While many people know that thermal cameras are used in a variety of building maintenance and other situations; thermal imaging cameras are extensively used for hunting and spotting animals as well. Some people wonder what the difference is between thermal imagers and night vision or if there is even any difference at all! There are differences; night vision amplifies the available light so that you can see objects just as you would during the day. Thermal imaging on the other hand highlights differences in body temperature making it easier to spot living animals or people.
The two most common types of thermal imaging used for animal spotting and hunting are thermal imaging monoculars and thermal imaging rifle scopes. There are some differences between thermal monoculars and rifle scopes, so please read below to find which one is better for you. Until recently thermal imagers were extremely expensive, large and impractical for consistent use. Over the last few years prices have come down dramatically as the technology has improved making them easily available to the general public althoug they are stil a large investment. Some of the features that affect the cost of a thermal imaging scope or monocular are:
While you may think that thermal imaging scopes and monoculars are essentially the same that is incorrect. Monoculars are meant to be small and compact; able to fit in your bag and allow you to look at or spot animals and other things that are not a long way off. Monoculars are usually less expensive than thermal scopes because they have weaker optics (less magnification), no mounting rails, and less software add-ons.
Thermal scopes, on the other hand, are designed to help hunters get better shots at their targets from much further away. An entry level thermal scope will be good for 100 to 250 yards; whereas a very expensive thermal scope can help you accurately target objects over 1,000 yards away. Better (typically a germanium lens) and more complex optics used in thermal scopes allow for much higher magnification which is another reason they cost more. Thermal scopes also have more electronic and software features to assist the shooter such as a ballistics calculator, range finder, and recoil activated video recording.
You may also be wondering what is the difference between a 5x50 monocular or scope and a 3x15? The first number refers to the magnification of the image so a 3x would magnify the image 3 times. The second number the (15) refers to the size (objective size) of the front lens in millimeters. Your initial thought is that you should always go for the largest magnification and objective size however that is not the case.
First, the larger the magnification and objective size the more expensive your scope or monocular will be, secondly, the larger the magnification the harder it will be to steady the scope or monocular on your target without a tripod. Finally, the higher the magnification the smaller your field of view. What is the field of view? The field of view is how much of the image you will able to see when looking through the scope. For example is the field of view is 300ft at 1,000 yards you will be able to see 300ft of the image when looking through the monocular or scope without moving the monocular or scope.
So what does it all mean? This means that you should think about the situations and distances that you will likely be using your monocular or scope in and buy accordingly. If you are not going to be spotting or shooting more than 300 yards out then you may not need to purchase a scope or monocular with powerful optics and higher sensor resolution; not only will you save a lot of money but it will be much easier to use a scope or monocular rated for this distance.
First reserved for the military, thermal imaging rifle scopes have come a long way to now be adopted in law enforcement and civilian sporting activities like hunting. Thermal imaging scopes give you the tactical advantage that you need when out in the field in low or no light conditions.
Thermal imaging scopes are different from night vision scopes. They detect heat signatures from objects and turn them into visible images sensing and displaying the differences in temperature that an animal or object emits. If you are planning to hunt boars or other nocturnal animals, you’ll be able to see them in pitch darkness.
While prices for thermal imaging scopes have come way down they are still a large purchase with almost none available under $1,000. If you are on a budget we would suggest a night vision scope; which is completely different than a thermal scope. We have assembled a list of night vision scopes under $1,000 here.
Here is our list of the best thermal scopes for hunting to suit every budget with pros and cons of each one:
The Armasight Zeus 336 is our best overall thermal scope. It is the lightest scope in its class thanks to the compact design and machined aircraft aluminum construction; which means less additional weight when added to your rifle. The Zeus with its 30Hz (or upgraded 60Hz) refresh rate ensures smooth tracking of targets even when moving and its many features justify its higher price tag.
The 800x600 AMOLED display is crystal clear. There are also 10 different models of the Zeus 336 each with different optics and features ensuring you can find the best one for your needs. Each scope is offered in a 30Hz version and 60Hz version.
