When FLIR launched the Ex Series, and introduced the E6, along with the E4, E5 and E8, the first thing that was a big improvement over the old i-Series was the amount of specification on offer for the price of it. For a thermal imaging camera at this price level, the FLIR E6 offers an excellent level of thermal sensitivity, and this is coupled with decent resolution of 160 x 120 pixels. Although the FLIR E8 offers more infrared resolution, the E6 still has enough resolution on offer to make it a serious competitor in the electrical, building and pest industries. It’s become one of the most popular thermal imaging cameras in the FLIR product range and for a good reason.
Like all of the FLIR Ex Series, the E6 is supplied ready for field use in a hard, ergonomic transport case, which looks cosmetically quite pleasing and professionally modern. Opening the case reveals the contents, all sat in their own custom cut outs within a high density cushioning material to keep the contents safe. As well as the FLIR E6 thermal imaging camera itself, there is also a rechargeable battery, wall charger, USB cable, user documents and calibration certificate. The FLIR Tools software is now available as a free download for both Windows and Mac operating system.
The E6 infrared camera itself is made from premium grade products, as is now expected of any thermal imaging camera, bearing the FLIR logo. FLIR literature states that the E6 (as well as the E5, E4 and E8) are drop tested to 2 metres, although we decided against dropping $3,500 thermal imaging camera on the floor to prove it. I have dropped FLIR thermal cameras previously (inadvertently) and never managed to damage one, although if I had done so, the service and support network is first class and onshore here in Australia, so it would have all been in safe hands.
Cosmetically, all of the cameras in the FLIR Ex series are similar and it would be difficult to spot the difference, except for the model number printed on the back of the camera, just above the screen. The display itself is an improved colour TFT screen, and at 3.5 inches, it is large enough to show a very good level of detail. The user can set the display intensity to low, medium or high and different colour palettes are also available from the camera settings. Some users may prefer the standard iron palette, but the option is there to select a higher contrast palette, such as rainbow, which can help to bring out more detail where the temperature differences may be more subtle.
One of the things that the FLIR E6 does quite well is offer a number of different measurement modes. Most users tend to associate the centre spot with using a thermal imaging camera, but the E6 also offers a number of different options. If you don’t want to use the centre spot, or it is not practical to do so, then a floating hot spot can be selected, which shows a small inconspicuous box on the screen and automatically shows and displays the calculated temperature of the hottest art of that box. This feature is really useful for electrical and mechanical users, who tend to levitate towards hot spot measurements. This mode will take away the problem of trying to find small hotspots and cover them with the centre spot, as the thermal imaging camera automatically does it for you. This feature works on hot spots and also on cold spots for building and pest users, as moisture can be identified with relative ease. The FLIR E6 also offers a couple of other features, which allow the user to use something called isotherms. These allow a temperature level to be input into the thermal imaging camera and anything that has a temperature above this point is shaded in red, and anything below is shaded in blue, which is useful for identifying whole areas of patches of heat distribution which may present a temperature anomaly. This feature allows reports to be created showing the reader exactly where the problem may be.
The menu system found on the FLIR E6 is actually very simple, just like all FLIR thermal imaging cameras, it is accessed by a very simple keypad on the camera, just below it’s screen, where more or less all of the E6 features and set up can be done. Couple this with focus free thermal imaging and you have an extremely easy to use thermal imaging camera, which can be used by more or less anyone, even without a great deal of experience. It’s just a case of point and shoot and you have a thermal mage and a visual image captured at the same time, and even paired in the same file to make it easy to import the images into the free FLIR Tools software, allowing the user to compile professional looking customised thermal imaging reports very easily.
The infrared resolution afforded by the E6 of 160 x 120 pixels will deliver a thermal image with 19,200 temperature points, and this is the same resolution offered by the more expensive FLIR E40, but the FLIR E6 has a much larger field of view than the E40. With the same number of pixels, it means that the thing which we call spatial resolution, or in simple terms, the size of each pixel or temperature spot will be larger on the FLIR E6, making it able to scan areas quickly, but not as able as the FLIR E40 to detect smaller hotspots. It’s something that is often easily overlooked, because of the belief that it is all about resolution, and nothing else matters. While resolution is of vital importance, it really is a combination of factors, which need to be fully considered.
The MSX feature found on the FLIE E6 is a really nice feature. MSX means multi-spectral dynamic imaging and effectively works by combining the detail from a visual image, such as text, edges and features with the infrared image, and looks like an infrared thermal image, but almost as though someone has gone around it with a very fine pen and highlighted the details. The benefit of having this function on the FLIR E6 is that is allows the user to understand where the temperature problem is in relation to what they are looking at visually, and it also makes the image quality far better due to the better edges, even though the resolution has not changed with the MSX feature enabled. Look at the two images below. The one on the left is a standard thermal image, and the one on the right has the MSX function enabled:
There are a number of other imaging modes and palettes on the E6, including standard thermal only, picture in picture, which allows a square or rectangular shape to be placed in a visual image containing the thermal image, just like the ones below. The size of the thermal image box can be scaled up and down and can even be moved around in the image, but only on the FLIR Tools software. On the FLIR E6 display, the thermal image box is fixed in place.
The FLIR E6 also offers image blending, where the transparency of the two images (which are overlaid) can be changed to make it more infrared, or more visual and anything in between, which can emphasise the location of a problem, by allowing the image to be “seen through” which makes it easier to identify the position of a thermal problem, in relation to where you can visually see.
