Curiously enough started couple of years ago humanization of prices for thermal riflescopes and observation devices didn’t stop with imposition of famous sanctions against Russia. We can’t say that thermal products turned into “mass market products” but when you remember the price of the first thermal riflescopes (far beyond 1000000 rubles (≈25000 USD)) then todays 100000 rubles (3300 USD) seem a quite a reasonable price for new possibilities that open to the owner of thermal device.
Though my immersion into thermal topic is not that deep, but a quite long-lasting one and due to that a comparative theoretic al and practical information has been accumulated. I will define at once a subjective priority - for any hunter without regard to his wallet size thermal scope is of primary interest compared to thermal riflescope. A thermal scope in combination with any rifle complex is simply able to significantly broaden the capabilities of hunter practically in any environment whereas installed on a rifle thermal riflescope is not that maneuverable as the device held in one hand.
Device can be used freely with equal success during remaining in a vehicle or walking or staying in position arranged for shooting from a stand or prone shooting etc. Thermal Imagine Scopes Pulsar Quantum HD19S (at left) and Pulsar Quantum HD38S are fitted up with a sensor with resolution of 384x288 and refresh rate 30Hz. The distinction lies in different lenses –the 19S lens provides 1,1x magnification of a visible image and the 38S model provides 2x.
Considering the combination of a thermal scope and any riflescope from my point of view it is important not to neglect the fact that for thermal scope it does not matter whether it is day or night outside, it senses the differences of actual temperatures of objects in the field of view. Here we can make a conclusion of the thermal scope utility regardless what you use as a riflescope at this moment in the context of hunting situation – whether it is regular mechanics which is hard to screw off rummaging the thicket, a holosight for drive hunting, high-aperture optics on still hunting, night vision riflescope with a tube on stand hunting or the most perfect thermal riflescope, which some hotheads imagine as a pill from the itch in two most important body parts. I am not going to compare a thermal riflescope with a classic night vision riflescope with a tube in this article, confining myself to noticing their mutual complement but not the substitution of the technologies. An animal is not a human, of course, who has already learned how to hide from thermal devices, but the work in reflected infra-red rays in some cases definitely provides better selectivity and detailing of the observed image at least due to the ability conditionally differentiate colors and surface textures. It is especially important in solving specific and rather non-hunting goals. If to play hide and seek, just try to see in thermal device any distant object behind the glass or optically transparent film. From my experience the great majority of participants of such a simple experiment couldn’t assume till the test they would see nothing through a beautiful and expensive device. A microbolometer installed in a thermal device will honestly send to the device display the surface temperature of the glass as a relatively even background. In case the glass or mirror is located close to the device, the reflection of the observer or surrounding background will be seen.
Coming back to the introduction of the article, I will rather try to justify myself for mentioned 100000rub, which for some might seem an unreasonable price for the not most needed gadget, and for others – a drop in the ocean for the new technology.
In any really high-tech sphere the market competitive conditions presume more or less upright regulation of consumers’ (retail)prices for the goods depending on the complex of its functional qualities. Thermal device is not an exception. I, for instance, think the price of 700000rub. for IWT 640 Micro thermal scope, which is slightly bigger than a matchbox, completely justified, but only for a consumer who is ready to pay such money for the supercompactness, closing his eyes to some “rawness” of the device, which can be seen inside the body, and low sensor rate (9Hz). I’m not the one, though I implicitly admit this as an achievement of IWT in miniaturization of complicated devices.
100000 rub. is a top price line for a thermal scope of a basic and most popular level, where in Russia only three most common devices are based: Flir PS24, Pulsar Quantum LD19S and Pulsar Quantum HD19S. I had a chance to check all of them in hunting conditions. Moreover, I was using Flir PS32 and Quantum HD38S in the forest as well.
Flir PS24 (the retail price is about 90000rub., sensor resolution 240x180 pixels, rate 9Hz, optic magnification 1x) is compact and proved itself in the forest quite well in comparison to its more expensive fellow – PS32 (the price is about 150000rub., sensor 320x240, rate 9 Hz, magnification 1x). Small distances (up to 100m) and relatively large targets (boars of different ages, raccoon dogs, foxes, badgers, martens, hares) allowed equally reliably define and follow the observation objects regardless the sensor size.
It is only in some minor details both devices turned up to be not completely suitable for hunting conditions – a built-in flashlight might perhaps be a useful function, but imagine my irritation after a couple of undeliberate switches in the shed! Again, the Flir’s concept with a built-in accumulator, which is charged through a mini-USB jack, is quite sustainable but doesn’t assume a replacement of battery elements in field conditions. And this is an evident problem. It would be more practical to have not mini but a micro-USB jack, a “tail” for which could be found almost in every car as a charger for any modern mobile phone. The Flir’s unconditional advantage is highlighting of the hottest points of the sensor with red color on the black’n’white background. While observing animals, this technology highly increases the detection distance when the animal is flickering, for instance, in bushes, and the eye can not skip any changes of the observing image which are displayed in flash/fade of one or two pixels only.
