The Seek Compact XR is a miniature thermal imager that attaches to a mobile phone. Only a few years ago purchasing a thermal imager was far outside the budget of hobbyist. Today with devices like the Seek, they are easily affordable. By using the screen, processing power and controls provided by a mobile phone, the imaging module can be purchased for just $210. The model I am reviewing, the Extended Range version, retails for $299.
At the beginning of last year Seek announced the Seek Compact XR, which has a higher magnification lens than the regular Seek Compact. I have owned the Seek Compact XR for about a year now and have been using it for hobbyist jobs as an alternative to using IR thermometers. Among the projects I have used it for is diagnosing heat issues with my high-end video editing PC and building a Sous Vide cooker. It can also be used for surveillance purposes and hunting, although these tasks were not something I have needed it for.
The Seek imager is small, a fair bit smaller than two AA batteries. It comes with minimal packaging and no instruction manual (or at least my unit did not). What is does come with is a high quality case. The plastic shell of the case is rigid and has a high quality feel. Inside the case is soft rubber which protects the imager from shock and provides a seal against water.
The imager itself has no buttons. The ring around the lens can be twisted for focusing, just like a manual focus camera lens. The ring twists just under 360 degrees from the closest focus to the furthest focus. I have the Android version of the Seek which has a Micro USB plug. The iPhone version has a lightning plug. Unfortunately there is no way to use the Android version with iOS version and vice versa.
The software is easy to use. Just download it from your device’s App Store and plug in the imager. The software can take both photos and video. It has a number of modes for measuring temperature and a variety of color schemes (Look Up Tables) for coloring the temperature output. Depending on what you are using the camera for, and the temperature gradients of the object you are imaging, one color scheme may work better than another.
The device can show the temperature at the center of the camera, or show the hottest and coldest temperatures in the image. Temperature can be displayed in Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin.
I put a glass with hot water next to a glass filled with ice for demonstration purposes …
The camera also has a very useful mode where it will highlight temperatures above or below a threshold. This is the mode you would use in a hunting or surveillance scenario. In the two photos below, taken during an unsuccessful hunting trip in the very early morning, I had the threshold set much higher than the ambient temperature. You can clearly see my brother and in the closer photo and, if you look closely, his cold rifle barrel.
The below photo shows my brother with the black and white color scheme and no temperature threshold set.
The imager allows you to find warm blooded mammals, but the low resolution (206×156 pixels), along with slow refresh rate (9 hz) and the inherent thermal noise, does not allow the identification of objects at a distance.
Using this camera as a rifle scope, at least one company sells a scope adapter for it which would be grossly irresponsible in my opinion. At any real distance a man and a deer are not going to look substantially different. This is not a high-end military thermal scope. Shooting a warm “blob” without first eyeballing it with optics is recipe for disaster.
The photo below was taken with the threshold set at human body temperature. The camera can easily isolate flesh from the slightly cooler clothing. For surveillance purposes you would set it lower that human body temperature so that clothing would also be highlighted.
Another nifty feature of the Seek is the ability to take photos with both the mobile phone camera and the Seek camera and place them side by side. I took the below videos of a Bernzomatic TS8500 Burner burning MAP-PRO gas. The imager has a temperature range of -40° to 626° F but the burner will be burning gas closer to 3500 ° F. This confuses the imager temperature display but it is still able to color the temperature gradients correctly.
Here is a video I found on Youtube of deer being videoed through the Seek …
The Seek Compact standard cost $210 on Amazon, the Seek Compact XR, which I have reviewed here, costs $299. In my opinion this represents incredible value and if you need a low end thermal imager for DIY work, I highly recommend them.