What is a Thermal Imaging Camera?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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A thermal imaging camera (TIC) is a specialized camera which converts infrared radiation into a visible image, allowing the camera's user to visualize a scene more completely, even if it is obscured by smoke and other visual disturbances. There are a number of uses for thermal imaging cameras, ranging from firefighting to public health, and this technology has been widely adopted in many nations around the world. The cost of thermal imaging cameras tends to be quite expensive, especially with high-end models, which range from helmet-mounted portable cameras to vehicle-mounted versions.

In a classic example of how a thermal imaging camera is used, a search and rescue team looking for someone lost in the woods could scan an area with a thermal imaging camera, looking for the heat signature of a human body. Using the camera would allow the team to work at night and in inclement weather conditions, greatly increasing the speed of rescue, and therefore the chance for survival.

This technology evolved in the military, where it has a number of uses, and spread outwards to law enforcement, firefighting, security, and other industries. A typical thermal imaging camera depicts objects within normal or expected temperature ranges in grayscale, highlighting unusually cold or hot areas in color. Generally, cooler regions are shown in blue, green, and violet, while hotspots are red, orange, and yellow, since people are familiar with this color code. Extremely hot areas may be shown in pure white.


For firefighters, thermal imaging cameras are incredibly valuable. They can be used to examine the site of a fire before going in to look for hot spots, the source of the fire, and human victims who might need assistance. Thermal imaging cameras are critical safety tools, as they allow firefighters to get an idea of what is going on in a fire before they respond to it, and many fire departments have pushed for grant money, community assistance, and other sources of funds which will allow them to buy a TIC.

In public health, a thermal imaging camera can be used to quickly identify people suffering from fevers or hypothermia in a crowded setting, which could potentially be useful in controlling disease outbreaks. For security, thermal imaging reveals approaching individuals, even if they are visually camouflaged, and thermal imaging also allows law enforcement to check on the location of occupants of a house before entering, or to look with the high heat signatures associated with certain criminal activity, such as the production of drugs.


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Post 4

@cardsfan27 - I agree with you to an extent and respect your opinion, but my thought on it is that if someone is willing to dull of the money to buy one for ghost hunting so be it.

The search and rescue teams and law enforcement agencies that require the need for a thermal imaging camera will be able to acquire one for their purposes of helping the community and the people that want one for ghost hunting will have a harder time getting one.

Post 3

The most popular use it seems like for an everyday person concerning a thermal imaging camera and to be quite honest I feel like this is a bit of a waste when the equipment could be used for more practical things such as search and rescue.

Thermal imaging cameras are actually quite impressive innovations, because you can see things that are not seen with the naked eye and it can really help find trapped people or even by law enforcement for trying to find people hiding out.

I just feel like that for every thermal imaging device that is bought by amateurs for ghost hunting they are taking away one that could be used for search and rescue and could be used to save lives and do good for the community.

Post 2

@stl156 - In reality it really depends on how hot the hot spot is. If there is a small change in temperature then someone may not be able to feel it if it is only a few degrees and it may have to be a drastic change in order to realize that there is a change there. With a thermal imaging camera you can see the change in temperature no matter how little of a difference in temperature it is.

Now as far as using thermal imaging cameras to go ghost hunting, that is a completely different matter in itself and yes the cameras can see changes in temperature and I guess if there is something there that is invisible that you cannot see then I guess it will show up on the thermal imaging camera if there is a change of temperature. Then again this is debatable and depends on what your whole opinion on ghost hunting is.

Post 1

I always knew that thermal imaging cameras could be used for fire and rescue teams, but I usually see them seen on ghost hunting television shows.

Apparently on thee shows, which I think are somewhat of a crock, they claim they can see ghosts with the thermal imaging camera despite not seeing anything there.

I do not see how this is at all possible considering that there is absolutely nothing there yet you could see heat. I would think that you could feel the heat there if you could see it with the thermal imaging camera, but then again I am a skeptic with these matters.

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