5 Best Clip on Thermal Scopes

Clip-on Thermal Scopes

Humans do not have a well-developed ability to see in darkness, as have some other mammals. Some animals have evolved to the point that they have an exceptional ability to see in near-complete darkness, such as owls and cats. Our ability to see is enabled by light either emitted or reflected by an object.

Our Personal Best Choice

Best Overall Model

PRG Defense Anaconda TC50

Best Value Model

Pulsar Core FXQ38

Best Performance Model

Armasight by FLIR Zeus 640

In the darkness, there is very limited light, and our pupils are unable to recognize and use that light to see images. So, there are two approaches available to make objects visible in very dark conditions:

  • 1)First is to use night vision technology, which amplifies what little lights are available (such as moonlight on a cloudy night) through goggles or night vision binoculars to make it visible to the human eye.

  • 2)The second approach is to use a sensing system which will not use light, but instead, heat, to make images visible. This is called thermal imaging and is where we will focus attention on this article.

Comparison Table

We’ve selected five different clip on thermal imaging devices (which we will also refer to as scopes, just to save some words) from Amazon.com.

Learn more on how we came up with the table

As you go through this article, we’ll be giving you an overview of each of the five clip-on thermal scopes, and discussing features that may be offered with these clip-on thermal scopes that may affect your purchasing decision.

And, before we start, let’s clarify the target audience for these clip on thermal scopes. These are not designed for the casual hunter; they are produced and priced for the true professional hunters, military personnel (snipers), and police personnel (SWAT). Prices range from just over $2500 to almost $7000 each.

ProductBest FeaturesRatingPrice RangeView on Amazon

Armasight Zeus 336 clip-on thermal scope

Armasight Zeus 336

  • 50mm lens for improved visibility,
  • optional recording capability,
  • digital zoom

4.3 out of 5

$

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Pulsar Core FXQ38 clip-on thermal scope

Pulsar Core FXQ38

  • two in one scope and monocular,
  • up to the 1475-yard range,
  • day or night operation

4.7 out of 5

$$

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Armasight CO-Mini HD clip-on thermal scope

Armasight CO-Mini HD scope

  • high def Gen 2+ scope,
  • designed for hunting and short-range assaults with limited magnification requirements

4.5 out of 5

$

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PRG Defense Anaconda TC50 clip-on thermal scope

PRG Defense Anaconda TC50

  • medium-range system,
  • day or night operations,
  • optional video recorder

5.0 out of 5

$$$

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Armasight by FLIR Zeus 640 clip-on thermal scope

Armasight by FLIR Zeus 640

  • high end display capability,
  • refresh speed 60 HZ

4.9 out of 5

$$$$

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How Thermal Imaging Works?

Thermal imaging devices can also be used in professional applications, such as preventive maintenance, looking for “hot spots” in motors, wiring, and so on. They are especially valuable to police and fire personnel involved in search and rescue operations. They can also be used for applications as mundane as looking for your dog in the back yard on a dark night.

In this article, we will be looking at a very specific product with a very specific use – clip-on thermal rifle scopes.

As with virtually all thermal imaging or night vision technologies, they started based on military needs. The earliest development of thermal imaging devices goes back to the 1920s, with a need driven by the inability of British air defenses to see incoming aircraft during World War I.

As we moved into the 1990s, the use of thermal imaging devices moved more into civilian markets. Technology changes and improvements made these devices affordable to the common market, and the applications noted above began to develop.

However, because of their military application potential, the export of many of these devices is strictly controlled. In fact, none of the five clip on thermal scopes we will be reviewing today can be exported.

If you have additional interest in how the technology works, please see the below video for a more detailed explanation:

Buying Guide

Before you dive into making a buying decision, it’s a good idea to make a quick review of available features and specifications on thermal imaging devices. The same specification may have wide variation from one scope to another; some specs will be standard on some units, optional on others.

The best way to decide what’s right for you is to review these features, and then tag each as either mandatory (won’t buy without it), nice to have (not really necessary but a good add-on), or bells and whistles (I’ll never use it). You then have an objective way to compare the scopes. Specifications will be drawn from Amazon and manufacturer’s web sites.

Before we begin this exercise, let’s just take a quick look at how a clip on thermal imager is used. Many of these units can be used as monocular imagers; hand-held thermal imaging capability. They are primarily used to clip on to a rifle, to be used in conjunction with the scope on the rifle.

Clip-on thermal scope

Typically, that scope will provide the magnification capability, but some of these clip on scopes also have magnification. So, what these scopes will do is take the magnification capability of the standard scope, and convert it to thermal night vision. Here’s an example of a typical clip-on set-up:

The standard scope is toward the back of the rifle, and the thermal imagining scope is clipped on ahead of that scope to generate the thermal images. On to the buying guide.

Range of view

Range of view

Range of view, or viewing distance, will tell you the effective range of the scope. It’s a measurement of how near you must be to the object to conduct the thermal sensing and imaging. As you would expect, the greater the distance, the lower the clarity of the image.

