1. #1
    Firehouse.com Guest

    Exclamation Opinions on different Cameras?

    Our company is looking to purchase a thermal imaging camera in the coming months. What cameras are you guys using and what do you like and not like? Looking for a hand held camera. Price is not a problem...funding to be provided by state grant and district tax money. Please help.

  2. #2
    Firehouse.com Guest


    First let me get it out in the open that I do work for Bullard as their Thermal Imaging Training Specialist, but my comments will not be Bullard sales pitch. My goal on this forum is to provide accurate and unbiased info so that you can you can make the best informed decession possible.

    Second let me address the issue of which thermal imager is the best. I work for Bullard so I think it is the best, but of course you will find many other people with other opinions. My point is everyone has an opinion and you will find that there are firefighters who like FLIR, ISG, Scott, Bullard, etc. So opinions are not necessarily the most decisive or best thing to consider. Next comes evaluation results, which surprisingly and unfortunately, also have had a broad range of results. ISG did the best in the Navy evaluation, Bullard did best in the Fairfax City and County evaluation, etc. This shows that there can also be inconsistencies with the evaluation process. (By the way for everyoneís info the Navy is redoing its evaluation in October due to a number of issues from the first round of testing.) I also noted that there was a reply that referenced Houstonís decision to use Scott. I can supply you with the names of two people who were part of the Houston evaluation process and preferred the Bullard unit. You can also note that the evaluation in Boston came down to Scott and Bullard, and Bullard was found to be best. So why all of the inconsistency, why will some people swear to you one is better than the other ? There are a lot of answers, some of which include : people have different applications for the unit, individuals conducting the evaluations have varying levels of knowledge and experience (related to thermal imaging), and of course there are the ugly issues such as price fixing and kickbacks. I am not trying to turn this answer into a dissertation but I am trying to make the point that if you look hard enough you will find that there is a lot of opinions and information out there on thermal imaging and unfortunately a big part of it is questionable.

    My recommendation as a firefighter would be as follows :

    1. Homework
    Get as much info on thermal imaging as you can, review reference material, talk to people, look on the internet. I have posted and will repost a list of reference material that deals with thermal imaging. You will find inconsistencies, so go with the info that has the most consistency from source to source. The bottom line, do your homework so a salesperson canít feed you a line of crap !

    Determine what you will use a thermal imager for (IC, fire attack, rescue, haz mat, etc) and how you want to use it (hand held or hands free). There are many applications for thermal imaging and they are growing daily, but it is important to think about what you intend to accomplish so you can find a unit that will do it for you. There are both pros and cons to hand held and hands free, there are a number of articles and even a response on this forum that identify them, figure out what will work best for you. (You may want to try the units out before you make the decision oh hand held versus hands free.)

    Take the needs you have identified and develop an evaluation process that will insure the unit you buy will meet your requirements. There are a number of existing evaluation formats for your reference (I can mail you one), but make sure you donít just us an existing one unless it will insure your needs are meet. Everyone likes to look at the Navy evaluation, but they forget it was developed for shipboard firefighting, and has requirements, such as case size and weight, that are of no significance to anyone but the Navy.

    2. Evaluation Process
    You may want to limit the number of units you evaluate based on your research, no need to evaluate a hands free unit if you have decided on a hand held unit. Contact the manufacturers / distributors and tell them you want to conduct an evaluation. If they will not provide a unit for evaluation DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES CONSIDER THEM FOR YOUR BUSINESS !!!!, this is because they will try to come back later and show you their strong points while avoiding your evaluation process which will identify their weak points.

    Let the manufacturer / distributor make their sales pitch. Make sure you get the same amount and type of info on each unit so you can compare an apple to an apple. They will usually only offer their best info so you may want to ask very specific questions or verify the info yourself. Example : You ask how much does it weigh ? They will reply most likely with a weight that does not include the battery, transmitter, or any accessories, find out what the real answer is, verify as many answers on your own as you can. If they tell you it will pass a drop or dunk test let them prove it to you, donít take their word or excuses for it. You may want to do this with them all in the room at the same time, since another rep will most likely point out if someone is trying to put one over on you.

    When possible evaluate them in a burn. This is very critical because many of the units work perfectly in friendly ambient conditions, but their weaknesses show through in the hostile environment of a burn. Pick a group of your firefighters for evaluators, and let the factory reps give them a brief training / familiarization class. Make sure each firefighter gets to try out each unit (best to have the same number of evaluators and units for speed). Make sure they complete any task they would expect to do with the imager, donít let them just sit and look at the fire with the unit. As soon as they come out of the burn separate them and have them write down their results. This prevents cross talk and insures an accurate evaluation of the units. If you can not conduct your own burn, at least carry out some tasks in a blacked out room or smoke house. You may also want to look at some other departmentís burn results, it is better than nothing.

    Donít forget to evaluate the other areas outside of performance such as service, warranty, and manufacturer support. Be careful here to, Example : they tell you they offer a five year warranty against manufacturers defects versus everyone elseís one year warranty, who cares because it will only cover manufacturers defects which should show up within the first year of use and it will not cover your wear and tear damage over the five years. Also ask for references and see how the users are satisfied with the service they have received.

    The bottom line is do not ever takes a salesperson word if you get or verify the information yourself. I am not saying they are all lying but lets face it they donít get paid if they donít sale their product, so they might bend the truth a little.

    3. Bidding / Purchasing Process
    Basically, think about it. Will you buy the one that did best in the evaluation, came in cheapest in price, or a combination of a number of things. Chances are once you buy it you cant take it back, and the only thing worse than a fire department without a thermal imager is one that will not use the one they have because it is something they canít use or it will not work.

    Most of the time when you buy something you decide ahead of time what you want, and then you find what you are looking for. Donít do anything else different with a thermal imager, decide what you want and then get it. DO NOT LET A SALESPERSON WOW YOU WITH FEATURES THAT ARE USLESS, SALE YOU A PIECE OF CRAP THAT IS IMPRACTICAL OR CAN NOT STAND UP TO THE ABUSE OF FIREFIGHTING.

    Finally I will be more than happy to provide you (and anyone else)with information on thermal imaging. It is a lot of work evaluating imagers, but it is the only way you will get the unit that fits your needs and is the best. I hope this helps.

    Good Luck, Be Safe
    TI MAN

  3. #3
    John Berryman Jr.
    Firehouse.com Guest


    We have two MSA units and have been very pleased with their performance,they are the newest versions with the latest tech.By all means try before you buy!! Good Luck

  4. #4
    Firehouse.com Guest


    I have personally evaluated all the systems on the market that the manufacturers will let me see and I will say this. All the handheld systems with the BST detector perform the exact same. The only difference between the cameras is the options and features. They use the exact same detector produced by TI/Raytheon. Don't let anybody fool you into thinking that the BST chip they have is better because they are the same. The cameras that have the microbolometer are by far the best cameras on the market as far as imaging around fire. These cameras will not saturate(white out) or produce a black halo type effect around the flames which make it impossible to see detail around the fire. Some of the BST chip cameras have options like video overlay, which if you think about it is pointless. Video overlay is a CCD camera like a camcorder and they fuse the IR and visual image together to make to image clearer. The image is clearer in a conference room, but when you go into smoke the CCD camera can't see through smoke, so you rely on the IR image.

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