Thermal Imaging Devices

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How Thermal Imaging Works

Light Basics

In order to understand thermal imaging, it is important to understand something about light. The amount of energy in a light wave is related to its wavelength: Shorter wavelengths have higher energy. Of visible light, violet has the most energy, and red has the least. Just next to the visible light spectrum is the infrared spectrum. The question most often posed to us is, “Will help in the detection of paranormal entities during an investigation?” That question will be answered, but in order to understand if it will work, one must understand what it is. As this equipment can be quite pricey depending on your group’s ‘wish’ list. Again, as with most high-tech equipment, be careful of where you buy, and be sure what you pay for is what you expected. With that in mind…read on.

Infrared Light Falls into Three Categories

Near-infrared (near-IR) – Closest to visible light, near-IR has wavelengths that range from 0.7 to 1.3 microns, or 700 billionths to 1,300 billionths of a meter.

Mid-infrared (mid-IR) – Mid-IR has wavelengths ranging from 1.3 to 3 microns. Both near-IR and mid-IR are used by a variety of electronic devices, including remote controls.

Thermal-infrared (thermal-IR) – Occupying the largest part of the infrared spectrum, thermal-IR has wavelengths ranging from 3 microns to over 30 microns.

The key difference between thermal-Infra-red and the other two is that thermal-IR is emitted by an object instead of being reflected off it. Infrared light is emitted by an object because of what is happening at the atomic level.

How It All Works

Night vision special lens focus on the infrared light emitted by all of the objects in view.

The focused light is then scanned by a phased array of infrared-detector elements within the unit. Creating a very detailed temperature pattern called a thermogram. All this happens in about one-thirtieth of a second, as the detector array obtains the temperature information to create the thermogram. This information is obtained from several thousand points in the field of view of the detector array.

The thermogram created by the detector elements is then translated into electric impulses.

These impulses will be sent to a signal-processing unit, a circuit board with a dedicated chip that translates all that information from the elements data into a display.

The signal-processing unit sends the information to the display, where it appears as various colors depending on the intensity of the infrared emission. The combination of all the impulses from all of the elements creates the image.

Most thermal-imaging devices scan at the rate of 30 times per second., while they sense temperatures ranging from -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) to 3,600 F (2,000 C), and can most can detect temperature changes of about 0.4 F (0.2 C).

There Are Two Common Types

Un-Cooled – is the most common type of thermal-imaging device. The infrared-detector elements are all contained in a unit that operates at room temperature. This system is completely quiet, immediately activated and has the battery built right into the unit.

Cryogenically Cooled – are more expensive units and much more susceptible to damage from rugged use. As these systems have the elements sealed inside a container that’s cooled to below 32 F (zero C). The advantage of this system is the incredible resolution and sensitivity that can result from cooling the elements in this fashion. Cryogenically-cooled systems can “see” a minutest difference as small as 0.2 F (0.1 C) from more than 1,000 ft (300 m) away that can detect if a person is holding a gun at that great distance!

Unlike most traditional night-vision equipment which uses image-enhancement technology, thermal imaging is great for detecting people, and works in near-absolute darkness with little or no ambient lighting (i.e. stars, moonlight, etc, )

The History

Below is a history of infrared technology and developments: Please use your cursor to view the developments for a particular year.

Caught in the Act

A thermographic camera, often referred to as an infrared camera, is a device that forms an image using an infrared radiation signature, similar to any common camera that forms an image using visible light. Instead of the 450–750 nanometer (nm, µm) range of a visible light camera, infrared devices operate in wavelengths as long as 14,000 nm (14 µm) – far above what our naked eye can see.

Originally developed for military use during the Korean War, thermographic cameras have slowly migrated into a various number of d fields such as medicine, archaeology, energy conservation, astronomy, and now the paranormal world. Although, prices have begun to drop, fueling the adoption of infrared viewing technology by more affordable pricing, it had become attractive for paranormal studies. Advanced optics and sophisticated software interfaces continue to enhance the versatility of IR cameras and the results can be amazing, but rarely conclusive in the field of paranormal research.

There is wide number of thermal tools at our disposal at affordable prices that continue to drop; like digital cameras and digital thermometers, available, affordable and useful for a paranormal investigation. Although the price of thermal devices and cameras have undoubtedly dropped, they still have not quite become an affordable tool for spirit research, even though they rank as the most coveted and sought after equipment by teams around the world.

