IPI-R9 Infrared Thermal Imager

The IPI-R9 thermal imager is certainly at the high end of image performance. The French detector is surprisingly uniform and crisp, delivering 110,592 pixels of measurement from the 384×288 detector. I say surprisingly because compared to other brands in the market that utilise this same detector, this one has virtually no drift and exceptional stability at the periphery of the image. The stated thermal sensitivity of 80mk appears to be a very conservative number, as this image looks every bit as good as cameras I’ve seen with much lower stated NETD’s.

The standard temperature range is -20 to 250°C which puts the camera in safe territory for electrical and mechanical maintenance. While 350°C would be nice as a standard option, 350°C and 1200°C are both optional extras.

With a refresh rate of 50Hz/60Hz, the IPI-R9 thermal imager is as fast as they get, making it ideal for monitoring moving targets or performing inspections while on the move. This is largely what this camera is designed for, given it has the capability of real-time fully radiometric video capture. The camera has a 4GB SD card that can store more than an hour of video. Each frame can then be individually analysed one-by-one with full temperature measurement capabilities on the PC software. I can think of dozens of applications where this would be useful, particularly when monitoring events that can occur in a fraction of a second and you can’t possibly hit the capture button in time or gather enough data.

The manufacturer tells us the IFOV is 1.0mrad on this device with the standard 22° lens. This is a great geometric resolution for distance work and imaging electrical components, giving crisp, high definition results. Disappointingly the manufacturer has not provided the MFOV or DTS, although our own laboratory tests show it is approx 350:1 on a round target, which is very impressive. Equally impressive is the array of lenses that are optioned with this camera, including a wide angle lens of 40° FOV, and 2 telephoto options, 11° and 7°.

Is she straight?

On the model we tested we had the optional 40° wide angle lens. The lens fitment system is strong and sturdy, machined from solid Stainless Steel, and utilises a quick release mechanism. At the push of a button and a twist (similar to an SLR camera) one lens is off and the other is on. The camera has an automatic lens detection system, which up until recently was only found on much more expensive models. So, without having to manually input the lens value into the camera you are instantly ready to go. Another thing I noticed, is that there is not bloating, skew, curve or distortion of the image at the edges, which is a common feature with many wide angle lens systems. With the wide angle lens installed, straight lines appear straight throughout the entire image. Nice one!

Quality, high resolution visual images is not something we often associate with thermal imagers. For years thermal imagers have taken sub standard visual pictures. Finally manufacturers are stepping up to the mark (albeit slowly) and the IPI-R9 thermal imager at least has a 2.3 megapixel image onboard. It’s certainly not as high as some of the better units on the market which are now pushing 3 and 4 megapixels, but at least it is respectable. With the aid of a super bright LED lamp it also provides respectable imaging in low light. The visual image capture is simultaneous with the thermal capture and does not require any user intervention!

The IPI-R9 thermal imager has a nice big LCD screen measuring 3.5 inches. It’s indoor performance is excellent. It utilises a very high definition screen and the crispness is extraordinary. This comes at a trade-off to it’s outdoor performance which quite frankly is atrocious. Without the use of the optional sunshield, you have little chance of seeing this screen on a bright sunny day. I realise one must ask themselves, what are you imaging outdoors on a bright sunny day for? However there are some instances where outdoor imaging is necessary. It is disappointing that the sunshield is not a standard fitment given that it is virtually impossible to see the screen in bright sunlight.

The display is clean and unimpeded by onscreen logos, menus or graphics, leaving you with a big crisp image. Despite being discrete, the IPI-R9 thermal imager still has excellent onscreen information such as emissivity, temperature palette & scale, manual or automatic mode, center point cursor and hot seeking cursor information. Important warning icons do appear onscreen when necessary such as when employing the Laser, LED lamp, upon failure of the SD card, and the all important battery indicator.

Saving an image

Given the “pistol” style of this camera, saving is as intuitive as squeezing the trigger. A handy little interface gives you the option of viewing the visual image to confirm clarity, saving a 60 second voice annotation or continuing to save the image. Simple and effective.

All importantly the IMAGE NUMBER is displayed onscreen for a split second, allowing you to transcribe this all important number to your running report/sheet/notes so that you can later identify which image you assigned to what asset. In my opinion it could stay on-screen for a fraction longer, blink and you might miss it.

Not only does the camera support a removable 4GB SD card, but it also maintains 1GB of onboard memory as a backup data source. In the event that your card fails or you’ve forgotten to put one in you can still continue to capture in the order of 500 images to the onboard memory. From experience I can tell you that a feature like this is worth every penny. Having sometimes driven or flown hours to site, only to arrive without your data card (because it’s still sitting in your PC) or had a data card fail due to corruption of damage, this backup can really get you out of trouble.

