Beekeeping With a “Flir One for Android”

Beekeeping With a “Flir One for Android”

This post was originally written in December 2016, but has been completely revised and simplified for December 2018.

I’ve been fooling around with a Flir One For Android thermal imaging device for about two years, going into my third winter now. It’s kind of neat, but it’s not an essential tool for backyard beekeepers, certainly not for beekeepers on a budget. Whenever I use it on a cold winter’s days, it usually dies in about 5 minutes, even when it’s fully charged. So whatever photos or videos I take with it, I have to move quick.

An example of using the Flir One in the dark:

I know people who get much better results with their Flir One than I do, possibly because they’ve taken the time to work through and uncover the best settings and are able to manipulate the images with software afterwards to give them something useful. I tried digging into the finer settings of the Flir One, using various apps and software, and never had consistent results. I just don’t have time for that. It was way too fiddly. I settled on the plug-it-in-and-go approach and the results have not been spectacular, and really not much better than what got from poking around with the software for too many hours.

The images show me that, yes, heat is coming from inside the hives, but I’ve never been able to get a precise reading that tells me anything I can’t get from listening to the bees through a cheap stethoscope. I have to listen carefully to figure out what’s going on through a stethoscope, mostly listening to the distant sounds that it picks up, but it works. I can go right around a hive with the stethoscope and tell where the cluster is the most dense.

I can see the Flir One coming in handy for when something goes really wrong. I once had a winter cluster split in two because I stupidly left a frame of foundation (with no comb on it) in a top box full of honey — and that move pretty much killed the colony. If I had a thermal imaging camera in that situation, I may have been able to dig into the hive and fix it. So, yes, in some situations, it could prevent the death of a colony, which for many people would be worth the $400+ price tag (that’s what I paid for it in Canada in 2016). But more attentive beekeeping in the first place could prevent those situations too.

I didn’t think the Flir One would be of any use once I wrapped my hives in black roofing felt for the winter, but I noticed the heat signature seems to bleed through in places where the wrap is tightly pressed against the hive. I’m pretty sure the Flir One would be useless on hives with thick wraps such as a “Bee Cozy.” The Flir One also does a better job at reading temperatures off non-shiny surfaces, which means hives that aren’t painted will likely give off a more precise reading than hives that are painted.

I’ll probably continue to use the Flir One out of curiosity, but for most circumstances that I’m likely to deal with in the winter, I’m not sure the Flir One is really necessary or worth the expense.

Some details on how I poked around and experimented with the fine settings of the Flir One apps and software, and then gave up on it, can be found in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Beekeeping With a “Flir One for Android”

  1. This is the same device I’ve been given to try out. My hives aren’t painted so will be interesting to see how my results compare to yours.

  2. My hives aren’t wrapped yet either. I wonder how that’ll change things… if I wrap them.

    I’ve taken more photos with it. The results are getting better, though I can’t seem to adjust the thermal sensitivity. The way I’m winging is, I turn off the auto-gain, then point the camera at something hot or cold (my body or the ground) and then press the recalibrate button, so it sets a new baseline, or a new minimum, for the thermal signature to show up. But there’s nothing exact about that and there doesn’t seem to be a way to calibrate that exactly… if I’m making sense.

    I haven’t downloaded the Flir Tools software yet.

  3. There doesn’t appear to be any precise way to calibrate the Flir One. It’s either on automatic settings, which half the time don’t produce images that show much of anything, or a manual calibration settings, which I described in my last comment — and are not at all precise.

    It’d be more useful if I could set the dynamic range of the colours. For instance, the coldest colour might be set for 5°C and the hottest 20°C. Basic manual settings like that don’t seem to be available through the app.

    I haven’t had time to poke around much the with Flir Tools software yet, but what little poking around I have done seems promising. But just looking at the software tires me out. I’m just don’t have the time or the energy to dig into it right now.

    The people at Flir may want to consider a consumer and professional version of the app and the software. A simplified consumer version would be preferable for my needs. That, or they need to provide a instructional video that shows consumers how to get the most out of the software. Just some friendly suggestions.

    If I didn’t have a full-time job and had more time to try to learn the software, I might not have any of this issues. At this rate, I’ll probably have my head around all of it by Xmas.

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