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Posted: 8/10/2014 9:04:41 AM EDT
Up till now I've payed more attention to NV and not at all to thermal. Like most I think the price always scared me too much to even look at it. So what do I need to know? Besides open my wallet and bend over of course. Any good resources I should be looking at? Also probably going to buy used, so what do I need to look out for? School me hive.
Link Posted: 8/10/2014 9:12:46 AM EDT
[#1]
Being a complete thermal dummy. I don't know much at all, but that IR Hunter looks pretty awesome. The screen display and reticle give it a Robocop futuristic type feeling!
Link Posted: 8/10/2014 9:16:33 AM EDT
[#2]
Link Posted: 8/10/2014 3:00:28 PM EDT
[#3]
A copy paste from another member or former member
07-11-12
Just like an image intensified NVD a thermal imager has quite a few parameters that dictate performance (detection range). If you are looking for a thermal imager these are important because you are fixing to spend several thousand dollars on any TI and a buyer should start with three simple questions:

1) what do I intend to do with a thermal imager?
2) what do I want the thermal imager to do?
2) how much do I have to spend?

That seems like its over simplifying but by answering these questions you can figure out why a (for example)320x240 thermal imager costs anywhere from $2.8k to $15k+. Moore's Law would affect thermal imagers like it does computers but for the fact that the vast majority of TI research funding came from DOD/DARPA instead of from commercial sources.

By far the major cost of the inside of thermal imager comes from the detector, lenses (germanium glass) and the display. The housing can be expensive as well but I am speaking about the internal parts at this point. DOD wanted thermal imagers that were lighter, smaller (and cheaper) when you buy a TI today the technology inside it is a trickle down from those directives. The size and performance is usually tied directly to the cost. A small, high end thermal is going to cost a lot. A $12k 320x240 Insight MTM is not the same thermal imager as a $3k FLIR 320x240 PS-32. Typically speaking again, if you buy a small TI that is low cost it will not perform like a larger model in the same price range- you'll be giving up something. In the PS-32's case its detection range and the refresh rate (a lower frame rate- more similar to a gas station security system- and that's being a little harsh but you get my point)
One way to look at it is that dollars buy smaller packages as much as they buy performance.

The PS-24 has a lower resolution like 240x180 the reason its a weird resolution is because FLIR did the same thing that L3 did years ago- it was a cost saving measure. When L3 or FLIR manufacturer these detectors some of them come off the line with bad pixels in the array, usually at the edge of the detector. So instead of tossing them in the trash can they built a unit around them- al la the PS-24. FLIR has creamed the market with the price of the PS-24 and PS-32 because they used a pretty good core from Indigo (FLIR bought them) coupled with a small objective lens. Price point tends to be a big part of any sale and FLIR's price makes it attractive, it also makes it harder for vendors to explain the advantages of a more expensive system- there is a big difference between the low cost units and the more expensive TI's but the cheap ones have their place- if you only need to look a short distance the PS-24 or the PS-32 might fit the bill. A lot of our customers need to look farther out here in Texas so we tend to sell longer range systems.

Here's a really brief overview when it comes to TI specs- this is not all encompassing and other factors come into play but its good to look at these on a spec sheet before you buy. Thermal imaging units can look very similar on paper side by side and operate very differently when out in the field- I think its at very least difficult to compare systems solely based on spec sheets.

Resolution- Reso ranges between 100x80 and 640x480. 1024x768 detectors are out but you will need to rob a few liquor stores before you buy one. 320x240 is probably the most common with 640x480 growing as it gets less expensive. 640x480 detectors seem like they would be twice as nice on paper(or 4 times if you can multiply) but looking though them the user notices that objects closer to the user tend to look better than 320x240 reso and then typically flatten out and only look marginally better at longer ranges. That seems counter intuitive and could be subjective but that what most users see when you are comparing two units that have similar specs and magnification. The reason for this is that the higher resolution units can get away with smaller (cheaper, slower) objective lenses so manufacturers use it to keep costs down. If you buy a 640x480 unit with big expensive glass or add a $2k magnifier to it you will see bigger differences but now your at $15k again.

Refresh Rate- important. Faster is better, you can see about 24 frames a second. Anything slower can be annoying and the reason you see high end systems with 60Hz is because it allows for better scanning and viewing from moving vehicles. The FLIR PS series are 9Hz and that's a big gripe about the PS series. (low enough you can export 9Hz systems to friendly countries with a US Commerce license).

