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 or monitoring nocturnal 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. Many people think that a thermal imaging camera will allow them to see like the Predator however that is not the case unless you are willing to spend $50,000!
The two most common types of thermal imaging cameras used for animal spotting and hunting are thermal imaging monoculars and thermal imaging rifle scopes. Thermal monoculars are used for spotting animals and observing wildlife in the dark. Thermal imaging rifle scopes are used for nighttime hunting and by the armed forces. Until recently these 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. Some of the features that affect the cost of a thermal imaging scope or monocular are:
We offer more information on of these factors with a quick navigation bar below. We also highlight some of the best thermal imaging monoculars and thermal imaging rifle scopes to fit your needs and budget.
The Pulsar HD 19A Quantum Thermal Imaging Monocular 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. A fast refresh rate allows you to more easily track targets while they move without a blurry image and further detection range allowing you to identify animals that are further away.
The Pulsar HD19A has a 384x288 thermal imaging sensor that captures clear images. In addition, it also has 1x magnification and 2x digital zoom allowing you to detect targets that are up to 515 yards away. The Pulsar also offers three different viewing modes (City, Forest, and Identification) which help more clearly identify targets in these types of environments.
You can also 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 HD 19A is a great choice if you are looking for a lot of features, long distance spotting and willing to pay a little more.
The FLIR Scout II 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 and a perfect thermal monocular for those looking for high-quality decent detection range, durability, and a trusted name.
The FLIR Scout II 240 has two older brothers the Scout II 320 and Scout II 640 these monoculars have better resolution and can be used for spotting animals further away. The Scout II 240 excels at being a great value thermal monocular with a 300-yard detection range a clear 640x480 LCD screen and a 240x180 FLIR thermal sensor. The Scout II can operate for up to 5 hours on one battery charge.
The FLIR Scout II only has a 9Hz camera which means that tracking quickly moving targets will generate a blurry image unlike the Pulsar with its 30Hz refresh rate. The Scout II is an ideal thermal imaging monocular for the enthusiast looking for medium range detection rugged construction and FLIR’s industry-leading warranty.
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. While the feature set of the Scout TK pocket is simple and the detection range is not that long it is a great choice for those looking for a trusted name (FLIR) still want a quality thermal imaging monocular and want a small size so that it can be carried anywhere with ease.
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 some blurring, unlike the Pulsar.
The FLIR Scout TK is perfect for those looking to purchase their first thermal monocular and want to keep to a low budget. 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.
Many people may wonder why you would need a thermal imaging monocular or scope for the outdoors. Well they can come in handy for many things from hunting, to spotting animals in the night as well as saving baby animals that might otherwise be injured or killed when maintaining lawns and golf courses.
Some people might also wonder why you would not just use night vision instead of a thermal camera for animal spotting. While night vision can be used for animal spotting, thermal imaging gives the added ability to detect animals hiding in trees or otherwise obstructed from direct view where night vision would not be able to help you. Ideally having both a thermal imaging monocular and night vision monocular would be perfect however this setup would be cost prohibitive for most people.
If you are looking for a thermal imaging rifle scope instead of a monocular you have come to the right part of the page. Our top three thermal imaging rifle scopes are below. Many of these scopes have the same features the biggest difference between them are their magnification and the thermal sensor used within the scope. So, for those of your who will be hunting game at shorter distances or do not need the most sensitive thermal sensor you may not need to spring for the premium scope with the highest magnification and best thermal sensor.
Armasight Zeus 336 Thermal Rifle Scope
ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Rifle Scope
ATN ThOR HD 640 Smart Thermal Rifle Scope
There are literally hundreds 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 go with a foreign made scope that is the not the highest quality and will probably not last very long; should you go all out and buy a premium thermal imaging scope with military grade components and extreme durability that will undoubtedly last a lifetime; or should you buy a scope in 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 then a higher quality and more expensive scope will be a better buy for you.
As we stated above there are several things that determine the cost of your monocular or scope and depending upon what you are going to be using it for and how often some features may be more important to you than others. We have listed some of the most important things you should be on the lookout for when purchasing either.
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 scope and features a FLIR sensor. Pulsar is a more mid-level brand with a large selection of monoculars at a variety of price points. These can be great for first time buyers.
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 moncular/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. Black and white can be easier to see however you cannot detect the temperature ranges as easily as you can with a color one.
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.
Thermal imaging scopes and monoculars display their images in either color or monochrome. Monochrome scopes and monoculars are cheaper; however they do not display as much information as color display scopes and monoculars. At the end of the day the choice typically comes down to personal preference.
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; 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.