Chris Parkin takes two high-end thermal-imaging rifle scopes from Pulsar through their paces and compares like with like

thermal imaging scope

Mounting the Core needs care but it retains zero and can be swapped between rifles

The Core FXQ50

The Core is a compact handheld spotter for any type of shooting. It uses two CR123A batteries rather than a supplied rechargeable one like the Trail, but these still give four hours of use and an adapter is supplied to connect to an external power supply.

Locking collars are available with bayonet fittings to clamp the Core to the objective bell of your rifle scope, and these are the weak link in terms 
of accuracy.

Take your time and fit them well and all will work brilliantly; rush it and weak or misaligned units will fail you in the long term and not allow satisfactory refitting after removal. You can buy extra collars for the Core to be set up for multiple rifles, leaving the base of the three-part collar on each. I would use 
a light bonding agent to make their positioning semi-permanent.

You need to ensure that there is plenty of scope-to-barrel clearance so there is space for the collar, and this might affect your head position if extra-high mounts are needed. Clicking the unit on and off after 
a few practice runs with the right-side locking button and bayonet studs becomes second nature and zero is retained if the collar on the scope was fitted securely. Zeroing requires you to initiate the internal menu and move the reticle for vertical position and align the collar rotationally with the cross-hairs’ lateral bar but done once, the collar can stay put forever.

Entering the full zero mode aligns the Core’s cross-hairs laterally and vertically with the precise aimpoint 
of the scope’s reticle and takes 
a few seconds to do, but in a week of shooting with the Core on and off the rifle about 20 times, this remained on target. Whatever reticle you have in your scope will appear quite naturally in the green hue of the thermal image projected and you have all its benefits, but I would recommend something with illumination against the green/black thermal image, which can easily conceal a fine reticle’s location.
The major joy of the Core is the natural eye position and eye relief; the downside being the very long reach to controls, especially the focus ring right at the front of the multi-component setup. A 2x digital zoom is available and a rifle scope with no more than 6x magnification seems to work well, though I used a 3-18x on an FAC-rated airgun when rat shooting indoors with great success.

Faster to fit

I ran the Core on a .308 and rimfire too, to test its versatility and to be fair, my initial scathing doubts were washed away as I got used to it.

Pulsar Trail XP

The Trail has a lot of buttons to learn, accompanying the vast array of features on offer

Trail XP50

The Trail, in opposition, is far faster to fit and get used to, with no real factors of lost zero — though any thermal can suffer from zero change, particularly if used at a widely differing temperature to that of the initial setup, so it pays to keep track.

The Trail has a black/white image versus the green/black of the Core, which seemed more distinctive when detecting concealed quarry. The green also seemed far less likely to diminish your night vision and, equally critically, if you keep your eye planted to the back of the Trail too long, the rubber bellows shrouding the ocular lens retain your skin’s natural heat, leading to things steaming up. Likewise, I have said every time I have used any Pulsar digital technology that the exit pupil 
is critical and, though appearing broad, has a pin-like position for correct repeatable focus.

Your own daylight scope will 
seem far more relaxed visually in comparison, from any shooting position. The 40mm, 50mm and 56mm objective lens mounting kits contain multiple shims for versatility — I used the 50mm on a 42mm Leupold scope without issue for 
the bulk of my hunting with rats. Mounted to a beefier 56mm Steiner 
on a .308, the scope maintained zero after three deliberate removal-refits out to 200m on a 4in steel gong, which I found most acceptable. Such a setup would suit moonlit wild boar nicely with the thermal on or off; of course, with it taken off you can snap on the regular eyepiece cup to scan with.

thermal imaging scope

Altering focus with the Core is a long stretch from the otherwise normal relaxed shooting position on your daylight optic

On a foxing and rabbit outing with the Core, I found the image grainier than the Trail when using extra zoom from the scope or internal digital capability, and if you zoom the scope you do lose some field of view. The controls on the Trail are much easier to reach but there are a lot more functions available to you in terms 
of stadiametric rangefinder, multiple zero and usage distances, reticles, colours and so on.

thermal scope

Both units are supplied with remote controllers, the Trail’s again being far more complex, but both 
are fingertip sized and easily lost, 
so I left them at home. The only 
major downside to the Core is the 
long reach to any control but especially the focus collar right at the objective lens, which is a full arm’s reach and badly shaped for grip, needing a firm grasp at arm’s length, which makes it easier to dislodge 
the whole unit. More knurling on 
the collar would be helpful.

thermal imaging scope

Both Pulsar thermals offer great capabilities with different appeal to various markets

Varied shooting

Having used the Trail and the Core individually, this side-by-side comparison left me feeling that, for my own varied span of shooting, 
I would opt for the Core, with collars for perhaps three rifles — FAC airgun, .17HMR and .223 — with the ability 
to steal one of the setups for boar.

Fox control

Were I a fox controller, the Trail is the unit to have. It offers more functionality, twice the battery life and a far more compact and rugged setup. Digital zoom on the Trail, with the screen-in-screen technology, suffers from loss of clarity — it is just 
a digitally zoomed image with the same pixel size. It makes shot placement slightly more precise without detracting from the field of view.
Both options tend to show 
a distinct blob of heat, but the Trail has slightly higher resolution, showing things such as ears 
more clearly, but the joy of thermal will always be the ability to watch an animal’s gait, unknowing and unflustered, to confirm your quarry identification. The greater black-and-white colour graduation of the Trail’s black/white image also makes it far easier to judge background surroundings, foliage and topography, giving more information on the likely path and movement 
of any quarry in your sights.


  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. The Core FXQ50
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