If you think this camera bears a striking resemblance to the American based PTI-170, or the SDS Hotfind then you would be spot on. The OEM of this particular product is SAT Infrared in Guangdong province China. Regardless of it’s incarnation, the core functionality and the performance of the camera is the same. Quality control may vary depending on the actual vendor, as does the software offered by each of the final market vendors.
For this review I will be focusing on the IC80 LV model from the German Vendor, Trotec.
All anyone cares about is the image… is it any good?
When it comes to the image, there is no denying that the Trotec IC80 LV produces a stunning image. The 384×288 pixel image from the French Sofradir (ULIS) detector produces 33,792 pixels more than it’s American rivals of a 320×240 nature. That’s 44% more!! And it shows. The image is sharper and crisper than most. With a spatial resolution of 1.0 mrad with the standard 24° lens, electric motors and switchboard components almost jump of the screen with clarity and definition. You would expect this from much more expensive cameras, but not at this price point. I would also say the thermal sensitivity of 0.08°C is a very conservative value as this camera delivers very crisp imagery with minimal noise on the bright and vibrant 3.5 inch screen. The screen is better than most outdoors, but also comes equipped with a very practical sunshield. It is actually a moulded rubber “boot” that slides over the screen, rather than a clip on device which makes it even more effective than most. To top it off, the screen articulates (bends and tilts) through almost 180° of movement which is very convenient.
For industrial applications, the imaging is outstanding. For building diagnostic applications it’s a different story altogether. When using the camera one can only think… “how can it be this cheap?”. It soon becomes evident when imaging building structures and it is hard to disguise the poor uniformity or drift on the detector. All detectors will drift and cause non-uniformity in the image, however it is the quality build and design of a unit that determines just how much image degradation you will see as a result of this phenomenon. With the Trotec IC80 LV it is significant. Having seen and used dozens of these models, I can attest that they all exhibit the same performance and is not just an anomaly of my test camera. As you can see from the images below, the concentric rings show regions of slightly different temperature caused by drift or non uniformity on the detector. This is a simple test, where you can place the lens cap back on the camera and allow the camera to auto scale it’s temperature settings to this surface. The lens cap provides a rudimentary uniform surface and should be close to ambient temperature (assuming it hasn’t been in your pocket). With this test we are able to clearly see the camera’s natural drift and non-uniformity. Now, while we don’t typically capture images across such narrow temperature intervals, take a look at the scenes captured in a regular domestic structure. The thermal rings, or drift appears in those images also.
Trotec IC80 LV with lens cap installed.
IPI-R9 w/ Lens Cap Installed
IC080-LV Thermal Image 1
IC080-LV Thermal Image of Door
In low or narrow temperature applications, image uniformity becomes a significant issue.
IC080-LV Low/Narrow Temperature Applications Thermal Image
In this higher temp application, drift or poor uniformity is a non issue.
IC080-LV Thermal Image of Kettle
IC080-LV Thermal Image of Kettle 2
With this in mind, I would not be using this camera for building thermography or any application that required a narrow temperature interval. As soon as a wider temperature interval is used, the drift issue disappears and is of no consequence. As such, those using the camera for electrical and mechanical predictive maintenance will be unaffected by this characteristic. With this is mind, the camera is still delivering A LOT of image for the price.
Is that a 3.5 inch screen?
The new models have received a 3.5 inch screen which is a huge improvement over the previous 2.5 inch size. With this screen size we are afforded much larger alpha numeric details which is a welcome arrival. The screen brightness is excellent, visibility in sunlight is quite good, and this is aided by the addition of a sunshield for outdoor use.
Is it easy to use?
The Trotec IC80LV utilises a fairly common user interface, that is both easy to use and intuitive. Button loads are well shared across more than 8 buttons and a user defined trigger function. I am a big fan of distributing button loads… buttons tend to last longer and functionality is generally increased. A well spaced up/down left/right keypad at the centre of the controls handles the main navigation, while an enter button at the centre of this confirms the selection. Well placed C (cancel), Save (S) button and Power buttons are hard to miss. The menu system itself is not as well engineered with some of the menu headings being less than intuitive, and important settings being stored in obscure sub-menus that you would not think to look in. For example when changing the colour palette you must select “SETUP” then “OTHER” amongst folders with more intuitive headings such as Analysis. Emissivity is stored under “Obj Par” short for object parameters, and to change temperature ranges you will need to locate the menu folder Manual Adj (manual adjust). It is all there, just perhaps not as well organised or intuitive as I would like it.
Once you are familiar with the camera and know where everything is stored it is no problem. However if you are an occasional user, and may only pick the unit up a few times each month you may struggle to remember where everything is “hidden”.
A nice function of the trigger button is that the user can customise it’s control. Save, Laser, Lighting On, or Adjust (Calibrate), can be assigned to the button. Strangely, the function “none” can be assigned to this button, which of course is “useless” in the ultimate sense of the word.
The design of the Trotec IC80LV is often referred to as a “pistol” style camera, because of the similarity in grip. This provides a very natural, strong and positive feel to holding the camera.
The ergonomics are very natural in this style of camera. All the buttons are in easy reach of my thumb, and I can perform most functions with a single hand, which conveniently leaves the other one free. Focusing cannot be achieved single handed, meaning two handed operation is required for this. It’s not a deal breaker, but for improved safety (ie so you can hang on to a safety rail etc) and control, single handed operation is nice.
Is the onboard digital camera up to the task?
The Trotec IC80LV has all the gadgets you would expect such as built in digital camera, LED illuminator, laser pointer and Voice recording. . The visual camera is a adequate 640×480 visual camera with a single super bright LED to provide illumination in low light conditions. Most cameras now are being released with “megapixel quality” so an upgrade in the future would be well appreciated. Never-the-less at this price point, one really can’t complain.