While the 60Hz version is the best if you are going to be tracking fast moving targets or taking shots from a moving vehicle, the 30Hz version has high enough refresh rate for general use. Complete list of Zeus 336 models here.
Whether it is hunting feral pigs or protecting your cattle from coyotes or other animals, this scope will provide you with accurate target recognition under any lighting situation; very simple installation, all the features you need and years of accurate shots.
The Zeus 336 is powered by FLIR’s TAU 2 VOx microbolometer (336x256) detector. The thermal sesnor also comes with FLIR's industry leading 10 year warranty. The 17-micron uncooled FLIR core can cut through fog, snow, smoke, haze, and other atmospheric conditions inhibiting sight. It is a solid state, long-wave infrared, uncooled magnified weapon sight that does not emit any visible light. This makes you invisible when you are tracking animals.
The Armasight Zeus 336 has an ergonomic exterior that is easy to handle no matter the environment. An Aluminum alloy safeguards the components of this device, so if you ever drop it on rugged terrain, you can be sure it’s going to continue working. It can also withstand the recoil of up to 700g’s making it suitable to be mounted on higher caliber rifles.
The Zeus 336 follows through with simple controls and functions layered with direct buttons. You will have a clear framework for customizing your preferences. This thermal scope can also record images. The Zeus also has a video-out function which operates in either PAL or NTSC formats allowing you to records video as well.
The Armasight Zeus 336 is one of the best thermal scopes for hunting. Armasight understands the need to keep zeroing simple and that is why they give you a scope that has a quick and repeatable mounting process using an Picatinny or Weaver rail Along with the ability save rifle profiles so that you can simply switch guns and then change the scopes profile eliminating the need to re-zero in the scope. It mounts with a quick-release mechanism.
If you are looking for the best thermal imaging scope currently on the market that can be used in a variety of applications with a reasonable price relative to the build quality and features then the Zeus 336 is perfect for you.
The ATN ThOR 384 Smart Thermal Scope (2-8x) is our pick for best value thermal imaging rifle scope. ATN has showcased reliability in the field of thermal imaging scopes for quite sometime now. The Thor-HD 384 is our best value model, mainly because of the affordable price tag and premium features included. The ThOR 384 has many of the features of higher priced scopes such as' video recording/streaming at 720p, balistic calculator, range finder, and IOS/Android apps for use with smartphones or tablets. There are also less expensive models with lower magnification for hunters who will not be shooting as far.
The ATN Thor 384 allows you to detect, recognize, and identify targets with the help of a high-performance (microbolometer) detector. The detection range is 800 meters, the recognition range is 400 meters and the identification range is 250 meters. It features ATN’s Obsidian II Core which runs at a billion cycles per second (according to the manufacturer) although we find that number hard to believe. The images are crisp and clear with minimal blurring.
The ThOR 384 uses a smart system which gives you parameters of important environmental data. This includes such elements as wind direction, wind speed, relative humidity, etc. You can easily calculate the trajectory of your bullet; making it easier to hit the target on the first attempt. It saves you from having to deal with the complexity of reticles and reading charts.
One of the more unique features of the ATN ThOR 384 is the Recoil Activated Video Function. You just have to switch to this mode, and your thermal scope will be ready to record and store videos the moment you pull the trigger. This features records the last few seconds before your shot and and a few seconds after our shot allowing you to capture everything. This means you’ll be able to share your expeditions with your friends and relive great shots.
The scope records video in 1280x960 resolution. It even has a gyroscopic image stabilizer which helps you to zoom in on an image without losing its sharpness.
With the built in smart rangefinder, you can easily estimate the distance to your target. It makes targeting simple since, with two clicks and a shift of the scope, your target will be in your kill zone.
The ATN Thor 384 can be operated remotely via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. You can access the device on the ATN Obsidian app on your tablet or smartphone. The app also provides you with a gallery to the recorded images and videos.
ATN is a reliable brand, and the Thor-HD 384 proves you can depend on their models for everyday use. It is a device made for anyone who needs a quality thermal scope on a budget.
