A wide range of thermal scopes are available out there and amidst such a variety, it can be somewhat hard to find the best thermal scope for 2019 season.
We aim to make the task easier for you by bringing together a thorough guide on your way to finding a suitable scope as well as a comparison of top thermal scopes from leading brands.
After reading this guide, not only will you be able to find a thermal scope that fits your needs the best, you will compare various scopes with ease and find one that you like within your budget range.
Table of Contents
- Best Thermal Scope 2018 - Top 3 Choices
- Thermal Scope - How Does It Work?
- Best Thermal Scopes Reviews - Best 6 Recommendations
- #1 - Pulsar Trail XQ - A High-Quality Bang
- #2. Armasight by FLIR Zeus 336 3-12x50mm – Best for Coyote Hunting
- #3 - Pulsar Core RXQ30V Thermal Riflescope - Great scope for the price
- #4. ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope - The High-Tech One
- #5 - Armasight by FLIR Predator 336 2-8x25mm Thermal Imaging Rifle Scope – A High-Res Scope With Decent Performance
- #6 - Armasight by FLIR Zeus 640 2-16x50mm Thermal Imaging Rifle Scope - Pro-Grade Device For Serious Hunters
- How to Choose a Thermal Scope?
- Thermal Scope and Night Vision Scope
Best Thermal Scope 2018 - Top 3 Choices
Thermal Scope - How Does It Work?
All animals (such as Coyotes, Hogs, Deer…) emit a certain amount of heat. This heat, although invisible to our eyes, can be detected from afar using thermal imaging sensors.
Thermal imaging sensors can, for instance, detect an animal even when it is hidden from the plain sight by detecting the animal’s heat signature and creating a heatmap based on it.
The surrounding environment around an animal also carries some amount of heat; thermal imaging brings the heat differences between the target animal and the surrounding area in contrast.
On a more technical level, the infrared heat signature of an image is received by a lens inside a thermal scope.
This signature is scanned by the lens and a thermogram is created based on it. This thermogram manifests to the viewer looking through the thermal scope.
Compared to night vision scopes, a thermal scope can work perfectly through smoke, haze and debris.
This versatility that thermal scopes bring makes them favorable professional hunters, shooters and law enforcement agencies alike.
Best Thermal Scopes Reviews - Best 6 Recommendations
In case you were impressed with the features of the above-mentioned thermal scope – but were deterred by its price from buying it – the Pulsar Trail XQ merits your attention.
First things first, the meager price tag of this model doesn’t mean it won’t have any high-end features. Take its detection range and thermal core resolution, for instance. This model allows viewing of targets up to 1970 yards away plus a core resolution of 348 x 288 which works well both day and night.
Furthermore, since this scope provides a refresh rate of 50 Hertz, it is a good choice if you want to thermally view either slow or fast moving objects. That means there won’t be any blurry images with this model. Combine that with Picture-In-Picture feature, and you get a fantastic scoping experience.
Turning our attention to the digital features of this model, and its LCD display comes into play. Supplemented by 640 x 480 resolution and 2x to 10.8x digital zoom, the LCD display provides crisp and clear image quality. Important to add, this scope is monochrome-based - keep that in mind.
What’s more, the Pulsar Trail XQ offers 13 variable electronic reticles as well. It has a freeze function which allows one-shot zeroing. The IPX7 rating of this model makes it virtually waterproof. A multi-functional remote control and 8 hours of battery life are also an attention-grabbing features.
Finally, to let multiple people use the same scope, it comes with 3 rifle profiles. Also, to make sure nobody can tamper with your profile, it relies on IRIS Technology which would only open your profile after scanning your eye.
The Pulsar Trail XQ thermal scope is one for the serious hunters out there. Go for it if you want to get the best the market has to offer.
Armasight is another well-recognized and reputable brand when it comes to thermal imaging and night vision products. The company’s thermal imaging products are used by hunters, law enforcement agencies and shooters alike. Zeus 336 thermal scope from Armasight reflects the hallmark quality and versatility offered by the company.
This scope has been designed to be perfectly operational and useful, both during day and night. Armasight has designed the controls of this scope with user-intuitiveness in mind.
The direct button adjustments and combination as well as the electronic menu are laid out so that a first-time user can easily navigate through them. It also allows user to quickly customize the control to reach the desired scope performance while on the go.
The mounting mechanism used in the Zeus 336 is very intuitive, allowing a user to quickly mount or dismount the scope from a firearm. The scope offers high-quality electronic zoom with 1x, 2x and 4x options. It also offers an optical magnification of 3.4x, offering an exceptional quality in magnification.
