Advanced Imaging


Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 09:49 AM CDT

From Home Security to Homeland Security

Day or night, thermal security cameras keep watch on the borders and in your neighborhoods
FLIR Systems
Thermal security cameras make video images from heat, not reflected light, so they can see clearly night and day.
Figure 2: Right:Security lights and infrared illuminators (image on left)leave large areas uncovered that intruders can exploit to gain access to sensitive facilities.
Thermal security cameras are available in dome, fixed-site, pan/tilt, and handheld configurations.
Fixed-site thermal security cameras provide constant surveillance over fixed points like access areas and sensitive facilities. This one is watching over a sensitive harbor entrance.
Inexpensive hand-held thermal cameras provide 24-hour vision to homeowners and security professionals alike.

By David Lee

Reaction Time

Thermal security cameras give you the power to see intruders earlier and react faster than any other visual solution. As a homeowner, this gives you time to make sure your loved ones are safe and call the police, while security professionals can react more effectively— responding to threats with the appropriate force, and using agency resources more efficiently.

This is one reason why thermal security cameras have been widely adopted as the imaging technology of choice in response to federal regulations requiring uninterrupted video surveillance coverage, like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s requirement that nuclear facilities provide continuous 24-hour surveillance, observation, and monitoring of their perimeter and control areas. Thermal cameras have become integral parts of the Delay, Detect, Respond strategy; their increased detection range giving security forces more time to respond, contain, and neutralize adversaries before they can access or damage nuclear materials or facilities.


Midwave or longwave? Cooled or uncooled? What resolution? How big a lens? Choosing a thermal security camera can seem like a complicated undertaking at first, but keeping practical considerations, instead of technical attributes, as the primary driver can help to simplify things considerably. (As an aside, it should be noted that the following information will necessarily deal in generalities. Exceptions exist for many of these generalities, but looking at the broader picture will help to simplify the discussion.)

Which is better, cooled or uncooled? Thermal security cameras are either cooled or uncooled, referring to whether the infrared detector at the heart of the camera’s sensor needs to be cooled in order to create an image. Which type of imager is better depends largely on the needs of the specific application; each has advantages and weaknesses.

Cooled cameras are more sensitive to small differences in scene temperature than are uncooled cameras, meaning that they can see smaller objects from farther away, making cooled cameras more suitable for extremely long-range imaging in low-contrast environments. However, the cryocoolers used in these cameras have moving parts made to exacting mechanical tolerances that can wear out over time, requiring periodic maintenance as they get older. Often, a cooled imager’s life-limiting part will be the cooler itself or some component within it.

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