A nocturnal hunter is only as good as their equipment. While it is true that knowledge about the animal you're hunting and your ability to move in the wild silently are critical to your success, neither of those will help you if you don’t have the right equipment.
After all, humans can't see in the dark and seeing your quarry is critical to hunting it. This is where thermal binoculars and thermal bi-oculars come into the picture. Many of you may already have a thermal scope for your rifle or crossbow.
Buying thermal binoculars for hunting, however, requires a different kind of knowledge than what you have as a hunter. Thermal imaging binoculars and similar devices are marvels of modern science and to be able to evaluate them you need to understand how they work and how they are different than normal binoculars. At the very least, you need to know the basics so that you can look for the right features.
This is especially true if you're new to night hunting. The more seasoned nocturnal hunters would know a lot of what we’re going to share here anyway but even they may not know all there is to know. We’re going to be reviewing multiple thermal binoculars, bi-oculars, and other devices on this page but before we do that let us strip away the magic of these devices and understand how they work.
What Is Thermal Imaging?
When light falls on an object, it absorbs some of it and reflects some of it. This reflected light is processed by our eyes and brain, which is how we see the object and perceive its shape and color. In the dark, however, the object doesn’t reflect any light because no light falls on it. Since our eyes have no reflected light to process, we can’t see the object. To this point, we’ve only talked about the visible spectrum of light.
There are other types of electromagnetic radiation that our eyes cannot see. One of these is infrared. Infrared is, basically, heat radiated by an object. If an object generates heat, like animals, it will radiate it into the environment around it. Thermal imaging is the process of translating this radiant heat into images that our eyes can perceive and our brains process.
Thermal imaging devices have heat sensors that detect heat being radiated by objects, animals, and people in their field of vision. They take the differences in temperature and convert them into images. In these images, areas with light temperatures are shown in lighter colors while higher temperatures are presented in darker colors.
In the wild, when you're stalking an animal, very few objects will be generating significant heat. In fact, animals and people generate the most heat in the majority of wilderness scenarios. Therefore, if you use thermal binoculars for hunting, you'll make it considerably easier to spot your quarry even through dense brush or foliage.
What Type Of Thermal Imaging Is Used For Hunting?
Thermal imaging has a wide variety of applications. It is used in medicine, construction, archaeology, surveillance, and hunting. In hunting, thermal imaging is used in the form of four different devices – scopes, monoculars, binoculars, and bi-oculars.
Thermal imaging scopes are attached to guns and their primary purpose is to help you aim and shoot at your target in darkness. You may be able to use scopes for spotting targets in a tight spot but it will be very inconvenient and difficult because their field of view is very small.
Monoculars, binoculars, and bi-oculars are all used for spotting targets in the dark and their efficiency varies greatly. The primary difference between these three types of spotting devices is their design. Monoculars and bi-oculars have one objective lens each while binoculars have two. In terms of eye pieces, bi-oculars and binoculars have two each, while monoculars have just have one.
Therefore, monoculars have a single optical channel designed for a single eye. In binoculars, there are two independent channels, one for each eye, which means that slightly different images are presented to each eye. In bi-oculars, the objective lens captures an image which is presented to both the eyes through separate eye pieces.
Nocturnal spotting devices are manufactured by multiple companies but the three most dominant in the industry are Armasight by FLIR, ATN, and Pulsar. Each of these companies manufactures a wide array of thermal imaging and night vision devices other than nocturnal spotting scopes. These include rifle scopes, goggles, clip-on systems, illuminating tools, and a number of thermal imaging attachments or paraphernalia.
Binoculars vs. Bi-Oculars vs. Monoculars in Hunting
Thermal imaging binoculars are not as popular with hunters as thermal imaging monoculars. Hunters choose monoculars despite the fact that thermal vision binoculars are the most efficient and effective for spotting targets. It is important to understand why.
The two biggest reasons for this are weight and cost. Because a nocturnal hunter has to manage so much equipment, the total weight he or she carries becomes a critical consideration. As thermal binoculars are significantly heavier than monoculars, most hunters choose the latter in spite of their inferiority when it comes to performance.
Thermal imaging binoculars are also substantially more expensive than monoculars as well. Therefore, hunters who don’t have deep pockets have no other option than to settle for monoculars.
There is a happy compromise between thermal imaging binoculars and monoculars, though. In thermal imaging for hunting, it is a newer option called thermal bi-oculars. Thermal bi-oculars are more effective than thermal monoculars but not as expensive as thermal binoculars. They're even lighter than binoculars. The mix of these three qualities makes them ideal for the majority of hunters although features, cost, and efficiencies may vary from one product to another.
