Effective monitoring of mammal species is critical to their management. Thermal cameras may enable more accurate detection of nocturnal mammals than visual observation with the aid of spotlights. We aimed to measure improvements in detection provided by thermal cameras, and to determine how these improvements depended on ambient temperatures and mammal species. We monitored small to medium sized mammals in central Australia, including small rodents, bettongs, bilbies, European rabbits, and feral cats. We conducted 20 vehicle-based camera transects using both a spotlight and thermal camera under ambient temperatures ranging from 10°C to 35°C. Thermal cameras resulted in more detections of small rodents and medium sized mammals. There was no increased benefit for feral cats, likely due to their prominent eyeshine. We found a strong relationship between increased detections using thermal cameras and environmental temperature: thermal cameras detected 30% more animals than conventional spotlighting at approximately 15°C, but produced few additional detections above 30°C. Spotlighting may be more versatile as it can be used in a greater range of ambient temperatures, but thermal cameras are more accurate than visual surveys at low temperatures, and can be used to benchmark spotlight surveys.