Rick is a former news reporter who decided that the corporate world wasn't for him and took off to travel the world. He's been to every continent (yes, even Antarctica!) and has tried out a multitude of outdoor gear along the way. From tents to hiking boots, he's probably tested it all. Now, he's one of our full-time product testers and experts.
Bryan is one of our leading experts since he's got a vast expertise in practically everything connected to the outdoors. He's been hiking since he was a young boy, was an organizer of kayaking tours which later led to another passion of his - kayak fishing. Now, he's a part-time expert consultant involved in our multiple product tests and topic research.
Last updated: April 21, 2022
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When it comes to nocturnal activities, the more night vision capability you have within your kit box, the more successful you’re going to be, the safer you’re going to stay, and the more fun you’re going to have. A very important part of being able to view wider fields of vision at night, is selecting the best thermal binoculars for your own specific activity type.
There’s a vast array of types and devices out there, for varying costs and with differing designs and functions. We’re going to take a quick look at all that in this article, and really try to narrow down to the three best devices we could find. We’ll take a look at the way these things work and at the important considerations to watch out for when choosing the ideal thermal binoculars for you.
So, whether you’re looking to improve how many targets you’re detecting when you’re out hunting at night, or you’re a wildlife enthusiast that wants to see nocturnal animals in their natural habitat, there’s a thermal binocular that will suit your requirements. It’s a very important piece of kit to have in your possession when you want to see over wider distances and areas in the dead of night, or indeed just in lower light conditions. So, stick with me here and we’ll take a look at the best thermal binoculars out there on the market: we’ll delve into the ins and outs of what they can do, and of how they do it in the reviews, and we’ll go over key features in more detail in the buying guide.
Extra features: picture-in-picture zoom (PIP), connects to smartphone via Stream Vision app
You get 640 x 480 resolution with the accolade XP50 thermal binoculars, and that will ensure you get a nice crisp image of your target, at greater distances and whilst enjoying a wider field of vision. These binoculars will enable great performance in both day and night time applications, and you get a good level of waterproofing so that you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits in a range of weather conditions without worrying about damage to the internals. The XP50 incorporates two different zooming options. Incremental is great for observing quickly and easily while maintaining good focus and clarity, whilst the smooth zooming mode will work great when you’ve got more time to fiddle. These binoculars operate at 50 Hz frequency, so you get a high refresh rate of the image you’re observing, reducing jumping and improving your experience. Video and picture capture and streaming is also a function you get with the XP50, so showing off later, or indeed as you shoot, is no problem. You get a range finder, and you get a picture-in-picture function, which is absolutely invaluable for good target identification. Great feature for hunting at longer ranges. One of the nicest features on the XP50 is probably the interchangeable battery packs, which are li-ion and the mechanism is quick release, so you won’t miss much when power runs down. Overall, this is a great unit for all sorts of applications, in all sorts of weather. The unit is rugged and fully waterproof, and the quality is second-to-none. Worth the investment for a wide range of people and applications.
Extra features: waterproof, internal memory, USB output, anti-reflective coated optics
This is also a great pair of thermal binoculars. The N-Vision Optics Thermal imaging binocular offers much of the specification of our top pick here, equaling that in terms of magnification an offering a 1.25-mile detection range of person-sized targets. The reason this unit doesn’t make the top of the list is that it’s slightly inferior when it comes to batteries and the ease at which you can change them. This doesn’t offer the quick release and change capabilities of our winner here, and that’s going to affect the experience you have while using these binoculars in the field, especially at crucial moments. You do get an improved frequency image here, though. The N-Vison Optics unit operates at 60 Hz, and that’s going to give you smoother image quality and better video capture, if that’s your thing. You can record that video or pictures via a USB port. You don’t get the handy zooming options of our top pick with these binoculars, but you do get the same level of waterproofing and therefore the option to use them in all weathers, and this device is generally well received when it comes to durability in the field, so no problems there. All in all, there’s not too much to separate the two top units here and it’s definitely a case of what priorities you’ve got and how you’ll be intending to use your device when you’re out at night.