The 7 Best Thermal Binoculars and Bi-oculars
1. FLIR Command 336 3-12x50mm
336 x 256
9 Hz / 30 Hz / 60 Hz
Optional Digital Recorder
2. Pulsar Accolade XP50
640 x 480
Laser Range Finder (LRF model ), Wi-Fi, Video Recording
3. ATN BinoX 4T 640 1.5-15x
640 x 480
3D Gyroscope, Laser Range Finder, E-Compass, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Microphone, Video recording
4. FLIR Command 8 HD 336 8-32x100mm
336 x 256
30 Hz/60 Hz
Optional Digital Recorder
5. Pulsar Accolade XQ38
384 x 288
Laser Range Finder (LRF model ), Wi-Fi, Video Recording
6. ATN BinoX 4T 384 4.5-18x
384 x 288
3D Gyroscope, Laser Range Finder, E-Compass, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Microphone, Video recording
7. AGM Global Vision Explorator
640 x 512
Wifi, GPS, video recording, proximity sensor, Digital Detail Enhancement, OLED display, manual focus
If you're planning to make a foray into nocturnal hunting or even nocturnal wildlife observation, you'll need to make use of a thermal imaging device. We’ve been researching all the available devices and have made use of all our experience to find the best options for you. These are our findings.
1. FLIR Command 336 Thermal Imaging Bi-Ocular
We’ll just focus on the Armasight by FLIR Command 336 3-12x50mm in this review. Even though the feature set of these binoculars isn't as well-endowed as the BinoX thermal bi-ocular series, most of what is missing isn’t really essential to nocturnal hunting and instead should be seen as augments.
One of the qualities of the Command 336 3-12x50mm is that it is built specifically with the users’ comfort in mind. A good proof of this is that it is easy to use and boasts of an incredibly fast start up time of only three seconds.
Additionally, the excellent OLED viewfinder with a resolution of 800 x 600 in combination with the fast video refresh rate keeps the image crystal clear and eliminates any kind of delays. The housing of these bi-oculars is not only sturdy but also lightweight and compact. Inside the housing, the thermal sensor has a resolution of 336 x 256 and is even protect by an unprecedented 10-year warranty.
The one oversight that FLIR may be guilty of with regard to these binoculars is battery life. This limitation of the FLIR Command 336 3-12x50mm may be severe enough to be a deal breaker for many hunters. The battery life of only four hours is very low compared to other similar devices in the market, but you can get spare CR123 batteries. However, if this $3,500 device checks all the right boxes for you, you could always compensate for the short battery life with spare battery packs.
2. Pulsar Accolade XP50 Thermal Bi-Ocular
Pulsar Accolade XP50 Thermal Binocular is part of the same series as the Accolade XQ38. In fact, they were released at the same time. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise you that a lot of their features, benefits, and flaws are similar in nature.
The Pulsar Accolade XP50 Thermal Binocular, however, are more effective in the wild and darkness. It has a higher thermal sensor resolution of 640 x 480 than the Accolade XQ38’s 384 x 288. This means that its images are not only clearer but also that it has a better range of 1800 meters too. Magnification range of these thermal imaging binoculars is to the tune of 2.5-20x which is significantly higher than the XQ38 as well.
The Pulsar Accolade XP50 Thermal Binoculars has all the qualities of the Accolade XQ38 including the 50Hz video refresh rate, the frost resistant AMOLED 640 x 480 display screen, and the 7-hour battery life. Moreover, the Accolade XP50 is designed with a compact, lightweight, and waterproof IPX7 body that is resistant to everything from rain, snow, and fog to even high waves.
Like the Accolade XQ38, the Pulsar Accolade XP50 Thermal Binoculars don’t come with the long lasting 20-hour battery pack. A bigger hitch with the Accolade XP50 would be its price. The device costs approximately $6,000 which would be a significant outlay for even the most successful nocturnal hunters.
3. ATN BinoX 4T 640 Thermal Binocular
The ATN BinoX-4T 640 thermal binocular is the bigger brother of the ATN BinoX-4T 384. It offers the same kind of feature set and qualities as its junior compatriot. However, there are certain key differences. One of these is the thermal sensor resolution.