One of the big selling points of the FLIR R6 is it’s very good level of thermal sensitivity. When purchasing a thermal imaging camera, there is a tendency in the industry to think that the only thing that matter is the infrared resolution, or how many pixels there are. It’s actually a little more complicated than just looking at the number of pixels and ignoring everything else. Granted that the more pixels there are, the better and sharper the image will be, and with the smaller subtended pixel area, more precise temperature measurements of smaller areas can be made, but if the thermal sensitivity (which is sometimes called NETD – this is an abbreviation of noise equivalent temperature difference for anyone who is interested) is not so good, then the image will look fuzzier, or pixelated which is due to thermal noise in the image, caused by the thermal imaging camera’s signal to noise ratio being affected by the poor thermal sensitivity. Look at the two images below and although the resolution is the same, the sensitivity is not, and you can see a marked difference in image quality:
Because of the thermal sensitivity of the FLIR E6 (60mK or 0.06°C), it has become very popular with building applications, such as building inspectors, energy assessors and pest inspection contractors and even plumbers, as the increases sensitivity lends itself very well to being used in applications where the temperature differences are not as great as can be found in a lot of electrical and mechanical applications, plus being point and shoot without the need to focus makes it easy to obtain reasonably decent quality images without having to put a lot of effort into the process. Saying that the FLIR E6 is still hugely popular with electricians, doing switchboard thermal inspections, mechanical technicians and engineers and any application where temperature can be used to diagnose a problem.
The build quality of the E6 itself is extremely good, as would be expected from a global, market leading company like FLIR. The feel of the E6 is very ergonomic and cosmetically it is pleasing to the hand and the eye. It’s constructed from a black and silver housing, which has a rugged feel to it, probably because of it’s rubberised finish which FLIR say is drop tested to 2 metres, which is more than head height for all but the tallest of us. The display is bright and crisp (and can be adjusted to give a low, medium or high intensity), and the whole thing is housed in a nice hard field case with everything ready to go:
FLIR have done away with the SD memory cards with the E6 (as well as the E4, E5 and E8) and built the memory into the unit. It probably has increased the speed of the image transfer, but it was not noticeable, but removable memory cards can have the tendency to get corrupted if they are not regularly formatted, so to try and avoid that issue, the FLIR E6 has an internal memory which can store up to 500 image sets according to the manufacturer. When we talk about an image set, we are referring to one infrared thermal image and it’s associated digital image, which are saved automatically when the operator pulls the trigger on the E6. There is a choice to save the visual and infrared images as separate files should you wish to do so, but it isn’t necessary to enable this feature unless you don’t want to use the FLIR Tools software to work with the images. Most of the time, it is more than acceptable to save the thermal and visual images in a single file.
The FLIR Tools software is free and supplied as a download, although for our customers which don’t want to do this, we will on request supply a bootable USB drive with the software installed. This software allows the images taken by a FLIR thermal imaging camera (from the FLIR C2 upwards) to be imported into the software and it makes it possible to optimise and analyse these images for reporting purposes. The software, we have to say is excellent for the vast majority of users. As soon as the FLIR E6 is connected to a computer with it’s supplied USB cable, a wizard will open up and guide you through the process of transferring the images to the software, which is a case of a couple of clicks and it’s done. You can create new folders very easily for managing different sites and thermal reports and each one can have sub folders. This folder structure is also synchronised with the computer or even networked drive allowing easy access to the thermal imaging reports and images even for staff members or anyone else who does not have the FLIR Tools software installed on their PC. As well as being completely free, the FLIR Tools software can be installed on multiple machines.
The software interface itself is very simple and well laid out, making it possible to open up the imported images, add more temperature measurement tolls, move them around, add boxes, temperature differences, change the colour palette, change the MSX, blending, level and span, add notes and text, add arrows. The list goes on an on, and it is even possible on the current version of FLIR Tools to export the temperature data from each pixel into an Excel spreadsheet, which is something that is very common with researchers and academic institutions.
We could probably write a huge article about what the software can do, but it would take up too much of this product review, but in a nutshell, you can import images, add and remove measurement tools, optimise them, and then in a few clicks generate a professional looking thermal imaging report, complete with custom company logo and well laid out information. This software is more than enough for the vast majority of customers, but there is an upgrade to FLIR Tools Plus for those customers that may want even more. FLIR Tools Plus is a paid version and can be installed on a maximum of 2 PC’s. It is a one off payment, not a recurring licence fee and can be transferred to another computer if needed (if a PC is changed or scrapped). FLIR Tools Plus has a Word add in so it gives the flexibility to completely customise the whole report structure. Graphs, histograms, and priority ratings can be added, which are linked to the temperature data in the images, so it’s case of putting some measurement tools on the image and letting the software work out the temperature difference and priority rating.
For customers wanting the WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity to connect the thermal camera to FLIR’s range of test and measurement instruments, or for connecting to the FLIR Tools Mobile app on Android and Apple, you have to look to the E40 upwards, as only the FLIR Exx Series and FLIT T-Series offer this level of functionality. The FLIR E6, and in fact the rest of the FLIR Ex Series have to be connected to a PC and the images downloaded through USB. FLIR Tools though is available for both Windows and Mac platforms.
Despite the lack of mobile connectivity, the FLIR E6 in our opinion is a very well price thermal imaging camera, and offers plenty of functionality for general level thermal imaging camera users. With a no fuss approach to capturing decent thermal images and providing the ability to do custom thermal reports, the FLIR E6 is a very capable thermal camera with a very competitive price tag of $3,495 ex GST at the time of writing. This price has not changed very much over the last couple of years and so we expect pricing to remain fairly stable. For this price bracket, the FLIR E6 in our opinion really does offer excellent value for money and straightforward approach into the world of thermal imaging camera ownership. For this reason, and coupled with the long warranty periods offered by FLIR of 2 years on the camera, and 10 years on the detector for ultimate peace of mind, makes the FLIR E6 our best-selling thermal imaging camera Australia wide.