This week we take a look at a GearExpert exclusive take on my favorite night vision and thermal units to come out of SHOT 2016!
Well, here we are again. SHOT Show 2016 has ended and the lust for all the new exiting gear just won’t go away. If you are like me you are sitting there, cursing out loud, because there is too much cool new gear and not enough budget. You will have to be tactful and calculating. You will have to compare all of the different offerings to see where you should put your hard earned money. It sounds like something easy enough to do, but I find it difficult, as there are so many great new offerings that are innovative and different. Usually in these situations my wallet ends up losing, and my gear collection wins. And for 2016, my gear collection will be winning in the form of night vision and thermal, as there were a host of cool new low light optics unveiled at the show!
When browsing the night vision and thermal manufacturers at SHOT, there were some releases that didn’t just catch my eye, but the eyes of many of my coworkers here at GearExpert. One such awesome Example is the Apollo Mini 336 by Armasight. The Apollo Mini 336 is a quick detachable or “clip-on” thermal optical device that sits in front of your chosen sighting system. You can place it in front of your existing and sighted-in riflescope, allowing you to keep your zero true. In essence it’s a thermal scope that quickly reconfigures to a standard daytime optic with the quick removal of the thermal device. Of course being a thermal system, if the situation calls for it you can use the Apollo Mini during the day as well, as it is not subject to daytime use trauma like night vision optical devices are. There are other clip-on style thermal devices out there, but what sets this one apart is its size and weight. It is just under 5 inches long and slightly over ½ pound. To my knowledge, this is the smallest and lightest offering on the market. At a retail price of $5978, it is not cheap; however it is definitely one of the lightest, smallest and most effective thermal clip-ons out there.
Another new item from Armasight that has amazing potential for military or law enforcement is the IRIS. This is a remote eyepiece that is compatible with many of Armasight’s thermal riflescopes. It is available either in a wired system for security, or as a wireless system for more convenience. The idea is that now you can have another person seeing exactly what you as the rifleman see. Whether this is your spotter, your commanding officer, or possibly your hunting buddy will of course vary with your use.
Another cool new device that captured the attention of many of my coworkers here at GearExpert was the ATN Thor HD. Thor HD is a series of thermal riflescopes with mounting provisions for Picatinny rails. They have many different flavors of Thor HD’s with various magnifications and resolutions. With a retail price range of $1999 for the 384 1.25-5x to $5999 for the 640 5-50x, these units are actually quite affordable in the thermal scope world. Built into the Thor system is a ballistic calculator that automatically calculates your impact shift and shows the crosshairs in the appropriate place. Another cool feature of particular note to hunters is the brand new recoil activated video or RAV. This senses the recoil of the firearm discharging and saves you a video from 10 seconds before the shot to 20 seconds after the shot. You don’t need to delay taking a shot (and risk not being able to take it at all) to hit a “record” switch. The recording will happen without you having to remember to do so. One final feature that caught my attention was the profile manager. You can set up the scope for one gun, save its profile, then move the device to another rifle and set up another profile. This allows you to move back and forth with no need to re-zero, because all the changes you previously entered are saved. Just choose the profile that you configured to match your rifle and bang, you are back on target! Now one thermal riflescope can truly fit your needs on multiple firearms.
Also new this year from ATN is the X-Sight II HD. This is a digital night vision scope for both day and night use. Its mindboggling number of features is just plain outlandish. Who would think that you could jam pack them all in an optical device that retails for only $599 for the 3-14x and a scant $100 more for the 5-20x? Some of the features include full HD both day and night, including video and photos, range finder, ballistic calculator shooting solution, recoil activated video, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, gyroscope stabilization, magnetometer, accelerometer, E-barometer, smooth zoom, profile manager, E-compass, GPS geotag, all built around the Obsidian II core. Now that is one insanely sweet package that is not out of reach of the average shooter.
Also at the show, FLIR updated their Scout Thermal imaging monocular to the new Scout III. The changes are subtle but profound. Where the older system worked at 9 Hertz (or cycles per second), which could produce a choppy image, these new models work at 30Hz or 60Hz depending on the model. In addition to their previous resolution offering of 320×240 pixels, they now also offer a resolution of 640×480 pixels. The greater the resolution the more definition you will be able to see in the image. This is especially crucial as you look at things at increasing distances. The older resolution will retail for $2499, while the new higher resolution offering will retail for $3499.
The devices I have mentioned here are not without their cost. An unfortunate truth of life is that if you want quality gear, you either have to pay for it or steal it from someone who did. I do not like the consequences that theft brings to the table, not to mention the moral implications. This leaves me with the sole option of getting my things legally by paying for them with money I worked hard to earn. Since this is the case, I want my money to work as hard for me as I did for it. I imagine being able to buy a single device that can do it all. Alas, technology is fickle and takes time to catch up to my demands. However fast approaching this technology breakthrough with cutting edge science is IR Defense. They have released a very interesting new model dubbed the REAP-IR™. This is a thermal offering that functions as a standalone sight, or as a clip-on style unit. You read that right, it does both! It updates its screen at 60Hz, so there is no fear of choppy images. It has multiple reticle save locations that allow you to move it from rifle to rifle with your zero saved for each one. At just under 21 ounces and just over 6½ inches long, it isn’t the smallest or lightest, but more than makes up for it with versatility. All in all, it makes one neat package. It will have a competitive retail, but remember, it does the job of several units all on its lonesome.
Where should my night time optics money go? What should I choose to use while shooting in the dark? To be honest, I still haven’t decided. I absolutely love that the manufacturers are as prolific as they are. I adore the annual influx of the new and the improved. This variety constantly gives me more options to choose from. An old friend of mine always went by the maxim “variety is the spice of life”. If you are interested in night vision or thermal devices, life is now spicy indeed. In the end, I’m not sure which cool new thing or things I’ll choose, but I’m glad for the ever growing diversity of options.