The ATN BinoX-4T 640 has a thermal resolution of 640 x 480. This is significantly higher than the ATN BinoX-4T 384 thermal binoculars and has a huge impact on this device’s effectiveness. Better optical capacities improve detection range and gradient presentation.
This device’s magnification range of 1.5 to 15x is much higher than the BinoX-4T 384’s as well. This means clearer pictures of objects that are located much farther away. In practice, you can expect the ATN BinoX-4T 640’s performance to be about 150% more effective than the ATN BinoX-4T 384.
Like the 384, the ATN BinoX-4T 640 thermal binocular also benefits from having a 3D gyroscope, an e-compass, range finder and a microphone. The same flaw of the user interface being more difficult to master exists here too.
However, all these features combined with the more advanced optical technology mean that you'll have to fish deeper into your pockets to get this baby. You should expect the ATN BinoX-4T 640 1.5-15x price to be closer to $4,900 than the $4,000 of the ATN BinoX-THD 384 4.5-18x.
If you're more specific about your thermal imaging requirements, you may want to consider FLIR Command series over the ATN BinoX-4T series we’ve reviewed above. The reason for this is that the Command thermal bi-ocular series has far more variants than the BinoX series does. The variants mainly differ in terms of the video refresh rate and the objective focal length for focusing range.
The Command 336, itself, comes in no less than six different variants. These include the 336 3-12x50mm (mag 2.8-3.4x), the Command 336 5-20x75mm (mag 5.3-6.3x), and the Command 336 8-32x100mm (mag 7-8.4x), with each of them available in 30Hz and 60Hz video refresh rates. All this variety means that you get to pick and choose as per your specific needs. Needless to say, as you go towards higher focal lengths and video refresh rates, the cost goes up too.
4. FLIR Command 8 HD 336 Thermal Imaging Bi-Ocular
The optics on the Armasight Command 8 HD Thermal Imaging Bi-ocular w/FLIR Tau 2 are the product’s most impressive feature. But honestly speaking, we don’t expect anything less given the 100mm objective lens found on the unit. You can expect to view images with sharp clarity at night. Moreover the 336 x 256 thermal resolution coupled with the various color modes enhances the unit’s nighttime viewing capabilities. You can set the unit to your preferred color mode depending on the environmental conditions.
The intuitive drop-down user interface makes the unit a breeze to operate—an aspect which the novice hunter will definitely appreciate. Plus, the bi-ocular will only take a few seconds to start-up so you don’t have to wait a second longer to get started with your night hunting adventure.
The unit is ideal for long term viewing without compromising clarity where depth perception is concerned. You can zoom into objects that are much farther away without any difficulty because of the 8x magnification feature. The product comes complete with recording abilities that allow you to view footage at a later date thanks to the onboard replay. It’s apparent that this Armasight Command Thermal Imaging Bi-ocular was designed with the user’s convenience in mind given the fact that it’s remote controlled.
The solid construction takes care of your durability concerns. Made up of aircraft-aluminium alloy material, the bi-ocular is designed to last. And since it’s water-resistant, the device is likely to survive a few accidental water splashes or stray sweat droplets.
The biggest drawback associated with this bi-ocular is its weight. Though the lens is bigger for better image quality, it increases the overall weight of the unit. So, if you prefer something more lightweight and compact, this product might not be for you.
5. Pulsar Accolade XQ38 Thermal Bi-Ocular
Pulsar is a brand of night vision scopes and thermal imaging devices owned by Yukon Advanced Optics Worldwide that was formed as far back as 1991. Accolade, launched only about five months ago, is a series of thermal binoculars for hunting under the Pulsar brand. It comprises two thermal binocular models.
The Pulsar Accolade XQ38 thermal binocular is the starting model of the Accolade series. It offers a thermal sensor resolution of 384 x 288 with a magnification range of 3.1-12.4x and a detection range of 1350 meters. What sets the Pulsar Accolade XQ38 apart from many of its competitors is its video refresh rate of 50Hz. Not many devices in the market offer this kind of video refresh rate at such a price. This means that this device is very useful for those individuals who hunt fast moving targets.
Another standout aspect of the Pulsar Accolade XQ38 is its AMOLED display with a resolution of 640 x 480. The display is inherently frost resistant which prevents fogging and makes these thermal vision binoculars very useful even in inclement weather. The fact that the housing of these thermal imaging binoculars is designed to be waterproof also makes them easy to use in difficult conditions.
The battery life of the Pulsar Accolade XQ38 is worth a mention too especially since it is higher than most other devices of the same class. These thermal binoculars can go up to seven hours without needing a charge. The Pulsar Accolade XQ38 also comes with built-in live streaming that makes it easier to share shots with others.