However, the expensive equipment is also the most difficult tool to use, and use properly requiring many industry professionals weeks of extensive training on these devices. Yet that has not detoured them from becoming the most sought-after choices for every paranormal investigation team serious about research. The reason thermal cameras are such a popular choice for paranormal investigations can be largely attributed to top rated paranormal television shows, that purportedly believe they derived concrete evidence of paranormal activity from its use. In fact, once a team possesses this technology, they will find that thermography could quickly become an integral part of their investigation activities, they (inexperienced paranormal teams) often do not realize the subjectivity of using such a evidence. Thermal imaging cameras capture heat, not light, and yes, they can easily be used in total darkness, but now so can many digital and full-spectrum digital and video cameras offer benefits that outweigh justifying the expense of a thermal imaging device, including fog and smoke (as if paranormal teams would be investigating in such environments), making thermal devices more effective and widely used by firefighters around the world during rescue operations.

It is often thought that one of the most distinguishing features of a thermal camera is its ability to capture (and possibly indicate) an entity may be present that could have otherwise gone undetected by the naked eye. My experience does not support this claim. It has long been known that a paranormal event often is realized by the occurrence of a temperature change in the presence of an entity (warmth in cold air, and cold in warm air). But extensive research has demonstrated that only a small fraction of noticeable paranormal activity is actually realized by a temperature change, and most are subjective experiences by research team members that usually to not confirm the change by other means, such as a simple ambient digital thermometer. Also my experience dictates that most of these temperature changes can be attributed to ‘normal’ and explainable occurrences. Which is precisely why these exclusive tools are the most coveted electronic device on every paranormal investigator’s ‘wish list.’  And, although a thermal imaging camera may appear to be the perfect tool, that easily distinguishes temperature fluctuations caused by a ‘normal’ source and a ‘paranormal’ event, that is a fallacy!

Desert Highlands Paranormal Research

I have used thermal imaging devices, including units from companies like FLIR Thermal Imaging Camcorders, which can get quite pricey, yet did not yield the results expected I expected. In all our years of paranormal investigating in the field, both Kurt and I have both use them to detect both heat signatures within the Infra-red spectrum’s in the hope of identifying evidence during a potentially paranormal active event. But was it really conclusive proof? No, not all, nor was it enough to offset the expense of such a pricey piece of equipment. FLIR has led the industry in its innovation of the devices that are most commonly  used to detect heat loss, high-power line problems with electric and utility companies, to home insulation issues. In the paranormal world however,we discovered the ability to identify cold/hot spots often felt during a paranormal was much more effective by our experience than by such sophisticated equipment. Often in areas of a paranormal occurrence where no heat or cold fluctuation were even noticeable by these devices, we were able to detect a sudden change in temperature verified by a simple electronic thermometer costing only a few dollars. However, these devices can be useful in detecting anomalies at great distances, but with the biggest drawback being cost, you could end up ‘chasing ghosts’ only because you saw a thermal change the could have anything at all…yet, always inconclusive when chased to get a closer a look, usually caused by phantom images generated by the device or the active imagination of the person using it. At a cost in the neighborhood of $5,000 – $8,000, for low-end devices without a digital recording ability, and some exceeding $15,000, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine whether it’s cost-effective or not!

Although prices have dropped dramatically over the last few years, and can now be purchased for half the mount, if you really feel it’s necessary for your team to own one, rebuilt units offer the best values. (But buyer beware – just be sure to get them from a reputable re-seller or directly from the manufacturer who will often certify them for a short period time.

ThermaCAM® EX320

The two units I had once owned were state-of-the-art non-cooled infrared spectrum detectors that did produce crisp thermal images that revealed even the most subtle temperature variations, including an electro-mechanical signal. FLIR boasts that the EX320 can detect the slightest hot and cold spots, often before they are even felt by the living, if at all (I’m still not quite convinced by this claim). The two units I owned did have different options, even though they were the same model, one was a black and white unit with full digital recording capability and the other a full color infra-red unit without the ability to record. Together they’re they seemed a promising addition to the my arsenal, but rarely used. Because of the results we experienced using our two thermal devices, I have to admit nearly all anomalies detected were purely subjective, as no empirical evidence was ever captured to support that a paranormal event had indeed occurred…