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Why Are Thermal Cameras So Expensive

The thermal cameras are an advanced technology that has revolutionized industries and people’s life. Based on infrared thermal radiation (a long wavelength between 8um and 14um in the electromagnetic spectrum), the technology significantly empowers humans to see beyond naked eyes.

The discovery of thermal imaging technology can trace back to the the early 19 centuries, when Sir William Herschel discovered infrared thermal radiation, an invisible light emitted from heated objects in 1800. While Herschel was able to produce the earliest known thermal images, called “thermographs”, it wasn’t until 1929 that the first thermal camera was invented, primarily used for military purpose during WWI.

Though it was slow and arduous, the technology continued to advance and has significantly evolved over the decades. By 2000, thermal technology had matured enough to find widespread applications in a wide variety of fields beyond military, such as public safety, medicine, search and rescue, outdoor adventures.

However, despite the valuable utility of thermal technology, it seems that many customers still consider thermal camera as a “precious and luxurious” products much more expensive than the standard day optics products they encounter in life. This article covers the rationale of price behind thermal devices.

How Thermal Camera Works

Today, thermal cameras have developed into a wide variety of product forms such as industrial thermal imagers, security cameras, rifle scope, monocular and binoculars. While these product vary in forms, they are generally based on the same scientific principles of thermography.

Thermal camera works by capturing infrared radiation emitted by objects above absolute zero in temperature. A specialized lens focuses the infrared light onto a detector array, typically made up of a microbolometer. The microbolometer detects the radiations and create a precise and detailed pattern of temperature known as “thermogram”.

The “thermogram” is then interpreted into electrical impulses. A dedicated circuit board process these impulses into digital data, which is then translated into thermal image by the camera’s signal processing unit. The thermal image displayed on the screen has varying colors corresponding to the different temperature, visually depicting the variations of heat or intensity of infrared emissions across the scene being observed.


Reasons Why Thermal Cameras Are Expensive

Lots of customers consider thermal cameras expensive, primarily because they compare them unfavorably with more familiar visible light cameras like those from Canon or Nikon. The truth is thermal imaging technology involves more advanced and specialized components than visible light cameras, making thermal cameras more expensive to manufacture. Here are the breakdown of the detailed reasons.

Specialized Components And Materials

Infrared Detector

At the core of thermal imaging technology is the thermal detectors. They are made of very exotic materials such as vanadium monoxide, which is rarer and more costly than the silicon used in traditional visible light cameras. The material is more sensitive to infrared radiation, allowing the camera to easily detect heat emitted by objects.

Germanium Lens

As regular glasses blocks infrared light, thermal cameras require lenses that can allow infrared wavelength to pass through, which regular glass cannot do. The Germanium, a metalloid with high refractive index is used instead to enable high amount of IR transmission, which is an expensive type of material costing about $1,500 per kilogram in its raw states, and the price escalates even further after shaping and refining the material into precise thermal lens.

Advanced Manufacturing Process

Limited Production Quantity

The thermal imaging sensors are produced in much lower quantities compared to the CCD sensors due to the rarity of material and complexity of manufacturing techniques. The small-scale of production makes it precious and prevents cost reductions that are typically found in mass production.

Complex Assembly Requirement

The assembly of thermal cameras is conducted in a meticulously controlled environments to avoid any contamination. Components like the thermal sensor also requires additional system for cooling integrated into the device to eliminate noises and ensure imaging accuracy. This increases the complexity and cost of the device.

Research and Development

Continuous Innovation

The development of thermal imaging technology means continuous R&D investments. The improvement of core specifications such as thermal resolution, NETD, pixel pitch necessitates constant upgrades of the technology, which contributes to the rise o the costs.  

Custom Algorithms

Unlike visible like cameras, thermal cameras need advanced imaging processing algorithm to process the thermal data into clear images. These algorithms are tailored to each model’s hardware and require doing lots of testing, leading to the increase of the cost that adds to the price tag of thermal cameras.

Regulatory And Market Factor

Compliance And Standard

Thermal cameras must comply with rigorous industry standard of quality and regulations, which involves myriads testing to ensure safety and efficacy. This generates considerable costs associated with the process.