Pulsar Quantum LD19S (around 80000rub.) and Pulsar Quantum (around 95000rub.) have 1,1x magnification, are equipped with 384x288 resolution sensor ; they differ from each other in refresh rate – 9Hz and 30 Hz accordingly. Unlike them, Quantum HD 38S with 30 Hz rate has 2x lens and costs almost the same as Flir PS32, surpassing it not only in optical magnification but in sensor resolution/rate as well.
I wouldn’t attribute the magnification to the advantages of any device though. For instance, mentioned above 1x Flir devices have 4x18° field of view (the first number –horizontal angle of the field view in degrees, the second - vertical), Quantum devices of 19 series with 1,1x magnification allow to look at the world with wider open eyes having 27x21°, while 2x magnification of the 38 model cuts angles to 14x11°.
It is for its wide field of view and high refresh rate of the sensor, as a reference budget thermal scope, I have chosen Pulsar Quantum HD 19S and I will consider its peculiarities among which there are evident advantages as well as not immediately noticeable flaws.
To close the topic about sensor refresh rate I’ll explain that 30 Hz are more preferable then 9 Hz, of course. Higher refresh rate of the image provides better comfort of continuous observation even of a relatively fixed object (even deferred, changing with apparent delay image of swaying leaves can be tiresome.), not to mention moving targets. But the 9 Hz sensor copes with standard tasks quite well. So, if you think to save money choosing thermal scope, compromise Hertz without any regrets, and spend your saved 15000 rub on ammunition, for instance.
Talking about Pulsar Quantum HD19S thermal scope as about the model of a higher-than-basic level in regards of refresh rate and resolution, I won’t go deep into its menu and won’t paraphrase the manual, which is written in a clear and readable format, by the way. I’ll try to draw attention of potential users as well as developers to applied aspects, which I faced during the device using.
Pulsar Quantum HD 19S is offered to the owner in a set with universal carrying case, equipped with a long belt, a hand strap, a video cable (PAL/NTSC), a cleaning cloth, an additional battery compartment and an automotive cigarette lighter adapter.
A carrying case with the device can be carried on a shoulder and on a waist belt, and it has small inner and large outer additional pockets. A large pocket can easily get without any problem a spare battery compartment for 4 AA batteries and a couple spare battery sets. The stated time of operation on one set of batteries is 5,5 hour. In practice, the device on one set of the cheapest batteries (10 rub. per item) was working for 11 hours (two sessions – 6 and 5 hours each) in the mode of periodical switching on/off for environs observation, animal watching and some experiments with different menu settings. For quick replacement of the compartment with 4 AA elements don’t forget to turn an eyecup (left photo). And in order not install the compartment wrong, it has a special asymmetric lug, which you can easily catch with your nail if it is hard to remove it. Watch polarity icons when installing the batteries into the compartment– (right photo).
Pulsar recommends using rechargeable batteries with a capacity of at least 2500 mAh in the device. I haven’t tried, but having a great experience in a work with photoflashes, where, for example, nickel metal-hydride batteries provide unattainable for lithium and alkaline batteries speed of a condenser reloading, there is a sense to listen to the manufacturer’s advice, for certain, this recommendation was bench-tested.
The device is not ideal from the point of the tactile selectivity in the area of control buttons. Especially in gloved hands.
It is worth having a spare battery compartment with fresh batteries always ready because they discharge unexpectedly, as a matter of fact. Moreover, a red charge indicator in the observer’s field of view tells not about the coming ‘end’ of the charge but actual discharge, and naturally, about the need to replace batteries urgently.
Another important moment is an obscure order of batteries installation into the compartment, which is then put into the device. The traditional approach – spiral spring contact – “-“and plate – “+” - does not work and to observe the right polarity one has to attentively watch polarity icons on the compartment walls. It is impossible to do in the dark, and any attempt to remember any clear sign for right installation of the first battery (in order to blindly put the rest) is doomed to failure; for example, one spiral contact is “+” and the other is “-“. A nice bonus for this problem is an instant replacement (up to 3-5sec) of the prepared compartment by touch, after which one has to wait infinitely long 10 sec. for the unit to start. So if it is supposed to catch suddenly appearing object, one should keep the device always switched on. Have nearly forgotten – for quick replacement of the compartment one should turn the petal of the eyecup, which isolates observing channel from lateral light exposure.
A hand strap with the help of a threaded swivel is attached to one of the two tripod mounts, the latter also allow to put the device on a tripod. I haven’t tried to get a video signal with a help of the supplied video cable, but I was successfully charging our Quantum from car onboard network. For extended use, working from the car (don’t forget to pull down the glass – see above) helps to save batteries charge, which don’t need to be taken off, the device has automatic priority for the power supply channel to operate the cable.
To extend the operation time of the device in the field two times and more compared to using 4 AA batteries, one can use original EPS 3/5battery packs. One of them is attached to the device through a weaver rail and the second one is remote and can be hidden under the cloths in winter time. Perhaps, in the future we will test these packs as well as original CVR 640 video recorder, which conveniently allows recording a video signal on SD-card. The device is equipped with a weaver rail for mounting the additional battery pack and with two tripod mounts with a standard thread ¼ inch. A hand strap can be attached to them as well.