Photo/video capability

Photo/video capability

Some of these clip on thermal scopes will have the ability to capture photo and video images. This may be done through the unit itself, with (typically) an SD card, although some units will have wi-fi capability and can transmit the video to smartphones or other devices. This can be especially useful if multiple people need to see the same image at the same time. Many units will use standard USB cables to be able to display to televisions, monitors, etc.

Magnification level

Magnification level

If the thermal imaging scope comes with a magnification option, the magnification will be presented as a multiplier – 2X, 5X, 8X, etc. shown in the specifications. For instance, an object is 50 yards away, it is viewed with a 5X magnification, so it would appear just like it were 10 yards away (50 yards split by 5X= 10 yards). A 10X magnification would make the object appear 5 yards away with the same system applied (50 split by 10 = 5)

Memory storage

Memory storage

If the scope does have photo or video capability, the next question is how much data can be stored. As noted, data storage can be part of the scope’s specifications ad features, or it can also be accomplished by streaming to an outside device.

Optics

Optics

Optics are stated as a combo of the magnification level (presented as a multiplier), and also the size of the objective lens (stated in millimeters). This means that an optical rating of 2X50 indicates a double magnification level, with an objective lens sized 50 mm..

Objective lens

Objective lens

Since you just heard that term the objective lens is the part of the scope that collects and intensifies the thermal images. The larger the lens, the more it will be able to collect the infrared and enhance the night vision of the object. You may also see this referred to as the objective aperture.

Screen resolution

Screen resolution

Screen resolution stands for the sharpness of the images. Resolution can be stated in pixels, the more pixels there are – the sharper, and clearer is the image. Usually, it is expressed as 320×240 pixels or 7,680 pixels in total.

Water resistance

Water resistance

Since the given scopes may be used under extreme weather conditions, water resistance is a key specification. Water-resistance in different devices is measured by an International Protection Code, the ratings are expressed as IPX5, for instance. The higher gets the number, the better is the water-resistance of the device. IPX 4 or 5 are common ratings, they indicate water resistance, at the same time an IPX 7 is rated for full submersion up to one meter under water.

Weight

Weight

Since these units will either be carrier separately or clipped on to a rifle barrel, weight can become a factor over time. As you would expect, there may be a trade-off between weight and durability. Most of these units should come in between one and two pounds.

Power source and life

Power source and life

All these optics will need some type of power source. Typical varieties will include standard alkaline batteries, and lithium ion batteries, which may or may not be rechargeable. Some units may also have optional power packs to extend battery life.

Day/night use

Day/night use

Some thermal devices can only be used in conditions of dim light, so that the thermal electronics are not used. Other devices can be used in both dim and regular lighting. Your individual usage conditions will drive the importance of this feature.

Operating temperature range

Operating temperature range

Especially because of the military applications, but also in commercial applications (to a lesser extent), the device may need to operate in a wide range of external temperatures. This range will normally be expressed in degrees Celsius.

Field of view

Field of view

Field of view (FOV) is the observable area you can see through an optical device such as a thermal camera. If you imagine a straight line through your body as you look in the view finder, that would be a 180o field of view. Looking in a straight line directly in front of you would be a 0o field of view. A larger FOV will reduce the need to move your head around to see peripherally, either vertically or horizontally.

Color palette

Color palette

Varying color palettes allow you to choose a selection of colors in which to display the thermal images and the surrounding areas. You can see an example of a color palette in the picture on the second page.

Thermal sensitivity

Thermal sensitivity

Thermal sensitivity is the smallest temperature difference that the camera can detect. Sensitivity will normally be expressed as +/- a number of degrees in the Centigrade or Fahrenheit scale.

Warranty and technical support

Warranty and technical support

Given the harsh operating conditions, and, in some cases, life and death situations, in which these clip on thermal scopes will be used, you should expect only the best quality, useful life, and technical support.

Manufacturer’s warranties will be given for most, but in some cases, you would need to contact them for warranty information. Extended warranties may also be available. Since these are all US made (as noted earlier, it is illegal to export them), technical support will all be US based.

Image refresh rate

Image refresh rate

This represents the number of cycles per second that the image is refreshed, expressed in the measure HZ, or hertz. The more refreshes, the sharper and more realistic the image will be.

Options and special equipment

Options and special equipment

As noted earlier, discussions and prices here are limited to standard features. However, many of these have optional equipment available, including different magnification lenses, different size lenses, carrying cases, additional data storage, etc.

Best Clip on Thermal Scopes Review

Armasight Zeus 336

A little bit pricy, but comes with a three-year warranty on the body and ten years on the electronics. It has an optional external power supply and video recorder. While the unit is fairly heavy at 1.5 pounds, it is durable, and operates in a range from -40oC to +50oC. It has digital zoom capability, and twelve available color palettes.

