SOME NOTES ABOUT IR CAMERAS




A note regards IR cameras .........


IR cams are not cheap pieces of hardware – usually beyond the budget of DIY’ers and hobby flyers – or, need they be?

Most IR cams are sold through resellers i.e. companies that have nothing to do with the production of the camera, or its components – they sell it on behalf of a “camera manufacturer”, and I put camera manufacturer in inverted comma’s because the camera manufacturer is quite often is not the manufacturer of the components the camera is made of – except the frame or chassis.

There are few so-called “manufacturers” who make image sensors and engines (the electronics that drive image sensors). Most “manufacturers” buy in the image sensors and IR engines they use from a component manufacturer, and package the components into an end-user product e.g. an IR camera. Most “manufacturers” also couple the hardware parts they buy in with specific software, enabling their IR camera to undertake specific tasks, or package the hardware they buy in, in a specific way so that it is ideal for certain applications.

The point of all this is: doing your homework and a little online research can usually enable you to chase back a particular IR camera to the component manufacturers – and if you can chase back an IR camera to the company that makes the IR engine and the image sensor, subject to your skill level with electronics (meaning: your ability to package the engine & sensor into a suitable chassis/frame, choose a suitable F stop lens and add a suitable power supply), you could save yourself a load of money - as much as 60% or more what it would otherwise have cost you to purchase that same IR camera as a completed end-user product.


Considering what IR cam’s cost, it’s a saving not to be sneezed at – often running  into anything from $1500 - $4000 dollars or more for a decent quality off-the-shelf IR cam.


In response to a recent thread asking about IR cams on DIY DRONES, I undertook some online research and made a few phone calls  – into 4 different IR cams which would be suitable for DIY use i.e. that were made of components an experienced DIY’er could couple together into a completed and working IR cam . I restricted the options to image sensors and engines that were manufactured by the same manufacturer, and which are offered as a pair to camera manufacturers. This ensures these 2 essential components work together properly. You do not want to get involved in trying to couple IR engines to IR image sensors that are not specifically designed to work together. While not impossible to do, it requires a comprehensive understanding of the subject and opens up a minefield of compatibility issues – well beyond the scope of most DIY’ers.

At the bottom of the range (i.e. the cheapest cam), tracing the retailed camera back to it’s source components (namely the IR engine and the image sensor) represented a outlay of $1681, and a saving of just over $2600 against what a finished camera containing the same components in question cost. Granted, this was a Far Eastern manufactured image sensor and IR engine, but that those same parts are used in IR cameras sold in the West under Western brand names used primarily by public service type organizations e.g. search & rescue bodies, fire brigades … etc….. and which are accepted as good quality products i.e. good for purpose – they do what they are designed to do.

At the top of the range the outlay was $3416 for the IR engine and image sensor directly from the manufacturer, which represented a saving over buying a finished IR camera containing the same engine and sensor of $3700.

I should add – if anyone is wondering just how much work would have been required to get these components into working form as a camera – that all that was/is required would be the construction of a chassis/frame to hold the parts together, along with a suitable thread/coupling for whatever lens you decided to use, and last but not least the addition of a suitable regulated power supply.  There was no firmware/software setup required – they were all strictly speaking hardware projects.

Video output in all examples was/is standard analogue PAL and/or NTSC format at 25hertz and 30hertz respectively, and the image sensors were all 640 x 480 pixel size.


The key to pulling off a project like this successfully lies in doing your research – make absolutely sure that what you get in hand are components within your skill level, or components that are within skill levels you would have access to via 3rd parties e.g. friends or fellow university students. Many IR engine and image sensor packages do require firmware and/or software setup, and some even require application writing to get working correctly. Failure to do this could well mean you land up with a handful of expensive and useless electronic components. Select carefully though, and you can save yourself are rather significant amount of cash – to spend elsewhere on your project.


Patrick

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