Magnification- This is important and like a camera you need to know the difference between optical mag and digital. A 2x digital zoom basically cuts your image quality in half verses optical zoom that will maintain the image quality but affect the field of view, like any daytime optical system would, like a rifle scope. I won't go as far as to say that digital zoom suck but its not very good, even on high res thermal imagers. The bad part about optical zoom is that the lens will get bigger and goes back to the cost. That lens on the W1000's you have seen online lately? It cost almost $4000 to produce that 100mm lens and you can smash it on the ground and the metal scrap yard will still give you about $1000 for the little pieces. Germanium is expensive, really expensive. This is where buyers make a mistake a lot of times. They buy a nice handheld TI that doesn't have enough lens. Sometimes you can add an afocal lens but the lens is very expensive as well. High resolution systems not withstanding you can usually assume that if the objective lens is smaller you can expect shorter detection ranges. Don't go buy a $8k COTI clip-on if you want to scan long distances across fields, buy one if you want a small, fused NV and thermal and look around short ranges. FLIR (or rather their vendor UMICORE) got the PS-24/32 cost down considerably by leaning to pour and polish the germanium lenses. They aren't a diamond point turned lens like larger lenses but hey the PS series still work, just at shorter ranges and slower refresh rates.

Detector pixel pitch (pitch, measured in microns)
Don't stress over it- its more about manufacturing and less about performance. You can make the detector smaller (or cheaper if you happen to be FLIR or L3) and it also relates to smaller cheaper glass again but it doesn't mean a lot in relation to what a user sees looking through the unit. Sales reps tout it but there just sales guys that regurgitate what they are told. a 17 micron pitch (about the smallest commercial pitch currently) will get you a smaller detector and this could be put in a smaller housing- that's really the primary advantage after you pay for it. If FLIR can fab more detectors on a single wafer and then they can sell them cheaper. Big Army agrees- while new 17 micron thermal weapons sights are fine thay won't pay even a nominal amount to upgrade their current 25 micron PAS-13's despite being hounded buy BAE, DRS and Raytheon, they couldn't see enough (or any) difference between 17 and 25 micron cores.

Sensitivity- This is important but you have to be careful because its a two edge sword. Sensitivity is important- it means most to the user when the humidity and ambient temperature is higher, allowing for better detection ranges. Bad part is a detector trades response time for sensitivity and now you have a new set of problems to deal with, you can end up in the same boat or even worse in some cases if you don't have a clever way to mask it with software. You FLIR M18/M24/307 owners will notice this, the sensitivity is good on all those units but at times the background (hell, sometimes foreground too) will 'wash out' at times and this its whats happening, a NUC calibration will sometimes clean it up, and sometimes won't, depending on conditions. Honestly, 30mK to 80mK is fine as long as the firmware is written well along with some other considerations. (ATN THOR customers should be reading this twice because ATN simply bought a detector [just the IC chip itself] from FLIR, in order to keep costs down and are now learning that those boards around the detector are important too.)

Detector type- This is a fight between FLIR, Raytheon, DOD, BAE and L3. All current and detector types work pretty well with small/minor differences. If any of the smart guys from above are reading this then I will get crappy PMs but in reality AS, VOx, BST all look pretty good when comparing them side by side. These different technologies do use different methods of non-uniformity calibration (recal) so you could argue about choppers and shutters vs manual recalibration but really the only topic a typical end user talks about is that the most widely used device- the shutter- drops in and freezes the picture frame about every 2 degrees or after a specified time (this is annoying). People have figured out that this happens a lot right when you don't want it to (when a lot of hot objects are running around on the display. This isn't Murphy's law, the unit is doing it on purpose at this point in time and its particularly annoying when you have a weapon sight. The military has noticed this too and now you have systems that you manually have to re-calibrate. This may be even MORE annoying because you have to remember to recal it every few minutes or the image slowly degrades with you finally remembering after you wonder what you have been missing because you forgot to cal the unit for the last 15 minutes.

Weapon Sights- this is especially important side note. If you want a weapon sight you should really take care in choosing a quality unit, the vast majority of commercial thermal weapon sights simply use an off-the-shelf detector and board set, add a reticle and a housing that will mount to a rifle, shoot it for a while and pray that they don't break under recoil. There are several SH members that work for several different DOD thermal weapon sight manufacturers here besides me and all of them will tell you the same thing- ALL of our companies spent a massive amount of money (think of it as a pretty large percent of the overall cost) to ensure a recoil rated sight for military use. Even the detectors themselves are designed different and you blow up a thermal imaging weapon sight on a rifle you just broke the part that costs the most in the system. There are some commercial units out there that are holding up to decent recoil but they are generally the more expensive units. A thermal weapon sight is great because its extremely fast at detecting and getting on target and its by far easier to video your night time pig killing rampage but unless you by a 3x optical unit or better you are going to be shooting at relatively short (~120 to 150 yards at 2x)ranges. 640x480 is pretty much the top resolution and it still lags behind a night vision device but again the thermal imager is extremely fast when it comes to target acquisition.

All in all, try to look through the system you want to buy, or talk to someone that has looked through a lot of different thermal imagers so they can relay the differences between the systems. I didn't discuss the displays, the user menus and other features that also can affect your viewing pleasure (or displeasure). I hope this helps and if you have a question about specific imager or TI's in general give me a PM. I know a bit about them, a bit about the industry technology and I have had an opportunity to use a lot of different models. Hope this didn't make you eyes glaze over and for those of you thinking about a thermal imager, I hope this was informative.