The absence of additional features such as image stabilization and compass can be seen as a limitation of these binoculars. The absence of the long lasting 20-hour battery pack should definitely be seen as an oversight on the part of the manufacturer as well. Add that extra battery power and this device would be a winner through and through.
6. ATN BinoX 4T 384 Thermal Binoculars
ATN has not only been around a while but it has also been a consistent leader in the field of thermal imaging for most of that time. Its thermal imaging devices, whether scopes or binoculars have repeatedly outperformed the vast majority of their competitors. One of their most impressive product lines is the BinoX 4T and we think both the products in this product line will be worth your time.
The ATN BinoX-4T 384 Thermal Smart HD Binocular has a thermal resolution of 384 x 288 with a magnification range of 4.5 to 18x. The BinoX-4T 384 thermal binocular happens to be our top pick as far as thermal binoculars for hunting go. The reason for this is that its software and the associated user interface are particularly noteworthy in terms of ease of use. Furthermore, it offers the kind of feature set that you won’t find in many other thermal imaging devices, especially at this price.
For example, even among our top picks, this device is the only one that offers a 3D gyroscope, an e-compass, and a microphone. These features, while not crucial in hunting, can really add to the versatility and functionality for the tech savvy hunter.
The gyroscope helps stabilize the shot and prevents blurry images even if you’ve zoomed deep into your view and the inbuilt microphone may even augment your perception of the shot. The e-compass can be very handy when you're trying to navigate in the wild.
In addition, these binoculars offer Wi-Fi connectivity, which means that you'll not only be able to share your shots with your friends but also manage this device remotely. The best part is that all these features will be accessible to you at a very competitive price. You'll be able to get the ATN BinoX 4T 384 4.5-18x for anything around $4,000.
Despite being one of the best thermal vision binoculars in the market, the BinoX-4T 384 isn't flawless. The downside of having an elaborate user interface is that mastering all its myriad features and functions can be a time-consuming affair and this is true in the case of these binoculars.
7. AGM Global Vision Explorator Medium/Long Range Fusion Thermal Binocular
This AGM Global Vision Explorator Medium/Long Range Fusion Binocular is versatile and can be used across many sectors such as law enforcement & patrol services. It’s the ideal unit to pick if you want to view objects from a distance in extreme environmental conditions. You can detect hidden objects even in the presence of smoke, fog or mist. Designed for both medium and long range, the device has an exceptionally large field of view. The 4x magnification allows you to zoom in on objects for better identification.
Images are presented with clarity on this device which features a high thermal resolution, digital detail enhancement and object highlight. The unit has a 50mm objective lens diameter which contributes to image quality. Because of the considerably high 50Hz refresh rate, it means that images will appear on the screen much faster.
Feel free to venture into wet conditions with this device as it is waterproof, making it one of the best units to use in challenging environments. To add on to the unit’s versatility is the fact that you can adjust the color mode to suit different environments because of the broad spectrum of image palettes. You can either pick between white hot or black hot to mention a few options.
Ease of use is one of the product’s most invaluable features. The binocular comes with a user friendly interface that you’ll find incredibly easy to control. This is made possible by the ergonomic design of the navigation buttons that make application of the unit simple. The fact that you’ll find the unit simple to mount attests to this fact. More importantly, mounting this thermal binocular on your tripod allows for convenient hands-free operation.
The binocular won’t be running out of battery as soon as you start your hunting adventure which is all thanks to the long battery life. You can expect seven hours of continuous operation. But of course the duration will depend on the settings at any given time. The manufacturer did include battery saving features such as a built-in proximity sensor. This means that the LED screen only lights up when an object is detected otherwise it remains switched off to save energy. And because the unit comes with an external 5V power supply, operation time also increases.
You’ll have to dig a little deeper into your pockets to own this unit because it doesn’t come cheap. But if the high price tag doesn’t deter you, feel free to purchase the product which comes with features that make the additional cost worthwhile.
Looking for more options?
Check out our new thermal binocular finder page!
Thermal Binoculars and Bi-Oculars Additional Buying Information
The value of a thermal binocular or any night vision device lies in the image quality. And this is significantly influenced by the thermal resolution of the unit. For this very reason, it’s important to opt for a device with a high thermal resolution if you expect exceptional image clarity.
