Thermal Imaging Camera Review for Energy Efficiency Work: Flir One vs. Seek

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Thermal imaging can be used to spot heat signatures, something our naked eye can’t see. In the world of sustainability, this tech is particularly applicable to spotting heat escaping from underinsulated areas of buildings, as well as excessive heat or heat loss in industrial equipment. Previously, this technology was cost-prohibitive for most homeowners and small business owners, but earlier this year, both Seek and Flir released small thermal imaging cameras designed to plug into micro-USB ports on smart phones. These phone attachments retail at $250 each, and I asked both Flir and Seek to send me a camera to review here on CleanTechnica.


The opportunity to create energy and money-saving improvements to a home through better insulation is one of the best “bang for the buck” initiatives available in our fight against climate change. Proper insulation of a home or small business can yield considerable savings of money and energy while improving the user environment for a more comfortable feel.

Insulation is like a blanket for buildings. However, if that blanket gets thin, worn, or develops a hole, all the heat the blanket is supposed to keep in seeps out. Insulation, especially poorly applied insulation, can similarly wear out over time, causing buildings to leak heat (or coolness in the summer) that can drive heating and cooling bills through the roof (pardon the pun…most insulation leaks are, in fact, in the roof…).

Spotting an insulation leak with thermal imaging technology is now much more affordable for a lot more people, thanks to the development of smart phone compatible cameras and software.

Seek Thermal

First I tested the Seek Thermal camera. This simple device comes in a very handy protective case with a keyring to help it from disappearing to the bottom of your toolbox. It’s simple, intuitive and effective. 

The camera itself uses 32,000 thermal pixels, according to the manufacturer, and allows vision in complete darkness. It claims that an object can be detected at 1,000 feet away. The free downloadable app that accompanies the Seek Thermal camera also has the capability to add a laser thermometer reading:

Goods: Simple, effective. There is no need to charge the device, as it simply draws power from the phone while in operation. The app is simple to use, and provides enough options for most DIYers to gain considerable knowledge of their environment.

Not so goods: Image quality is subpar, which might be important in professional uses. This is exceptionally minor, but the micro-USB plug is also too short for my phone’s protective case. So I have to remove the case every time I want to use the camera. One additional challenge I faced is in the sharing feature. The app doesn’t allow you to send several images at once through your phone’s mail server, but rather requires one-at-a-time emails. It is possible that this feature is there, but if so, it’s not intuitive.

Flir One


The Flir One camera is actually two cameras. One is the thermal imager, and the other is a digital overlay camera, an innovation Flir uses to improve the picture quality of the resulting images. It’s very effective, as the Flir One takes terrific photos. Like the Seek, it also has a laser thermometer which is accurate when tested against a regular laser thermometer.

In addition, the Flir One has a couple of other wiz-bang features. One is a time lapse photo setting, which you can program to your desired criteria (taking a thermal photo every 3 seconds or every 3 minutes). These then get saved onto the device as a movie image, which, if you have a tripod or other stabilizing device (I don’t), I imagine would produce some really neat videos. Imagine an exercise video of someone on a treadmill that can show them how much they’re heating up, which muscle groups get active during which parts of the run, etc. For insulation purposes, this feature might also help to show what happens during a cooling cycle on your A/C next to a particular window, or show air leaks in ductwork. There’s a video feature as well.

Goods: The imaging is the Flir’s superpower. It is hands-down a better option for resolution. This provides a tremendous advantage for diagnosing thermal leakages around the house. The video, panorama, and time lapse features I can imagine would be very helpful for many applications.

Not so goods: The device needs to be charged up before use. Its operating system in the camera is glitchy. I had to send the first product back to the manufacturer because even after 12 hours of charging, it would power on and then immediately turn itself off. The second one they sent had similar issues but stayed on for a little while longer. There might be a power saving setting on the device somewhere, but it was not intuitive to find, if so. You plug in the device and the app doesn’t recognize that it’s there, and simply tells you to plug in the device. The on button will blink several times and then just go off. Even when you think the app and the device have recognized each other, it still manages to turn itself off. A popup window will say “Open FlirOne [the app] when this USB device is connected?” and you say OK, but then the app will just close.

Images and Interpretations

Flir’s imaging is superior.

Notice that in the bottom photo (the electronics behind my entertainment center), the Seek shows only mild blurry heat sources, whereas the Flir shows very distinctly that, despite my antenna being on a smart strip, it is clearly still sucking power and creating heat.

This post was made possible by the donation of a Flir One Thermal imaging camera and a Seek Thermal imaging camera to our staff. No financial compensation was made by any party beyond the hardware of the two cameras. 