The FLIR RS64 (2x16 optics) is considered the first commercial grade thermal scope for low/no light hunting and the top of the line thermal imaging scope FLIR produces. The RS64 features a vanadium oxide, uncooled microbolometer thermal detector which detects heat signatures from objects. The RS64 offers one of the highest resolution (640x512) thermal sensors currently available. It offers up to six color detection palettes of which include FLIR’s InstaAlert. InstaAlert helps you to detect the hottest temperatures highlighting them in red so that you can identify targets quickly. The RS64 has multiple reticles options; Fine Duplex, Duplex, and German.
There are several different RS models with different optics/focal length options and resolutions to fit your needs and budget; the RS64 is their top of the line model. Full list of RS scopes.
The RS64 like all FLIR products features rugged construction. It has a matte black finish that has no reflective surfaces that could potentially give away your position. The scope has an IPX7 rating which means that it can be submerged in 1m of water for 30 minutes without any damage. The RS64 is also small and lightweight so that it can fit in any hunter’s arsenal.
The FLIR RS64 comes with an incredible Active Matrix LCD Display. It gives you images with a remarkable resolution at 640x480 pixels. For thermal imaging, you’ll be looking at images with deep contrast and better clarity.
The FLIR RS64 uses a VOx Microbolometer detector to ensure it does not miss any infrared energy in all types of weather conditions. It also features a 30Hz frame rate (although you can optionally get 60Hz refresh rates in some models) so that it can refresh images fast minimizing blurring when tracking moving targets. Unless you are shooting at fast moving targets from a moving vehicle/hunting platform 30Hz will be adequate.
With the FLIR RS64, you’ll be using four glove-friendly buttons. Whether your hands are wet or gloved, you can easily tell what to do with the buttons which makes operation much easier especially when speed is important. The RS64 can operate for 4 hours before needing to be recharged, and with the included USB cable charging is very easy.
This FLIR RS64 model offers magnification of 2x16 It also provides an electronic zoom (8x) allowing you to zoom in even closer on your target. It uses advanced image correction technology to optimize images automatically. The fixed 35mm lens is coupled with 3 inches of eye relief and multiple reticle options. The RS64 easily mounts via the MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny Rail system and can accomodate calibers up to .308.
The RS line of scopes and RS64 particularly is a rock solid thermal scope that offers many premium features making it our pick for best premium thermal imaging scope.
The FLIR RS64 is the scope for for people who have a large budget and know that if you want one of the best thermal imaging scopes on the market today from the leader in thermal imagers you will pay a premium. The RS64 does not have a tablet or smart phone app or some of the other "smart" features of other scopes like the ATN line above becuase this thermal scope is built from the ground up to help you hit your target not stream video (although there is a video out) to your tablet or smartphone. While you may be able to find a scope with better features in one or two categories such as optics or refresh rate the RS64 is the most well rounded premium scope available today.
Here is our list of the best thermal monoculars in 2018 to suit every budget with pros and cons of each one:
The Pulsar Helion represents the top performing thermal monocular from Pulsar and it our pick for best premium thermal monocular.
With a 2000-yard heat detection range, it is your best shot at performance whether you are in security, surveillance, hunting, or search and rescue. The Helion line also alows you to swap out lenses which none of the other Pulsar monoculars allow you to do.
Finally, the Helion line comes with Pulsar's Stream Vision which allows you to stream video and images to a smart phone via the app; a true game changer.
It gives you all the innovative features in this line including 17um sensor and a whopping 640x480 pixel resolution on an AMOLED display. This is a frost-proof display that allows you to take this monocular in extreme conditions.
The Helion thermal monoculars come with onboard video recording, picture-in-picture mode, and an eight-color palette. This palette will enable you to change the colors from the favorite white hot to black hot, violet, rainbow, ultramarine, and others.
You are supplied with the necessary accessories including the battery pack charging unit, USB cable, 220-USB plug, hand strap, lens cleaning cloth, user manual, the carrying case, and a warranty card.
The Pulsar thermal imaging monocular Lite (also known as XQ30V) is our choice for best overall thermal monocular. While the Pulsar is more expensive that both the Scout II and the Scout TK, it has vastly improved thermal resolution of 384x288. A fast refresh rate of 50Hz allows you to more easily track targets while they move without a blurry image. The images are displayed on a AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) 640x480 screen.
