FLIR M-Series, "game changing"?
By Federal edict a 640x480 thermal camera like the M-636 must be slowed down to a nine hertz refresh rate, or nine frames per second in video talk. The idea is to make it useful for seeing moving objects in the dark but not quite up to targeting moving objects. Frankly, I did not notice the slow refresh rate during FLIR's excellent Miami demo cruise, but the competitors are talking about it. In fact, even a more typical 340 x 240 pixel thermal cam must be slowed from 30 to 9 hertz if it's shipped outside the U.S. (though a vessel equipped with a 30 hertz cam can travel foreign). Everyone has to play by the same rules. The real news here is hi res thermal at a previously unheard of -- though not trivial -- retail price just shy of $20,000 (street price better). That's not quite the price FLIR was hoping for when I first wrote about the M-Series for a magazine, or I got confused, but it still may be "game changing" for this niche. Four times more pixels does seem to make a big difference, as you can see from my demo cruise photos below.
Notice how you can see which distant condos have their heat on (or AC off) and how you can pick out humans amongst the trees, and remember that you would see all this even if the area was dark as pocket. The polished stainless rails on the yacht ahead are particularly interesting. I was told that their sharp, bright whiteness is due to coldness "reflected" from the clear sky. Thermal vision has nothing to do with reflected light, but there are reflective qualities to temperature too. That's why the answer to the question "can thermal detect surface water temperature differences (that fishermen are so crazy about)" is: sometimes yes, sometimes no, depending on reflection. The only trouble with these demo cruises is that the better you understand thermal vision, the more you want to have it aboard.
Incidentally, if you dig deeper into FLIR's M-Series literature, you'll find that there is a $15g model with a 340x240 imager. Also, don't get confused about the M-Series Ethernet abilities. The protocol is used to make installing the controller, or multiple controllers, easier, but the video streams from the two cameras travel over conventional cables not Ethernet. Of course those streams can be split or even converted to digital...probably even sent to your phone.