FLIR One Thermal Camera – First Impressions

by Ben N on January 7, 2015

Today, my FLIR One camera arrived in the mail.

I excitedly tore open the package, but then I slowed down to make sure to take some photos so you all could get my first impressions of this thermal camera designed to work with an Apple iPhone 5 camera.

In the box is the FLIR One camera, the phone cover that aligns with the FLIR camera, a USB charging cable, and a quick-start guide. Missing is a wall power adapter. It looks like FLIR assumes that everyone has a spare USB port or wall adapter. Of course they are right, so I just used my iPhone wall adapter to charge the FLIR camera.

The camera itself is the same width as the iPhone, but it’s taller, so it adds to the total length when installed. To start with, the user inserts their iPhone 5 into a “slimline” phone cover that is included. The phone then “docks” with the thermal camera, using the Thunderbolt port on the bottom of the phone. The entire device fits nicely in the hand, but feels bulky compared to just the phone itself if you were to put it in your pocket.

I had already downloaded the FLIR One app, so I just opened it. To turn the camera on, the user slides a switch on the front, which is in easy reach of the first finger of the hand holding the phone. Right away, I got a message that a new firmware was available, which including an upgrade that allowed the FLIR charger to also charge the iPhone. This seems like a nice update, as one of the complaints I had heard so far was that you had to charge the Flir and the phone separately.

Using the FLIR One is pretty straight-forward – it’s a camera, it just happens to be one that sees heat instead of light. I immediately started pointing the thermal-camera-phone around my house. It’s really impressive to be able to SEE the heat patterns. Now to be specific here, the camera shows DIFFERENCES in heat. (It does also have a cross-hairs with thermometer if you want to know absolute temperature of a specific point.)

For example, the camera shows hot things as red and cool things as blue, but it IS relative. On a regular video camera, you are probably familiar with auto-iris or auto-exposure. The camera controls the settings so that if you point the camera at something bright, it “stops-down” the lens so that the image is properly exposed. Other background objects will be darker. If you point a camera into a darker area, the lens “opens-up” to let more light in so that the image isn’t too dark. Likewise, the FLIR shows relative heat, but it only has a certain dynamic range. If you point the camera at something very hot, you won’t have as much sensitivity in the same image of something cooler.

I found that pointing the camera at my heat duct (with my furnace running) made everything else seem cool by comparison. However, if I framed out the duct from my image the camera was sensitive enough for me to see the difference between my drywall and where the wall studs were! It is thermal X-Ray vision! (Please note. It’s January as I write this, and about 0 degrees F outside, so there’s quite a large temperature differential between the indoors and outdoors!)

I played around with the camera and took some photos of my bathroom sink running hot water, my utility room with the furnace and water heater, and the areas around my front and back door. It’s VERY interesting to have real-time feedback looking at the screen and moving the camera.

The FLIR One actually has TWO cameras. One is a regular old visible light camera. The other is the thermal sensor, which frankly, is NOT very hight resolution. The FLIR combines the two images and creates a high-resolution “edge” image from the visual spectrum and overlays the lower-res, but VERY INTERESTING, thermal image over it. This creates an image where you can tell what you are looking at AND get the thermal information. One downside is that there is a bit of a parallax effect. Because the two cameras are slightly apart, they are tuned to a point about three feet away. If you are a distance other than that, the images don’t align perfectly. It’s not a big deal, you still know what you are looking at – it’s pretty amazing, but not yet perfect, technology.

The main things I was looking at right away were electronics, HVAC, and my house structure and insulation. It’s fun to see the heat of electronics, also noting that much of that is “vampire loads”. My Blueray player was surprisingly warm. In my utility room, I had a great view of my forced air furnace. Even without labels on the pipes, it would be very easy to see which was combustion air in from outdoors, and which was hot exhaust going out. (And maybe enough motivation for me to insulate that cold air intake!)

