FLIR C5 Thermal Imaging Camera Review
FLIR C5 Review - Updated February 2023
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Today we're going to take a tour of the features and benefits of the Flir C5 camera , discuss some applications, and finally run through the upside and potential downsides of buying this thermal camera.
Of the bat, I'll say (if you don't know already), that Flir is really at the cutting edge of thermal imaging technology. Honestly, no other company really comes close. Most companies spend on their entire market share what Flir does on Research and Development alone. There are other good cameras, of course, but for price and technological power, Flir is the way to go. The question is really not which thermal camera to buy, but which Flir Thermal camera to buy. With that said, let's see if the Flir C5 compact thermal camera is the one for you.
I suppose you could have a small debate on the most important feature in a thermal imager, but 90% of people are going to say that resolution is the deciding factor in determining the quality of the camera, and the number that most will pay attention to when choosing an imager to buy. You may already know the following, but I'll run through it quickly.
A thermal imaging camera functions similarly to a standard camera, but the detector is designed differently. Both define resolution in pixels, which correspond to a measurement grid on the device. On a standard camera, each pixel on the board detects visible light. This is then developed/translated into a photograph. With a thermal camera, each pixel on the detector reads infrared radiation (in other words, heat) and translates that into what we call a "thermogram". A thermogram is basically a photograph but of heat radiation and not light. That's why you'll see a multicolored blob of sorts on a thermal camera instead of a crisp standard photograph. Now each pixel in the detector is like one miniature thermometer. So when you are viewing a thermogram, for each pixel you can view a unique temperature reading. So the more pixels (i.e., temperature data points), the more precisely you can view and measure the temperature in a given area. Hope I haven't lost you!
Now one of the coolest innovations in recent times with regard to thermal cameras is Flir's MSX (Multi-Spectral Dynamic Imaging). That's a fancy marketing way of saying this: Flir infrared cameras have both a thermal camera and a standard visible light camera onboard, and the software on the camera overlays both images in real-time so you can see them on the screen and in your saved thermogram photos. So, when you are taking your thermal images, you'll be able to see an "etched" view of the real-world surroundings on the picture. This is a huge help in any kind of diagnostic work. You can see panel numbers, molding in a home, corners, cables, outlines of machinery, and so on. It's like viewing a standard photo in a sort of "temperature mode". Like night-vision but for heat. Take a look at some MSX photo examples to see what I mean.
So, like all the current-model Flir thermal imaging cameras, the C5 includes this MSX feature. This is rapidly becoming industry-standard technology, but I thought I'd make you aware of it if, for some reason, you were not. As for the thermal detector resolution, the grid on the C5 is 160x120, which surpasses the older model pistol grip style cameras by quite a bit, for a total of 19,200 pixels. Think about that. 19,200 unique temperature measurements in every picture you take. Eat your heart out laser thermometer. Plus, at a retail price just shy of $800, this camera is a heck of a deal.
There are few other technical features that I should note before we take a brief look at applications. The first is the frequency of refresh rate. This basically just means how fast the image refreshes onscreen or how quickly a new set of readings is taken. The FLIR C5 compact infrared camera has a frequency of 8.7Hz. This means that the camera takes 8.7 new readings per second. There's some debate on the frequency rate of the human eye, but it's somewhere above 30Hz. So while the camera is not as fast as your eye, it's not far off, and you'll perceive the refresh rate as more or less "real-time". In other words, it's plenty fast for the type of work you'll do with this camera. The standard onboard camera is 5 mega-pixels, so way more than you even need. Nicer than digital cameras from even a few years ago. Finally, the other significant number is the thermal sensitivity. This is the amount of tiny difference the camera can perceive. This is measured in milliKelvins (mK), but what you really need to know is that the lower the number, the smaller difference the camera can detect, leading to a broader range of color display on the image. Really high-end cameras (thousands of dollars) don't get much lower than 30mK, and the Flir C5 clocks in at 70mK. Some less nice models that others make have sensitivities in the range of 250mK. In plain English, the Flir C5 is a very sensitive camera for the price point and more than enough for diagnostic work.
Alright, now that we have all the numbers stuff out of the way, let's look at the more user-focused tech features. The camera build itself is like a slim-line digital camera. This makes it ideal for residential and light commercial type jobs where a pistol grip camera is overkill, but a phone attachment won't cut it. And frankly (I'll say more in a second), a stand-alone unit looks better and more professional to customers than a phone attachment. At any rate, it feels great in your hand and is super easy to use and navigate.
There's an LED flashlight built-in for working in darker areas (this will affect the MSX image, so for the most detailed images you want to use it in poorly lit areas, walls, etc.). You can upload your images to Flir's cloud service called Ignite, and also use it to generate and email reports to customers or managers. This is a great touch for contract work and really looks great to customers. Finally, the camera is tough and rated to IP54 for water resistance and dust protection. Also, they design it with a 6-foot drop test, so while I don't recommend dropping it, you're certainly not going to have any issues if it slips out of your hand for some reason during standard work.
The camera also has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability for uploading images. Basically, anywhere you can get some type of wireless signal, you can use the image upload. There's also a USB option if you want to go the "old fashioned" way.
Applications-wise, there are a couple common jobs to use it on. I'll just mention two for now. The first is electrical work. Often overheating components are anything but obvious. The FLIR C5 infrared camera makes it easy to find these hidden problems that can lead to equipment malfunction or worse. The first time you point it at a secretly overheating breaker panel, you'll understand the power of this tool. Where once you had to point an IR thermometer at every individual breaker and hope for the best, now you can just take a picture or scan in real-time and see the problem immediately. Also, saved images can be annotated automatically with spot temperatures, since each pixel in actually measuring temperature. So you'll have a visual of the problem, and you can mark the specific temperature of the problem area.
The other common application I want to mention is in remediation work in homes. I recently had a technician out to handle a mold issue in my house. He showed up with this exact camera. I had seen it in action on electrical work before, but it was cool and also reassuring as the customer to see this work done with my own house. Basically, the wet areas in the wall were colder than everything else, and so a different hue on the image. He documented this and sent us the report before starting with the drying and remediation work. Seeing the camera from both ends of the job, so to speak, was really cool. We knew they were doing good work because of this, and I can tell you firsthand that it is very reassuring to customers to have this kind of professional documented work in a stressful situation. So I can recommend you this camera wholeheartedly when dealing directly with customers.
As for the "cons" with this camera, to be honest, I can only think of one, and it's not really even a "con". I'm thinking of the price point. I think the C5 is a steal at $799 (and you can often get a good deal with a quality distributor, this is just the list price). Again, this isn't even a negative. It's an excellent price for all the benefits, but if your budget doesn't allow, Flir makes some other great cameras that are a little less expensive.
The FLIR C5 pocket camera is an excellent tool for HVAC/R, electrical, building, home inspection, facility maintenance, and troubleshooting.
All in all, this is a killer device that is going to save you time and make you money, especially in contract work. I fully recommend it and, unless you want to make the jump to the higher end "E-Series" Flir cameras, the Flir C5 pocket sized thermal camera is the one to beat in this market. Go out and pick one up! It's a great camera.
Thanks for reading and see you next time.
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