New from FLIR, more choices
Among the new products to be shown at the Miami Boat Show next week, FLIR just announced both a lower cost fixed M-Series and two new higher-end hand-held First Mate models. The new M (no model # yet) packages a single 320x240 thermal cam with the same excellent bullet casing and Ethernet controller(s) that I tested as the M-626L last fall, with dual payload 640x480 thermal and low light cams. The purported retail of the new cam will be $12,000, which will likely mean an under 10g street price judging from some outlets for the existing models. It's great to get the price down on this valuable safety tool, but it reminds me of the occasional value I saw in also having the low light camera. The shot above was taken in daylight, but the thermal camera would have seen out the harbor as well as it does at night if it weren't for the downpour. After the break, you'll see what it missed...
Yup, in heavy rain even the high res thermal camera couldn't see Curtis Island a half mile away, but the regular low light camera did fine, and I know it would have kept seeing the island after my own vision failed (though not in pitch dark, like the thermal would have without the rain). Now, I want to be clear that FLIR doesn't promise anyone that thermal, as magic as it is, can see through fog and rain. If anything, the company tends to under-promise performance, which is one of the things I like about those folks. Water droplets are opaque to thermal, FLIR will tell you, and while a quality thermal cam may see OK through "dry" fogs (as I experienced), a drenching one will block it to some degree. I tried to explain some of the subtleties of thermal in this month's issue of Yachting, and I can further tell you that not all vendors are so honest about it. In fact, I squabbled a bit with US NightVision, which is trying to put its ATAC cam into the marine market with the claim that it "can easily see through smoke, fog, rain and many other atmospheric conditions..." Not true.
At any rate, FLIR may have another hit on its hands with the First Mate, which I first saw at NMEA and which recently won a Pittman Award. The new $5,000 HM-324 XP and $6,000 HM-324 XP+ models offer both improved resolution (320x240 vs 240x180) and "expanded environmental survivability" (who wouldn't want some of that?), and the latter can record thermal video as well as stills. I'll link to the press releases for all these new cams when they go online, and, better yet, if all goes as planned I'll get to try them when I go on FLIR's Biscayne Bay demo cruise a week from Wednesday night.