Thermal binoculars let you see through the night, fog, light rain and some brush. Because they pick up heat signatures, they can even find tracks to a small extent. Thermal binoculars for hunting are a great accessory, especially in cold places.
We take a look at the best thermal imaging binocular to tell you what you should get and what you should avoid.
Only a few thermal binoculars are on the market today. We look at all of them, as well as a pair of thermal imaging binoculars. Let’s dive right in!
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Before we dive into the product reviews, here’s a quick note on Millikelvins.
This is important because the heat sensors in thermal binoculars measure the sensitivity in milliKelvins, written mK. Kelvin is a temperature measurement used in scientific circles.
One Kelvin is about 1.8 degrees in Fahrenheit. 25 milliKelvin comes to about 2/10ths of a degree in Fahrenheit. Most body thermometers measure in 1/10ths of a degree.
1. Best Overall – Pulsar Thermal Imaging Binoculars Merger LRF XP50
Pulsar is the No. 1 maker of thermal optics. The Merger LRF is their premier series of binoculars, and they do command a premier price as well.
The sensor will detect heat differences of less than 25 milliKelvins. With these binoculars, you will see very tiny temperature differences. That can be handy when you are trying to see small or distant critters in the grass on a hot day.
The Merger series comes in the XL50, XP50, and XQ35. Pulsar separates them by the sensors and display. The display is in pixels. The screen uses pixels to show the image. More pixels mean a clearer and better image.
- The X series comes with two independent batteries, both rechargeable. One is built in and the other is removable.
- The XL can pick up heat a source at nearly a mile and a half. If you are hunting at night, your prey will never know you are there.
- You can connect these binoculars to your cell and to a WiFi network. All will record videos and pictures. Memory is limited compared to what your smartphone can hold. Recordings are transferred with a USB cord.
- The control buttons are on top of the optics, right where your fingers can get to them. You can view the controls through the lenses and make the adjustments you need.
- You get color choices as well. Not all thermal devices allow this. Pick the one that works best for you. Those choices are:
- White Hot
- Black Hot
- Red Hot
- Red Monochrome
- A built-in laser range finder works out to 1 kilometer. At 1 click, it is accurate to within 1 meter. That is good enough for ranging your shot with a rifle.
- The best thermal binoculars on the market
- Wide range of user options
- Long range, on par with rifle scopes
- Video and pictures
- Weighs just over 2 pounds with both batteries installed
- Limited zoom compared to traditional optics
Summary: If you want the best, this is it. Thermal binoculars simply do not get better with today’s technology. It does not do everything the ATN (below) does, but it has one feature my optics cannot live without. The Pulsar is waterproof. A good rain will not harm it.
2. Best Mapping Ability – ATN BinoX 4T Thermal Binocular
ATN produces a variety of nighttime optics with The BinoX Thermal Binocular being the line of thermal bincoulars. The BinoX comes in different models with different capabilities and price points.
The thermal sensor in the >25mK models picks up temperature differences of less than 25 milliKelvins. The other models, which are less expensive, will not pick up heat details that small.
- All of the binoculars come with the ATN mapping feature. Use the integrated laser to tag other people and the target. The binoculars then show you everyone’s position on a map and their distance to the target.
- The information can also go to your smartphone via the wireless communications inside the binoculars.
- The laser is good to 1,000 yards.
- The binoculars communicate with an ATN scope using the company’s Ballistics Exchange Information (BIX). The two devices then configure your scope for the shot. This removes the guesswork.
- These run on an internal lithium battery with up to 16 hours of run time. Some older models still for sale run on CR123A batteries. In either case, the more functions you use, the faster the battery will drain.
- The battery charges with a USB cord. You can get an external battery to recharge while in the field.
- The binoculars do not need it, but they have an infrared illuminator. If you are with someone who has a night vision scope, use the infrared to light up the target so their scope can see it.
- ATN separates the models by magnification level and the internal sensor. Each model also comes with different levels of target detection, recognition and identification.
- Detection means the optic will pick up a heat signature. Recognition means you have enough of an image to decide if what you see is a real target or something else. ID means you have enough of a picture to identify what you see clearly, i.e., coyote, hog, or deer.
- Distances are measured in yards.
- ATN compatibility
- BIX system
- Easy to take videos
- IR illuminator
- 1K yards range finder
- ATN has a higher return and damage rate than premium manufacturers
- A heavy 2.5 pounds
- Weather resistant, not waterproof
Summary: ATN’s line of electronic optics offers so much more than other makers. The new BIX added to the mapping ability in the devices is not found in any other optics system. If you already have an ATN thermal or night vision scope, any one of these binoculars is a perfect addition because they sync.
However, I have a problem with the weather-resistant feature. If you hunt in the rain, and sooner or later we all do, you run the very real risk of ruining a set of binoculars that cost more than your rifle and scope combined.
3. Best for Thermal Imaging – Guide TN Series Handheld Thermal Imaging Binocular
Though the Guide TN Series set of binoculars are listed as thermal, they also talk a lot about the built-in infrared illuminator. Thermal optics do not need infrared light, because they have an IR sensor. You cannot use that to say this is a night vision optic and not a thermal. Thermal also uses IR sensors, just a different kind than night vision needs.
