Best Cheap Thermal Scope

Best Cheap Thermal Scope

Whether you’re a professional hunter by trade, or simply a beginner looking to start out; taking down a target in darkness will always be one of the greatest challenges. A thermal scope can become your best friend when out in the field - your sight in the pitch dark.

As hunting rises in popularity so does the market for these handy devices. While there are many high-end thermal scopes available to anyone with money to blow; affordable options are also not hard to come by. 

Hunting equipment is always personal. It’s all about what makes you feel the most comfortable when out in the field. And when under the cover of darkness, your comfort is paramount. 

That being said; safety is the one thing that outweighs comfort any day. A thermal scope is one of the devices that quite literally lets you see where you otherwise could not. When entering the property of wild creatures a reliable scope is critical.

 We took the time to review three inexpensive thermal scopes to help you make your choice. 

What Is A Thermal Scope?

A thermal scope is a device that a hunter mounts to their rifle to be able to hunt at night. It is an electronic mechanism with similar features to the conventional telescope, just with more impressive abilities.  

Thermal scopes use heat sensitive or infrared sensors to distinguish temperature differences in the dark. The thermal sensor (microbolometer) detects the temperature differences in objects and uses this information to generate a thermal image. The viewer is then able to see all that wasn’t previously visible in the dark.

This technology was originally developed by the military to gain the upper hand in warfare. It has since been adopted by law enforcement, fire fighters and even everyday security guards - and of course hunters. 

Pulsar PL76417 Apex XQ38 2.2-8.8x38 Thermal Riflescope

Thermal scopes are not, however, only restricted to use in darkness. Hunters can make use of them in daylight as well. While everything will already be in view, the scope will still reflect temperature differences. This could help with spotting game that is camouflaged into the scenery.  

Thermal scopes are typically lightweight and not bulky. They add little to no resistance to your rifle and can be easy transported around the field. They are also usually incredibly durable, entirely capable of taking a tumble with you through even the roughest of terrains.  

Night hunting without one of these devices isn’t recommended. To follow are some benefits of investing in one to take along with you.

The Benefits:

Perhaps the biggest benefit of a thermal scope is the ability to see in complete darkness. Not only is the success of your hunt reliant on this, but your safety as well. 

Some thermal scopes feature on board video recording or live streaming via Wi-Fi. This lets you connect your experience with others in real time. Captured footage can also then be played back and reviewed later for assessment & discussion.  

Many hunters report improvement in their aim over time after working with a thermal scope.  

One of the greatest benefits will be how much more familiar with the hunting area you will become while navigating in the dark. After repetitive use, the pathways, embankments and foliage will no longer be as unfamiliar to you as before using a thermal scope.

Price Range:

Thermal scopes vary greatly in price depending on a number of factors. They can start at around $1500 and range all the way up to $15,000 for the exceptionally higher end units.  

Here’s what determines cost:

  • Sensor resolution is a big role player. Obviously higher resolution is a more visually desirable experience. The better the resolution the more expensive the scope. Cheaper scopes won’t offer as clear imagery - however they can still get the job done.
  • Some thermal scopes offer interchangeable lenses that can be purchased as add-ons. These are typically more expensive units. Most cheaper thermal scopes have fixed lenses that cannot be swapped.
  • Thermal scopes in theory should all have waterproof bodies. Sometimes cheaper units are only water resistant, not fully proof.
  • Perhaps the biggest decipherer of price are the seemingly unnecessary but very cool extra features. Wi-Fi connectivity, on board video recording, live streaming and still image capturing are some of these. With some scopes you can literally stream your hunt to social media as it unfolds.

The more features the scope houses, the more expensive it is likely to be.  

Best Affordable Thermal Scopes

ATN ThOR 4 1.25-5x

ATN Thor 4 1.25-5x, 384x288, Thermal Rifle Scope w/Ultra Sensitive Next Gen Sensor, WiFi, Image Stabilization, Range Finder, Ballistic Calculator and iOS and Android Apps

This is the cheapest of the three scopes we looked at but in no way does it lack in impressive features. 

