How Do Thermal Cameras Work?

It is growing more and more likely you've seen a thermal camera in use. Many businesses are turning to them for checking people's temperature before allowing them in, to try to limit the spread of Covid-19. They are also kind of ubiquitous in ghost hunting shows, so if that's a genre of show you've watched, then you've likely seen them. It may have led you to wonder — how do these cameras work?

While many of the thermal camera companies have industrial secrets, you can get a rough idea of how they work. They're not all that dissimilar with digital cameras you're more familiar with or phone cameras. In a broad generalization, most cameras have some type of sensor array or medium to capture the image and a lens through which to view it. In the case of film cameras, the film is the medium that captures the image. In the case of digital cameras, there's a device that detects light. When exposed to the light, it changes the information it's receiving into something that can be read by your phone or computer.

In thermal cameras, there's a sensor array made of what is known as microbolometers. Microbolometers are little bitty sensors that detect heat. In most thermal cameras, there is one microbolometer per pixel. (This may give you an idea of how tiny microbolometers are.)

As the technology improves, they have steadily improved the images resolution image, though in thermal imaging that is less necessary than you might think as the lower resolution pictures may give you better data. This is because higher resolution means making the individual pixels smaller, which includes inside the camera where the microbolometers match up with pixels. This may mean that the microbolometers are less sensitive to temperature data. So the image may look a little better, but may not have the kind of accuracy in temperature. In other words, it's a bit of a trade-off.

Why would you want a higher resolution image? Well, if you use thermal cameras for detecting temperature leakage in a home, or in a pipe, you don't necessarily need to know the precise temperature of what's coming out of the pipe, you just need a better idea of where the leak is. On the flip side, if accuracy is important to you, going with a smaller resolution device may be the best solution.

To learn more, visit a thermal camera supplier near you.