Top 5 Best Thermal Scope Reviews [2021 EDITION]
Thermal imaging riflescopes are a very useful tool in the hunter’s arsenal and the technology is getting better (and more affordable) all the time.
However, what is the best thermal scope on the market today?
To some extent needs and budget will determine the answer to that. To help you decide we have pulled together 5 top-rated thermal scopes. To see our picks at a glance check out the table below.
For a dedicated buyer’s guide and full reviews of our top 5 choices, keep on reading.
Top 5 Best Thermal Scopes for the Money
Thermal Scope Reviews
1. TOP PICK: ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope
The ATN ThOR series of thermal imaging scope devices produced by ATN is at the very pinnacle of what you can expect in the way of quality performance and hi-tech features.
We have selected the new ATN Thor 1.25-5x Thermal Scope HD as our number one pick as it balances affordability, (it is the entry-level model in the ThOR HD series) with impressive functionality.
Let’s take a closer look.
First off we will dive straight into the awesome amount of features that ATN has packed into their latest thermal scope.
Want to take photos and videos directly to your MicroSD card? No problem. In fact, Thor can do this automatically.
The Recoil Activated Video (RAV) system ensures that you don’t miss recording that all-important footage; the scope will actually do this for you.
When you set your video record to RAV, the built-in recording system will buffer everything your scope sees.
Then, when you pull the trigger everything that took place before you took the shot, what happened during the shot and then after will go down onto the SD card for later enjoyment.
Never again miss recording an impressive kill shot with this excellent feature.
Furthermore, should you want to provide live streaming video via Wi-Fi using wireless Bluetooth technology, you guessed it, you can with the Thor.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little.
While recording and wifi streaming are great additions to a thermal scope, they won’t make up for any failings in the image capture and display.
Advanced Obsidian Core
At the heart of the Thor is an advanced obsidian core and user interface.
The system is incredibly fast, processing information at over a billion cycles per second. This is the brains running a full suite of sensors, to bring you the image at an impressive 384 x 288 resolution.
The 19mm Objective lens focal length provides clarity over the 1.25-5x zoom capacity.
Other essential features such as the built-in 3D GS7 gyroscope and image stabilizer all help ensure your image is as clear as it needs to be to pull off the essential kill shot.
Smart Range Finder
To increase the chances of a successful hunt even further, ATN’s patent-pending Smart Range Finder really does raise the bar.
The system works after just two clicks and a simple shift of the scope. Once the target is ranged in your reticle the Thor will step in and automatically adjust the point of impact. Your job is to pull the trigger at the right time.
Furthermore, should you need to adjust for other important variables the Thor is able to lend a helping hand there too?
This does a great job of minimizing the need for charts, complex reticles or hunting calculators. In short, the ATN Obsidian Smart Shooting system will process the calculations for you.
Once you have ranged in with the Smart Range Finder and entered the windage readings, the Obsidian Core will have enough information to keep track of everything else.
You can turn through the wind, move to a different incline angle, and adjust your distance; all of these changes will be calculated by the scope with the necessary point of impact adjustment taking place.
The resulting accuracy most users find as a result is borderline exponential. We are not flirting with hyperbole by saying once you’ve experienced the ATN Thor, you will find it hard to go back.
For those that plan to use the scope on more than one rifle, there is a Profile Manager that allows you to save all the ballistic data for every weapon you attach.
- High resolution, 384×288 sensor
- 19mm Objective lens focal length (smooth 25-5x zoom capacity)
- 3D GS7 gyroscope and image stabilizer
- Built-in 3D accelerometer and 3D magnetometer
- Recoil Activated Video (RAV) – Automatically records videos on recoil
- E-barometer for instant barometric pressure readings
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability for use with both iOS and Android
- Built-in GPS with geotagging and elevation capability
- Multiple reticle patterns and various color options
- Weather-resistant housing
- Some users have found the sheer amount of technical options to be confusing
- The built-in firmware has been prone to bugs on initial release, (a situation ATN has dealt with).
The ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope, really is a formidable piece of kit.