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8 thoughts on “Thermal Imaging Camera Review for Energy Efficiency Work: Flir One vs. Seek

  • Cool I wonder what people would think when they see the place they live in on one of these (and have an attachment to see how much money they loose due to heat loss).

  • We’ve got a demo in my office. I was hoping to use it today, however, it had some glitch and wouldn’t start up for the person keeping it secured. I did get to see it in action, however, and it was pretty cool. I have poor circulation in my fingers which was quite evident to see with this instrument.

    For the bit i watched others use it (out of the box) it didn’t seem to have the most intuitive interface, and i’m not sure if/how easily the heat/temp scale (colors) could be changed.

    Of note. I think the one we are looking at retails for $150 and fits the iphone 5S. The $250 one is for other phones, and is specific to those couple (galaxy, iphone 6?) and from what I understand has better range/resolution than the $150. provided the kinks get worked out, it’s definitely an affordable way of finding insulation issues for the abodes of family and friends and maybe a quick cut-scene for the home predator movie.

    Also, it would have been nice for more of an apples/apples specification comparison in the article.

  • Flir One (and Flir C2) uses a Lepton thermographic module with 80*60 pixels. The images here looks much higher resolution than that. This is because it also use a photo camera with VGA resolution to take a visual photo. The photo is processed for
    edge detection and then the low resolution of thermographic image is “painted in” to make the thermographic image look hi-resolution. However it is important to remember that it is a constructed image, not actually a thermographic high resolution.

    Flir calls this MSX, but it has unfortunately nothing to do with the legendary home computers of 1980’s that I used to spend countless hours on programming on all levels. 😉

  • Not a straightforward tec to work with as equipment has to be calibrated and users have to understand difference in reflectance between materials otherwise you end up with false readings or conflicting readings. I have a Flir pro camera so there is a difference between small ones and big ones…!

  • Got a Flir One for Android a week ago. I wouldn’t say the Seek having a short plug is a minor problem. I think that most phone cases these days (certainly mine) are very difficult to remove and can be broken by repeated removal, so having a long USB connector is incredibly important. Having the edge detection of the visual camera and the higher resolution is also very important.

    On the other hand, having a little battery and a soft power switch on the flir is a huge problem. Mine was down to 33% battery after only 30 mins of use. I had charged it to full a few days earlier and used it for maybe 10 minutes after originally charging. I didn’t notice the battery state before a second 20 minute session but I’m pretty sure that it’s constantly eating battery due to the soft power switch so if I don’t charge it monthly it’s going to die and damage the battery. This is an incredibly bad design problem and absolutely done so Flir can sell you a new one in a year or three or so you can pay them for a new battery. Bluetooth headsets like to use the same trick. The one headset I have that’s dead has a soft power switch (hold the button to turn on). Two others have a physical switch (flip on and off) and have lasted years. If you flip the power completely off, the battery will hold charge for a few years. With soft power buttons you’re either letting it drain to damagingly-lower power or you’re constantly charging and discharging and the tiny battery will have a very limited life.

    I would return the Flir for its battery design but unfortunately it’s the only viable and somewhat affordable thermal on the market right now. If I were more patient I’d wait for Seek to release a better unit and get that if it had a hard power switch or ran off the phone’s power.

  • I have the Seek product, it just works, flawlessly. I do question the on screen temperatures, although to be honest I have not checked them with my IR Thermometer, (for that matter my IR Thermometer is not professionally calibrated either). Any potential error is less than 10 degrees, and my metric is going outside when I know the ambient temp is 20 degrees, everything I read is about 7~9 degrees F above ambient, including the snow. Could well be something about ambient temp as it relates to objects that I do not understand. It seems to follow the same amount of “error” at 35F and 5F. But if there is any error, it is across the spectrum so it does not interfere with the intended usage of the device.

    Regarding the issue where the camera will only email a single photo, I was not aware of that as the photos save by default to my camera’s (iPhone 5C) Photo file, I just tag the ones I want and email with the phones email app.

    Lastly, my image pictures are (in my opinion) a lot better than yours, did you know the camera has a focus ability? It is a little finicky and takes some practice, The best way I have found is to move (lens ring) it in small amounts, let it settle for a second and then do it again until you realize you are getting past the focal point, then back track a bit.
    Here is a shot of my Laptop, it is an ASUS brand, you can read the word “ASUS” in the middle of the screen and easily see the individual keys.

  • photo attached.

  • Deer at 20 to 30 yards. Quick grab and photo shot without taking time to focus. It also records live video, I have one of these two deer when they moved into the woods at 100 yards, too bad you cannot post a video here.

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