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Thermal Optics

Thermal imaging has become increasingly popular for hunting and is offered in a variety of product styles including weapon sights, monoculars and rifle scopes. Unlike night vision, thermal imaging doesn’t need light to work properly and instead works by converting infrared (IR) radiation into visible images. This makes thermal imaging useful in low visibility conditions such as darkness, smoke, heavy brush and fog. 

Thermal imaging devices are fairly expensive due to the technology used, and price can vary greatly depending on quality and features. When shopping for a thermal consider these important features:

  • Resolution - Thermal detectors with a higher resolution will produce a more detailed image with better image quality and less pixelation. Measured in microbolometers, a 640x480 resolution will be much clearer than a 384x288 microbolometer resolution. This is not to be confused with the display resolution which refers to the display screen quality and size, measured in pixels.
  • Detection range - The distance at which a thermal device is able to detect heat. Keep in mind the Recognition range (the ability to differentiate between animal, human, etc.) is usually much less than the detection range. 
  • Refresh rate - The number of times per second the image display updates. Important for moving targets, a higher refresh rate will keep up with the movement of your target without dragging. Measured in Hertz (Hz) or frames per second (fps).
  • Battery life - Run time for a thermal battery can range from 4-10+ hours and can be affected by temperature and the number of additional features being used. Most manufacturers offer replacement batteries and external power source options for extended use.
  • Lens diameter – A larger lens size such as a 50mm offers a clearer thermal image and higher magnification level, but a narrower field of view (FOV), better suited for long-distance hunting. A smaller lens size such as a 35mm offers a wider field of view and is better suited to shorter shot distance.
  • Advanced features – Thermal devices are available with several advanced features including wi-fi connectivity, built-in photo and video recording, built-in laser rangefinding, and picture-in-picture display.