easier to find someone who may have blended in with their
However, most thermal cameras rely
on longer wavelengths of infrared, whereas your typical night vision security
camera captures shorter wavelengths of infrared, and is much cheaper to
manufacturer. Thermal cameras, on the other hand, have the ability to capture
longer wavelengths of infrared, allowing it to detect heat.
To make things simpler we've put
together the following comparative chart of thermal and night vision
Used at day and
See through smoke/fog/dust/sand
Does not require
● See through leaves and
● Track residual heat
(handprints, footprints) Image requires some training to interpret
● More expensive
Used only at Night, can be damaged if used at day
● Fog, smoke and dust
obscures the image
Requires a little amount of light provided by natural source or IR
● Camouflage is often still
effective. Does not see through leaves or materials
● Shows more natural
picture, easier to recognize the objects
● More affordable
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