What Is the Difference Between Radiometers, Spectrometers, Spectroradiometers and Spectrophotometers?

If you work in the biopharmaceutical industry, you’re likely familiar with the concept of light and color measurement and the equipment used in these processes — radiometers, spectrometers, spectroradiometers and spectrophotometers. While all four instruments are used to detect light and energy, they vary widely in their capabilities, applications and intended purposes. It’s important to know and understand the differences between these instruments to determine which one will adequately serve your needs.

What Is a Radiometer?

A radiometer measures the electromagnetic energy present in a wavelength range. This instrument is typically used to detect and quantify energy outside the visible light spectrum and measure infrared and ultraviolet light. The radiometer begins by measuring the incoming current or voltage, then corrects the signal to create a calibrated light level measurement. With this information, the meter provides one reading for all wavelengths of light that reach the sensor.

Pros and Cons of Radiometers

Radiometers are inexpensive and portable, making them a cost-effective and practical choice. This instrument can eliminate troublesome UV energy and detect and measure heat energy on surfaces. It also has one sensor that allows it to quickly measure intended wavelengths. However, radiometers cannot identify emitted wavelengths or their individual amplitude.

What Is a Spectrometer?

Spectrometers detect and measure wavelengths using numerous sensors and an optical grating or prism to break down the energy into components. Like a camera, spectrometers take a snapshot of the light and create an image depicting the output. They let in the light, break down the signal and spread it across a sensor range. This sensor separates the wavelengths and scales it based on incoming signal amplitude and sensor sensitivity.

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Pros and Cons of Spectrometers

Spectrometers are highly precise, accurate and analytical due to their thousands of sensors and are adaptable for use in many applications and industries. However, spectrometers are not standalone tools and must be paired with optics to work properly.

What Is a Spectroradiometer?

Spectroradiometers use light intensity calibration to measure with luminance, precision radiance and chromaticity. They have calibrations and optics that allow them to take calibrated measures of intensity, power, radiance and irradiance. This type of instrument is often used in research and development laboratories as a reference tool.

Pros and Cons of Spectroradiometers

There are far more pros of spectroradiometers than cons. They are highly accurate, portable and act as standalone systems that do not need to be connected to a PC.

What Is a Spectrophotometer?

Spectrophotometers take quantitative measurements of transmission or reflectance properties as a function of a wavelength. They can measure the concentration of a solution, determine color and are often used to identify organic compounds. Spectrophotometers contain a spectrometer but also use their own light source.

Pros and Cons of Spectrophotometers

Single-beam spectrophotometers have high sensitivity and throughput and are less complicated and more affordable than other instruments. However, they occasionally have drift problems due to the time needed between two events.

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