It is easier to spot a white rabbit in a large pile of snow when scanning the surface with a thermal imaging device than when relying on mere sight. Thermal imaging is an excellent hunting accessory, as thermal optics show warm parts of the animals, thus hunters can track them, as well as their movement. Due to this, thermal vision has been increasing in popularity in 2020 and surprisingly, the prices have also been lowering.
A few years ago, these products could not be purchased for under 3000 € but now, they can be bought for even less than 1000 €. Even manufacturers that have been producing only classic optics so far such as Zeiss and Leica have been diving into these waters, as there is great potential in this field. Great new optics are a reminder that even as 2020 closes out, we cannot help but invent and grow. Let us take a look at some of our favourite hunting thermal vision products this year.
Premium (3000 +)
One of the leading players of thermal imaging devices that launched in 2020 was Pulsar Accolade 2, a pair of binoculars with a built-in laser rangefinder. The series was first introduced in 2018 but the new models (Gen II) sport many improvements, like a better sensor and finer details. Also, their thermal imaging sensor guarantees precise detail recognition in harsh weather conditions, and they prove to be immensely comfortable when looking through them for longer periods of time.
The second model is also better when it comes to Pulsar Helion 2 XP, as the version that came out in 2020 has an improved sensor with a better NETD of under 40 millikelvins. This drastically improves the detail recognition as the sensor is capable of detecting lower temperature differences. When in the field, especially in harsh conditions such as rain and fog, it can be seen how many more details the second generation picks up.
Everyone was eagerly waiting for a Pulsar Core successor - even though Pulsar has been quite reserved in the development of thermal clip-ons, they have come up with something fresh in 2020, the all-new Krypton FXG50. It looks like Forward F455 on the outside but features a magnesium body instead (some parts are still made of plastic). It is equipped with a VOx sensor with a resolution of 640x480, a 12-µm pixel pitch, and a NETD of <40 mK. The resolution of the AMOLED display is outstanding - 1746x1000. The four notch bayonet assembly for the purpose of adapter mounting has been replaced with a thread.
Another great device that made this year a bit better is the Infiray Clip C, a great thermal imaging attachment with an even better sensor. The Clip series has always been designed as attachments for any type of the standard day scope but 2020 provided us with a thermal attachment designed to effectively detect objects in extreme darkness regardless of other factors like fog, dust or mist due to its built-in ultra-clear mode.
Night Pearl has not been around long - only since 2000 - but has made a great breakthrough with Scops MAX II, which fits into the category of optically superior devices. For those who like it as much as we do, great news – in January 2021, a new image improver will be released – a function that further improves the image quality when turning the device on, making more details visible.
If IWA 2020 would have taken place, the brand-new Zeiss DTI 3/35 would have also been introduced there, as it is Zeiss’ brand-new, and also first thermal imaging monocular. The device has the ErgoControl operating concept, which was developed by hunters, for hunters, and the fact that this is Zeiss' first product in this line makes it even more praise-worthy. It combines a high-resolution HD-LCOS display, and a well-balanced, ergonomic design with a 0.5x zoom.
This can also be said for Leica and their new Calonox series, which was going to be introduced at IWA 2020. Leica Camera has always been recognized as a manufacturer of digital cameras for the highest demands and this year, they proved this by introducing the Leica Calonox series. This thermal vision device stands out due to its superior image quality with Leica Image Optimization and its uniquely sharp, detailed, and high-contrast images.
Upper Midrange (2000 €-3000 €)
Moving down on the timeline and the price range scale, we cross paths with Axion XQ + LRF, or as some would call it, an optical masterpiece. This Axion model is made of a magnesium alloy which adds to the robustness and makes it easy on the eyes. It has a removable battery, which is also affordable, and an excellent and improved sensor with a resolution of 384×288.
2020 did not expect the arrival of the InfiRay Finder LRF monocular to be such a success. This device also falls under the upper midrange part of our selection, as it is extremely small and lightweight, which always plays at an advantage, especially when hunting for several hours. This truly compact, combined thermal and laser rangefinder creates quite a competition for Pulsar’s Axion XQ38 LRF.
Last but not least, this year, professional hunters were not disappointed. Why? Because of the introduction of the Guide Track IR Pro, made specifically for professional hunters, as it has an excellent image display and provides excellent features in any conditions. It is available with a 25 mm and 35 mm lens diameter and both models provide great optical quality.
Lower Midrange (1000 €-2000 €)
The big news from Hikvision in 2020 is the release of Hikvision Lynx 15, a great monocular for its price, which is around 1.300 €. The device can record videos, capture images, and has Wi-Fi capabilities, which other thermal devices in this price range cannot do, meaning it offers a lot more for its price. Overall, this optics has a number of features that you usually only find in much more expensive thermal monoculars.
Speaking of great devices for low prices, the Infiray Clip T Series is one of the most compact and cheapest thermal imaging attachments for riflescopes on the market, as it costs only around 1.700 €. It is extremely lightweight and small, which is great if you do not wish to carry extra weight around. Infiray was at an all-time high this year, with people loving their affordable but high-quality products.
Pulsar launched their Axion Key XM22 model as their most affordable one (990 €) with great features, except for some limitations, such as video recording and image capturing options – hence the “key features” in the name. Nevertheless, it provides simple observation and ergonomic design. The Axion Key XM22 is designed for use as a spotting tool and is the most affordable model in the Axion range.
However, if 2020 needs to declare the most affordable thermal vision device for hunting, this would without a doubt be Hikvision Lynx 6. But this does not make it a device of poor quality – it still provides the user with the opportunity to spot game in total darkness, and it offers Wi-Fi capabilities as well. This device with the LCOS display guarantees a vivid and dynamic image of what 2021 hold for us.
Our prediction for the years to follow is that more and more manufacturers will join the field of thermal vision optics. As things go, hunting more or less takes place in the evening or at night when animals leave the safe shelters of the forest. A battle for who can offer the best quality optics for a certain amount of money is on. Even though the prices in 2020 have been lower than in previous years, they will unquestionably go down even more in the future. Just take a look at Hikvision Lynx 6 that now costs only a little over 500 €.