House structure was especially interesting. As long as I didn’t have a heat duct in the shot, the camera was sensitive enough for me to see the wall studs! Looking into a corner on an interior wall and an exterior wall, it’s not hard to guess which is which. The wood floor by both the front and back doors is noticeably cold in the winter, but it’s pretty slick to be able to visualize it! Possible the worst offender was looking at my circuit breaker box. Most people in my area have the breaker box in the basement. My house only has a crawl-space, so the breaker box is in the wall right by the back door. Unfortunately, this is an exterior wall, and in the direction of prevailing winds to boot! The wall isn’t that much thicker than the breaker box, meaning there is almost NO insulation right there. Of course, the box itself is steel, and radiates cold straight into the house. Hmmm. I might need to design some sort of attractive and easy to remove insulation that can go right over the breaker box.

Overall, the FLIR One camera is pretty darn cool! You do need to have an iPhone 5 or 5s to use it. I already happened to have one, so no loss there. I’ll just have to never upgrade my phone….. I don’t care for the fact that the FLIR uses sort of a custom case on the iPhone. I rather like having my tough-as-nails case on my phone for all those times that I drop it. Popping the phone in and out of a different protective case is a bit of a pain, but for me, it’s still cheap insurance compared to breaking the phone and buying a new one.

The FLIR also shoots video, which I haven’t even shot yet. First I’ll give the thing a full charge, and make sure I’m up on the latest version of the app and firmware. The software also adds a watermark to the upper-left of every image. I know, it’s good for marketing, but maybe a future version of the app will allow the user to turn that off. Imagine how annoyed GoPro camera users would be if every video was watermarked “GoPro” in the corner!

That’s it for now! If you have any great ideas for using a thermal camera, let me know and I’ll try it out!


PS: No, I haven’t tried the SEEK thermal camera for Android yet. I don’t have an Android device, but if you do and get a SEEK, let me know how you like it!

PPS: I did notice that the images saved out from the camera aren’t that big. They are JPEG file format at 640 x 480 pixels. Also, the field of view on the FLIR is not as wide angle as the iPhone’s camera. You have to get a little further away from your subject.

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Top 5 Places for LED Lighting

by Ben N on January 1, 2015

LED lighting has come a long way, and prices are lower than ever. However, there’s still plenty of people who don’t want to switch over to LED all at once. So, if you only had five LED light bulbs, where would you put them? Here’s my top 5 locations, and some of them might not be where you think.

1) Over the Kitchen Sink
Let’s start with the obvious.  Current wisdom says that you should put LED bulbs in wherever you use the light the most. That way, you will save the most energy compared to using any other lighting technology. For lots of people, that’s the bulb over the kitchen sink. Alternatively, your most used bulb(s) may be another kitchen light or the one in the living room. Wherever you have that most used light, replace it with LED for maximum energy savings.

2) The Refrigerator
Really? Yes. This one might be counter-intuitive. If we want to replace our MOST-USED bulbs with LED, why the fridge lights? Aren’t those almost NEVER on? It’s true, however, LEDs have another neat advantage – they produce minimal heat. The refrigerator and freezer are locations where you spend energy to create cold (technically, you are moving heat out of the appliance.) An incandescent bulb is basically a small electric heater. Why would you install an electric heater INSIDE a device you are spending money to keep cool? Doesn’t make much sense, does it? With LED lighting, it’s not that you are saving money on the energy used by the bulb, rather, you are saving the extra energy that the fridge would have to use to overcome the heat created by the incandescent bulb. CFLs (compact fluorescent bulbs) aren’t even an option in your fridge, as they have such poor lighting performance in the cold.

3. Front Porch Light
If I leave home in the late afternoon or evening, I’ll leave my front porch light on so that I can see when I get back. Often, I have no idea how long I’ll be gone, and that porch light is left on the whole time, just using electricity. A front porch light (or a yard-light, driveway-light, or security light) is left on for hours, or even overnight. Replacing it with LED can save significant energy. Also, LED lights tend to be directional. That makes it easier to shine the light where you need it. I have a can fixture and use a directional bulb to point straight down. This lights up my front door WITHOUT lighting up the neighbor’s house or the night sky. Also, I’m only using a 4-watt bulb, which is plenty of light, but still saves energy over using a higher-power LED bulb. For any outdoor light, make sure it’s pointed where you want it, and turn it off when you don’t need it, either manually or with a motion detector or timer. The International Dark Sky Association has some great tips for properly using outdoor lighting.

