What’s to like:
Great Built Quality
Great design, slim and ergonomic
Temp range up to 650°C standard
Excellent user interface
What’s not to like:
Level and span adjustment is awkward
Visual and Thermal Image save as separate files
Onscreen colour/palettes not very bright or intense
Need to pay for good software
Otherwise know as FLIR’s Exx Series, these are an impressive piece of kit. For those of you who have read my Flir E30 review you will know I am very fond of this platform. Unfortunately the E30 and E30BX has recently been discontinued, so now the entry level model variant is the FLIR E40 (160×120), followed by the Flir E50 (240×180) and the top of the line model is the Flir E60 (320×240). The primary difference between all these models is the detector performance which I have noted in parenthesis (), each improving in resolution and sensitivity as you move up the range. With the E30 gone from the lineup it’s certainly much harder to determine the “value point” in the range.
The focus of this review is the Flir E60 and Flir E60bx model, although most of my comments apply across the range of models. The E60 isn’t cheap, but you are certainly getting a quality instrument for the money, and it does provide arguable better value than the FLIR T420.
The Flir E60 sports the largest size detector, 320×240 resolution with a 50mk sensitivity. This image is similar to what you would get from the Flir T420 and 440 models. Unfortunately at this price point we’ve started to see some pretty stunning imagery in the market place. While this is certainly not on par with the Testo 885’s 30mk of thermal sensitivity, it does a respectable job and is certainly up to the standard of the electro/mechanical audience’s expectations for image quality.
The “bx” variants are for building diagnostics, so they earn some extra sensitivity in the order of 45mk. In real terms it’s pretty hard to see the extra 5mk in performance, but every ounce counts.
The E50/E50bx sits in “no mans land” for me. It’s too mediocre yet it still has a big price tag. If you are going to outlay big cash, get the E60… if you are going to be a tight wad, go the E40… the middle ground you are getting neither value nor the high image quality, so don’t sit on the fence.
Once again, it’s the “quality feel” that is so striking with this camera. Flir have stuck with the brands traditional values of manufacture and produced a very high quality piece of kit. It shows in all aspects of the design and you would happily part with your money for this unit. The camera is typically unremarkable in that it does what all it’s competitors promise, but what really sets this camera apart is the build quality and ergonomics. The feel is solid and robust, with an abundance of soft touch rubber and plastics. The lines are sleek and for a unit with a decent size screen it is very compact.
What seems a little out of character is the sharp clicking sound the buttons make and they do “wobble” around a bit in their placeholder. It is a noticeable contrast to the rest of the “solid” feel the unit exudes. On the plus side there is a dedicated button for the laser pointer which is a really nice feature.
The casing is sturdy and very well finished. All the joins and plastics align nicely and the unit just “exudes” quality. The connections and interfaces (ie power, USB etc) are housed behind a nicely latched door with a solid rubber seal for keeping the nasty stuff out. It’s on a decent hinge, so it’s unlikely to fail as quickly as some of the “rubber” hinged doors found on many entry level cameras. (see image below)
The only major design aspect that concerns me is the battery bay. While the hinged door and opening mechanism is wonderfully sleek and well crafted into the design, my main apprehension lies with the battery ejections. By pulling on a plastic tab you “lift” the battery out of the body, similar to those found on mobile phones.While this works tremendously well on a mobile phone who’s battery stays in place for most of it’s life, Thermal Imagers have batteries swapped in/out several times per day (or job) and I can’t see this withstanding the daily rigors of battery swapping… only time will tell.* Beyond that, the battery delivers a whopping 4 hours of use, and for a majority of users (ie plant maintenance) they will simply charge the battery inside the camera between uses.
The screen display and menu system is excellent. Accessed via Touch screen or keypad control the primary menu system presents itself on the left hand side with an array of Icons designating the functions of Parameters, Palette, Analysis, Camera Selection and Setup Tools. Being Icon based those not familiar with Infrared cameras may take a little while to understand what the icons mean. However once into the submenus everything is very well laid out and intuitive to navigate.
Overall the user interface is excellent. My only issue is the utilisation of traditional level and span control. My own preference is to control the minimum and maximum temperature range individually (or independently) from one another to optimise the sensitivity of the camera. In Auto Mode most cameras attain the bottom of the range correctly (Tmin) and all that requires tweaking is the top of the range (Tmax). In most cases “tweaks” are required to reduce imager brightness on hot targets to reveal the hottest spot. With the E30 when I need to adjust my top range (either through level or span) it shifts the bottom as well, which consequently then needs readjustment. This is a little old school and frustrating.
In terms of viewing quality, the screen is bright and clear and overall the presentation is excellent. Noticeably the colours are dull compared to some other brands and I am not sure if this is a screen output issue or the choice of FLIR’s colour palettes, but other brands certainly are a little more vivid. My only other criticism is that some of the smaller fonts and onscreen details lack clarity. It appears that resolution is not sufficient to support some of the smaller characters, ie like the word “box” or “max” temperature indicator is very pixelated.* Nevertheless these are superfluous to the primary functions.
The focus mechanism is another standout feature with the lens shrouded in a large rubber ring. It’s very easy to get your hands around, especially if you were wearing safety gloves etc.** Most importantly it allows good “feel” for obtaining a cleanly focused image.* For those who have read my other reviews you would know this is the single most important aspect of image capture! Additionally the “expensive” lens material is well recessed in the lens housing, so it is kept safely away from incidental contact with objects.
What about the Tech?
The Flir Exx range is loaded with Tech… but honestly it doesn’t impress me. MSX, bluetooth and wifi all sound nice, but how exactly do I apply it in the real world? As a thermographer for almost two decades I simply don’t rate it.
MSX or multi spectral imaging is the term Flir use for blending the thermal and visual image together as well and rendering aspects of the visual into the thermal. I’ve discussed image blending functions before and if you want my take on them you can read more here… http://cita.org.au/showthread.php?10…ectral-Imaging
As far as the wifi to Ipad/iPhone app goes, it’s good in principle but fails the litmus test. My ipad is only a better interface if the thermal imager’s is insufficient. If I can easily browse my images and show my customer what I’ve found during my survey on my camera why would I need an ipad? When my camera cannot. Good cameras, with good screens and good user interfaces can review images just as well as an ipad.
“Yeah, but I can do a report on my ipad” I hear you say. Can you? have you tried it? are you ready to hand “that” over to a customer? I dare you.
There is no substitute for a PC here, and all attempts I have seen at performing a report on an IPAD app will result in a document that does not meet the standard levels for compliance. Have you included load measurements? load corrected maximum temperatures? target identification? environmental factors? summary of images? Inventory list? analysis of thermal pattern? comparison to historical data? and other standard compliant data?
I do like Bluetooth or wifi when I can download imagery without having to “connect physically” to my PC.
Other great features include the 3.1 megapixel camera and super bright LED which creates a crisp, clear visual image, even in low light. The text and voice annotations work the best of almost any system I have seen. Still, I would not use them because you can’t document the status and condition of equipment that you are not capturing a thermal image for. I still need a better method for data collection for all the non-exception items. This is something I have not seen any manufacturer sufficiently address.
The standard temperature range is up to 650°C which is a real bonus.
For information on the software suite I will review this separately as it applies to the entire series.
Value for money will depend on what you value. If a quality built long lasting tool is more important than image quality, then this will be the unit for you.
Overall you would not be disappointed in owning this camera. Sure, you can get more for less but it wouldn’t be a Flir then, would it?