The Zeus 336 scope features a video-out capability, allowing a user to easily record the scope’s imagery and view in NTSC and PAL formats.
The high-quality thermal imaging technology offered in this scope allows you to view clearly through dark, haze, snow and fog without any impact on the quality of the scope’s view. The display of the scope is AMOLED SVGA with a resolution of 800x600.
Unlike most other thermal scopes, this scope offers a 60 Hertz refresh rate which makes it perfectly suitable for clear viewing and use even when the target object is moving at high speeds. The battery provided is decent, but the scope tends to eat it quite fast when on colored settings.
Armasight has equipped the scope with various color options, allowing a user to choose from White Hot, Black Hot as well as multi-color modes for clearer contrasts. This scope is an excellent choice for professionals as well as casual thermal scope enthusiasts.
Even when you take into account the absence of automatic rangefinder – a feature which only ultra-expensive models offer – the accessories which accompany this model and its built-in features more than make up for this shortcoming.
Want to track the moving objects faster than ever before? Looking for the best tech to detect heat signatures without breaking the bank? Pulsar Core RXQ30V deserves your attention.
What allows the Pulsar Core RXQ30V to identify targets precisely is its highly tinted green sapphire. That is, because, not only is the green display easier on the eyes, but it also allows for longer scanning times without any eye fatigue.
Also, while the base magnification of the Pulsar Core RXQ30V is 1.6x, you can increase it all the way up to 6.4x. How? This model has three digital zoom settings – 2x, 3x and 4x. Use the last setting with the base magnification, and you’ll have the maximum magnification power of 6.4x. Notable notice - this scope doesn’t have a focus ring for manual adjusting, which can be a big downside, but considering its price, it’s completely ok. Focus to infinity works just fine on all distances.
More importantly, the Pulsar Core isn’t only for viewing static or slow moving objects. Instead, thanks to its refresh rate of 50Hz, this model allows you to view dynamic, moving objects with equal ease.
Moving on, you won’t have to spend more than 5 minutes to mount this device on your tripod or weapon. It has a quick mount mechanism which allows easy on/off application. The similar utility is on offer with the 3 rifle profiles of this model which allows 3 different persons to use it.
Finally, despite costing less than the Pulsar Trail XQ, this model provides the freeze function to provide one-shot zeroing. Equally impressive is the 985-yard detection range of this model. However, one feature which this model lacks is the IRIS technology which we saw in the Pulsar Trail XQ.
The Pulsar RXQ30V is a high-end thermal scope which provides a sapphire green display, a 50 Hz refresh rate, and is rated IPX7, all for significantly lower than all others on the market. What more can you ask for?
The ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope is a thermal scope that is specifically meant for use with your rifle. For this purpose, the scope has several specialized built-in features. Notable among these is the Ballistic Calculator.
This feature allows you to trace and calculate the trajectory of your bullet as you shoot in the dark. If you are going to use this riflescope for hunting and shooting, this feature can be very handy.
The ThOR HD 384 scope also comes with a built-in Smart Rangefinder. It helps you to accurately adjust the Point of Impact and achieve greater accuracy in shot placement. This eliminates the common problem that most scopes pose when they cause inaccuracies in shot placement. People have reported the distance problems with the device, but I presume this was due to lack of skill & setting.
The ATN Laser Ballistics Smart Laser Rangefinder that comes with this scope lets you accurately measure the distance to within 1 meter of the target. The zoom on the scope is smooth, letting you magnify the position of the target without losing your FOV. The quality of the image gets blurry when zooming beyond 75 yards, though.
The scope comes with several color variations for different time zones and environments. Their aim was to cover all possible scenarios of usage. My opinion is that this is a good thing, but you have to be careful while selecting; the white mode might work really bad if it’s not pitch black, the red mode will be messy if it rains, etc.
I’m mentioning one more important thing here: the customer support is quite unresponsive. This is such a bummer for a product that costs around two thousand dollars. If you get an issue with your HD 384, you will have to rely on Google search more than on a customer support.
ATN equipped the ThOR HD 384 with HD video recording using an SD card. So you can essentially capture all the fun and adventure of your nightly hunting excursions when using this scope. To top it, the scope also allows you stream the video in live using Wi-Fi streaming. So you can essentially share your adventure in real-time with friends and family.
Our review of the ATN Thor HD 384 reveals it as a dependable product with high-end features and affordable price tag. Add to this its wide field of view, and you get the decent performance-per-$$ invested. It does come with his set of flaws (there’s no perfect product), which are worth considering as well.
The latest FLIR Predator scope comes from one of the most reputable manufacturers of thermal imaging devices. Armasight is the go-to thermal imaging brand for many law enforcement agencies, military personnel and hunting enthusiasts.
