Fluke Ti400, Ti300, Ti200 Thermal Imager Review

Models reviewed: Fluke Ti400

What’s to like:

Outstanding touch screen
Awesome “laser” precision focusing
Navigational Keypad
All the latest gadgetry
Fluke build quality

What’s not to like:

Bulky & Ergonomics do not favour the small handed
Image quality not as good as previous models
Narrow Dynamic Temperature Range
The much anticipated release of the new Fluke Series Thermal imagers has had everyone in the office talking. Never before have we seen such an abundance of cutting edge technology incorporated into a single model. The brochures have spruiked never before seen (in thermal imagers) functions such as:

Wifi connectivity to PC, Iphone, pad and Wifi to Lan
streaming video via HDMI,
a unique IR-Photonotes annotation system for improved documentation
LaserSharp™ autofocus for perfectly focused images
CNX™ Wireless System*
Text Annotation*
Video recording*
Cardinal compass*
Auto capture*
*coming soon via firmware update

Note: The following is a review of the Fluke Ti400. I will review the differences in the models Ti300 and Ti200 in the following posts. The series is based on a common platform so many features are shared.

Abundance of Tech… just not quite ready yet???

There is no doubt there is an abundance of technology here and this is what excites me. Unfortunately at the time of release, many of these (*) were unavailable to be tested and the website promises these will soon be available via a firmware update. Once they become available we will report on their performance.

It’s a bit of a let down once you’ve outlaid all that money. I am not sure what the strategy is here. I am left with the impression that this product is not complete nor fully functioning. I am suspect of what else hasn’t been finished yet or fully tested? My wifi and Bluetooth also did not work out of the box. I had to “register” my product to activate these features. If the marketing department thinks that is a clever ploy to get my information I am not impressed. How much more time will it take me to get my unit fully functioning? In my opinion this should have been completed in the factory and my product should be ready for work. As it is I notice these little issues in the first images I download… which is to be expected I guess. Note the range. If I change the scale by just 0.02°C it bugs out the level and span settings.

First Impressions
Given this style of camera is not a significant departure from it’s predecessors, it’s only natural to make comparison’s between this series Ti400/Ti300/Ti200 and the previous models Fluke Ti32/Ti29/Ti27/Ti25/Ti10. It’s like a Fluke Ti32 (predecessor) on steroids! It’s huge and has noticeably bulked up quite a bit. In many ways it similar with it’s pistol style hand grip, hand strap, general body styling, interface ports are in the same position, battery system is virtually identical, signature flip lens cap and the usual abundance of soft yellow and grey plastics that is unmistakeably FLUKE. Visually is where the similarities end, as the performance is quite different.

The biggest improvement… the user interface.
The most notable improvement on the Fluke Ti400/Ti300/Ti200 over previous models is the GUI or graphical user interface and controls. To put it bluntly the Ti32 (et al) was terrible, with it’s 3 button scrolling menu it drove me insane. Anything would have been better, and this is certainly a massive improvement. Thanks mostly to a touch screen that allows direct access to user functions. A single tap to the screen with your finger and the main menus are presented; measurement, memory, image, settings, camera. Anyone familiar with most breeds of cameras will easily recognise the grouping of functions and the subsequent “sub options” that follow. It is well laid out in a logical and user friendly fashion. The touch screen is superbly responsive, no lag, hesitation or inaccuracy. The onscreen buttons are large and easy to read, and more importantly easy to utilise with one’s finger!! The keypad on the other hand is not entirely intuitive. Although a vast improvement on the “clicky” sequential nature of the Ti32, function buttons F1, F2, F3 lack any further description and take a bit of exploration to discover their intended purpose. For those not familiar with FLUKE quick keys, these are must to learn to navigate between auto/manual scale, as well as fixed instantaneous scale adjustment. There are many reasons not to use a touch screen including gloves, PPE, requiring single handed operation (touch screen requires 2 hands), sweating or dirty fingers etc, so it’s reassuring to see a fully functional keypad with up/down/left/right arrow buttons to engage the menu system. The buttons are well spaced, so you could use them even while wearing bulky gloves or PPE etc.

A Fluke Ti32 on Steroids?
Yes, now let’s get back to the size thing. It does matter. After several hours of use it’s becoming a little cumbersome and top heavy. Unlike the Ti32 which was nicely weighted and well balanced, the Fluke Ti400 is less so. 1kg is quite heavy for a pistol style camera that is supported in a different manner (more by the wrist) to say a camcorder style camera (more by the palm of the hand). As I am getting more fatigued every gram off the centre of gravity becomes more noticeable, with the camera wanting to tilt forward. The grip is also of noticeable girth (approx. 160mm). It will suit the larger handed person, but anyone with a small(er) hand will soon get tired. Amongst our own sample of thermographers many of the more “slightly built” struggled to reach the trigger or laser focus button with a single hand.

