At the first day of CES 2015, FLIR launched an excellent new thermal camera. At least we think it’s a thermal camera. It has many familiar features from FLIR’s popular Ex-Series imagers, yet looks more like a pocket sized point and shoot camera. Called the FLIR C2 Compact Thermal Imaging System, it offers true thermal imaging, complete with a visible light camera, in a radically portable package. The C2 will sell for under $700 and likely be available in early 2015.
First to brass tacks–What can I see with it? If the imaging is sub-par, then it really doesn’t matter how innovative a camera may be. Yet that’s not the case here. While not of a resolution equalling visible light cameras, the image quality of the FLIR C2 is comfortable and recognizable. With a few minutes of practice, users will have little problem understanding the image. While using the camera at CES, I had no trouble identifying the black (cold) ductwork delivering much needed air conditioning from far overhead.
The hardware backbone of the C2 is the FLIR Lepton thermal core, familiar from other recent products including the FLIR ONE for smart phones, and the FLIR TG165 Imaging Thermometer. The resolution of the Lepton in the C2 is 80 x 60, for a total of 4800 pixels. Each pixel is sensitive to 0.10 °C temperature variations–an excellent thermal sensitivity for a camera that fits in your pocket. The overall imaging and measurement range for the FLIR C2 is from 14 to 302 °F (–10 to 150 °C). This is quite sufficient for most conditions encountered in everyday life and work, whether looking at buildings or minor electrical and mechanical conditions. Most users will be thankful for the C2’s wide angle lens, allowing more of a scene to be imaged at one time, even if pixel size is slightly enlarged. The lens is fixed as on a smart phone camera, and will give a clear thermal image of any object over 6” away.
Placed alongside the thermal detector is a 640 x 480 visible light camera. Each time a thermal image is recorded, the FLIR C2 also captures a visible image. This is excellent for creating a report of any anomalies discovered, or even just to remind yourself where you were when the image was taken. Even more exciting, however, is how the C2 uses the visible camera to create FLIR’s excellent MSX blending technology. MSX mines a visible image for edges, writing, and patterns, then etches these details onto the thermal image. The thermal image retains all of its coloration and information, while the subtle grayscale of the MSX details aid tremendously in object identification. To ensure that MSX works even in dark conditions, the C2 includes a bright LED flash which doubles as a spotlight.
The FLIR C2 thermal camera can store 500 full sets of images (thermal, visible, MSX) to internal flash memory. Images are captured by a conveniently large button on the top of the camera, making one handed use of the C2 quite simple. Images can be reviewed directly on the camera, easily toggling between the various versions of any image. All images are stored as JPEG files, giving users great flexibility in how and where to use the pictures. Download of the stored files is accomplished through a micro USB cable connected to a Windows or Apple computer.
All thermal images on the C2 include full radiometric data, giving a wealth of potential information. When downloaded to the included FLIR Tools software, each pixel in an image can yield temperature data using a host of measurement options. You can add multiple spot meters, area boxes with min/max/avg, and more. It would be hard to overstate how impressive it is for a thermal camera at this price to offer radiometric data and full software support. FLIR Tools also helps organize images and create professional reports. A surprising feature of the FLIR C2 is its ability to stream live video to a computer running FLIR Tools. While not radiometric, thermal video can nonetheless prove helpful when analyzing a problem under varying loads or conditions.
When using the FLIR C2 in the field, temperature measurement is accomplished through the traditional center spotmeter with crosshairs. If measurement is not necessary, the spotmeter can be toggled off in the settings menu. The C2 is the first consumer application in which the Lepton core has handled temperature measurement. On the TG165, measurement is done through an infrared thermometer mounted alongside, while the FLIR ONE manual states that its readings are “a calculated estimate and never exact”. Yet the Lepton appears ready to stretch its legs, with accuracy quoted at 2%, the same as almost all FLIR cameras.
Touchscreen and Menus
The C2 features a 3” capacitive touchscreen, making for a user interface that is more pleasing than all but the most expensive FLIR cameras. Combined with the now-standard “Dark Precision” menu system, navigating the C2 is almost intuitive. The menu allows you to change the screen view between thermal, visible, MSX, and a gallery of saved images. Also available are several of the most common color palettes, including Iron, Rainbow, Rainbow HC, and Gray. For users seeking the highest measurement accuracy, menu fields are included for correcting material emissivity and reflected apparent temperature. A rechargeable lithium-ion battery powers the FLIR C2 for around 2 hours, while recharge time is a scant 1.5 hours.
The real news with the introduction of the FLIR C2 may not be its capabilities, but that it exists at all. This is not a traditional package for a thermal camera, and it challenges the format of other imagers with similar specs. Should a thermal camera always have a pistol grip? Maybe not. The FLIR ONE was an interesting first step in this direction, but was obviously a phone accessory, and lacked some of the professional features of the standard FLIR line. The C2 bridges this gap, giving users a welcome new form factor, yet with a feature set similar to more traditional infrared cameras.
More than just the novelty though, the C2 seems like a solid step forward for practical thermal imaging. It’s small, rugged, lightweight, and streams video. It offers full radiometric data and 2% accuracy. Best of all it’s priced under $700. Resolution may leave room for improvement, but the sensitivity is above average, even at twice the cost. The FLIR C2 is a capable and convenient solution for those looking to get a quick look at otherwise invisible thermal patterns.
Have thoughts or questions about the FLIR C2? We would love to know what you think. Please feel free to leave a comment below or call us at (877) 273-2311.
FLIR C2 on sale at Ivy Tools, $699
FLIR C2 Thermal Camera Datasheet