The company consistently delivered quality, top performance and highly reliable products and this is also one of the best affordable thermal scopes.
These features are well reflected in the latest Predator thermal imaging weapon sights. This particular product proved to be quite decent on regular, and a bit blurry on magnified settings. Worth noticing is that you won’t have stellar performance beyond 200 yards.
This model is the smallest and lightest in the Predator family, making it incredibly handy to carry during hunting excursions. The scope comes with multiple reticle patterns and the controls on the scope are intuitive once you get the hang of them. The buttons are plastiky, and give away the sense of cheap-made product, which some might find unpleasing.
Most of the controls can be adjusted by directly using buttons or using button combinations as well as electronic menus. Like the ATN ThOR HD 384, this scope can also record, although the Digital Video Recorder capability is optional and doesn’t come with the default gear.
The scope also has a video-in feature, letting you overlay maps and other visuals over the real-time imagery. Mounting and demounting the Predator 336 is quite easy, thanks to its quick-release locking mechanism that is compatible with multiple rail systems.
To make sure you are able to lock in on the target easily, the scope offers up to 6 digitally controlled reticle patterns, letting you choose the one that suits you best. So you can be sure that this is going to be a durable addition to your hunting gear.
With its user-friendly menu, a multitude of viewing options and numerous color modes, the Armasight Zeus 336 does more than enough to justify its otherwise lofty price tag. Don’t expect a perfect product though - the Predator 336 does come with a set of flaws which are worthy of mentioning. Overall, the pros outweigh the cons, so it’s your choice.
Starting with the best this model has to offer – one feature which testifies about its durability – Zeus 640 comes with a 3-year warranty. That means unless you don’t willingly throw it away, this model will stay with you for ages.
Another reason for the popularity of this model is its digital zoom and various color modes. This model gives you the freedom to extend its magnification power between 1x to 8x thanks to its digital zoom. The various color modes include white hot, rainbow and black hot. Please have in mind that regardless of the mode you’ve selected, the 8x magnification will bring blur and pixelation to your image, making it considerably worse. Some will address this as a flaw, but I find it standard - the thermal scopes of today still don’t possess the power to stay clear while zoomed in so far.
What’s more, this model provides six reticle patterns, including no reticle, cross, crosshair, cross-center, dot, dot 4 MOA and line dot. Consequently, you can be sure of high-end accuracy with this model.
Turning our attention to its menu, and it couldn’t be easier to operate. In contrast to some cheap scopes out there, all the menu functions – Exit, Palette, Reticle, Boresight, Enhancement, and Settings – are present under the same, drop-down menu bar.
Moving on, one of the most underrated – yet an important – feature of this model is its Active Contrast Enhancement or ACE. This feature allows you to optimize a scene based on its relative temperature for better picture clarity.
Finally, the Automatic Gain Control (AGC) and Silent Shutterless NUC (SSN) also deserve our attention. While the former automatically adjusts the scope’s gain to an appropriate range, the latter – by employing a digital correction – reduces image noise. That means there are negligible chances that your prey will take note of your presence.
Granted, the price tag of this model is anything but cheap, but you have to look at it from the viewpoint of its features. Considering them, this model could rival most other rifle scopes out there. The flaws of this model - there basically aren’t any, if you disregard the distortion of 8x magnification.
How to Choose a Thermal Scope?
Magnification is the ability of a thermal scope to enlarge a distant object by magnifying it, allowing the viewer to see it up-close.
Magnification has its pros and cons. If you are going to use the thermal scope for viewing objects at long distances, you need to have a thermal scope that offers good magnification.
However, greater degrees of magnification may often come at a cost to the quality of the image.
For instance, if you are viewing objects at long distance through scope magnification, it may pixelate or distort the image, worsening the details of the target.
Most thermal scopes come with specific details regarding their optimal magnification distances.
Some may even come with multiple magnification options, allowing you to balance between image quality and image magnification based on your needs.
A greater magnification may also reduce the resolution of the image and the refresh rate may be slightly slower.
This means that if you use a thermal scope to magnify a very distant object that is moving, or if you magnify such an object while on the move yourself, you may experience some lag in the image refreshing.
Much like the digital displays, a thermal scope relies on an imaging technology which makes use of image resolution to display a clear and crisp image.
A simple rule of thumb with thermal scope resolution is: the lower the resolution is, the lower the quality and clarity of an image will be.
And the higher the resolution is, the clearer the image will be.
Another upside to a high resolution is that you are able to zoom in at target objects without losing too much of the image quality. This is not true for low-resolution scopes which begin to display a distorted and pixelated image when zooming in on an object.