Packed with hi-tech features alongside superior optics and build quality and you have a thermal scope that should keep all but the most serious hunters, (i.e those in the market for spending multiple thousands of dollars on a scope) happy.
2. Armasight Zeus 336 3-12×42 (60 Hz) Thermal Imaging Weapon Sight, FLIR Tau 2
Now we jump to a thermal rifle scope for those with slightly deeper pockets and higher technical demands.
The Armasight Zeus family of thermal imaging weapon sights is a technologically advanced series of products that have been designed with sporting, law enforcement, and military markets in mind.
Featuring the Tau 2 VOx microbolometer core, the Zeus 336 3-12×42 (60 Hz) is a solid-state, uncooled, long-wave infrared weapon scope that can be used in both night and day conditions.
(The sheer amount of features alongside the 24/7 mission capability makes the Zeus a strong military choice).
Top-level functionality doesn’t have to mean complicated to use, however.
The Zeus has been designed for on the fly operation, meaning the controls are quick to access while being simple and intuitive to use.
This includes a unique series of menu selectable temperature sensitive “scenarios”.
The recording is taken care of via a video-out capability, (selectable NTSC or PAL formats), however, this does fall short of the inbuilt SD card recording available on the Thor.
The Zeus color reticle platform ensures maximum reticle contrast which in turn increases the potential for target accuracy.
There are a total of 6 onboard digitally controlled reticle patterns: Dot 4 MOA, Line Dot, Cross-Center Dot, Cross, Crosshair and No Reticle.
There’s also a powerful electronic zoom (e-zoom) function that can be progressively increased from 1x to 4x.
Accuracy is maintained throughout the zoom process, as the change will not impact the point-of-aim to point-of-impact relationship of the targeting reticle.
Build quality is as high as you would expect from a scope with this pedigree. The Zeus utilizes a fully made in the USA, CNC machined aircraft-aluminum alloy construction.
The scope is fully designed to endure the toughest of work environments.
To top it all off the Zeus features a limited 3-year warranty, with a full 10-year warranty on the FLIR detector.
- One of the lightest and compact scopes in its class
- Powerful Digital E-Zoom, progressive through 1x, 2x, 4x
- Fast access and easy to use drop-down user interface
- 6 reticle patterns built-in
- NTSC or PAL format video output
- Rapid start-up mode
- Picatinny Rail, Quick Release Mount
- The USA made, CNC machined aircraft-aluminum alloy construction
- Limited 3-year warranty, with a 10-year warranty on FLIR detector
- Goes through batteries quickly when only using the internal pack.
Another top thermal scope from Armasight. The specifications on the Zeus are very impressive indeed. However, those features do come at a cost.
If you are on a budget, the Thor may suit you better, however, if you do have the extra money to spend the Zeus is definitely worth a look.
3. Pulsar Apex XD50A Thermal Riflescope
The Pulsar Apex 2-8×42 XD50A makes our top 5 best thermal scope review round up for a number of reasons.
First is the versatility that the scope has. Designed for a wide variety of applications, the PulsarApex can be used for hunting as well as security and surveillance purposes.
Featuring a thermal core resolution of 384×288 the XD50A is capable of capturing infrared energy output and transferring that into the detailed image from up to 1,400 yards away from the target.
To assist with this long-distance functionality further, Pulsar has fitted the scope with a 4 x continuous digital zoom. The extended range of magnification is very impressive with image deterioration kept to an absolute minimum.
The heart of the display system is an ultra-fine LCD with a high 50 Hz frame rate, (if you have read our dedicated buyer’s guide you may remember that we recommend anything over 30 Hz in this department).
The Pulsar Apex XD50A also features a rather clever picture-in-picture digital zoom mode that positions a magnified picture of the reticle’s aiming point at the top of the screen.
This allows for more accurate aiming with the rest of the screen display providing context via the wider field of view.
Depending on how hands-on you wish to be, the XD50A offers 3 main calibration modes: automatic, manual or semi-automatic.
- 384×288 resolution with high 50hz refresh rate
- 9x magnification
- The high-resolution LCD display with a picture in picture reticule targeting
- 1,400yd detection range
- 3 main calibration modes depending on your preferences
- Amazon customer reviews are high on the Pulsar. One user has had issues with the manual focus, however.
