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Thermal Camera vs. Night Vision: The Difference Explained

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Thermal cameras are incredibly useful gadgets, but they’re capabilities are not always entirely understood by a prospective buyer. This is because thermal cameras can often be confused with night vision devices. This is unfortunate as it can not only confuse those looking for a thermal camera, but also those looking for a night vision device! So let’s go ahead and unpack now the differences between these two devices, and what specific purposes they can offer a user.

A Thermal Camera Defined

A thermal camera will provide a display to its user of objects in the field of view which are emitting heat. It can also show the different levels of heat which are being emitted respectively, from one object to the next. As a result of this ability, these cameras can be very useful in a variety of business purposes in addition to having other applications – such as being utilised to help search and rescue teams find people who have gotten lost hiking in bushland – but as they detect objects and provide imagery via the discovery of heat being emitted, strictly speaking they should not be regarded as night vision devices, as in absence of heat being emitted, they won’t provide vision of objects in low-light environments. 

A Night Vision Device Defined

Just like a thermal camera, the name of this type of gadget indeed provides a clear indication of what it does. Simply put, a night vision device will provide imagery to the user through a viewer on the device, which can be used to see a surrounding scene in clarity even when there is little light present, for instance between sunset and sunrise. This said, a night vision device will not be able to pick up the heat signature of objects in the field of view, so – while certain objects could indeed be visible by using a night vision device even if the gadget is unable to pick up a heat signature – for instances where being able to detect heat-emitting objects, a thermal camera is the right choice. 

The Overlap Factor

Although these devices are very different as discussed – and usually should be regarded as such by a prospective buyer – it is important to keep in mind that there is indeed some overlap between them. For instance, for situations where it’s impossible to identify something in the dark with naked eye, utilising a thermal camera or a night vision device could potentially identify it. This said, the caveat to this would be for the thermal camera to work in this instance the target would have to emit heat, and for the night vision device to work, the target would have to be in the clear line of sight. This is useful to note as while the many differences between the devices should remain in mind, in certain instances it may be possible to effectively use one for a task that the other would also usually perform. 

Conclusion

As discussed here both thermal cameras and night vision devices are very useful gadgets.

Nonetheless, it’s important to understand their differences, in order for a potential buyer to select the right device for their needs, and to get the most out of it. Remember at its most basic level, thermal cameras show imagery of heat, whereas night vision devices will show imagery at night (and in other low-light environments).  With this rule of thumb in-hand alongside the info discussed here, it’s possible to browse for the right device with confidence surrounding their key differences.  

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