Resolution is incredibly important in a thermal scope and if you end up purchasing an expensive scope with poor resolution, it will be a waste of money.
So your best bet is to ensure that you find a scope with the highest possible resolution while staying within your budget limits.
3. Color Modes
Thermal scopes come in monochrome or color options. A monochrome thermal scope displays the heat map in shades of grey.
Depending on the settings of a monochrome scope, it may display a warm object as brighter than the surrounding environment.
A color thermal scope, on the other hand, is able to display the differences in temperature through various colors, providing a colored heat map.
Both types of scopes are highly effective although if you’re looking for the absolutely best option, the color scope may help you navigate in the dark, smoke or haze more accurately.
The upside for a monochrome scope is that although it is almost as effective, it costs significantly less.
4. Reticle Patterns
Different thermal scopes come with different reticle options. A reticle is simply a crosshair pointer that helps you accurately close in on a target object.
Some thermal scopes come with a four-line standard reticle while other may feature a single-dot reticle for pinpoint accuracy.
Among four-line reticles, you can choose from reticles with thicker lines and those with fine lines.
Some thermal scopes may come with a variety of different reticle options, allowing you to switch between them as needed. And yet other scopes may come with no reticle pattern at all.
At the end of the day, the choice of a reticle pattern really depends on your needs and preferences.
For instance, if you’re going to go night hunting using a thermal scope, a crosshair four-line reticle will be very useful.
On the other hand, if you are not going to use a thermal scope for very accurate and targeted viewing, you may even do away with the reticle and go with a scope which doesn’t offer one.
5. Refresh Rate
The refresh rate of a thermal scope is simply the rate at which the scope refreshes the view.
As a general rule of thumb, the more frequently a scope refreshes the scene, the more clearly will you be able to detect any movements in the scene.
On the other hand, if the refresh rate is too low, you may see a sort of lag in the image being viewed through the scope.
Most thermal scopes come with a 30 Hertz or 60 Hertz refresh rate. Choosing the right refresh rate really depends on your preferences.
If you are going to use the thermal scope for static viewing with the target objects moving slowly, a 30 Hertz refresh rate is fine.
However, if you are going to use the scope to view objects that move quickly, or if you are going to use the scope while moving yourself, a 60 Hertz refresh rate will deliver you a far clearer result.
6. Optical or Digital Zoom
Most thermal scopes come with either a digital or optical zoom, or a combination of both.
Zoom allows you to magnify a distant object or target while viewing it through a thermal scope. A digital zoom accomplishes this by making use of software.
It works fine when you are zooming in at an object located close by but if you zoom in on a distant object using a digital zoom, the resulting image may have a significantly lower resolution.
An optical zoom, on the other hand, makes use of a lens in magnifying a distant object and is able to retain most of the quality of the original view. As a result, magnification using an optical zoom delivers a crisper image.
A good balance between the two is to get a thermal scope which utilizes both digital and optical zoom in magnification.
7. Objective Lens
Objective lens is the lens that is used in a thermal scope. The most important thing to consider regarding an objective lens is its diameter.
If the diameter of the lens is small, it offers a narrower field of view and will not operate very well in low light conditions because it does not admit sufficient light in.
On the other hand, if the diameter of the lens is large, it offers a greater field of view. At the same time, a larger lens lets in more light, allowing you to see more clearly through the scope in low light circumstances.
Some scopes may even come with adjustable objective lens, allowing you to tweak and control the focus of the scope better.
If you are going to use the scope to focus on distant objects while maintaining good clarity, an adjustable objective lens is best for you.
8. Battery Life
Thermal scopes operate on battery power. The battery options can vary greatly and usually the more high-end a scope is, the longer is the battery life it offers.
Unlike night vision scopes which can offer a much extended battery life on a single charge, thermal scopes have a more limited battery life.
A good quality thermal scope may offer power for nearly 8 hours after a single charge, which should be sufficient for a single excursion in dark circumstances.
Most (if not all) thermal scopes use lithium ion batteries. Some scopes may even come with spare batteries or a quick 1-hour charger to boost the battery power in times of urgent need.
The dimensions of a thermal scope may refer to many things, such as the size of the eyepiece, the length of the scope or its weight.
In general, scopes which carry larger lenses or feature a wider variety of features tend to have larger dimensions.
This also means that they are heavier than their lighter counterparts. Scopes with smaller lenses and more basic features consequently weigh less.
You have to determine your own needs and preferences when finding a thermal scope of the right dimensions.
For instance, if you want to view objects over longer distances and need a thermal scope that can work steadily for long hours, you will need one with a larger lens and a larger battery.