Also, in years to come when SD cards become obsolete and impossible to replace, the onboard memory ensures that you can always save images.

So, what’s it like to use?

In general, the user interface does not get much simpler than on the IPI-R9 thermal imager. The buttons beneath the 3.5 inch screen give you your primary menus, and once setup, users will have very little need to enter them again. After an hour or so of use you can tell the engineers definitely designed this with “point and shoot” philosophy in mind. This will frustrate more experienced users who are more likely to manually drive a camera, compared to the point and shoot mentality of the novice. IPI-R9 thermal imager does have some quick keys which speed things up, but they are less than intuitive if you are not well versed on the “alternative” function that exists on the menu keys. With a bit of practice, you can certainly pick up the pace on this unit, but it is not readily apparent from the user interface.

Ergonomically the IPI-R9 thermal imager could do with some work. The pistol type style is not unique, however this unit has failed to achieve the nice balanced feel that this designed is renown for. I believe this is mostly due to an over engineered lens system which is clearly intended for a much more expensive camera. The extra weight of the lens makes this unit top heavy, so it doesn’t naturally balance itself in my hand. Of course the trade-off is a lens system that is unparalleled at this price point and for that i am happy to live with it.

The plastics in my opinion are also are a little average. They feel cheap and hard, although a 2 meter drop specification assures me they are up to the task of properly protecting this camera and the manufacturer assures me this plastic is designed to withstand an impact. To improve the look and feel, nice rubber touches have been made around wear and contact points which do improve the feel and aesthetics considerably. While i have had no issue with our test unit in 6 months of use, the hinged components don’t fill me with long term confidence. The case is well put together and all the plastics align properly and neatly, so no complaints there.

The IPI-R9 thermal imager utilises 6 AA rechargeable batteries that give a respectable 2.5-3 hours of operation. AA won’t suit everyone, especially the thermographer that operates for 8+ hours in the field. You would typically need 3 sets of batteries to get you through a full day of imaging and that would mean juggling 18 individual batteries which would be cumbersome not to mention tiresome! However, we need to keep in mind that this camera is aimed at the general predictive maintenance market and the in-house thermographer who will tend to use the camera for much shorter periods at a time. With this in mind, the AA batteries become very functional and convenient. If a set of rechargeable batteries is not available (or flat), disposable alkaline batteries can be quickly substituted to provide immediate power for the user. This has saved me on more than one occasion. The batteries also charge within the camera, so if you are using the camera for less than 3 hours at a time, they can be conveniently charged without remove them from the unit at all… simply plug it into the wall charger.

Comparison of a switchboard

Testo 882 Switchboard

Testo 885 Swithcboard

Testo 890 Switchboard

FLIR T420 Switchboard

Fluke Ti32 Switchboard

IPI-R9 Switchboard

Air Infiltration, Missing Insulation

This comparison is relative to building diagnostic imaging.

Testo 882 Door

Testo 885 Door

Testo 890 Door

Flir T420 Door

Fluke Ti32 Door

IPI-R9 Door

Small Component Resolution Test

Here is a good comparison of geometric or spatial resolution as we look at small components on PCB boards (in this case a PC motherboard).

Testo 882 Server

Testo 885 Server

Testo 890 Server

Flir T420 Server

Fluke Ti32 Server

IPI-R9 Server

Software is all the same isn’t it?

You could be mistaken for thinking that this software looks like all the others… on the surface that is. Delve a little deeper and you will find one of the best “freeware” packages available on the market. If you’ve spent any serious hours in front of a PC doing thermal reports you will know exactly what you need to do, and how frustrating this is when software doesn’t do it quickly. It soon becomes obvious that this software was designed by thermographers. You can open an image simply by double clicking anywhere on the workspace, or of course you can use any of the traditional methods Temperature scaling is available FULL time on the image for immediate adjustment. Colour palette changes are as easy as simple rolling your mouse across the choice of 9 colour palettes for an immediate preview. Analysis is easily accessible via right clicking or the icons directly above the image, and once set, customisations are remembered automatically. These are just a few of the well thought out processes that every thermographer goes through in report preparation. In short it saves time and frustration that comes with laborious and monotonous image preparation. The best bit is the final report generation process that utilises word based templates to generate a completely customisable and professional document. Anything that utilises word has it won in my book. In word I can install my own template functions, auto text, footers, tables, boxes etc, to meet the standards requirements of my industry.

What’s it worth?

The IPI-R9 infrared thermal imager has come down a lot in price recently, making it one of the more affordable high performance predictive maintenance cameras. Given the long list of features, it is certainly worthy of the price tag and for those taking full advantage of it’s high speed and video capture capabilities it is worth every cent. Independent of these high performance features is one of the best “freeware” analysis and reporting packages available, and that alone makes this a high value proposition. For those who have mandatory reporting requirements, this alone will save significant time and money.