Zeiss DTC 3/38
Mat Manning shares his thoughts on the Zeiss DTC 3/38 – a high-end thermal clip-on that takes day and night insight to the next level
Zeiss DTC 3/38
Thermal optics have reached a phenomenal level of performance, and the Zeiss DTC 3/38 thermal clip-on is right at the forefront of technical innovation.
At £3,500, it is fair to say that it is out of reach for most of our budgets, but even if all we can do is dream, I still think it is interesting to see what the very best night shooting gear is capable of – not least because the technology it incorporates will no doubt filter down into more affordable lines over the coming years.
The biggest advantage provided by thermal optics is that it is almost impossible to fail to see your quarry’s heat signature when looking through them. And of course there is absolutely no light to blow your cover. Thermal cameras are generally regarded as night shooting tools, but even in daylight the glow of an animal’s body heat is virtually unmissable when viewed on a thermal display – even when partly obscured by undergrowth. This makes these optics very effective for spotting, and they certainly enable you to see a lot more than you would with IR when scanning the darkness for signs of quarry.
There can be a downside with cheaper thermal kit, in that although the glow of your quarry really stands out, there is often a lack of detail. This doesn’t really hamper spotting, but precise shot placement can be very tricky when your target has little more definition than a glowing silhouette.
Manufacturer: Zeiss (zeiss.ly/DTC-3)
Model: DTC 3/38 Thermal Imaging Clip-on
Length: 165mm (base unit)
Weight: 650g (base unit)
Detection range: Up to 1950m
Features: Choice of four colour palettes, Bluetooth connectivity for Zeiss Hunting app, storage for multiple zero profiles, integral rechargeable battery, fast and secure attachment system
Zeiss DTC 3/38 – versatile viewing
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for, and the DTC 3/38 from Zeiss offers exceptionally clear, detailed viewing. Admittedly, it is probably more than most of us actually need for airgun shooting, but for those lucky enough to be able to afford one, it would be awesome for rat and rabbit control. Its impressive long-range performance also means it is more than capable of tackling finicky foxes at distance, and you could easily swap it between airgun and powerful powder-burning rifle setups if you do both kinds of shooting.
The Zeiss DTC 3/38 attaches to the front of your usual telescopic sight to convert it to thermal. That means you get all the advantages of being able to see heat while maintaining much of the familiarity of your usual daytime scope. The main item in the kit is the thermal camera, which is around 165mm long and weighs about 650g. Having that weight forward of the objective lens does make the gun feel front-heavy. However, if, like me, you do most of your night shooting from the support of sticks or a bipod, then it doesn’t really make a great deal of difference.
(Above) You can choose between white hot, black hot, red hot and rainbow colour palettes for optimum viewing in a variety of conditions
Some thermal and infrared scope converters can be a real faff to get on and off. That is not the case with this one, and the Zeiss quality certainly shows in its attachment system. This comprises the £80 DTC R piece which screws securely into the rear of the thermal camera to create a bayonet-type attachment. The other DTC A piece costs £160 and clamps onto the front of your scope via a very solid adjustable quick release lock. There are different sizes available to match different sizes of objective lens – the one sent with the test sample was marked 56, denoting that it was 56mm.
The DTC R and DTC A components are both marked with white dots, which you need to align when slotting them together. Then all you do is twist the outer collar to tighten and the two pieces lock securely together with absolutely no hint of any play. It is certainly the most secure scope adaptor that I have ever used.
Twist the collar into the unlocked position and the camera simply pops off again. The clamp on the scope is no burden at all and I would be inclined to leave it on there. It is a very simple and effective system, and you could very quickly switch between two or more guns by buying additional DTC A clamps.
Zeiss DTC 3/38 – features and function
The Zeiss DTC 3/38 runs an onboard rechargeable battery (charged via a supplied USB lead) which boasts a continuous run time of around 10 hours – more than enough hunting time for most of us. However, a quick press of the power button sends it into standby mode (which you can also set to kick in automatically) and extends battery life significantly. Give the power button another quick press when in this ‘sleep’ state and the unit immediately wakes up ready for action.
Although it’s packed with sophisticated tech, this thermal camera is very easy to operate. The dial on the top is used to focus in on your target and, in truth, is about the only control you really need to use in the field. You can choose to view in one of four different colour palettes: white hot, black hot, red hot and rainbow. Shuffling between the colour options is a simple matter of pressing the rear menu button to select the one that best suits the conditions you are shooting in.
Pressing and holding the menu button opens up the actual menu. This lets you set things like brightness, contrast and Bluetooth connectivity. It is very easy to navigate, pressing the left and right arrow keys to scroll up and down and then pressing the menu button to choose items as you work through each sub-menu.
Another thing you can set via the menu is the zeroing profiles. This is a very handy feature because although zero is already set on your scope, it is almost impossible to avoid a small amount of zero shift when using a clip-on like this – however good the connector is, the additional lenses are likely to affect the correlation between your reticle and the target. What is special about the DTC is that it enables you to make adjustments to ensure that shots continue to strike exactly where you place your crosshairs, so you will always be dead on target.
I have already mentioned the DTC’s Bluetooth connectivity, and you can use that to connect it to the Zeiss Hunting app. This makes controlling the unit even more intuitive and is great for adjusting and saving those zeroing profiles.
You can save them for four different setups, which is great if you plan to swap between different guns, or you can use it to set different profiles to cover different ranges with the same gun, thus eliminating the need to use holdover and holdunder.
How to attach the Zeiss DTC 3/38
Zeiss DTC 3/38 – clarity of vision
As you would expect from a top-class optics manufacturer like Zeiss, the viewing experience through the DTC 3/38 is amazing. It has some seriously good glass, latest generation 12-micron sensors and a brilliant high-contrast 1024×768 HD AMOLED display. The result is that it has a detection range of up to almost two kilometres for large objects. That makes it seriously good for spotting, but close-up viewing is also very crisp – any lack of clarity in the scope-cam shots shown here are down to the GoPro I used to film through the Zeiss DTC 3/38 and not the unit itself.
Some thermal sights, especially clip-on ones, can create an image that is quite blurry and difficult to define. That is most certainly not the case with this one. I found that its detailed viewing didn’t just give me the precision to clearly identify quarry and confidently take head shots, but to determine exactly which part of the head I was aiming at. The result was very clean kills – even on small quarry like rats. Furthermore, the DTC also gives a very good view of what is behind your target, which is a vital consideration when checking backdrops to ensure that shots are taken in a safe direction.
After using the DTC for a couple of months, I can confirm that, despite being an expensive piece of kit, its performance does justify its asking price. I guess you could compare it with a Ferrari – nobody actually needs a supercar to nip down to the shops, but the privileged few who can probably get a great deal of satisfaction from it. Similarly, while you can shoot rats and rabbits at night by setting up with an affordable infrared sight or even a cheap lamp, high-end thermal optics are likely to make the task more enjoyable and more productive.
To conclude, the Zeiss DTC 3/38 thermal imaging clip-on is a high-quality, precision optical device that will give excellent service to those who are fortunate enough to be able to employ this kind of mega-tech in their shooting. Easy to use and boasting very clear viewing, I can confidently say that it is the best thermal clip-on that I have ever used. For now though, just like the Ferrari, I will have to be content with dreaming about being able to buy one of my own.
Converts a day scope into a high-performance thermal optic in seconds, making it an excellent tool for nocturnal airgun pest control. It costs serious money, but the tech justifies the outlay if you can afford it