ATN is made in the US and Pulsar is made in Western Europe. Thermal components can be shipped from the US to some allies in Europe.
- These binoculars have a laser range finder with up 600 meters of accuracy.
- They have an infrared radiation (IR) resolution of up to 640×480.
- The IR detector is a high-sensitivity and VOx uncooled detector that offers users good quality imaging, allowing you to feel fully immersed in the hunting experience.
- These are a highly functional pair of binoculars that are ergonomically designed with raised buttons to use them comfortably in the dark.
- You can take videos and photos and track your GPS location when using these binoculars.
- Ergonomically designed binoculars
- Highlights targets easily
- Unenforceable warranty
- Costs more than some reliable brands
Overall, I’d recommend these binoculars for those that want a pair of ergonomic thermal imaging binoculars. It’s important to note that while these are not purely thermal binoculars, you get high-quality imaging and several functions that make life a lot easier when hunting!
When it comes to thermal binoculars, you are limited to two companies, ATN and Pulsar. Other manufacturers coming out of China claim to produce thermal binoculars, but they are actually night vision.
Night vision and thermal are not the same things. Both are good, but thermal is better. Thermal sees much farther and in complete darkness. Thermal allows you to see through fog and smoke.
Why Are Binoculars Better?
Binoculars are better than a monocular, or telescope devices. You have two eyes. Your brain processes images coming from both eyes at the same time. It turns this into a single image. Looking through a one-piece tube puts stress on your brain. Yes, you can learn to overcome this; we all shoot with rifle scopes. It is still not natural.
When using a scope, some people close one eye and some keep both open. Regardless, you are using only half of your vision and half of your brain’s image processing.
If you spend a lot of time searching for something through a rifle scope, you get tired, fatigued or burned out very quickly. Try it.
Binoculars preserve your stereo vision. You can look through binoculars to scan far longer than you can a rifle scope.
How Do You Choose What’s Best?
So, what is the best thermal to get? What makes it the best? Which one should you buy? Here are several factors to consider before making a purchase of this magnitude.
Pulsar gets the nod here because they are waterproof. This may not sound important. It becomes very important when you get caught in pouring rain or slip and fall in a creek.
ATN’s cross-device networking communications package is certainly head and shoulders above Pulsar. Pulsar does make rifle scopes, but the binoculars and the scopes do not communicate. Certainly, the technology is there; Pulsar just has to pull the trigger to implement it!
Imagine picking up binoculars and eyeballing a deer at 287 yards. Then you pick up your rifle and all the internal adjustments are made.
Put the crosshairs on the target and pull the trigger. If you do your job, you have a deer waiting for you, and there is no guesswork involved. No fiddling with the turrets. The binoculars and your scope talk to each other and make all the ballistic adjustments.
How far can the binoculars pick up a target? Thermal devices have two real settings for this.
The first is the distance it can pick up a heat source. The second is how far out it can generate enough information to give you a picture to identify what you are seeing.
Recognition distance is always a bit less than half the heat source distance. If your binoculars will pick up a heat source at 1,000 yards, figure you can ID the source at 400-450 yards, depending on the size.
A human is the standard model for heat source and recognition.
Weight matters. The first two recommended binoculars weigh more than two pounds; you do not have much maneuvering room.
If you are sitting in the same stand for the duration of your hunt, weight is not a huge matter. You can lay the binoculars down if they get too heavy. However, if you are on a spot and stalk hunt and may have to cover miles, those two pounds get really heavy after a while.
Pulsar gets the nod here for being a few ounces lighter than the ATN.
5. Heat sensing
Unless you are hunting critters the size of mice, the ability to see the difference between tiny fractions of a degree does not matter.
If you can see the target clearly enough to pick an ethical shot, then you have all the sight picture you need.
Getting down to around 25 mK sounds great, but the reality is a hunting scope does not need that much precision.
This category is a draw as Pulsar and ATN both make scopes with more precision than you need for hunting.
Pulsar and ATN offer a three-year warranty against defects in workmanship and problems. The warranty does not cover misuse or things like dropping the binoculars. This is another tie.
ATN goes up to 25x zoom while the Pulsar maxes out at 20x zoom. On the surface, this seems like it is a win for ATN.
However, Pulsar has a higher pixel count on the screen so the advantage really goes to Pulsar. Blowing up a picture matters so long as you have a good resolution. Pulsar has the best better resolution.
If you wish to know how does laser finder works, You must go through this video.
Thermal binoculars can pick up heat sources through thin walls if the heat source on the other side is strong enough. This is not exactly seeing through the wall, but it can come extremely close with very thin walls.
Thermal is better than night vision. It has a longer reach, sees more and works in complete darkness. It is also more expensive.
Thermal binoculars work just as well during the day as they do at night. The optic picks up heat sources, not visible light.
In this article, I walked you through a short list of three of the best thermal binoculars. Even though one pair of binoculars was technically a pair of thermal imaging binoculars, I included it to show you how to they can also help you when hunting.
Overall, the Pulsar Thermal Imaging Binoculars Merger LRF XP50 is still my top pick purely because of the waterproof rating.
When hunting, I need waterproof optics! If my gun gets soaked, I can take it apart to clean and dry it. If the optics, the binoculars and the scope get soaked, I cannot take them apart to dry them.
The other differences are just too small to matter, given the expense of these optics.