4. Automatic Garage Door Opener
I have a detached, non-heated, two-car garage. When the garage door opens, the light in the opener automatically comes one. It’s great for convenience, but neither incandescent or CFL is the right bulb for the job. Incandescent bulbs are terrible in locations with vibration, as vibration shakes the filament and burns out the bulb prematurely. Every once in a while, I accidentally leave that light on (usually overnight) and incandescent would be the worst offender for power usage. CFL isn’t ideal either. I live in a cold climate and a cold CFL puts out only a tiny amount of its rated light. I couldn’t see a darn thing in my garage with that bulb. When I went to switch out the CFL, I also discovered that the spiral design attracts and hold dusts like CRAZY. If you do any kind of woodworking at all in an area with CFL bulbs, please check the bulbs and dust them as needed. Just recently, I replaced the garage door opener light with an LED bulb. It comes on instantly, it’s BRIGHT, and it doesn’t matter what the weather is or how much vibration the door opener makes.

5. Work Lights
If you are like me, you have some lights in an area where you make things or fix stuff. Maybe it’s a garage, a basement, or just under the hood of a car in your driveway. LED lighting is ideal for these situations. For starters, these are places notorious for breaking bulbs. I once flipped a board end for end on a table-saw and smashed the CFL bulb overhead. Yipes! What a mess! Incandescent bulbs in portable work lights die all the time from all the movement of the fixture. LED bulbs are much more durable, don’t get hot, and don’t break into a zillion shards of glass and mercury dust. I also priced out some LED work lights and was shocked at how expensive they were! So, I just took a few LED bulbs and stuck them in some plain old reflector clamp lights that I already had. Boom! LED work lights for six bucks instead of sixty.

There’s plenty of other places that are great for LED lighting, but I wanted to keep this list short.

What’s your favorite location for LED lighting? Do you have a favorite energy-saving lighting tip or trick, let us know by commenting below!

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How to be prepared without being a crazy survivalist

December 22, 2014

Recently, I read a thread on a web forum where the poster commented on how well prepared he was, or not, for a temporary black-out.
While the power was briefly out, he took stock of what he did and didn’t have, and in his case, he realized he had no communications during a power outage. That [...]

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Best LED Light Bulb – TCP

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Recently, I refit my whole house with LED lighting. The next month’s electric bills was one of the lowest ever. Even with central air conditioning and all our modern electronic gadgets, lighting is still a major part of most people’s electric bill and one of the best ways to fix that is to convert to [...]

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Lighting Smack-Down: 4′ Fluorescent Tubes vs LED

December 12, 2014

Recently, a friend of mine decided to do some garage lighting upgrades, and it inspired me to do the same. While I recently upgraded a number of CFL bulbs to LED bulbs, my shop-light fixtures were still using a combination of T-12 and T-8 four foot fluorescent tubes.
At the hardware store, I saw that they [...]

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Solar Ovens and Little Girls

September 25, 2014

Recently, I was at the Seven Springs resort in Pennsylvania at the Mother Earth News Fair. I had a bit of “mad money” with me and got a good show-special deal on a solar oven that was based on evacuated tubes used in the solar heating industry.
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I Made Mozzarella and so can You

September 2, 2014

I’ve tried my hand at a lot of different skills, baking, brewing, sewing, and one thing I always thought would be interesting is to try CHEESE-MAKING! This past weekend, I was at the Mid-America Homesteading Conference in Joliet, Illinois. Among the many presentations was a cheese making demonstration by Mike Boehle. In it, Mike makes [...]

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10-Watt USB Solar Panel Review

August 6, 2014

I recently got to take a multiple day canoe trip. Since I like photography and video, I really wanted to take along some gear to shoot some stills and time lapse of the trip. However, a device like an iPhone running GPS or a GoPro shooting time lapse can eat up a LOT of battery [...]

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Canoeing the Black River

July 29, 2014

I just got back from canoeing the Black River.
For the past several years, my father, my brothers, and I have been taking multi-day canoe trips as sort of a male-bonding vacation. It tends to be easy-going. The main expense is gasoline and a cooler full of groceries. We’ve canoed several different parts of the state [...]

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Screen Printing

July 6, 2014

This weekend, I finally got to learn how to screen print.
About a week ago, I was over at my sister’s house and saw that she had her screen printing supplies out. Amy has a fair amount of screen print experience and has sold custom t-shirts with original designs for some time at local art studios. [...]

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