The Pulsar Lite has a 800 and 900 meter detection range (depending upon which model you purchase) making it ideal for longer range spotting. This thermal monocular is also very small weighing only 3/4 of a pound.
The Pulsar Lite comes in two variants XQ23V and XQ30V. The XQ23V has 1.8x - 7.2x magnification and the XQ30V has 2.5x - 10x magnification. In addition, it also has 2x and 4x digital zoom helping you to detect targets that are up to 800 and 900 yards away. The Pulsar offers 7 different viewing modes with monochrome and color combinations which help more clearly identify targets in a variety of environments.
You can mount the Pulsar as it comes with a standard weaver rail and tripod mount allowing for easy attachment of external power supplies and recording equipment. The Pulsar Lite is a great choice if you are looking for premium features, long distance spotting and durability in a very compact package. View the full lineup of Pulsar thermal monoculars and scopes.
The FLIR Scout III 240 thermal imaging monocular is our choice for best value monocular. This monocular is made by FLIR - one of the most respected names in thermal imaging technology. While not always the cheapest FLIR products provide many features and are a great value. The Scout II 240 is a great example of this with a 383 yard detection range, 240x180 thermal resolution and 640x480 LED screen. The FLIR Scout III thermal monocular is perfect for those looking for high-quality decent detection range, durability, and a trusted name.
The FLIR Scout III 240 has two older brothers the Scout III 320 and Scout III 640 these monoculars have better thermal resolution (336x256, and 640x512) and can be used for spotting animals slightly further away. The Scout III 240 excels at being a great value thermal monocular with mid range detection and thermal resolution. It can operate for up to 5 hours on one battery charge.
The FLIR Scout III has a 30Hz video refresh rate which means that tracking quickly moving targets will generate a slightly blurrier image compared to the Pulsar with its 50Hz refresh rate. The Scout III is an ideal thermal imaging monocular for the enthusiast looking for medium range detection rugged construction and FLIR’s industry-leading warranty. View FLIR'S full line of thermal monoculars.
The FLIR Scout TK Pocket Size Thermal monocular is our choice for least expensive monocular. This is a great choice if you are looking to buy your first thermal monocular and want to ensure that you do not break the bank as you can pick up the Scout TK for much less than $1,000. While the feature set of the Scout TK pocket is simple and the detection range is only 100 yards; it is a great choice for those looking for a trusted name (FLIR) and wanting a quality thermal imaging monocular that is small and very easily transportable.
To be clear the FLIR Scout TK is not made for the enthusiast trying to spot animals from long distances or people looking for high-quality thermal images. This thermal imaging monocular has a 160x120 FLIR thermal image sensor and a 9Hz refresh rate which means the images will not be high quality and tracking a moving target will result in blurring, unlike the Pulsar. For boaters FLIR also makes the Ocean Scout which is designed for boaters who need to spot objects at night.
The FLIR Scout TK is perfect for those looking to purchase their first thermal monocular and want to keep to keep the cost to a minimum. The FLIR Scout TK is very compact making it very easy to carry almost anywhere and not only has FLIR’s outstanding warranty but is also built to withstand the elements.
There are dozens of different types and grades of thermal rifle scopes on the market today and with the ability to find them all on the internet it can be a daunting task to find the right scope for you and your budget. Should you save money and buy an entry grade thermal imaging scope with a low refresh rate (>30Hz) and minimal features? Should you buy the most expensive thermal scope that your budget allows with all the bells and whistles such as recoil activated recording, ballistic calculator, and the ability to shoot targets 1,000 yards away? While the correct answer or everyone is different it probably lies somewhere between these two extremes.
While everyone will have slightly different needs and a different sized budget I always like to think about how often I will be using the scope and in what conditions I will be using it. If you will only be using the scope once or twice a year for a "fun" hunt and will not be in extreme weather conditions, then a more budget friendly scope with fewer options will probably do very well for you. On the other hand, if you are going to be using the scope dozens of times per year in harsh conditions and/or long distance shots then a higher quality and more expensive scope will be a better buy for you.
