Buying an infrared camera
What’s to Like:
- Stunning 640×480 resolution
- Compact and light weight
- Awesome internal viewfinder for outdoor use
- 5 inch touch screen with intuitive control
- Core functions are easily accessible and fast to use
- Stores real time video
- 16GB or 32GB memory, plus backup hard drive
- Easy to use joystick control
- Visual camera performance is excellent
- Professional Software Suite
What’s not to like:
- Auto focus slow and therefore useless
The IPI-TP9-640 is a professional thermographer’s camera that ticks all the boxes. A super compact footprint and a host of professional features make this a serious predictive maintenance tool for professional thermographers. Speed, efficiency and high quality image capture and data acquisition are the hallmarks of this truly professional device. I have felt that in recent years manufacturers had all but forgotten about the top end of town, having been beguiled by the market’s thirst for low cost throw away entry level units. By the top end of town I mean the professional thermographers; who need the utmost in performance to meet the varied demands of a wide scope of applications and customer requirements. A contractor’s camera has a hard life, and must be built to withstand the daily rigours. Most work 40+ hours per week in tough industrial environments where they are exposed to dust/dirt, corrosive gases, extreme hot/cold temperatures, bright sunlight, and more bumps and knocks than you would care to admit. They need to be reliable (unquestionably so), with tough rugged components and interface connections. They need great backup from the supplier, and it also helps if parts and batteries are available locally at a moment’s notice. A professional will be asked to measure high temp, low temp and everything in between without sacrificing too much thermal sensitivity and providing crisp, clear images. For someone using a camera for hours on end, it needs to be ergonomically comfortable and light weight. Data collection should be easy and efficient. You don’t want fuss, or clumsy user interfaces that frustrate the operator and slow you down. It’s not often that you can get all this in one package; however the IPI-TP9-640 Thermal Imager actually achieves all of this and more.
Is the image really worth the extra money?
To begin with the image quality is outstanding. The 640×480 detector outputs a highly detailed image with a thermal sensitivity better than 50mk.
What about the cons?
The user interface can be best described as uncluttered, which is just the way I like it. The onscreen displays and menu system can be hidden with a single click, and displayed again in full the same way. Even when displayed, they are discrete and onscreen analysis, colour palettes and temperature ranges do not impose on the image. I like it. The screen output is displayed on both the internal viewfinder and 5 inch touch screen. Let’s start with the internal viewfinder. In one word: awesome. A 0.6” OLED internal screen provides stunning detail and sharpness that does not strain the eye. This is one of the few units that remain on the market with the all-important viewfinder, something that many manufacturers are omitting from their top end models. This is a must for people who need to work outdoors, as the LCD and external displays simply washout in bright sunlight.
Does it need such a big screen?
At first I found the 5.7 inch touch screen a little overwhelming. Having spent most of my life on 3.5 inch screens this one seemed huge and unnecessarily big. After living with the 5.7 inch version for a couple of weeks, I would now struggle to go back to 3.5inch. The large screen is just easier to see fine detail; especially to identify the detail you need on complex systems or small components. The touch screen has some very unique features. One that I found quite by accident is that you could drag (using the stylus or your finger) the level and span values up or down on the touch screen. This is really fast and intuitive and very clever. The same feature applies to the emissivity control. A single tap of the colour palette also enables palette adjustment. Everything is very accessible, involving as few keystrokes as possible. For those who prefer to use the internal viewfinder or don’t like touch screens, the manual key (button) interface is equally easy to use. The joystick intuitively controls most functions, and the traditional A (Auto), C (Cancel), S (Save/store) keys handle the rest. 4 buttons on the rear of the body provide direct action for visual camera, laser pointer, LED lamp and autofocus.
Level and Span control
For me, this is the make or break of a professional camera as every professional knows manual level and span control is a must. Whether you choose to use the touch screen or the joystick control, manually adjusting the level and span is a standout function on this camera. The IPI-TP9 Thermal Imager provides a fast and responsive control; a single tap of the screen or a press of the “A” button gives instant access to the Tmax and Tmin settings. By either the touch interface or joystick control the level and span swiftly responds to operator inputs. Most importantly, Tmax and Tmin can be controlled independently, unlike many brands which insist on moving both at the same time. This function alone saves valuable time in the field and allows an operator to quickly and effortlessly obtain the “perfect” image.
Most professionals are familiar with the need to carry a separate digital camera at all times. On-board cameras fall short in a number of areas, including close range focus and low light conditions – both which necessitate use of a stand-alone camera. The IPI-TP9-640 Thermal Imager supports an extra high quality 5 megapixel visual camera that for the most part has overcome these weaknesses. Most thermal imagers only support fixed focus on the visual camera, meaning that any imaging up close (ie less than 50cm), the visual camera is often blurred and out of focus. To eliminate this problem, the IPI-TP9-640 Thermal Imager’s visual camera continuously focuses, ensuring crisp clear images at any distance. Furthermore the camera is equipped with a super bright LED for low light areas. Having used the camera at various levels of low light, I have been pleasantly surprised by its performance. Images are crisp, clear and off high quality and are sufficient for most of my visual imaging requirements.
Professional is more than just words
A host of other features places this camera fairly in the PRO zone. Real time fully radiometric video capture directly on board is a big bonus for professionals. More than ever, the ability to present real time footage to clients provides an edge over competitors who can only present still imagery. Still images often fail to tell the full story of dynamic systems or instances that occur in short time frames. The option of either 16GB or 32GB data cards outpaces many systems that still only offer outdated 2 or 4GB capacities. The problem with those low capacities is that replacements are obsolete and rapidly becoming unavailable. Further still, the IPI-TP9 has an internal hard drive which is extremely handy as a fail safe for data storage. While some people may want to use the on-board drive for primary storage, I have found it invaluable as an automated backup (ie default location) should a data card fail or not be recognised by the camera. The processor is fast and the memory more than sufficient to keep driving this camera for hours without slowing down. Many lower cost models suffer very early from resource fatigue; becoming sluggish and laggy when on-board resources run low forcing the operator to reboot, or worse still causing the camera to freeze. Long-time thermographers will know exactly what I mean. The camera uses standard Sony style lithium ion batteries that are literally available everywhere. This is a huge convenience being able to readily obtain batteries at low cost and with a variety of after market options.
The standard temperature range is up to 800°C, which is an extraordinarily useful range for professional work. 2000°C is available as an option. The optional 19mm (45.7°) wide angle lens and 80mm (11.5°) telephoto lens gives thermographers plenty of choice when it comes to distance or close up work. Personally I would not buy a camera of this calibre without a telephoto lens. End users usually acquire the services of professionals to perform the work they can’t with their own equipment. The telephoto lens on this camera provides phenomenal distance capabilities that as a professional I would simply not be without.
Every pro knows that report generation and post processing requires more than standard freeware. While I still use advanced database image management for most of my major project work, the freeware software that is bundled with the IPI-TP9-640 is one of the best image analysis and reporting software packages available. While it possesses all the usual post processing and image editing/analysis tools it has an extremely powerful report generator. The report generator utilises easy to modify word templates that it automatically exports to. For most professional users this will more than meet their requirements, as it produces a highly customisable and professional looking document in Microsoft word. The single biggest advantage with an output to MS Word is that you have all the usual publishing tools you know and trust for document development and preparation.
There is not a lot I don’t like about this camera and it’s fair to say it’s the best camera I have ever owned. As a professional thermographer you literally develop a symbiotic relationship with your equipment. When you find a fit as good as this, it’s hard to justify anything less.BUY IT HERE