What about the image?
In most reviews image quality is the first aspect I comment on, because it is arguably the single most important feature I look for in a thermal imager. After all, it’s the only aspect my customers will see and appreciate. Unfortunately this series and the Ti400 in particular have fallen short of their predecessor’s. Sure, compared to the rest of the market it’s a respectable image, but when held up to the previous model Fluke Ti32, the Fluke Ti400 is not as good. The Fluke Ti32 was driven by a 320×240, 45mk, VOX detector and was absolutely stunning. We’ve held this unit against it, side-by-side, to work out exactly what is so noticeably different. It is nowhere near as crisp or as noise free as the Fluke Ti32. The stated thermal sensitivity is almost the same (50mk), the detector spec, the same, but the images are not the same. It could be different smoothing and image enhancement algorithms (and they are likely to be different), it could be the different LCD screen, it could be the performance of the optics. It could be that this is not the VOX detector previously used, and may be a new amorphous silicon one (the high frequency noise in the image is certainly consistent with my experience with ASi detectors). I have no evidence other than what I see on the back screen and that is an image with noticeably more high frequency noise and less crispness than the previous model. That said, the image would certainly rival many competitive models.

Bring on… the “LASER”
There is no doubt Fluke have released one of the most amazing pieces of tech ever seen in a thermal imager. A “laser” that auto focuses the image. It is superb and works a treat. The speed and accuracy of this focusing mechanism is outstanding.

Fluke claim: “The Fluke Ti400 infrared camera is equipped with LaserSharp™ AutoFocus for perfectly focused images. Every. Single. Time. It uses a laser to calculate the distance to your target before it focuses. Place the red laser dot on the equipment you are inspecting, then pull and release the trigger for a perfect in-focus image.”

It really is an awesome piece of technology, but just before we get too carried away and ditch the manual focus altogether it does have some limitations that will require manual adjustment. Firstly it can be an issue on close-up objects where the parallax error between the laser and the image has you inadvertently focusing on the wrong object. Even at distance (of approx. 3 meters) my unit has a parallax error of approx. 150mm. When working outdoors in sunlight it is difficult to see where the laser is pointed. It also has some issues with movement, and if your target is moving too much it complains and recommends manual adjustment. Another issue arose when measuring a bright object, then the warning “too much light” appears.

It’s not a big issue, or one that thermographers are unfamiliar with. What is more frustrating is that when I do need to revert to manual focus, the focusing ring on the front of the lens is severely obstructed by the body fairings. For an “old school” manual focuser like myself, it makes manually focusing a chore. Thankfully the laser works most of the time and I can see myself easily becoming a convert.

Dynamic Temperature Range – Too Narrow, Too Wide?
The one thing that really stuck out to me was that the primary range of the instrument is -20 to 80°C. This is very narrow and will become a bit tiresome for the typical electrical and mechanical applications where many exceptions typically exceed this limit. My unit maxes out at 92.8° whereby I am forced to change ranges. The option of course is to choose the next range -20 to 250°C as I suspect most users will do. This is not a perfect solution as this range has significantly more noise in the background and provides less image quality. I suspect the narrowness of the first range is to maintain the sensitivity characteristics, as buyers are now keenly aware that thermal sensitivity equates to a high quality crisp image. Unfortunately it’s a bit narrow for my liking.

Something else that struck me as unusual was that the high temp range has a huge span from -20 to 1200°C. I’ve used 300°C to 1200°C, 400°C to 1200°C, 600°C to 1200°C, with the narrow ranges performing better at closer to temperature targets. Not many manufacturers have attempted such a wide span and it will be interesting to see the performance of this range in the field. The unit does have a handy little function called full automatic range, which will automatically jump between the ranges. This does remedy some of the shortcomings with having to change ranges all the time, but you still need to live with the poorer sensitivity of the wider dynamic ranges. Ideally, I would like my first dynamic range up to 100° or 120°C for both convenience and maintaining image quality.

The example below illustrate the additional noise and loss in thermal sensitivity when utilising the broader range and why NOT to use a broader dynamic range if you can avoid it. In this instance the first image was taken in -20 to 80°C while the second image -20 to 250°C. Note the significant difference in image noise and crispness.

Software… business as usual.
The Ti Series rolls out with the Fluke SmartView software, which as I have often stated is one of the best freeware packages available. The software is intuitive, easy to use and allows the “semi computer literate” to put a decent looking report together. It will take significantly more advanced skills to modify templates and make them standards compliant. Reprogramming the word templates is not for the faint hearted and requires some knowledge of XML documents and schemas.

Would I buy one?
Yes I would and I did. There is a lot of technology in this camera for this price point. While some are no doubt gimmicks, there are some truly ground breaking functions that will enhance a thermographer’s work. While some of my criticisms may seem harsh it’s because we’ve come to expect a lot from Fluke. The Ti32 set quite a precedent, and rather than just being the new kid on the block, the Ti400 has some big shoes to fill. Fluke already has a big fan base to please, and I can tell you that those current users aren’t comparing this model to a Flir or Testo etc, they’re comparing it to what they’ve currently got… which is a FLUKE.

The small things I have not directly commented on are the things we’ve come to expect: Outstanding build quality, robust and ruggedized, excellent batteries and charging systems… all the things that make Fluke products great.

In the coming weeks, as they new technologies become available* I hope to give them all a run under real world conditions.

As per customer request, here are some comparison images between the Fluke Ti400 and Testo 885.

Both were taken at 10cm, which is right on the minimal focal length.

For some reason I cannot make out the localised hot spot on the chipset with the Fluke camera the way that I can with the Testo, even when I adjust the temperature scale to be identical. The upper limit of 60°C is the lowest I could go with the Fluke without the image completely oversaturating.