The integration of these “gadgets” do let the Trotec IC80LV down. You get the feeling they have been “bolted on” in an after-thought or “me too” fashion, as they don’t perform instinctively with the rest of the units functions.
For one, when using the camera in FULL infrared mode (ie no visual blending), the IC80LV will NOT simultaneously capture the thermal and visual images. Most thermal imagers equipped with a visual camera will automatically capture both images, which is very convenient. Instead with the Trotec IC80LV one must select “Visual Mix” from the menu which is a visual/thermal blended image or “fusion” function that combines the two modes. In this mode the camera will capture both thermal and visual images simultaneously. Those familiar with fusion know it’s a bit naïf to use during actual operation. For most “fusion functions” your thermal image is reduced to ¼ (approx) of the viewing area, and if you choose to “blend the image” with visual information you can easily obscure subtle thermal patterns with this visual interference. To the newcomer, “Fusion” as the industry terms it, is very exciting if you have never seen it before. It’s nothing new (it has actually been around for more than a decade), but experienced operators know that it soon becomes an operational impediment.
What is the file format?
Once the Trotec IC80LV is setup to captures both images, it does so independently of one another. It first saves the thermal image with a *.SAT extension and then saves the visual image with a *.CCD extension. Annoyingly neither of these image formats is a jpeg file, meaning you must have the proprietary software installed to view the images. The contrast here is that most brands of thermal imagers imbed the visual image with the thermal, which means you get 1 file that contains both images. This is much simpler for file management and you never have to go and search for the associated visual image or risk accidental loss. If you plan on doing a high level or reporting, this aspect of file management really lets this camera down.
The camera saves these images to a 2GB Mini SD card. Storage capacity is claimed at approx 1000 images which is more than enough. My only gripe is that the Mini SD card does not fit into most standard card readers. You must use an SD card adapter. Like the card, the adapter is a tiny little thing and is easily lost. I have lost dozens of adapters, and found you can only buy them with new cards (ie adapters aren’t sold separately) which is a little frustrating. To add to my memory card woes, I have found that only one brand of card works, and these Mini SD types are increasingly difficult to come by.
Is that a light?
Another disappointing control aspect is turning the LED light on and off. The only way I have found this to be possible is assigning “lighting on” function to the trigger key. This means of course sacrificing it’s use for other functions, such as the laser pointer. Again, the laser can only be enabled on the trigger key, so when you choose one function, you loose the other. Frustrating if you want both.
The unit would certainly benefit from some more flexibility of function control in the menu. You should at least be able to access “lighting” and “laser” through some other means, thus utilising them both at the same time.
I don’t need bells and whistles, I need it to be tough!
A real surprise at this price point is the build quality. This model line has benefited from a long history that spans more than 6 years in production. Subsequently it is quite well refined and components that were prone to failure have long been updated or re-designed. Anyone with concerns about reliability or longevity need not worry. Parts are easily available and the units are serviced world-wide. The cases are very robust and the body is solidly put together. Rubber has been suitably applied to areas most likely to take an impact (lens, screen, base handle) which means these units perform well in harsher environments.
Are the batteries easily available?
Another real bonus is that the camera utilises standard Sony type lithium ion batteries. They are virtually available on every shop corner, and aftermarket ones are relatively cheap. This is great for those who plan on long term ownership. Long after the model has been discontinued and forgotten, chances are you will still be able to buy batteries for it. This is something that let’s many cameras down that rely on proprietary styled and manufactured batteries.
A 240 volt power supply (mains supply) is not standard with this unit. It must be ordered separately. Beware if you are thinking of using an aftermarket power supply. I have been personally informed by the manufacturer’s representative that warranty support may be compromised if aftermarket power supplies have been used. By the genuine unit and you will avoid any such risk.
What about additional lenses?
The Trotec IC80LV does have optional lenses including a 12° telephoto and 48° wide angle. The lens system is screwed or threaded into the body, so to interchange a lens the original lens must be unscrewed. This exposes the detector to the elements, which is never recommended. If necessary this must be done in a very clean and hazard free environment and I would not recommend this as a “field” interchangeable system. The threaded system is time consuming and you risk the chance of cross threading or damaging the fine threads. This is in steep contrast to the more modern “bayonet style disconnects” found on many systems (similar to that of modern SLR cameras). In all, if you regularly need to swap between lenses, I would investigate other models that were better suited to the task.
What about the software?
On the hardware side of things, despite some of the design limitations you would be well pressed to find anything better for the price. That said, the standard software leaves a lot to be desired. The software is not really worthy of a detailed critique other than to say if you need to do any level of professional reporting, then this is not for you. Sure, it has all the regular analysis functions and image adjustment capability… but so does everyone else. What lets the standard package down is a lack of “multi page” reporting to allow the user to “easily” generate a multi image/page report. This is a standard offering by most manufacturers these days.
The manufacturer does offer a “Professional Software Suite” but this suite is expensive. No one minds paying for good software, but a significant detractor of this package is that it requires a “USB hardware watchdog” or “dongle” that must be plugged into your PC every time you want to use the software. This is very inconvenient for users who share the camera, or utilise it across multiple PC’s. For example you might use it on the desktop in the office, but then also need to use it from your laptop in the field. You may work remotely and need to email your images back to another user in a different location. Without the watchdog installed the software will not run. If you need another watchdog, you got it, pay up please. Not impressed.
That said, the “PRO” software does a respectable job of multipage reporting, even if it does have some quirks and detractors.