What’s The Difference Between Thermal And Infrared?

The human body is a limited biological machine. It functions well in normal conditions, but there are specific scenarios where it can’t see or sense objects. Because of this, various improvements have been made in tools and equipment so that we can see the world in a different visible light.

Thermal and infrared imaging are two clear examples of such systems. In this article, we will look at the differences between the two.

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How does Thermal Imaging work?

Thermal imaging is also called infrared thermography. From its root phrase, one can extract the words Thermo which means heat, and graph, which means writing. In layman’s terms, it is defined as writing with heat using infrared data coming from radiation.

All things that emit heat also have infrared radiation. Specialized sensors from thermal imaging lenses catch these readings and assign colors to them based on their temperature.

This heat map shows a full live image with their respective saturations. The processor of the lens will gather data and turn them into a visible video feed for the user.

A man checking the temperature with thermal imaging cameras

How does infrared work?

Active IR or infrared cameras work by emitting a short wavelength of infrared from the source in the electromagnetic spectrum. With a sensor that receives reflected data, a full image can be interpreted by the processor.

Since it relies on an active source, there are limits to the range of an active IR. However, they produce good images since there is a lesser need for processing and transference from heat maps to visible video.

Another thing to note is that fog and dust produce difficulty for infrared imaging. This is because the wavelengths produced will mirror and reflect the fine particles and cause impedances in the sensors and processors.

Which is better for hunting?

In terms of hunting, it is on a case-to-case basis. There are certain advantages that IR offers compared to thermal imaging. Let us talk about some of them.

Thermal Imaging

Does not need light. One great advantage that thermal imaging has is that it acts passively. This means that it does not need a light source to work perfectly. Thus, it has added applications in night hunting. Also, it will not produce interference when viewing through fog and dust.

High distance coverage. Another benefit that thermal imaging brings during hunting is range. Since it does not need a short-wavelength source, the detected range is higher. Thus, hunters will have more room for vision and tracking games or fowl.

Infrared Imaging

Better Image. One great advantage that thermal imaging has is that it acts passively. This means that it does not need a light source to work perfectly. Thus, it has added applications in night hunting. Also, it will not produce interference when viewing through fog and dust.

Less Expensive. Another benefit that thermal imaging brings during hunting is range. Since it does not need a short-wavelength source, the detected range is higher. Thus, hunters will have more room for vision and tracking games or fowl.

A hunter is watching two pigs with a thermal scope in his eyes

The decision

Deciding between the two should be a matter of preference. If you are a hunter who likes short-range targets and desires a clearer view of the subject, I recommend thermal imaging. Furthermore, it costs less than thermal imagers, and it can be a huge help if you are short on budget.

On the other hand, long-range night hunters must always prefer the comfort of thermal imaging. This is because it does not have any light source, meaning that you will have a wider observation angle and distance from targets. Note that most thermal imagers with precise and high resolution cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

Can these thermal cameras and imagers be applied to monoculars?

If you are a monocular enthusiast asking whether such techniques apply to monoculars, then the answer is yes. You see, sensors for both infrared and thermal imaging are small enough to fit in small equipment. Not only that, but processors have come a long way to be produced in micrometers, which means that a small monocular can pack enough power to relay information.

However, it must be noted that high-quality thermal and infrared camera devices and monoculars are usually costly. This is because the raw materials needed to produce greater resolution in a handheld device are not cheap. Finding a thermal imaging monocular should be easy as long as you have the budget.

Produced visible light image

Because they rely on different technologies, it is only normal that they also have varied image or video outputs. In this section, you will know what to expect from thermal and infrared imagers, as well as what happens when visible light energy hits them.

Thermal energy imagery

Output in thermal imaging cameras consists of heatmaps. Thus, it is common to see a spectrum of reds and blues in the final picture. Blue colors mean that it is colder, while the opposite happens in reds as it means that an object emits more infrared radiation. With this is in mind, one can quickly relate temperatures on the live feed.

Infrared imagery

Infrared imagery does not involve any temperature or radiation. As it relies on reflected light, the imagery released consists mainly of one hue. It is commonly white or green, but the resolution is finer and clearer. This is better than fast-detect visible light cameras.

A hand is holding a hunting thermal scope camera in the jungle

Final Thoughts

Infrared and thermal imaging serve the same purpose: they help us see where we normally can’t. However, the technologies behind these systems are different. This results in varied results and limitations.

I recommend going for infrared imagers for a short-range hunter who is on a tight budget but wants to improve the experience. On the other hand, thermal imaging works best for those who favor long-range and unlimited potential despite pitch-black environments. Nevertheless, they both have their strengths and weaknesses. However, good imagers should produce great images as long as they are quality. Remember this in your next purchase!

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