Modern thermal imaging radiometers are infrared systems usually endowed with some means of making surface temperature measurements of objects, as well as providing an image. These devices have evolved considerably over the past few decades, and are continuing to do so at an accelerating rate. Changes are not confined to merely camera size and user interface, but also include critical parameters, such as sensitivity, accuracy, dynamic range, spectral response, capture rates, storage media, and numerous other features, options, and accessories. Familiarity with this changing technology is much more than an academic topic. A misunderstanding or false assumption concerning system differences, could lead to misinterpretation of data, inaccurate temperature measurements, or disappointing, ambiguous results. Marketing demands have had considerable influence in the design and operation of these systems. In the past, many thermographers were scientists, engineers and researchers. Today, however, the majorities of people using these instruments work in the industrial sector and are involved in highly technical skilled trades. This change of operating personnel has effectively changed the status of these devices from a 'scientific instrument', to an 'essential tool'. Manufacturers have recognized this trend and responded accordingly, as seen in their product designs.
This paper explores the history of commercial infrared imaging systems and accessories. Emphasis is placed on, but not confined to, real time systems with video output, capable of temperature measurements.