Jason
Link Posted: 8/10/2014 5:20:57 PM EDT
[#4]
Short Story:  Rent before you buy.






Longer story:




Decide if you want a weapon mount or a handheld.




Decide what magnification you want.  (Higher mag is not always better here)




Decide if you can afford a 640 or not.  It about doubles the price.  My advice is that 320 resolution is good enough, 640 is really nice.




Decide what brand to get.  Again, TRY BEFORE YOU BUY.  

Most thermal devices have the same detector specs between brands since they are almost all using the same or similar detectors.  The difference is going to be in warranty, price, features, housing, display, etc.







Did I mention that you should try it before you buy it?
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 8:02:16 AM EDT
[#5]
My handheld thermal monocular gets a LOT more use, by a factor of 10:1. I don't have a lot of time for hunting, and we have a busy farm where I always carry the handheld so I can spot when necessary. You just can't do that with a weapon- mounted unit. It fits in your pocket and is ready to go  when you are. A 320 unit is perfect and is all you'll need for 95% of any application you can think of. An x320 or pulsar unit should be more than fine and it won't set you back more than three or four grand.
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 8:41:55 AM EDT
[#6]
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 10:06:06 AM EDT
[#7]
Is there any way to mount one to a helmet or other type of head gear?

Would that even be a good thing?
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 10:10:29 AM EDT
[#8]
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 10:41:06 AM EDT
[#9]
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 12:06:14 PM EDT
[#10]
Thanks for all the help guys. I've been chatting with Vic a little and I think a 320 will do just fine. I mainly want it for scanning/observation when looking for night critters, and then can use my NV for positive ID. I'd really like to try before I buy but currently I'm the only one I know who even has NODs let alone thermal. I'm in MA, is there anywhere close that has items desplayed?
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 2:07:27 PM EDT
[#11]
If you in Ohio you can try mine :)  Its a 320, 30hz unit.
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 2:40:48 PM EDT
[#12]
Thanks, but I'm a long way away from you. East coast isn't the hotbed of night hunting that other places are unfortunately. Maybe I'll make another thread addressing this, because it would be nice to meet up with other nocturnal east coaster's.
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 2:42:23 PM EDT
[#13]
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Quoted:
Is there any way to mount one to a helmet or other type of head gear?

Would that even be a good thing?
View Quote






and my favorite but not for us mere mortals the SKEETIR on the right and a "THE HORTA Special" on the left

Link Posted: 8/11/2014 3:03:40 PM EDT
[#14]
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Quoted:
and my favorite but not for us mere mortals the SKEETIR on the right and a "THE HORTA Special" on the left
http://i62.tinypic.com/2zs6u79.jpg
View Quote


What would say to the irony that I'm tracking a SKEETIR acquisition at this very moment?  

Just being able to duplicate that photo on my very own melon is motivation.  
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 3:30:52 PM EDT
[#15]
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Quoted:


What would say to the irony that I'm tracking a SKEETIR acquisition at this very moment?  

Just being able to duplicate that photo on my very own melon is motivation.  
View Quote View All Quotes
View All Quotes
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Quoted:
Quoted:
and my favorite but not for us mere mortals the SKEETIR on the right and a "THE HORTA Special" on the left
http://i62.tinypic.com/2zs6u79.jpg


What would say to the irony that I'm tracking a SKEETIR acquisition at this very moment?  

Just being able to duplicate that photo on my very own melon is motivation.  


SKEETIR VO (viewer only) or the real deal SKEETIR. If you get the SKEETIR I just do not want to be you, I will be you
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 3:49:18 PM EDT
[#16]
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Quoted:
Is there any way to mount one to a helmet or other type of head gear?

Would that even be a good thing?
View Quote

Until the lag between input and output and FOV are resolved in some manner they are not very good for navigation. From what I know there are no technical issues that prevent resolving of those, but I guess there just haven't been the need for it. Overlay on a traditional NV is totally fine as you see the immediate NV image and the laggy thermal just overlaid, not that distracting from what I've heard. Maybe the overlay thermals are the reason why there has been no need (in the military?) for a "proper" head mountable thermal viewer.
Link Posted: 8/11/2014 5:43:56 PM EDT
[#17]
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Quoted:


SKEETIR VO (viewer only) or the real deal SKEETIR. If you get the SKEETIR I just do not want to be you, I will be you
View Quote View All Quotes
View All Quotes
Discussion ForumsJump to Quoted PostQuote History
Quoted:
Quoted:
Quoted:
and my favorite but not for us mere mortals the SKEETIR on the right and a "THE HORTA Special" on the left
http://i62.tinypic.com/2zs6u79.jpg


What would say to the irony that I'm tracking a SKEETIR acquisition at this very moment?  

Just being able to duplicate that photo on my very own melon is motivation.  


SKEETIR VO (viewer only) or the real deal SKEETIR. If you get the SKEETIR I just do not want to be you, I will be you


The TWS clip-on with IR laser... as though you had to ask.  
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