Simply put, the higher the thermal resolution, the more accurate the thermal interpretation of the object concerned. You may have to pay more for such units, but the image quality makes it well worth the additional cost.
Using just the naked eye, distant images can’t be viewed with clarity. You’ll need to move closer to the object. That’s where the magnification aspect of the binocular comes into play. This feature essentially enlarges an object which you’re viewing from a distance making it much bigger for better identification.
Magnification is crucial in the hunting world when you don’t want to be in close proximity with potentially dangerous animals OR get too close and risk scaring them away. Needless to say the higher the magnification, the farther the distance you can identify objects from.
Field of view refers to the angle at which an object can be viewed through the use of an optical device. Opting for a binocular with a large field of view increases the overall area that you can view objects from. Binoculars with smaller fields of view naturally limit the scannable area.
Not all footage captured is required for real-time consumption. Sometimes users want to gather information and replay it at a later date. This can either be for problem solving, data collection or even entertainment purposes. If your field of work requires this functionality, then you must pick a device that has video recording capabilities.
Connectivity and Streaming
This feature is particularly important if you’re going to be sharing files or images captured with other users. You want a device that allows you to import files seamlessly, be it on your mobile device or computer.
The environment in which you’ll be using your binocular determines if you need one that’s waterproof or not. Venturing into extreme wet conditions warrants a unit that can withstand such environments without suffering damage. Consider if the device comes with a waterproof rating as this largely determines if it will survive wet conditions or not.
Of course, you don’t want a thermal binocular that will die down before you complete your task. That’s why you need to consider the battery life of the unit. How many hours of operation will the device in question give you, taking into account settings and overall usage? Opting for unit with a long battery can guarantee you long operation time and save you a lot of disappointment.
Thermal Binoculars Manufacturers
Much like any product, you’re bound to find different brands of thermal binoculars on the market. For quality devices that won’t disappoint where performance and reliability are concerned, it’s best to purchase from reputable manufacturers. Below are some trusted industry thermal binoculars manufactures you can consider.
Pulsar is one of the leading manufacturers of thermal imaging devices such as binoculars, laser-range finders and digital OEM modules. The brand is known for their wide range of optic and electro-optic devices that offer unmatched functionality. Hunters, researchers and rescuers are among the brand’s pool of customers. Quality products that offer high usability are synonymous with this manufacturer.
FLIR is one of the world’s largest companies that specialize in the manufacturing of thermal imaging cameras and sensors. The company offers a wide range of products that are widely used by industrial, commercial and government sectors. By opting for this brand, you can expect thermal imaging devices designed using innovative technology to guarantee efficiency and safety for users.
ATN is a leading tech optics company known for manufacturing high performance thermal imaging and night vision devices such as binoculars & rifle scopes. Hunters, law enforcement and military personnel are among the people that use ATN products. High speed and exceptional image resolution are some of the qualities that you can expect from the company’s products.
AGM Global offers an extensive range of night optics such as binoculars, monoculars and infrared illumination devices. It’s fast becoming an industry leader in the night vision and thermal technology industry. The brand offers affordable, dependable and high-quality products that professionals & private consumers will find useful. Best of all, their devices are sturdy and designed to last long which is a definite plus.
Alternatives to Thermal Binoculars - Night Vision
Most people think thermal imaging and night vision are one and the same. That is a misconception. While both, thermal imaging and night vision, technologies are designed to help you see things in the dark, the way they go about the process is different.
We already know that thermal imaging is the creation of images based on “heat signatures” or infrared radiation emitted by various objects. Night vision has nothing to do with infrared radiation or the heat generated by objects. Night vision technology depends on taking whatever little light the objects reflect and magnifying them before presenting the amplified image.
Because of this night vision technology doesn’t render good images at dusk or dawn. This happens because there is too much light at dusk and dawn. The night vision devices, in most cases, aren’t designed to handle that much light and the technology itself gets overwhelmed by too much brightness.
While night vision devices are much less effective and versatile than thermal imaging devices, the simplistic nature of their technology also means that they're much more affordable. Therefore, night vision binoculars can be seen as good alternatives to thermal binoculars and bi-oculars.
It would be virtually impossible to hunt at night in the wild without proper thermal imaging or even night vision equipment. However, whether you go for thermal imaging or night vision depends entirely on how deep your pockets are. If hunting is a vital component of your life, we advise thermal imaging as there’s nothing like it in the wild. However, if you're really strapped for cash or a nocturnal hunting novice then instead of pushing the envelope for thermal imaging, it would be better if you chose night vision devices.