IPI-R-Zero Thermal Imaging Camera

The IPI-R-Zero is one of those thermal imaging cameras you approach with scepticism. With a price tag of just (see pricing) it makes you wonder what you aren’t getting and just how suspect is it?

The first instinctive interrogations that run through my mind go to it’s robustness and build quality, it’s useability in a real world environment, the imaging performance and whether or not the software will be sufficient to actually generate a respectable report. All too often this market segment is let down by manufacturer’s claims falling short of the customer’s real world expectations.

So how does the R-Zero perform?
Well, not too bad… in fact for the money you would have to say it is excellent.

As you would expect from these no frills models you will not see inbuilt visual cameras, laser pointers, video output, autofocus, video recording, or similar such bells and whistles found in the higher end models R Series family of thermal imaging cameras (R1, R2, R4).

One thing the camera does not compromise on is the detector quality and this sub $3k camera benefits from the same sized 160×120 detector resolution found in the higher end models. The thermal sensitivity is a very respectable 100mk which is fairly common for this plant maintenance style of camera that has a temperature measurement range of 0 to 250°C in one uninterrupted range (ie single range).

The 20.6° FOV lens is certainly on the narrow side which favours electrical/plant maintenance inspections or distant work. The result is a higher than average spatial resolution which gives an enhanced image compared to wider angle variants. It provides a very sharp looking image.

IPI-R-Zero Thermal Image of Switchboard

IPI-R-Zero Thermal Image of Door

IPI-R-Zero Thermal Image of Wall Below Window

IPI-R-Zero Thermal Image of Wall Above Window

There are a surprising number of inputs for this entry level model, and in addition to the obligatory Emissivity and Reflected Temperature inputs, the unit also allows for distance and humidity correction. There is an emissivity table built in for easy pre-selection, although novice operators need to be warned that emissivity compensation is not as simple as preselecting material types and significant errors may be encountered if the subject emissivity is not well understood.

The palette selection is certainly budget, offering a selection of just 4, notably the most common including grey scale, iron, rainbow and a proprietary black/red which is one of my favourites. It’s certainly enough to get the job done, and the PC software gives you access to all 9 palettes that the higher end models enjoy.

Does it have a focus?
It’s really hard to get a nice sharp image without a manual focusing mechanism, and while many manufacturers choose to go down the “focus free” path, I was please to discover the R-Zero was fully equipped with an electronic manual focus. The focusing method is motorized, allowing for single handed operation. A simple adjustment of the far/near focus button gives you a sharp crisp image with little fuss. Very nice indeed.

The 3.6 inch TFT LCD screen is a nice size but can be hard to see outdoors. It would certainly benefit from the optional sunshield. There is no optional brightness adjustment.

The unit is powered by 6 AA rechargeable batteries. Disposable alkaline types can also be used for an instant power source. This is extremely convenient in a plant or maintenance environment where on demand convenience is essential. This type of battery system provides over 2 hours of continuous operation. It’s certainly not the longest amount of time, considering some models with Lithium Ion technology offer nearly double that, however that is the price for the convenience and low cost of the AA battery type.

How does it feel?
The ergonomics and feel are surprisingly good for a sub $3k camera. While many entry level models feel like toys, the R-Zero is surprisingly solid. It is well balanced and the decent sized grip has a generous coating of soft rubber. Overall it has a positive feel and more importantly you don’t feel ripped off!

The user interface is really basic and simple. It’s hard to get lost or go wrong because it really has been simplified (compared to the higher end thermal imaging cameras). 3 buttons at the base of the screen correspond to onscreen prompts, such as menu, setup, parameters etc. Most options or functions are then simply handled by a confirmation of the corresponding key, and navigation is a simple up/down key that scrolls through the menu options. It is NOT a sequential menu, but discretely laid out which greatly speeds up navigation.

Finally capturing an image is as simple as pulling the trigger, which pauses the image and an onscreen prompt will confirm if you want to save it…. Simple.

In terms of saving, a 2GB removable SD card (on the side of the unit) takes care of that, storing an ample number of images… more than 2000. The most impressive thing about the image storage is that it is in a universal JPG format that is fully radiometric. That means it contains all the temperature data for analysis in the software, and it can also be shared and opened in common image browsers. This offers great flexibility in the workplace and facilitates sharing of images amongst colleagues (without having to install software).

Can I make a decent report?
Speaking of software… it is equally impressive! The IR Analyser software package is without a doubt my favourite freeware software on the market. It’s a full professional package that is completely free. It arguably generates one of the most professional report templates with minimal fuss. This is largely due to the fact it relies on a Microsoft word based template which is easily customised by the user. There is virtually no limit to the styles and formats you can develop with this software. The analysis is quick and robust and has some very clever little tools. One such tool is the advanced temperature gauge setting; allowing you to set the temperature level and span of one image and apply it to all others (for common comparison). This is a fantastic function, especially when you have taken multiple images of a common target in auto mode and each image is captured on a slightly different temperature scale.

To sum it all up…
Overall this camera leaves me surprisingly impressed. One doesn’t expect to be impressed at this price point given the generally low spec equipment you would encounter at this price point. The imagery speaks for itself, with the camera performing as well as many thermal imaging cameras twice it’s price. The usability is also very respectable and it leaves me without any major criticisms. Undoubtedly great value for money… what more can you ask.