FLIR Thermal Network Cameras Examined

By John Honovich, Published Feb 01, 2010, 07:00pm EST

FLIR has announced the availability of network thermal cameras starting as low as $3,495 USD MSRP. These cameras are additions to the F (fixed) and PT (pan tilt) series from FLIR. These new cameras have 160 x 120 resolution and offer 3 lens options - from 24 degrees Field of View (FoV) to 12 degrees FoV.

This announcement is especially interesting in contrast to Axis's January 2010 entry into the thermal camera market. Axis is now offering a single thermal option (with indoor and outdoor models at an MSRP respectively of $2,995 and $3,495).

Both companies are the largest supplier in their respective primary markets (Axis in IP cameras, FLIR in thermal cameras). Multiple low cost options and competition are likely to help grow the market and provide greater choice.

FLIR offers a very broad portfolio of cameras for the thermal market. While a proper treatment of FLIR's portfolio requires a future dedicated report, readers should note some of the key categories:

  • Lower cost analog thermal fixed cameras from their SR series
  • IP thermal fixed cameras with a variety of resolution and lens options from their F series. This is the series where the lowest cost options have been added.
  • Dome thermal cameras with pan / tilt capabilities from their D series (indoors and outdoors
  • Pan / Tilt units that support both thermal and color cameras from their PT series
  • Cooled thermal cameras providing multiple mile detection ranges from their HRC and Ranger series
  • A mini-thermal camera that is designed for the automotive market but is sometimes used in the security applications though not recommended (the PathFindIR)
  • A real-time monitoring system that provides advanced capabilities and integration (the Flir Sensor Manager [link no longer available]) including GPS target tracking and alarm assessment; 1 channel license included with each camera

Since there are many thermal options from FLIR, below is an excerpt from FLIR's website providing a visual overview and summary of FLIR's IP options.

FLIR Network Camera Pricing and Positioning 

Based on discussions with FLIR, here are some more pricing data points on their thermal IP cameras:

  • 160 x 120 resolution fixed: From the fixed F series, the F124 and F117 has an MSRP of $3,495. The F112 as an MSRP of $3,695. All cameras with a first digit of 1 offer 160 x 120 resolution. The second two digits (e.g., 24, 17, 12) indicate the horizontal FoV (i.e., the F124 has a 24 degree horizontal FoV). These cameras are the closest comparison to Axis Q1910 as they are both fixed, box cameras.
  • 320 x 240 resolution fixed: The fixed F series also offers greater resolution than Axis, including 320 x 240 and 640 x 480. For instance, the F348 with 320 x 240 resolution and a 48 degree horizontal FoV has an MSRP of $6,575. The F313 with 320 x 240 resolution and a 13 degree FoV has an MSRP of $12,325. The F313 is rated to detect people out to approximately 1500 meters (far greater than the 160 x 120 cameras with specified distances of a few hundred meters).
  • Dome cameras (indoors and outdoors): FLIR offers multiple series of indoor and outdoor domes cameras that can pan and tilt. On the indoor side, FLIR offers analog thermal domes with 6 or 19mm lens options. The MSRP for the D6m is $2,999 and the D19m is $4,299. On the outdoor side, FLIR offers dual imager [link no longer available] (36x color camera and thermal) dome IP cameras with 320 x 240 thermal resolution and a variety of thermal lens options. The MSRP of the D13 dual imager dome camera is $19,900.
On the networking side, none of the FLIR IP cameras support PoE.
FLIR reports third party integration with Milestone/OnSSI currently using Milestone's Universal interface. FLIR estimates support for ONVIF in Q2 2010.
FLIR network cameras are generally available today. However, as on Feb 1, 2010, the cameras face an 8 week backlog that FLIR projects will be eliminated by the end of Q2 2010.

Comparison between FLIR and Axis thermal cameras

Let's examine key elements and how FLIR and Axis match up:

  • Price: No advantage. Both companies are offering entry level products at the same price.
  • Form Factor Options: FLIR. FLIR has dozens of models across 5 series of network thermal cameras. Axis only supports one form factor.
  • Lens Options: While Axis plans to add 1-3 lens options for their fixed camera, FLIR has 4-5 lens options already for each of its series.
  • Resolution Support: FLIR. Axis only supports 160 x 120. FLIR supports that as well as 320 x 240 and 640 x 480.
  • PoE Support: Axis. Axis supports PoE. FLIR does not. This can provide important installation and cost benefits for outdoor installations.
  • Third Party VMS Support: Axis. While FLIR should make progress in 2010, Axis is the most broadly supported 
  • Video Analytics Support: Axis. Analytics can be run inside the Axis thermal camera (though with noted processor limitations). Plus, with Axis's video broad 3rd party support, it will be easy for centralized analytic systems to analyze Axis's feeds.
  • Camera Upgrade: FLIR's fixed F series cameras can be upgraded by simply switching the camera cartridge. If a different size lens or different resolution is needed, the F series supports in-field switch out without changing the whole unit. Axis does not.

Competitive Strength and Weaknesses

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The table below summarizes the key competitive strengths and weakness in comparing FLIR and Axis.

Feature Axis FLIR
Pricing Equal Equal
Form Factor   FLIR Significant Advantage
Lens Options   FLIR Significant Advantage
Resolution Options   FLIR Significant Advantage
PoE Support Yes No
VMS Support Axis Advantage Weak
Video Analytics Support Axis Significant Advantage  
Camera Upgrade No Yes

Important Contrasts to be Determined

There are a few important items we cannot yet determine that we believe will have an impact on this comparison:

  • How long will it take for FLIR to gain broad VMS support? This is partially a factor of FLIR's execution and partially dependent on VMS support of ONVIF. Assuming moderate execution and ONVIF adoption, we believe FLIR's IP cameras will be fairly broadly support by VMS systems by the end of 2010.
  • How useful with 160 x 120 resolution thermal cameras be? FLIR reports that historic demand for such low resolution cameras has been weak as customers needed the higher detail and longer range of 320 x 240 or 640 x 480 cameras. To the extent that 160 x 120 cameras prove useful in the field, Axis will do better with their lower end cameras.
  • How does the video quality differ? So far this analysis is based purely on specifications, vendor discussions and vendor provided videos. Since Axis is new, it is hard to know how much worse (or potentially better) their image quality will be to FLIR. If there exists material variances in image quality or resulting range covered, this could be a significant factor.

3 reports cite this report:

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