Did you know they make tiny thermal imaging cameras for your phone now? Well apparently they do, and they’re pretty trippy.
When I first learned of the FLIR One Smartphone Infrared Camera, I wasn’t really sure what I would do with it. FLIR is known for making industrial thermal imaging cameras that let you see the temperatures of anything around you. Because heat energy produces infrared light on its own, infrared cameras can accurately detect the temperature of an object by measuring how much infrared light it gives off. While this is a neat trick and certainly useful for practical applications, it didn’t immediately strike me as a photography tool. Then, I plugged it into my phone and turned it on.
This thing is crazy. The little device can see the infrared light that your eyes and regular cameras can’t, so it presents the world in a completely different way. I got lost in its whirl of colors while wandering around our office and seeing the invisible light that surrounds us. Everything looks different in this part of the spectrum. But before I go deeper into what got me hooked on this gadget, let me explain what it is and how you use it.
The FLIR One is a durable, well made, rubberized add on for iOS and Android devices. It comes with a handy (but stubborn) protective case and can easily fit in a pocket. It also has its own battery that you charge via USB, and a simple on/off button on the side. Despite the name, the FLIR One actually has two cameras, one infrared and one regular. Because infrared light is so scarce, the IR sensor has to be pretty low-res to get any useful data from the small amount of light. Normally, this eliminates any photographic potential for an IR camera, but by using a second camera, FLIR is able to add in physical details to make the image appear more clearly, a technology they call MSX imaging.
By using the accompanying app, you can choose the visual representation of the IR light, with nine options in total (I preferred the classic “Iron” look). This adds another element of creative freedom to the already unique looking images. Using the app is easy and straightforward, with a photo, video, and time lapse option, and completely unusable panoramic setting as well. The app does what it needs to do without much fuss, and there are even some hidden settings that are nice to have once you find them.
Whenever I set out to take a few visually appealing snaps with the FLIR One, I inevitably got distracted by the temperatures around me. You can take photos with or without the spot temperature reading, an indication that this camera is for both practical and creative uses. The temperatures aren’t necessarily spot-on, like in the picture below where my hand is supposedly 103° f. But for general purposes, like the cooking photo below, the temperature estimate can actually be very helpful.
The only major downside to this little gadget is an unavoidable one: the low resolution. Images come out fairly pixelated and certainly aren’t meant for quality prints or anything of the sort. But since the FLIR One makes such unique photos, the low resolution probably won’t bother anyone for online settings like Instagram or this article. There’s also an annoying FLIR watermark in the corner of every shot, but that’s easy enough to crop or edit out, and hopefully FLIR will update the app to eliminate the mark soon.
Overall, there’s a lot to peak one’s interest in the FLIR One. It basically gives you a super-power: the ability to see heat. And because of the psychedelic color schemes available in the app, there’s also an entirely new aesthetic pallet to match the new spectrum of light this camera makes available to you. Obviously, this is more of a novelty than a serious photography tool, but it also serves enough practical purposes to justify the purchase. Just check out FLIR’s cartoon of a family’s many uses for this little gadget.
Despite my initial skepticism, I can see a bright/warm future ahead for this gadget and me. Not only is it fun as a creative tool, but it’s also fascinating as a practical tool. Ultimately, if the aesthetic or function of this gadget sparks your interest then I highly recommend it, and if you just don’t get the appeal then you already know it’s not for you.