Overall the Pulsar Apex XD50A Thermal Riflescope is a good all-around choice, especially for those that require clear thermal imagery over long distances.
While not packed with the same number of features as our top pick Thor, the Pulsar remains a highly recommended option.
4. FLIR Systems RS64 2-16X Thermal Night Vision Riflescope
The FLIR ThermoSight R-Series is the most premium level thermal scope on our list and it shows.
Not only is the ThermoSight R-Series compact and easy to get to grips with, but it also has the features and high-quality optics we have come to expect from FLIR systems. In fact, it is up there as one of the best thermal scopes for hunting.
This is also the highest resolution scope in our top 5 list. Add the advanced specifications to the fact the R series optimizes images automatically using FLIR’s own image correction technology, you have a system that brings you unparalleled clarity while out on the night hunt.
User-friendly features such as the simple four-button design and menu interface allow you to get the info you need quickly without jeopardizing your trigger action..
The unit also provides a 16 x magnification level. This works in conjunction with a shock reduction system to bring you the clarity you need.
FLIR has fitted the R series with up to six video palettes, including their own exclusive “InstAlert”
The scope is compatible with a 1913 Mil-Standard Picatinny Rail System and runs for up to 4 hours on the internal battery.
- Up to 16× magnification with advanced Image Correction
- Built in shock reduction system
- Extremely user friendly with simple, 4-button operation
- Three reticle settings
- Up to six video palettes, (FLIR also provide an exclusive “InstAlert”)
- Sturdy yet lightweight design
- The 4 hr internal battery charge life is a little lackluster
- Currently, the highest-priced thermal scope in our top 5 reviews round up
Another reliable thermal scope from FLIR. Fans of the brand will not be disappointed with this R series offering. Very well designed, with top-level optics and image processing, this one is very difficult to beat. The price may put off some buyers, however.
5. Inteliscope APPLE iPHONE Rifle Mount + Seek Thermal Imaging IR Rifle Scope Bundle
For our final pick in this thermal scope review round up we have selected a bit of a curve ball; it’s a system that turns your phone into a thermal image tool.
The Inteliscope Thermal Scope Bundle is a budget answer to thermal image scope technology. The system actually uses your iPhone as the main display for the thermal sensor.
What does this mean for overall performance quality, however?
Well, it is certainly better than you might expect.
The Inteliscope PRO+ thermal systems utilize a SEEK CompactXR thermal camera. This is plugged into your iPhone with the downloaded Inteliscope application.
The app then processes the incoming image as well as provide important environmental data and record and playback features.
The Inteliscope App also allows you to switch from day to thermal-night image capture with a simple touch of a button.
Mounting the unit a phone to your rifle is easily done. The lightweight aluminum rig is durable with a rubberized tactile finish.
Heavy-duty mounting thumbscrews are used, in a design that is completely compatible with any Picatinny rail.
The phone mount can also hold your iPhone, (even when enclosed in protective cases).
The whole system is built to handle extensive firearm use in varying conditions.
- An affordable solution that works with the iPhone
- Day and thermal-night scope
- Inteliscope’s app included
- Record video from the firearm POV and aim around corners without head exposure
- Stay on the trigger at the same time as being able to access data/info from the app
- Strong aluminum construction with a protective rubberized tactile finish
- Clearly, the quality of the optics and on-board technical features do not match the other scopes in our list. However, this thermal hunting solution comes at a fraction of the cost.
While the Inteliscope Thermal Scope Bundle clearly does not have the optic capability or the options of the stand-alone thermal scopes reviewed here, it does represent excellent value for money for those that need a thermal scope but don’t necessarily have a high budget.
Thermal Rifle Scope Buyer’s Guide
What is thermal imaging?
Thermal imaging enables the user to see objects in darkness via the heat that it emits.
We’ve all seen modern military based movies, (or even classic sci-fi such as The Predator), to know what this means in relation to a rifle scope.
The target shows up within the viewfinder due to its body temperature being hotter than its cold, dark surroundings.
In short, it makes night hunting much more productive. Should your prey be out there, you will be able to see it.
