Flir E4, E5, E6, E8 Review

What’s to like:

Solid platform and build quality
Field Swappable battery
Good screen resolution, crisp and clear
Easy navigation and operation
What’s not to like:

Focus free
Very wide angle lens
No user adjustable level and span
Hi resolution model is expensive
The release of the new Flir E series has been met with quite a buzz. Rumours about the 320×240 detector being used in all model variants have been circling the internet for months, and it does in fact appear to be true. Having a common backbone to a model series is nothing new, and manufacturers have been doing this forever. The reality is, different market segments are prepared to pay for different levels of equipment and performance, and it doesn’t make financial sense to manufacture unique platforms when you can simply limit the features by software control.

That said, the Flir E4 provides an IR resolution of just 80×60, or 4800 points of measurement and a thermal sensitivity better than 0.15°C. Everything gets better from there with the Flir E5 sporting 120×90 and <0.1°C, Flir E6 is 160×120 and 0.06°C, while the top of the model range Flir E8 has the fully enable 320×240 resolution specification with 0.06°C of thermal sensitivity.

Flir E4 Image (80×60)

Flir E8 (320×240)

Note that MSX gives the impression that the thermal image is sharper than it actually is. The above are identical images with MSX turned on/off.

Is the difference noticeable… absolutely. Each model provides noticeable improvements in imaging performance, and comparing the top end E8 to the bottom E4… well there is just no comparison. The Flir E5 is the only model that doesn’t do it for me, and could well be left from the lineup. Let’s face it, if you’re cheap your cheap, and you will go for the E4. Anyone wanting a better resolution for reliable performance should aim for an E6 or higher in my opinion. I guess it is the price point that will make a market segment happy and that’s why it’s there.
Common across the whole range is the field of view which is 45°x34°. That’s starting to get pretty wide in my opinion and I can only think of two reasons for being that wide. Firstly, it may be the building diagnostic market that this model is targeted at. Wide field of views are great for smaller domestic structures. Such a wide field of view however does not favour electrical distribution boards, nor does it favour the lower resolution models that have their spatial resolution massively diluted. Secondly it may aid the focus free mechanism, as the wider the FOV the better the depth of field. Because there is no focus mechanism this would improve the range of distance where the image would look acceptably sharp. Still focus free is an entirely acceptable way of separating these entry level models from the more professional series such as the Exx series that are equipment with a professional focus mechanism.

How cool is MSX?
MSX is also a standard feature on all models. While there is no doubt it is graphically clever, my opinion is well established on features that provide a visual aberration… they distort and dilute the thermal information which is of primary importance. http://cita.org.au/showthread.php?10…ectral-Imaging

How many novices will inadvertently image through Perspex covers or glass believing they are seeing the components? This image below was taken directly through the Perspex, the visual component of the MSX feature displays the breaks, yet the thermal camera will measure no further than the cover as infrared does not pass through solids.

FLIR E8 MSX Combo

With MSX you perceive you are seeing through a window.

FLIR E8 MSX Window

Without MSX you can see you are measuring the window surface and the reflection of the thermographer.

FLIR E8 Window (Withouth MSX)

FLIR E8 MSX vs Non-MSX Comparison

These features do however sell cameras and I respect the fact that the public want them (or they wouldn’t be there). MSX in particular gives the illusion of sharpening the image, so it does make the lower resolution models much more appealing to the eye. Anyone appraising a unit for purchase should turn off MSX to get a clear representation of the imager resolution. Picture in Picture is also available on the Flir E6 and E8 models.

The E series does not have a removable data card and must be connected to PC for downloading. Annoyingly this utilises a micro USB cable, which is not exactly common in my office. Personally I would have preferred a more common interface, but perhaps this will become more common in the future. The camera also charges via the USB connection. The software has really improved over the years, and Flir tools is now quite a decent entry level software interface for these models. The image synchronisation function is really very good for the user group this is target at. The file format is a standard JPEG which is particularly useful for data sharing between users that don’t have the proprietary software installed. The internal storage will handle around 500 images, which is not huge but most likely sufficient.

The new E series now features a removable (easily) battery, not internal like the previous i series. I am a big fan of removable batteries, particularly when cameras lock up etc, it’s a quick and easy way to restart them. Most importantly they are field replaceable. 4 hours seems to be the standard these days for battery life, which is excellent performance.

Now more important than the spec sheet, what are these models like to use in real life?

Actually quite good.

Build quality is a mile ahead of the previous Flir i Series (i3, i5, i7) which by comparison look like toys. These E series are solidly built, well weighted and have plenty of hand room. The user interface is well spread out with plenty of room for thumbs and fingers to operate the control pad. The previous i series were very compact and difficult to operate by comparison. A multi directional “thumbpad” beneath the screen allows simple navigation through the menu system. A big play button allows reviewing of images, and a “backward” arrow button is essential that, the esc or back key. Simple.

Thankfully, Flir have included Text menus above their icons so I don’t have to guess what the funny little pictures are. Thank goodness they identified the colour palette with a text identifier or I would never have worked it out. Ok, I get it… someone in my office just pointed out that it is a colour swatch.
The screen is great quality and the text is easy to read.

I have discovered a couple of issues which frustrate me. The main display screen does not identify the emissivity, so it requires me to enter the parameter menu to make sure it is set correctly (someone always fiddles with the emissivity!).

Secondly, the level and span function only toggles between auto and fixed. There is no user setting of level and span. This can be very limiting and would immediately frustrate an experienced user. It would appear this is yet another “line in the sand” between entry level and a more advanced series.

Finally, something I am noticing more and more is the lag in the unit response. Toggling between menus and functions often the camera is slow to respond and there is a significant delay between pressing the button and anything happening.

Would I buy one?
That depends on which model. The lower end, Flir E4 and E5 models are at a phenomenal price breakthrough and represent outstanding value for money.

The Flir E6 is comparably equal amongst it’s many competitors and offers adequate performance but nothing outstanding. It does have a thermal sensitivity of 0.06°C which does have the edge on some competitors, but otherwise plenty of value can be found at this price point.

The Flir E8 on the other hand requires much more careful consideration. These compete with many other feature rich models on the market. My main concern with the Flir E8 is who will buy it? It has the high performance detector that professionals want, but lacks the features to harness this performance. The overly wide lens angle and lack of focusing mechanism severely limits it’s application, as does the basic level and span functionality. Personally, if I were going to put up the money for a genuine 320×240 detector I would want it to do more than the Flir E8.

If nothing else it’s a sign of things to come…. better cameras that cost less. We can only imagine what the next round of product releases will produce.