The Flir C3-X is a solid thermal imaging camera designed to help reduce your home heating and cooling costs. It's rugged, easy to use on its default settings and offers a range of advanced options for the professional user. With the MSX visual imaging feature showing the room's details as well as a heat map, the thermal photos are easy to understand. This camera is certainly worth considering if you need to take thermal photos on a regular basis, but with a price tag close to $1000, for casual or one-off use we suggest renting or borrowing one.
Improving your home's thermal efficiency is a great way to reduce your household energy bills. A thermal camera like the Flir C3-X can show very clearly where the heat losses and gains are happening around your home, such as gaps in your ceiling insulation, air leaks around window frames or heat loss through your windows that could be fixed with more effective blinds or curtains.
But it takes a bit of practice to use a thermal camera effectively and to understand what the images are revealing. Not to mention thermal cameras can be expensive. We take you through the basics of using this type of camera and point out some options for borrowing one rather than buying it outright.
How does it work?
The Flir C3-X has an infrared lens as well as a regular digital camera lens and can take photos in the infrared spectrum. Heat radiation is in the infrared range, and the camera detects this heat and converts it to a digital image, just as a regular digital camera converts visual light. The result is a thermal, or thermographic, image.
The C3-X converts heat radiation to a digital image, just as a regular digital camera converts visual light
Below are two example photos, taken on a hot day in Sydney (when it was well over 30°C outside). The images are colour scaled, with dark colours representing the coolest parts of the room, and bright colours the hotter parts. At the left of the image you can see the range of temperatures detected, and in the top left are two specific temperatures: at top, the dead centre of the photo, and below it, the temperature of the area marked by the circle on the rectangular zone.
There's a choice of several colour palettes for the heat photos and we used the default (as in the photos above)
This is an uninsulated house's ceiling on a hot day. The ceiling is quite hot, around 30–34°C. The rafters are visible as a dark grid as they're providing some insulating effect. If the ceiling were fully insulated, it would all be showing as dark purple rather than mainly orange and yellow.
This is a well-insulated apartment on the same day in the same area of Sydney. While heat is coming in through the window (at left), the rest of the room is comparatively moderate in temperature.
Using the Flir C3-X
The C3-X is a simple point-and-shoot digital camera with a large 640x480 pixel rear touchscreen for framing and displaying your photos and navigating and using the options menus. There are on/off and save buttons on the top edge and a USB-C port on the side for charging and connecting to a computer.
Many local councils and sustainability organisations offer cameras like the Flir C3-X on loan to their local residents or members
If you create a FLIR Ignite online account, you can upload your photos to the Ignite website for easy viewing and sharing online (this requires the camera to be connected to a Wi-Fi network). You can also connect the camera via the supplied USB cable or via Bluetooth to your computer and copy the images across.
You can download comprehensive instructions from the C3-X page on the Flir website.
It's recommended to have the camera professionally calibrated once a year, which can be an expensive process.
Tips for taking thermal photos
- Be careful of any highly reflective surfaces in the image area, as they can cause inaccurate readings. It's best to aim the camera at a dull (matte) surface.
- Avoid focusing on any area that's in direct sunlight.
- Pay attention to the range of temperatures displayed for the image; the colour mapping can give an impression that there are very cold areas and very hot areas in the photo, but they may actually be only a few degrees different.
- In summer, areas inside your home with air leaks or poor insulation will show as hot spots, as heat is leaking in from the exterior. In winter, these same areas will tend to show as cold spots, as the indoor warmth is leaking out.
- For best results, take the time to read the camera's instructions – you may need to adjust some of the settings in different circumstances. For example, in its default automatic model the Flir C3-X constantly adjusts the level and span (temperature scale) of the image, which will give a good result in most cases. However, in manual mode you can adjust the temperature scale to be close to the temperature of a target object in the image, which can help detect any anomalies or small temperature differences in that part of the image.
- When using the camera in potentially unsafe areas such as roof spaces or construction zones, be aware of your surroundings and personal safety.
Borrowing a thermal camera
If you just want to perform a one-off assessment of your home, then paying $1000 or more for a professional-level thermal camera like the Flir C3-X is probably a step too far. There are cheaper thermal cameras on the market, including thermal camera attachments for your smartphone, but you'll still be looking at a few hundred dollars.
That's why many local councils and sustainability organisations offer cameras like the Flir C3-X on loan to their local residents or members. Councils often offer this service via the local library. Contact your council or search online to see whether there are any offers near you.
Here are some examples of organisations offering thermal cameras for loan:
- Inner West Council (Sydney)
- Brimbank Council (Melbourne)
- Boroondara Council (Melbourne)
- Renew (Adelaide and Melbourne)
- Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group.
Thermal cameras can also be hired from tool hire companies.
If you're a skilled tinkerer, you could even try building your own thermal camera!
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.