No Light, No Problem

FLIR improves on its lien of marine cameras with five new models.
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The visible light camera at nearly full dark on the Elizabeth River.

The visible light camera at nearly full dark on the Elizabeth River.

At the annual NMEA Conference held in Portsmouth, Virginia, in September, FLIR previewed the M300 line of marine cameras, including the company’s first visible light only camera. The company also debuted Color Thermal Vision (CTV) and MSX edge-enhancing imaging technologies. I took a night ride on the FLIR/Raymarine demo boat in busy Norfolk Harbor and saw how all this technology can enhance situational awareness.

The M300 line adds horizontal stabilization to the previous generation’s vertical stabilization capabilities; iIt’s achieved with what FLIR calls its Attitude Heading Reference System (AHRS). The cameras also supply acceleration data to a Raymarine’s Axiom MFD to enable ClearCruise AR without a separate AR200 sensor pack.

An Axiom with a FLIR M364C showing the glow from the red LED on the buoy

An Axiom with a FLIR M364C showing the glow from the red LED on the buoy

CTV and MSX

When paired with a Raymarine Axiom or Axiom Pro, the dual payload models—color and thermal camera-equipped—in the M300 lineup can use information from both sensors to present a colorized thermal image (or CTV). CTV is pretty impressive to see at work out on the water. It blends thermal and high-definition visible color video for enhanced identification of buoys, vessels and other targets at night.

MSX uses the superior resolution of the visible light camera to provide greater edge detail than the thermal sensor alone can provide. Thermal sensors don’t display edge detail well in cases where there’s minimal thermal contrast between objects and with distant objects. MSX allows the detail from the visible light camera to be overlayed on the thermal image. This is the first time FLIR has made MSX available in its marine cameras. The technology has been carried over from the company’s industrial diagnostic cameras and FLIR One smartphone cameras.

A thermal only image from an M364

A thermal only image from an M364

The Lineup

In a first for FLIR, the M300C ($6,500) is a visible-light-only camera. With a minimum illumination of 0.0008 lux, FLIR is confident (and I saw proof on our demo ride) that this will enhance the situational awareness of many boaters in low-light situations. Like all M300 models, the M300C features 2-axis stabilization, automatic defrost and 360-degree continuous pan with 90-degree tilt. The Sony Exmor CMOS sensor is paired with a 30x optical zoom and 12x digital zoom. Without a thermal sensor the M300C won’t be suitable for SAR or true zero lux situations.

The M300 lineup has two thermal-only options. Like all thermal-capable cameras in the line, these models utilize FLIR’s Boson core. The M332 ($8,500) features a 320x256 pixel thermal sensor with gyro stabilization, pan and tilt. The M364 ($14,200) sports a 640x512 pixel thermal sensor with the same features as the rest of the line.

At the top of the M300 line is the M364C ($20,500) and M364C LR ($29,500), dual-payload cameras. These cameras are differentiated from each other by their field of view. The M364C has a 24-degree field-of-view, while the long-range M364C LR has a narrower 18-degree field-of-view. Both cameras use the 640x512 pixel thermal sensor ,as well as the 1080p visible-light sensor fitted with a 30x optical zoom lens.

m300-series-group-photo-1600x1235

Broad Compatibility

All M300 cameras will work well with MFDs from Furuno, Garmin, Navico and Raymarine. The cameras support touch-enabled pan, tilt and zoom, video over IP, HD-SDI and analog video output, vertical and horizontal stabilization, slew to cue to allow AIS, MARPA and slew to touchpoint, and full access to the outputs of thermal and visible-light cameras. The M300 cameras are the first FLIR marine thermal cameras to add Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) support. ONVIF will make it easier for other platforms to connect to the cameras without implementing FLIR’s custom API.

Better with Axiom

These are highly capable tools for night vision and search and rescue when attached to any display. But, when paired with a Raymarine (FLIR owns Raymarine) Axiom or Axiom Pro MFD the capabilities grow dramatically to include situational-awareness-enhancing tools, including: ClearCruise AR augmented reality overlay, Color Thermal Vision and MSX edge detail enhancement. But note, these features are only available when the cameras are paired with an Axiom or Axiom Pro. The Axiom line starts with the 7-inch Axiom 7 ($650).