You will have to be ready to carry such heavier scopes, however, which can become quite tiresome when you are outdoors for many hours.
Scopes with larger dimensions also cost more in comparison to the more basic and lightweight dimensions.
However, in the case of the high-end scopes, the manufacturers may be able to deliver exceptional quality and all the relevant features in a very compact design.
A wide range of materials may be used in the construction of a thermal scope, especially when it comes to lens material.
In general, glass lenses are not used in thermal scopes simply because glass is an insulator material and does not allow passage of heat.
This makes it impractical for thermal scopes because such scope’s very function depends on receiving heat signals from the target objects and creating heat maps based on that.
Germanium is a more commonly used material in thermal scope lenses.
Germanium is made into a transparent glass-like material. It then provides the same lens-like properties as glass while also allowing thermal information to pass through its surface.
In general, germanium is quite expensive as compared to glass which may explain the most thermal scopes’ prices.
Zinc Selenide is another material that may be used in the construction of thermal scope lenses, although it is less frequent.
ZnSe is particularly well-suited for use in conjunction with the infrared spectrum which also makes it very well-suited for thermal scopes as well.
A thermal scope which offers more power options and comes with numerous extra features may also carry more weight.
In comparison, a scope with a fixed power source and carrying only the rudimentary features, may weigh a lot less.
The weight of a scope is an important factor because you will probably mount the thermal scope of your rifle.
You may have to carry your rifle for extended periods of time when on hunting or shooting excursions.
At such time, it is worth your while to trim down the weight of your equipment as much as possible.
On the other hand, if you’re not going to have to carry the rifle and the scope for long periods, you may not concern yourself too much with the weight and go with slightly bulkier models without worrying.
A huge variety of thermal scopes are available in the market today. These are offered by a number of brands and companies.
Following are the most acclaimed, recognized and popular brands in the thermal scope market.
Armasight has been around for a long time and the company’s name is synonymous with quality night vision products.
These include the huge range of thermal scopes offered by the company. Armasight’s thermal scopes come with a huge and diverse variety, and are meant for everyone from law enforcement agencies and military units to professional hunters and commercial users.
ATN, short for American Technologies Network, is another giant in the world of night vision products and technologies.
The company is known for continuous innovation and a commitment to quality and excellence. This is well reflected in the range of thermal scopes offered.
ATN thermal scopes range from inexpensive scopes meant for casual enthusiasts, to very expensive scopes that are meant for professionals and state agencies.
FLIR Systems is one of the oldest players in the world of thermal scopes and thermal imaging devices.
The company has been in business for more than half a century and is recognized as a reliable brand by professional shooters and thermal scope users around the globe.
A testimony to the company’s reputation is also the fact that FLIR Systems’ thermal scopes are used by law enforcement agencies and elite military units.
Thermal Scope and Night Vision Scope
If you are looking for a way to be able to view clearly even in low light conditions, you can choose from thermal scope and night vision scope.
Both of them allow you to see in low light, although both use different methods and have their own advantages.
Thermal imaging simply works by detecting the heat being given away by an object, such as an animal, a human or a car.
If the object being viewed is significantly hotter than the surrounding atmosphere, a thermal scope is able to detect it and make the object clearly visible in contrast to the surrounding area.
Thermal scopes use this method to detect even small temperature differences.
Most thermal scopes display the heat map in shades of grey, so that the object that is hotter than the surrounding area may appear lighter in contrast to the surrounding.
More advanced thermal scopes may display a color map where various temperatures in the view are displayed in various colors.
Night vision scopes, work differently. A night vision scope simply amplifies the amount of light in dark circumstances and uses this light to enable you to view in the dark.
High-quality night vision scopes may be able to utilize starlight and moonlight being reflected off ground or the tree leaves to illuminate an otherwise dark scene.
However, there must always be some light for a night vision scope to work at all. The lower the light, the poorer will be the result of the scope.
At the end of the day, the best thermal scope is the one that is able to offer the features and performance level you desire without constraining your budget.
As stated above, you have to determine the features that you require from a scope as well as other preferences before you assess various scopes.
The 6 thermal scope reviews provided above shortlist some of the industry-best thermal scopes from the leading manufacturers in the market.
- 384x288 resolution, 17UM Pixel pitch core
- 985 yd detection range
- 4x digital zoom - continuous zoom and 2x, 4x stepped zoom
- Picture-in-picture digital zoom
- Built-in recording with recoil Activation
Choosing one scope based on our reviews will most certainly bring you to a good decision. However, if there’s a model you’re interested in and was not featured in this article, you can apply the knowledge we shared and inspect the scope in detail to make a purchasing decision.
We wish you successful night hunting!