Mobile Photography

4 Ways to Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera: FLIR vs Seek vs Therm-App vs CAT

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Written by Izak Van Heerden

We all know cell phones are critical to our existence as it allows us to play Candy Crush on it. In addition to this, it seems that some cell phones are now also capable of thermal imaging, either by adding a module (like the FLIR below) or by having the thermal functionality integrated into the camera (like the CAT smartphone).

What is Thermal Imaging?

Thermal images maps portions of the infrared spectrum to the visible spectrum. As our eyes cannot see and understand the various colors of infrared, a thermal camera translates it to a color we can see. What makes the blue you see in thermal imaging blue? Is it really blue? No. It was someone who decided that one of the “cooler” colors in the infrared spectrum would look good in our spectrum’s “blue”.

Why In the World Would You Want to See Thermal Images?

  1. Spot a leak in pipes around your swimming pool. In this FLIR article they could see where water was cooling down the paving from below.Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera Flir Example
  2. Spot clogged or leaking pipes in walls.Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera Pipes
  3. Detect air leaks or bad insulation:Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera Window Heat Leak
  4. Electricians can use thermal imaging to look at anomalies on a switchboard:Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera Switchboard
  5. Thermal imaging is great in situations where there is a lot of smoke, and therefore a great tool for firemen wanting to locate people trapped in burning buildings. Smoke allows the infrared spectrum through, but normal light gets blocked.Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera Firemen
  6. Also, for pest controllers or animals removers: Handy to see if there is something living inside a box or a hole but you are not sure if you want to get super close to investigate. Thermal imaging can help you to see if there is a heat signature inside.

Unfortunately, as with any form of technology, criminals have also found a way to exploit it. It is possible to take a thermal photo of a payment terminal or ATM keypad just after an OTM was entered and from fading heat spots see what keys were pressed – and in what sequence. The solution to this problem is easy: While entering the OTP, just rest your hand on the other keys to leave a heat residue on most of the keys of the keypad.

4 Ways to Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera

Seek Thermal CompactXR Infrared Camera

Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera Seek Thermal

The Seek Thermal camera connects to any Apple product (it isn’t Android compatible) that comes with a lightning connector and works just like a traditional thermal imagine camera. The camera is compact and easy to use. It comes with four different modes, traditional camera mode, temperature mode where you can estimate the temp in a spot, high low mode where it jumps to the hottest or coldest area in the frame, and threshold mode. Threshold mode allows you to tell the camera just what to pick up at or below the temperature that you set. This camera can detect anything from -40 degrees Fahrenheit to 1158 degrees.

An advantage of the Seek over its competitor below is that it gets its power from the phone, so you don’t have to charge it separately. Thermal resolution is 206×156, which is higher than the FLIR we’ll get to just now. Unfortunately it does not combine thermal images with visible camera images as the FLIR and CAT S60 give you.

   

FLIR One

Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera FLIR One

This is an add-on that you simply attach to either your Android or iPhone (there are FLIR models for both makes) and download the supporting app. It does have one distinct advantage over the Seek that only displays the heat image. Flir One uses a normal camera shooting in the visible spectrum, as well as the thermal camera and overlays the images to give a more real-world substance to what it shoots:

Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera FLIR 1 Image

FLIR measures temperatures between -4 degrees Fahrenheit to 248 degrees. A disadvantage to the Seek above is is that its thermal resolution is not as high, clocking only 160×120 as compared to the 206×156 of the Seek. Another disadvantage is the fact that one has to charge it separate from the cell phone – it comes with its own power supply.

Therm-App

Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera Therm-App

The Therm-App clips onto an Android device (It will only support Android devices that support USB onTheGo) and enables users to take thermal and night vision images from their phones. There are two different processing modes, night vision for hot object detection, and thermography to provide a straightforward temperature reading. Them-App measures temperatures between 41 to 194 degrees Celsius.

Lenses come in 7, 13, 19 and 35mm, and because it has a standard lens mount, 3rd party lenses can be fitted as well. It is capable of recording 384 by 288 pixels which in thermal imaging terms is not awesome, beating the its other two competitors hands-down. Price is a little on the high side. It came out at $1600 but are running a special at the time of printing for substantially cheaper. The Therm-App allows you to measure temperature by making use of the cross hairs in the middle of the screen. Like the Seek, power is drawn from the phone.

CAT S60 Smartphone

Turn Your Cell Phone into a Thermal Camera Cat S60

The CAT S60 is a full phone with a FLIR LEPTON thermal camera built-in, along with the normal camera. This allows thermal images to overlay normal images. You get the ability to record these hybrid thermal photos and videos to playback and edit later with a custom FLIR app. You can use the app to set crosshairs on a location and get its temperature in real time.

This is a bulky phone, weighing in at a pants-dropping  7.8oz. Rugged too, with an IP68 and military spec rating, and waterproof to a depth of 5 meters. This is the swiss army knife of phones with a legion of nifty features:

  • A lock down button seals the microphone and front speaker to take the phone down to 5m, without it you should not go below 2m. In underwater mode the camera can be activated with the volume rocker.
  • The push to talk button below the power button can turn the phone into a walkie-talkie with the help of the Zello app.
  • and last but not least, a dedicated SOS button to send your coordinates to pre programmed contacts.

For professional people needing thermal functionality, carrying around an S60 or a mounted Flir/Seek/Therm-App in their back pockets will make perfect sense, but for the general cell phone user, thermal imaging might only remain a gimmick.

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About the author

Izak Van Heerden

Izak has witnessed a couple of decades worth of changing tech. He hopes to make it a couple more until his conscience can be copied to a cyborg body.

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