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Clip On Thermal vs. Thermal Scopes: Which is Best?

There are pros and cons to both clip-on thermals used with a traditional riflescope and dedicated thermal optics. Here is a breakdown on which is best for you.

Clip On Thermal vs. Thermal Scopes: Which is Best?

Electronic optics have revolutionized the firearms industry. From red dots to scopes with ballistic calculators, there has been a monumental leap forward. Nowhere is that more evident than in the thermal optics world. While there has been work done in this arena for almost some time, the last decade has changed the playing field. Once the realm of science fiction, small thermal optics with exceptional performance are now at our fingertips. One of the leaders in this space is Pulsar. They have a variety of options ranging from basic units to high-end kits. The applications of these new tools are broad, but for the average shooter, they are a major asset in hunting. The ability to identify game in low light is a major advantage. An additional plus of these devices is to search and find animals once they have been shot. The biggest decision shooters must make is what kind of thermal to get. More specifically, do we get a direct mount unit or a clip-on? Well, let’s take a deeper dive into this topic to help you decide.

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Before we get deep into the pros and cons, let’s look at a couple of options. If you have a rifle that you have set aside for low-light shooting, then you can consider a direct-mount thermal. My suggestion if you can go this route is the Pulsar Thermion 2 LRF XL50 Thermal riflescope. This is one of the top-tier thermals offered by Pulsar, and it is feature-rich. It has a high-detail thermal image, extreme image detail on high zoom, and a wide field of view for easy scanning. It also has ten shooting profiles with a hundred zeroing distances, and a high-precision ballistic calculator designed for long-range shooting, giving hunters a significant advantage. Want to be able to watch your hunt when it’s all done? Not a problem. The optic has a huge 64 GB memory that allows for ample photo and video recording. At the same time, its IPX7 submersion waterproof rating and premium HD-class germanium optics ensure optimal durability and clarity in any condition. As I said, it is feature-rich. 

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If on the other hand, you have a favorite scope that you want to be able to adapt to low light, it is time for a clip-on. One of the best is the Pulsar Krypton 2 XG50 Kit Thermal Clip-On. This device can be mounted in front of your existing favorite optic and help you own the night. Like the Thermion, it is feature-rich. It has a 50mm lens with a high-performance sensor giving us a detection range out to 2,500 yards. Its display is a 1920x1080 that can be controlled from your smart devices via a Bluetooth connection or Wi-Fi. For all intents and purposes, this is a smart device. The Krypton 2 XG50 comes with an included Pulsar Bluetooth remote which allows easy control of the unit from anywhere within the Bluetooth range. Using the Stream Vision 2 App, you can stream and save images and videos to your smart devices using Wi-Fi and share the live stream view with up to 4 people who also have the app installed. In short, your friends around you will be able to watch your hunt on their phones or tablets. It has a variety of color pallets ranging from standard white hot, to the more interesting and sci-fi-like Ultramarine Color Palette. This palette has brighter colors for warmer temperatures and deeper colors for lower temperatures, which is also good for finding hot spots. 

Direct Mount Thermal

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Now that we have a couple of options to consider, let’s look at the pros and cons of our options. First, we have the direct mount. The pros of this system are that it is already set up when the time comes to head out to shoot. The optic will be zeroed, so there’s no added prep time to your hunt. Feature-wise, the fixed optic usually rules. For example, the Thermion has an integrated ballistic calculator to help ensure good shots. The Thermion also helps with high-precision aiming. It has a “picture-in-picture” function that enables the shooter to display a high-precision zeroing frame. The frame shows a magnified image of the target and reticle and allows the user to closely see the image in the aiming area and have visual control of the entire field of view at the same time. The biggest con of a dedicated thermal on the rifle is that it commits the rifle to that space. If you choose to swap it out with a traditional optic, you will need to consider the re-zeroing process. While I rarely delve into prices, thermals are a different creature. The fact is that high-performance thermals come at a price. The top-of-the-line Thermion comes in just north of $8,000, but there are other versions as low as $3,699. While this may take the uninitiated shooters' breath away, you should know this. There are standard optics on the market that come in close to $5,000 with no thermal capacity at all. Literally just a traditional, all be it, quality scope. The countless additional features you get with a quality thermal outpace the cost. I am unapologetically a “buy once cry once” person. I believe the investment in quality equipment is important.

Clip-On Thermal Optics

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Next, we have the clip-on thermal. The pros of this setup are that it can turn most standard optics into night-hunting thermal scopes. They are fairly easy to attach and set up and do not add much weight to the rifle. An extra bonus is that while not truly designed for it, they can be used as handheld thermal optics as well. This is a major bonus because it allows you to scan areas that you may otherwise not want to point your rifle in. Another pro is the price in comparison to a dedicated thermal. The premier unit in this line is almost half the cost of the Thermion with other options getting even less expensive. The cons are few, but they must be mentioned. First are fewer features than you would get with a dedicated optic like the Thermion. The second con is simply the nature of the optic. It must be attached each time you decide to use it and go through the set-up process. On a side note, I have friends who set their rifles up with a clip-on and simply leave it. While this is very similar to what we would do with a direct mount optic, it is much easier to remove and use as a handheld. When it comes to thermal optics it can be hard to decide on which setup would fit you best. If I were to give you one major point to help you choose, I would ask how committed to shooting with one rifle are you. If you have sworn loyalty to a specific hog-slaying rifle, then fixed thermals are for you. If you have a variety of guns you want to shoot in the dark, then clip-ons are the way to go. In all honesty, I would suggest both. Today the thermal market is booming, and everyone seems to have something new to offer. The last suggestion I will make is to stay with proven brands. Pulsar has been an industry leader for a long time, and they make exceptional optics. Thermals are not a place where you want to gamble by saving a few dollars only to have them die on you in the field.




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