There are many manufacturers of thermal imaging moncoulars and rifle scopes some of the most popular and better brands are, FLIR, Pulsar, and, ATN and many others. FLIR is probably the most well-known and one of the best brands currently in the monocular category. They have an industry leading warranty and produce very high-quality products; however, their products are usually the most expensive. For those looking for high quality and willing to pay the price FLIR can be a great choice. Armasight ZEUS is our best thermal imaging riffle scopes and features a FLIR sensor. Pulsar is a more mid to high level brand with a large selection of monoculars at a variety of price points. They also have several scopes available.
ATN is one of the more popular thermal imaging rifle scope makers and makes a quality product for a reasonable price.
Do you need a full color thermal monocular/rifle scope or will a black and white one work fine? A lot of this will come down to personal preference and how much you want to spend on your monocular or scope. Black and white can be easier to see however you cannot detect the temperature ranges as easily as you can with a color one but will be more expensive. At the end of the day this option should probably be further down your list of priorities as you will be able to get better optics and/or resolution with a black and white display.
Depending upon how often you are going to be using your thermal imaging monocular battery life may be a very important factor consider when making your purchase. As a rule of thumb, you would want a battery that will last a least a couple hours without replacement or recharging. Some batteries can last up to 8 hours, but these are typically found in more expensive scopes and monoculars. The FLIR Scout TK monoculars battery lasts for 5 hours as an example. Typically, thermal riffle scopes' battery last anywhere between 8-12 hours. Most high quality scopes also come with easily accessibly battery trays so you could take extra batteries if you run out of juice.
What resolution do your need your thermal imaging monocular or rifle scope need to be? Again, this will depend upon your personal preference and how much you want to spend on your monocular, Higher resolutions will allow you to see animals more clearly but will add to the cost. 384x288 is an okay resolution but ideally at least 640x480 is where you want to be.
The refresh rate dictates how quickly the image refreshes with higher refresh rates making for smoother more accurate images but also increasing the cost of the rifle scope or monocular. A refresh rate of 30HZ or higher is recommended as this will give you a smooth image and you will be able to track your target much more easily.
While both zoom types have their places; an optical zoom will not pixelate as a digital zoom will. The optical zoom is typically more expensive though so there is a bit of a tradeoff. Depending upon how far away you are going to be from your targets a digital zoom may be okay. For first time buyers we would recommend a digital zoom as it will cost less; however if you know that you will be shooting at long range targets or spotting animals from long distances away then an optical zoom or combination optical and digital zoom maybe best for you.
This is probably one of the more important areas where you need to spend a little time figuring out how far away you really want to be able to spot/identify animals as lower end monoculars and scopes will turn the image into a blob quickly if you have a low quality zoom.
This is one area when personal preference comes heavily into play. There are a variety of recital styles ranging from the classic "red dot" to the standard crosshair here you can choose what you prefer, and many scopes and monoculars allow you to change the reticles among several presets giving you even more options.
Germanium glass is used in more expensive thermal rifle scopes and monoculars as it is not an insulator like normal glass. While thermal rifle scopes and monoculars with germanium are much more expensive. For casual or weekend users you would almost exclusively look at standard glass or silicon scopes and monoculars as they will be more than adequate.
Probably one of the most important factors in selecting the right thermal imaging scope or monocular. Prices for scopes and monoculars range from under $1,000 to over $15,000 for the top end military grade ones. As with almost everything you do get what you pay for so typically the more you spend the better quality and more features you are going to get. As a rough guide typically, any scope or monocular under $1,500 is considered a mid to entry level scope or monocular; however, for many people that is all they will need. Only serious hunters and enthusiasts can justify or rationalize spending $5,000 to $10,000+ on some of the higher end thermal rifle scopes and monoculars.
Whether you are looking for a thermal imaging monocular or rifle scope we have put together the comprehensive guide to help ensure you are able to find the best one for you and your budget. If you have already purchased one of these or a different one please let us know what your experience has been.