Extra features: picture-in-picture (PIP) zoom, connects to smartphone via Stream Vision app, 8 custom color modes
So, look. You drop down the price scale here and with that, you’re going to have to accept that you can’t expect all of the features at the same level of performance as our top two picks. This is our budget pic for a reason, but you still get a state-of-the-art thermal binocular, that’s essentially the little brother of our top pick. This is a great option of you want to spend a little less money and your scope of use can accommodate the slightly reduced capabilities. You’ll save much cash. The Pulsar PL77411 Accolade XQ38 offers a lower range of magnification than our top two picks, but this wouldn’t necessarily be a factor at shorter ranges, so it could be a great buy for someone using these binoculars at closer quarters. You get most of the same functionality in terms of video and picture output as you do with the best thermal binoculars here, and it’s not short on features in general. An AMOLED display renders nice, clear images and you still retain the Picture-in-Picture feature on the XQ38, which is such a great option to go to when trying to identify targets at mid to longer ranges. It’s an impressive feature to see on a binocular in this price range. A massive factor here, and another very impressive inclusion on a device that sits relatively low on the scale of cost, is that you get quick release interchangeable battery packs, which is one of the features that was such a positive on our top pick on this list. In short, you get a pretty impressive bundle of features and options with the Pulsar PL77411 Accolade XQ38, and although the features are watered down slightly in terms of the level of performance you’re going to experience, that’s fairly reflected in the price. This is another case where it’s well worth taking a view on how you’re going to be using the binoculars and working out whether you can take the hit in terms of performance, because if you can, you’re going to be spending way less dollars.
What makes it special?
Big cost savings
Picture-in-Picture zoom mode
Quick battery changes
What cons did we find?
Things to Consider
What makes a pair of good thermal imaging binoculars? In this buying guide, we’ll guide you through the key features you need to look out for when choosing the best thermal binoculars for your needs.
Advantages of top-quality thermal binoculars
It’s true that almost every hunter and wildlife watcher has to weigh up a few different factors when choosing equipment for the field. Most of us need to take cost into account, because very few of us have bottomless pockets and optical equipment, especially with night vision capabilities, tends to be on the expensive side. Nevertheless, this equipment is an essential part of nocturnal activities and it’s impossible to go wandering around at night without it. Weight is another important factor for most hunters and observers, because there’s much equipment that we need, and the weight soon mounts up. Hunters in particular will be carrying a firearm or a bow, ammunition, and lots of other tackle, so we have to be careful generally when we’re taking to the field, that we don’t take too much stuff along and weigh ourselves down. It’s ineffective and it can soon sap the enjoyment out of a hunt. Many hunters will end up sacrificing some of the capabilities of superior optics in order to save weight and bulk. This attitude often results in the use of a monocular for when scanning wider areas at night. Although understandable, there’s also a fair amount of foolhardiness to this approach. Thermal binoculars provide so much more than other types of optics. When in a situation where not missing a target is important, it’s hard to look past binoculars for effectiveness and a successful hunt. If you can identify targets at longer ranges and scan for activity all around, you’ll stand a much better chance of homing in on a greater number of targets and having a successful shoot. As with all devices of this type, the better quality an item you go for, the better user experience you’ll have, the greater the versatility, ruggedness and capability the device will have, and the more targets you’ll hit. When it comes to thermal optical devices, there’s no substitute for quality and the amount of features you’ll buy. It’s important to allow yourself as much spend as you can and set your budget there.
Features to consider when choosing thermal binoculars
We’re going to look at some of the important factors and features of these devices under the headings below. The features that you choose will be very much dependent on how you intend to use your binoculars, and that’ll be a recurring theme during this buying guide. We’ll look at things like magnification and detection range, as well as resolution and color modes, and hopefully you’ll get a clearer picture of how to end up with a clearer picture of your night time surroundings.
You’ll need to consider the aperture size when you’re assessing the resolution capabilities of binoculars, much the same as with any other optical device. Resolution will be directly linked to how big the aperture is, and this can be a major factor – especially if you intend to observe long range targets. This is one of the features that will probably suffer on cheaper units, and you’ll really need to be careful so as not to go so low in terms of budget to make the device unusable for the applications that you require it for. If you’re needing to identify targets reliably at longer distances – and that can be a safety concern when out hunting at night – then you’ll absolutely going to want to be in possession of a binocular that will afford you a decent enough level of resolution so as to be able to discern the difference between a hog or a deer, and a fellow hunter, before you go to the rifle. When you’re looking for a piece of equipment that you need to be able to scan a wider field of vision reliably, resolution is a priority.
Detection range can basically be defined as the ability your thermal binoculars have to clearly define a target at a specific distance, or distances. This is another instance where you’ll need to have a very clear idea of what you tend to do when you’re out in the field. Some units will be geared up for shorter distance observation, some for mid-range operations, and others will be engineered to scan at much longer distances. So, you’ll benefit greatly from having a good think about, and a very clear idea of how you’re going to be using your new thermal binoculars when you’re out at night. You’ll pay good money to get capability you don’t need unless you do this, so it’s well worth the effort and time to sit down and think before you select.