Niche Market Dynamics

The demand for thermal cameras is increasingly higher these days than before, while the field of thermal imaging remains relatively niche compared to general photography equipment. Very few manufacturers across the world excel in the field, resulting in limited supply of the products. The limited supply and high demand of the advanced technology can drive up the costs and influence the overall costs.

The Benefits of Thermal Imaging Cameras

Despite the high price tag of thermal cameras, thermal imaging technology provides people with various benefits and transcends human vision to a whole new level.

Enhanced Vision in Darkness

Thermal cameras rely solely on heat rather than visible light to create images, which allows people see in complete darkness or very low light conditions, making continuous monitoring and surveillance during nighttime a breeze.

Immune to Visual Camouflage

Traditional cameras rely on visible light and people are easily misled by camouflage or blending of patterns of similar colors. In contrast, thermal cameras detect heat signature that cannot be concealed by the visual camouflage.

See Through Obstructions

Thermal cameras are not affected by common visual obstructions such as fog, smoke, dust, rain, or dense foliage and can see though them where traditional cameras cannot.

Cost-effective Coverage

Thermal cameras have the ability to detect activities from much greater distance and more expansive areas. Therefore, for protection and security purpose, fewer thermal cameras are needed to monitor the area of same perimeter as would be needed with conventional CCTV system. This reduces the overall costs of installation and maintenance of cameras.

Reduction of False Alarm

In protection and security system, thermal cameras can produce high-contrast videos and images in the night, which are processed by the analytic software to detect threats at much higher accuracy, decreasing the number of false alarms that can be costly and waste security resources.

What Are Thermal Imaging Devices Used for

Today, the thermal imaging camera find wide range of applications. These uses include:

Hunting and outdoor observation: Thermal cameras are perfect for hunting and other outdoor activities, allowing easy detection and tracking of wildlife even through dense foliage or adverse weather conditions.

Search and rescue missions: thermal cameras enable teams to effortlessly locate humans and animals by their heat signatures in search rescue missions.

Military application and law enforcement: in tactical and law enforcement context, thermal imaging can help in detecting concealed weapons and suspects.

Private and commercial security: thermal cameras offer long-range and high-accuracy detection capability, ensuring reliable security for homes and business regardless of darkness and obstructive weather conditions.

Industrial inspection and maintenance: effectively used to detect overheating in electrical circuits and machinery, thermal cameras streamlines the diagnostics and maintenance routines in industrial contexts, preventing failures and saving on costly repairs.

Home inspection: thermal camera can efficiently check air leaks and insulation flaws in your home, reducing energy costs. It also aids in HVAC inspection to ensure the health and safety of your home comfort system.

The Best Thermal Cameras

If you are looking for perfect thermal cameras for hunting and outdoor context, look no further than the Mileseey TNV30 thermal monocular. A F1.0 Germanium lens allows for over 90% IR transmission. Coupled with 384*256 Vanadium Oxide thermal sensor and in-house developed cutting-edge image-processing algorithm, the TNV30 offers unprecedentedly clear images, detecting up to 1,300 yards distance in total darkness. 

The TNV30 also features a top-notch laser rangefinder add-on that allows you to accurately measure the distance to the targets, eliminating the guessing of distance estimation and putting you dead on in your hunting.

The Mileseey TNV256i is also your perfect hunting companion. It is an advanced portable thermal camera for smart phone for hunting purposes. The top-of-the-line F1.0 lens enables unrivaled IR transmission and image clarity. The 8x zoom capability, plus the hot spot tracking function allows for easy and swift spotting and identification of your prey. The advanced GPS function aids in real-time tracking of location, allowing you to freely stalk in unfamiliar terrains or vast wilderness areas.


The relatively high expense of thermal cameras can be attributed to a number of factors, including the rarity of manufacturing materials, intricate manufacturing process and techniques, significant investment in R&D, adherence to quality and regulatory standards, and the dymanics of market demand and supply.

Although the initial expensive appear high, it is important to consider the wide range of application and long-term benefits that the advanced technology offers. A thermal camera is definitely a product of high investment return.