Armasight Zeus 336

Features and specifications:

- IPX rating not given, but waterproof for 30 minutes in 10-meter depth

- uses 2xCR123A batteries, with a four-hour life

- digital zoom capability of 1X, 2X, 4X

- accuracy of MOA

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Pros

Pros
  • Extensive operating temperature range.
  • Highly variable color palettes for improved image display.
  • Comes with light suppressors for day or night use.

Cons

Cons
  • 30 HZ refresh rate

Pulsar Core FXQ38 – Best Value

This unit falls in the middle of the pack as far as pricing, coming in at $4000. The lone rating on Amazon is 5.0 (scale of 1-5). It supports and external power pack, plus has USB capability for enhanced viewing or streaming. Suitable for both day and night use, it can also be used as a hand-held monocular, and easily clip to the rifle for shooting amplification.

Pulsar Core FXQ38

Features and specifications:

- IPX 7 waterproof (submersible) even with the battery pack attached

- 384x288 pixels display capability, with detection range up to 1475 yards (human form)

- fairly light unit, at just under one pound without batteries

- requires 2xCR123A batteries, which provide about 4 hours operation. Power pack available separately

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Pros

Pros
  • Mid-range price as far as this group of clip on thermal scopes goes.
  • Very fast 50 HZ image refresh rate.
  • 2X digital zoom
  • Operating range -25oC to +50oC

Cons

Cons
  • Rifle clip not included, must be purchased separately.
  • Does not have rangefinder capability.

Armasight CO-Mini HD Thermal Imaging Scope

This is the low-cost unit of the five, at just over $2500. Only two reviews on the product, one 5 and one 1 to average 3.3. Day or night operation with a single AA or three CR123A batteries. Designed for short- to medium-range shooting, it has a wide FOV of 22o. 1X magnification but can be used with up to 6X during daylight operations.

Armasight CO-Mini HD scope

Features and specifications:

- checks in at just 1.06 pounds

- accuracy levels are better than 1 MOA

- low battery indicator and bright light cut-off system

- designed for ranges under 200 yards

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Pros

Pros
  • A “lower” priced unit probably geared to those with a first venture into advanced thermal detection scopes.
  • Operating range -50oC to +50oC.
  • One 5.0 rating but one 1.0 rating.

Cons

Cons
  • Unable to find refresh rates on any web site.
  • 1x38MM optics limits visual range and acuity.
  • Armasight is now part of the Flir group, so levels of future support are questionable.

PRG Defense Anaconda TC50 – Best Overall

High resolution lens, and a 1×50 optics package, and digital zoom of 2X and 4X. Lower priced than all but one of the group, but no customer ratings to date on Amazon. Changeable palette configurations, and up to five hours battery life with two CR123A. External battery pack (up to 44 hours operation) and video recorder available optionally.

PRG Defense Anaconda TC50

Features and specifications:

- rapid 60 HZ refresh system speed

- 800x600 pixels display, 336x256 pixels resolution

- 1.8 pounds, operating temperature range -25oC to +50oC

- 50mm lens, with approximately 8o x 6o FOV

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Pros

Pros
  • “Budget” priced item from this list of five clip on thermal scopes.
  • Resolution and imagery are among the best of this group.
  • 128MB on-board memory, expandable to 32GB.

Cons

Cons
  • Weight is a little heavy.
  • Unable to find any customer reviews on any web site.

Armasight by FLIR Zeus 640 – Best Performance

This is the big brother to the second item on our list, coming in with a hefty $7000 price tag. What that gets you, however, is a high-end resolution package, a crisp OLED display, and video output capabilities. It’s immersion tested at 20 meters for two hours, and operates from -40oC to +57oC. This is obviously produced with the professional hunter, military personnel, or SWAT personnel in mind.

Armasight by FLIR Zeus 640

Features and specifications:

- a little hefty at 1.6 pounds, but given the operating capabilities, not unreasonable

- 4 fixed and unlimited palette configurations for image clarity

- 1x50mm optics, 800x600 pixels display, 2X, 4X and 8X zoom capabilities

- environmental obscurants like smoke, dust, or fog do not affect operations

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Pros

Pros
  • It has all the bells and whistles, whether you need them or not.
  • Digital compass and inclinometer built in to improve directional and shooting capabilities.
  • 3/10-year warranty on tube/electronics.

Cons

Cons
  • Price is restrictive for most commercial applications; this one is for the pros.

Conclusion

Just to get everything in one place, let’s take a look at our “best of” compilation, based on the price, ratings, features, specifications, and pros and cons of the reviewed clip on thermal imaging devices:

Best Overall Model

PRG Defense Anaconda TC50

Best Value Model

Pulsar Core FXQ38

Best Performance Model

Armasight by FLIR Zeus 640

If you are considering the purchase of a thermal imaging scope anytime soon, hopefully, this will give you some tips on selecting the unit that’s exactly right for you and your application.

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