How does thermal image technology work?
Thermal imagery technology (like a lot of tech used in the world today) began through military funding and research. The benefits of a thermal rifle scope for the armed forces do not need an explanation.
The technology simply detects the infrared energy that heat releases. The scope is able to calculate the differences in heat emitted between the target and the environment, and thus highlight the targeted object to the viewer.
The Forward-Looking Infrared system (FLIR)
FLIR is the system that the majority of infrared rifle scopes use.
The lens in the scope directs the incoming infrared light which is then scanned by an infrared detector.
A thermogram is created in what appears to the user to be real-time, (the lag is undetectable to the human eye) and is projected into the viewfinder display of the scope.
The real benefit of the technology is that the user is able to determine the position of the target in relation to its surroundings. Adverse weather conditions to not impact the performance of the scope either.
What to look for when buying a thermal rifle scope
Resolution is an important specification when buying a thermal imaging rifle scope.
The best advice you can follow is to purchase a scope with as high a resolution as you can afford.
A high-resolution image will mean a crisp and clear definition of an object within your viewing screen.
Lower resolution images will be more distorted, with greater pixilation at the edges of the target. This simply leads to less reliability and a higher chance of missed shots while on the hunt.
The refresh rate is another important variable when in the market for buying a thermal rifle scope. The higher the refresh rate the more lifelike the image on your screen will be.
While most scopes come in 30 or 60 hertz, the lower end scopes will make the image seem jittery as you hone in on your target.
For that reason, we recommend that you opt for a refresh rate of over 30 hertz if you can.
Color or Monochrome
Both color and monochrome thermal scopes work well; this one generally comes down to personal preference as well as budget, (color scopes are often more expensive to buy).
Whereas the color option will display object heat variations through color, black and white displays will simply represent these differences via monochromatic graduation. In other words, warm objects will simply be brighter on the grayscale when using a monochrome thermal rifle scope.
Both systems enable the user to differentiate the target from the background. Which you go for really is entirely up to you.
There are two types of zoom, optical and digital.
Optical zoom scopes focus in on a target using the optics built inside the unit. These work better than digital zooms which simply utilize software to focus on an area of the image closer.
The fact is, digital zooming results in a lower resolution image, (and the issues we mentioned in the resolution section above)
However, the best thermal scopes will actually use a combination of the two processes. A scope with optical zoom ability that can be further enhanced digitally will give you the best results.
Zoom type and capacity is a definite specification you should pay attention to when buying a night vision thermal rifle scope.
The final variable you should look into when it comes to image processing and screen quality is the reticule.
This is the crosshair that is designed to assist targeting.
There is a range of reticles that manufacturers use; from thick crosshairs to fine dots (and others in between).
Some scopes will actually give the user a choice as the reticule can be selected within the unit.
While the type employed should not be a deal-breaker, it is good to know what options you have before you buy.
It goes without saying that your chosen scope should last the length of your hunt.
Most scopes utilize Lithium-ion batteries which should last up to 8 hours on a single charge.
However, the features here do vary depending on the brand and the technology used. Does your chosen rifle scope come with spare batteries or a 1-hour charger?
You should always read the small print (and or existing customer reviews) to ascertain the power options and overall reliability.
Extra features are always something to consider when buying an infrared night vision rifle scope.
Some models have options such as an RCA out setup. This allows you to set the scope up to a separate monitor.
There’s also image stabilization, inbuilt GPS tracking and some even have a wifi connection.
You may find products that have an inbuilt DVR to record the images your scope sees.
Standby modes and power save options are another good addition.
There’s also the issue of how user-friendly the scope is. Graphical menu displays and image manipulation, (contrast, brightness, etc) are all features the scope may have.
All of these will enable greater functionality and will appeal to the average user.
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Finally, there is the subject of price.
The fact is the cost of thermal image rifle scopes varies greatly.
The more expensive scopes will generally have all the features that we have spoken of here, alongside a premium build quality.
When buying a thermal scope it is important to get the best features for the amount you are able to spend.
At the same time, you shouldn’t compromise on quality in an attempt to save money. This will often prove a mistake in the end.
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