To switch the thermal scope on and off shortly press the button on the top the body right under the forefinger if you hold the unit in your right hand. From my personal experience I can say that a short press for switch off is not a good idea, which provokes an unintentional turning off, especially, if you work in gloves. I think that if the device could switch off after holding the button for 2-3 sec., the problem would disappear.
So, after starting the device you can set to using the thermal scope according to its intended application. The dioptric correction of the eyepiece has a wide adjustment range: -5/+5. The lens focusing is already available at 2m. The lens itself is protected against external exposure not with a removable or flip-up cap but with a diaphragm, which is very convenient.
Sockets are protected with a rubber cap.
The device has three operation modes: “City” (enhanced contrast), “Forest” (low contrast) and “Identification” (improved rendering), as well as the ability of the image inversion – switching between White hot mode (hot objects are highlighted in white color) and Black hot (vice versa). After long playing with modes I found the “Identification” mode more comfortable for my eye in any conditions and never experienced a situation when Black hot mode could give me better comfort or more details than White hot mode. Although it doesn’t make ‘black’ mode useless in any other, which didn’t happen to me, situations. By the way, once I even could diagnose a worn bearing, which dangerously heated the hub of the front wheel of the car.
Controller (indicated by narrow) is used for “hot” brightness and contrast adjustments and also for shifting through device menu.
Perhaps, I didn’t want to use “City” and “Forest” modes because the device provides comfortable “hot” brightness and contrast control, and the menu is easy to understand after a single reading of the user’s manual, where, by the way, it is clearly written about microbolometer calibration, necessary to get a permanently qualitative image. Among the three modes (silent manual mode, automatic and semiautomatic) I have chosen semiautomatic as a result; it doesn’t irritate with clicks of falling shutter and “frozen” image at the most inappropriate moment. At semiautomatic mode the calibration (in fact, it is nulling, reset of microbolometer from previous information) is made by a short press of the button. The manual mode in this sense is a hassle; it requires entering the menu and closing the lens cap.
Having got used to the modes I didn’t feel any problems using the device, except for ergonomic ones, which are connected to my continued experiments with setup combinations, even at their optimal for me values, intensively using the modes and calibration buttons, as well as the controller.
From this side Quantum is better than Flir PS/LS series but it is not ideal either. There are no questions to the location, rotation and pressing convenience of the controller, but during “blind” work, even without gloves, the tactile selectivity in the button zone wasn’t enough for me. For absolute comfort it is only needed to make two prominent cross ribs which will separate the middle button (calibration) from the others.
Perhaps, there are no more questions to the device and Quantum handling can be characterized as simple and intuitively clear.
From the practical point of view, using Quantum at hunting and simply in the forest I have seen enough different forest animals. Last autumn I found four raccoon dogs (unluckily to them) in the bushes, endlessly and more than once I was watching wild boars (separate and in sounders), which didn’t approach the towers for the firing range, but were demonstrating their habits for hours on the distance that was visible for the thermal scope through the bushes. And sometimes I was watching them in absolute silence when, as a result, after hunting the sacramental phrase sounded – “they haven’t come out today”. Actually they were there but on the distance which was unreachable for detection with traditional night vision riflescope.
The unexpected side of such situation is that no matter how you improve the hunting equipment, the hunting doesn’t appear to be an event with a guaranteed result. Yes, I have seen something that I couldn’t see without a thermal scope - and what?
Another thing is May hunting for wood grouse in the Kirov region. Approaching a bird at its song, I caught with my peripheral vision an almost noiseless movement in pine crowns to my right and understood that was another bird. I was watching, breaking eyes and again watching and listening to… Only shadows on shadows, neither noise nor movement. I quietly lifted a switched-on thermal scope, and … there it was, the breast was shining! After that even without a device the image of a prickly pine paw came to life, turning into a tail and a grouse head. Several careful steps, a bird reaction, a shot – and 5,5 kg fell on a snow pillow.
While hunting at grouse mating place (checked in Leningrad and Kirov regions) there was no use from the thermal scope. You just hear and see one hour earlier the gathering birds, and can count them in advance. And that’s all – anyway you shoot when there is still some light.
I almost forgot, last autumn I was watching two elk backs through the thermal scope, they were leaving the glade when I came from a windy side. And this is also significant – without the unit I would have thought there was nobody there. Though in that case, the wind changed the “wrong” direction and my approach from the very beginning was as a risky venture.
Well then, does a hunter need non-expensive thermal scope? It is up to you to decide, but my opinion is final and irrevocable – yes, he does. Although I don’t think this is the breath of life. It is important to understand, that this device will not directly affect your hunting results, but the thermal scope definitely expands the borders of animal world for the hunter. Not till the infinity, of course, but I confirm the stated 500 meters for a human figure in the field for Quantum HD19S. The maximum distance, on which I was watching a wild boar, was 250m. And this is surely not the limit.