Magnification is another feature that, as it improves, will greatly increase the cost of the thermal binoculars you’re considering.
It’s vitally important, therefore, to not buy binoculars with massive amounts of built in magnification if say, you’re only ever going to use them in the forest or at shorter distances.
The technology required to improve the levels of magnification in a device is costly, and it’ll therefore affect the overall cost of the binoculars, so have a good idea of what you intend to use them for. Likewise, don’t skimp on this feature if you’re going to be using them at long range and you’re going to need a good image at a distance that’s further out. You get the idea. Just choose carefully, based on what you’ll need them for.
You’ll use color modes when performing different tasks in different conditions. If you go for a decent pair of binoculars, you’ll likely get a better range of color modes and therefore a greater user experience and far more versatility and effectiveness. Thermal binoculars operate more effectively when you’ve got more color options. For instance, if you’re looking to reliably identify and observe targets at long distance, a sepia option provides the best contrast at night. Violet color mode will highlight targets faster when you’re scanning wider areas before you go to the scope. In short, the wider the range of color modes available to you, the wider the range of tasks you’ll be able to perform quickly and effectively. Great for hunting applications, when you need to be on the ball, and prepared at all times.
One of the main reasons that you’re going to be investing in a pair of thermal binoculars is the fact that they’re designed to view a wider field of vision than if you were just using a monocular or the night vision scope on your firearm, for instance. Binoculars are used in the field to enable the viewing of a wide range, so as to make it easier and more efficient to scan bigger areas for a target. You’ll want to make sure that the thermal binoculars you’re going for give you a decently wide viewing angle. This will mean you can scan large areas quickly and not miss a thing.
Video recording and photos
This feature will be a consideration if you want to capture images and videos during use. If you’re putting together a movie of a hunt or you just want to observe and record wildlife, or something else that you happen on accidentally while you’re out in the field, then these features will allow you to do that digitally so that you can view back and edit footage later.
You’ll need to consider how you’re likely to be using the binoculars when you take this factor into account. If you’re largely stationary while you use them to surveil targets, then rugged design isn’t as important as if you’re the type that is likely to be moving around fast, through more difficult terrain. Anything that is going to get used outside at night needs to have some built in durability, but like anything else, take into account how you intend to use the equipment when you buy.
As with durability, this is going to depend on your own particular brand of use.
If you’re often out hunting at night in bad weather, or you tend to be dashing around in creeks and rivers, then you’ll need to prioritize waterproofing.
If you’re sitting in a hide watching wildlife, then this isn’t going to be such a factor. Choose wisely, because you’ll pay for a higher level of waterproofing, even if you never need it.
Battery life depends on a number of factors. How you’re using the device will greatly affect how long power lasts. Different battery options on different binoculars will last longer than others. Running Wi-Fi while you use the device or live streaming video, if you have that feature, will greatly reduce run time and increase power usage.
Color options allow you to perform certain types of observation more effectively and efficiently under differing light conditions and in different environments. Different colors transfer information to the eye in a better way, depending on how much ambient light there is, what the distance of observation is, and how well you need to be able to reliably identify exactly what the object is that you’re observing.
Generally, yes. These devices work by using infrared and converting that into a viewable image. You can use most of these units in either day or nighttime conditions.
Well, there you have it. We looked at three great thermal binoculars in this review and buying guide and the one that emerged victorious was the Pulsar Accolade XP50 Thermal Night Vision Binocular. This unit combines ruggedness and waterproofing, with great usable features and the ability to live-stream and record videos and pictures. One of the best features here was the interchangeable quick release battery packs – amazingly handy in the field. That binocular was closely followed in second place by the N-Vision Optics Atlas Thermal Imaging Binocular, and although that featured some brilliant options, and indeed exceeded the frequency of operation of the top pick, it isn’t quite as effortless to use in the field. Last but not least by any means, came the Pulsar PL77411 Accolade XQ38 Thermal Binocular, which is basically the little brother of our top pick and combines much of the same features at slightly reduced levels of performance, to turn out a great budget option that’s perhaps best suited to shorter range use. At the end of the day – which is when you’re mostly going to be using these devices – we’ve got a good choice of three units here, that’ll all get you out in the dark and having fun. So why are you still here? Grab a binocular and get going!