Flir makes thermal imaging camera accessories for contractors, electricians, plumbers, ghost hunters, and anyone else who needs to capture thermal images with their phone. The third-generation Flir One, reviewed here, is just over half the price of the original model at $ 199.99, with a much more flexible design and a higher resolution. It’s an impressive little gadget that’s priced reasonably enough for general technophiles, or as a gift for the fix-it figure in your life. It isn’t as powerful as the more expensive Flir One Pro LT and Flir One Pro, however, and drops the ability to switch between thermal, visual, and combined MSX views that the original device offered.
The Flir One is a flat, rectangular camera that connects to the bottom of your phone or tablet. It measures 2.7 inches wide and 1.4 inches tall with rounded sides, making it slightly narrower than nearly any smartphone you connect it to. The sides are a metallic silver-pink, which contrasts with the matte black plastic of the top and bottom panels. The connector (Lightning and USB-C versions are available) sits in the middle of the top panel. Don’t fret if you use a phone case; a mechanical wheel below the connector extends it up to an extra 0.3 inches. I had no problem connecting the Flir One to a Google Pixel 3 XL in a thick, rugged case.
The bottom side holds a power button and a USB-C connector for charging the camera with the included USB A-to-C cable (you’ll need to find your own wall adapter or a free USB port on your computer). The Flir One doesn’t take any power from your phone to run, so you have to keep its built-in battery charged. It takes approximately 40 minutes to reach a full charge, after which it can capture thermal images for up to an hour. Besides the charging cable, you get a hard, zip-up case for the camera.
Finally, the camera lenses on the Flir One are located, one on top of the other, on the device’s front (or back, depending on orientation) panel. One lens is for the thermal core, an 80-by-60-resolution sensor that detects heat through infrared emissions. The other lens is for a 1,440-by-1,080 conventional visual camera that works in tandem with the thermal core for Flir’s Multi-Spectral Dynamic Imaging (MSX) feature.
The Flir One works through the free Flir app for Android and iOS. With the Flir One plugged into your phone, the app will open up to display a thermal image of whatever you point the camera on. It shows various orange and purple blotches that vaguely conform to the transparent outlines of objects in view. That’s how the Flir One sees the world with Flir’s MSX feature. Because the thermal core is so low-resolution, the software combines the thermal patterns it picks up with the visual image of the conventional camera next to it to help better define where sources of heat and cold might be based on the contours of these visible objects.
If you don’t like the default orange-and-purple Iron palette, you can choose from eight others. The Rainbow, Contrast, Arctic, Lava, and Wheel palettes use different colors for different temperatures, while Gray displays a monochrome view where hotter objects are lighter. The Coldest and Hottest palettes are most useful for finding hot and cold spots; they show a monochrome view except for the coldest and hottest parts of the frame, which are respectively highlighted in blue or red. Because the two modes are separate, you can only highlight one extreme at a time.
The colors constantly adjust based on the range of temperatures the Flir One detects at any moment, so your view will shift between colors as you move the camera. You can manually lock the color range to the temperatures currently in the frame by tapping the Lock Range icon that pops up in the lower right menu, under the palettes. This will keep the picture from shifting too much, but it means that any temperatures above or below the extremes the camera measured when you tap the button will appear as flat colors.
A crosshair button on the top of the screen toggles a spot temperature meter in the center. It will show the approximate temperature of whatever it’s pointing at to give you an idea of how hot or cold it is within the Flir One’s range of -4 to 248 degrees Fahrenheit. It isn’t quite as precise as a thermometer, because distance can greatly affect how much infrared radiation (heat) the camera can pick up. Of course, thermal imaging on the Flir One isn’t designed to provide perfect spot temperatures, but display temperature variations across its view.
The Flir One lacks a few very useful functions offered by the Flir One Pro and Pro LT. You’re limited to the MSX view with the standard Flir One, with no option to switch to the raw thermal or visual camera views. You also can’t display a temperature scale on the side of the screen to show the full range of temperatures the camera is currently detecting like on the Pro models; the spot temperature meter is all you get for numbers. The spot meter is also locked to the center of the screen, while the Pro cameras let you drag it around the frame with your finger.
The core thermal imaging functionality is still present, but the extra precision and flexibility will cost you at least $ 100 more for the Flir One Pro LT. The 248-degree maximum of the Flir One is also on the Flir One Pro LT, so if you want to track sources of very high temperatures (up to 752 degrees), you’ll have to pay double for the Flir One Pro.
Left to right: Flir One, Flir One Pro
However you want to capture thermal images, just tap the big button in the center of the bottom of the app. It works like most smartphone camera apps, letting you take still photos, videos, and time-lapse recordings, switching between recording modes by swiping left or right on the app. All thermal recordings are stored in the Flir app on your phone, with all relevant thermal metadata. This means you can switch between different color palettes on any photo or video you’ve taken to try to bring out specific temperature differences, or toggle the center spot meter to show the temperature. The full range of temperatures detected in the frame is also shown in the picture information menu, but you don’t get a labeled spectrum key like you do with the Flir One Pro cameras.
You can share your thermal photos and videos like any other media on your phone, but aesthetics and social networks aren’t the main reason to have a thermal camera. The ability to pick up differences in temperatures can be very useful for many skilled jobs involving construction, plumbing, and electrical wiring. Cool spots can help identify leaks and weakening joints, and warm spots can help locate anything from power adapters to pets. Because of this, the Flir One and its bigger siblings are mostly designed to find and fix problems rather than show your friends and family what Predator vision looks like. Of course, you can do that with the Flir One as well.
Affordable for Amateurs
Even with its relative simplicity, the Flir One does exactly what it’s designed to do: capture thermal images. It doesn’t have the software flexibility of the Flir One Pro LT or the much higher thermal resolution and range of the Flir One Pro, but at $ 200, it’s still a steal of a thermal imager. Whether you’re looking for leaky pipes, frayed wires, or ghosts, the third-generation Flir One is an affordable way to see what the naked eye can’t. It’s excellent as a casual handyperson’s phone accessory, but without the ability to switch between MSX, raw thermal, and visible views, or to spot-check the temperature of any part of the frame, it’s a step behind the Flir One Pro models.
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