Thermal imagers: Mat Manning puts three popular models through their paces
Thermal imagers offer shooters an unrivalled ability to spot quarry in the dark. Mat Manning takes a look.
The ability to see an animal’s heat signature, even when it is partially obscured by undergrowth, provides a massive edge when trying to catch up with your quarry, not only by night but also by day.
Modern thermal cameras boast remarkable image quality and long-range viewing. Though the price of the kit is gradually starting to come down, it is still very much a considered purchase. (You might also like to read why thermal imaging has become one of the greatest shooting aids.)
The three models reviewed here cover a wide range of applications and offer a choice of price points for shooters looking to improve their after-dark results by investing in this eye-opening technology.
1. ZEISS DTI 3/25 RRP £2,150
As you would expect from ZEISS, the DTI 3/25 boasts impressive optical performance. It has a detection range of up to 880m for a man-sized object and clarity is excellent. I was able not only to spot rabbits at 500m, but also to confidently identify them by their clear outlines. It also focuses down to under 10m, which makes it extremely versatile.
The high-resolution display and 50hz frame rate make for smooth viewing and the 1-4x zoom range, with distinct 0.5x stops, should meet most shooters’ needs. Most significantly, this robust unit is compact, measuring 187mm in length and tipping the scales at 410g. That means it is pocket-sized, though it is supplied with a very comfortable padded neck strap.
ZEISS has evidently made ease of use a top priority in the DTI’s design, as it is extremely simple to operate. The front focus dial and top zoom buttons are probably the only controls most shooters will use in the field, but the intuitive controls make easy work of advanced functions. These include red hot, black hot, white hot and rainbow viewing options, picture-in-picture mode to double the zoom, and hot tracking to highlight heat signatures.
I dabbled with all the functions on my nocturnal rabbiting and ratting rounds and didn’t struggle to navigate the menu – even in total darkness and wearing gloves.
This model also features Wi-Fi connectivity via the ZEISS app and can record photos and video to its 15GB onboard memory. Runtime from the integral rechargeable battery is a very generous 10 hours.
Summary: A great performer, both in terms of optical quality and reliability. The easy-to-use Zeiss DTI 3/25 crams a lot of features into a small package. Score. 9/10
2. Infiray Eye II E6 Pro V3 RRP £2,699.99
This offering from Infiray is the most expensive thermal spotter in this round-up, but it is also the strongest performer in terms of optical quality. Stated detection range for large objects is a huge 2,597m and the detail shown on smaller targets at closer distances has to be seen to be believed. I could make out small birds roosting in hedgerows when I was scanning the fields for rabbits.
Colour options include highlight, pseudo colour, black hot, white hot and red hot. All work well on the high-resolution display, but I found the latter two the best for pinpointing bunnies and rats in the darkness. Zoom can be shuffled between 1x, 2x and 4x. I used 1x most because the wide field of view made for fast and effective spotting.
Other features include a stadiametric rangefinder, which can calculate distance by bracketing targets of a known size. This model also has hot-spot tracking, Wi-Fi connectivity, picture-in-picture to double the zoom and an e-compass. The advanced menu is easy to navigate and enables you to activate functions such as the motion sensor, which shows vertical and horizontal angle to the target. It can also save photos and videos to its internal memory bank.
Weighing around 520g and at 202mm in length, this model feels quite chunky in the hand, but is no great burden to carry on the supplied neck strap. The rechargeable battery gives a runtime of up to six hours.
Summary: Awesome optical quality combined with a massive detection range, advanced features and intuitive operation. Score 8.5/10
The last on my list of three thermal imagers. This tiny thermal monocular is a great choice for shooters who want to stash a spotter in a pocket until it’s needed. It is a minuscule 138mm long and weighs only 250g, but it’s a tough unit, waterproofed to withstand a 1m immersion for up to 30 minutes.
The Axion Key is the smallest and the least expensive unit in this round-up. It is slightly behind products costing twice the price when it comes to the clarity and detail of its thermal imaging, but its optical performance is still surprisingly good with a smooth 50hz frame rate. Detection range for large objects is 1,200m and it’s sharp enough to spot and identify rabbits out to beyond 500m and rats at well over 100m.
The rechargeable battery gives a continuous runtime of up to four hours. It is removable, so it is possible to carry spares for longer sessions.
Controls are operated by a simple push-button console. The zoom key scrolls between 2.5x, 5x and 10x magnification and that can be doubled by using picture-in-picture. Though it doesn’t record photos or video, useful features include different viewing modes to optimise performance in specific scenarios and eight different colour palettes.
This little Pulsar feels good in the hand and the supplied strap offers excellent grip. It has the useful ability to focus down to less than 5m and gave a great account of itself when I used it to pinpoint rats on the farm.
Summary: Small, affordable and still very capable, it offers fuss-free operation, compact carrying and a robust build. Score 8.5/10