The ATN ThOR 4 operates at an impressive rate of 110,592 pixels. For a low cost thermal scope that is incredibly clear imagery. We are also very impressed with the built in batteries that are able to last 18 hours in the field before needing a recharge. 

The ThOR isn’t waterproof but is, however, weather resistant. Depending on the nature of the climate where you live this could be a deterring factor. Hunting in the rain wouldn’t be possible. 

The most notable features of the ATN ThOR 4 are the following:

  • 384x288 Gen4 sensor = 110,592 pixels
  • Human detection range of 750 meters
  • 5x smooth zoom
  • HD picture display

The ThOR 4 has the ability to record both audio and video on board the unit. Unlike other units within this price range; it can hold up to 64GB SD cards inside. This isn’t a common feature in scopes of this price range. 

Dual streaming allows for all imagery to be viewed by a third party that isn’t necessarily in the field with you while you record as well.

PROS:

  • Affordable
  • Impressive battery life
  • On board audio and video

CONS:

  • Not waterproof 
  • Cannot change lenses 

FLIR Thermosight Pro PTS233 1.5-6x

FLIR Thermosight Pro PTS233 1.5-6x19mm Thermal Imaging Rifle Scope with Boson 320x256 12 micron 60Hz Core

We love this little scope and its compact design. FLIR is one of the industry leaders in thermal visuals and this Thermosight Pro is its affordable offering to the scope world.

While it doesn’t have the same storage capacity as the ThOR; the Thermosight can still hold 2.5 hours of on board video recording or 1000 still images. It cannot stream the footage elsewhere but can be played back at a later stage. 

Although it is compact in size it still manages to operate at an impressive human detection range of up to 800m. 

The feature of all features is its incorporation of the new Boson 12um core processor. This is state-of-the-art technology that was only recently released by FLIR. The fact that it is readily available in their less expensive models is worth the price tag alone. 

The most notable features of the Thermosight include:

  • 320x256 thermal sensor = 81 920 pixels 
  • 1.5x optical magnification
  • Multiple color spectrum 
  • 45mm eye relief

The Thermosight has significantly less pixel ability when compared to the ATN or the upcoming Pulsar Apex. However for a low cost unit it still showcases exceptionally high functioning. 

PROS:

  • Boson Core 
  • Long detection range
  • Light and compact

CONS:

  • No external streaming
  • Less pixels
  •  Unimpressive magnification range

Pulsar Apex XQ38 2.2-8.8x

Pulsar PL76417 Apex XQ38 2.2-8.8x38 Thermal Riflescope

When it comes to low cost thermal optics the Pulsar Apex takes the lead in most powerful unit thanks to its impressive 2.2x native magnification ability.

It has pixel display to match the ATN ThOR 4 also at 110,592 pixels but unlike the ThOR is entirely waterproof and weather resistant. 

This unit is slightly more expensive than the others. Because of this we would have at least expected a better battery life however the Apex only manages four to five hours at full charge. 

This aside, its ability to detect an animal up to 1300m away is quite astounding on such a compact device.

While the Apex can’t hold any video or audio footage on the unit itself, it can be linked to an output device for recording externally.

Some features worth noting are:

  • 384x288 17um sensor = 110,592 pixels
  • IPX7 water protection (waterproof)
  • 2.2x native magnification

PROS:

  • 1300m detection range
  • Can be operated with a remote control

CONS:

  • Only 4 hours of battery life
  • No on board recording 

Final Thoughts:

As hunting grows in appeal, so will the world of thermal imagery.

We can only hope that as it does these impressive brands such as FLIR, Pulsar & ATN continue to deliver affordable yet quality options for the low budget hunter. 

Our personal winner in this comparison was the ATN ThOR 4 1.25-5x thermal scope. The jam-packed list of features speaks for itself. The fact that it offers all these specs but at the lowest price is a wonder.

Your thermal scope should be an extension of yourself and your needs in the hunting field.  

And so we ask; which one do you have your eye on?