In the first of a series of night vision reviews, Rich Saunders takes a look at five of the best infrared scopes for air rifle use
When the weather cooperates, shooting at night in the winter can be very productive. Hordes of scavenging rats come in from the exposed countryside to seek shelter around farms and those grass-gobbling rabbits still have to venture out of their burrows to feed.
Of course, shooting in the dark requires night vision optics. Lamping still works, but in my opinion it doesn’t hold a candle (pun intended) to infrared (IR) and thermal technology.
There are plenty of products to choose from and fortunately varying budgets are increasingly catered for.
There are three basic categories of night vision optic – infrared (IR) scopes, thermal scopes and add-ons – either IR or thermal – that are attached to a regular day scope.
We’ll be taking a look at all three over the next few issues. Starting with IR scopes, we have five of the most popular on sale right now. Sportsman Gun Centre has sent us a Pard NV008P, which carries a retail price of £646.
Thanks to Scott Country International, we have a Sightmark Wraith 4K Max (£949.99), and RUAG Ammotec loaned us an ATN X-Sight LTV 3-9x (£715). Pulsar distributor Thomas Jacks sent us a Digisight Ultra N450 (£1,159.95). Finally, Optics Warehouse has put forward the Wulf 4K 3-24x, which it sells for £799.
Distributed in the UK by The Sportsman Gun Centre, the NV008P was a bestseller from day one, and it’s not hard to see why.
The base model costs £646 and weighs 435g with dimensions of 162x54x68.5mm. A version with an integrated matchbox-sized laser rangefinder will set you back £899. Both are made from high-grade IP7 waterproof-rated aluminium and come with an infrared torch.
A sturdy one-piece mount attaches to a Picatinny rail and the NV008P screws on. It’s not unusual to have to use some shims provided between the scope and mount to re-centre the reticle in the screen once zeroed. Alternatively, there are some excellent aftermarket adjustable mounts.
The rechargeable 18650 battery is housed at the top of the unit and gives a claimed eight hours of use. Up front is the 850Nm IR torch that has three brightness levels and an adjustable beam. It’s small, but Pard claims a range of 200 metres.
I found it great at airgun ranges but in need of an ancillary IR torch, which can be mounted on either of the two Picatinny accessory rails, for longer distances.
Four buttons control functions, including a day function and night mode as well as zoom between 6.5x and 12x. Pressing the second button from the front enables you to take still photos or record 1920×1080 AVI video at 30fps.
The rearmost button accesses a menu covering operations such as zeroing, picture-in-picture mode, brightness, range units, date, time, language and wifi.
An ocular adjustment brings everything into focus, including gyroscope scales to measure cant and elevation, and one of five reticle styles in red or yellow. A collar at the front operates target focus from as close as three metres.
ATN X-Sight LTV 3-9X
ATN’s X-Sight 4K Pro is enormously popular and is packed full of features. Although the layout is intuitive, there’s a lot of it.
Consequently, some airgunners may well be intimidated by the technology. And of those who’ve bought one, me included, a lot of the functions, many of which are intended more for centrefire use, may have gone unused.
Enter then the X-Sight LTV 3-9X, a more affordable version that’s been stripped down to the essentials, weighs just 745g and measures less than most regular telescopic sights at 310mm long. Although many of its bigger brother’s myriad features and options have been removed, the LTV has kept the essentials, or at least most of them. As a result, it retains the sharp optics but is much easier to get along with.
The buttons control magnification, day/night mode, three levels of screen brightness and 1280×720 HD video mode. A central button controls a menu comprising zeroing, reticle design/colour and settings for date/time, language and SD card formatting.
As a veteran X-Sight 4K Pro user, the LTV’s features and functions looked sparse to start with, but I quickly found it has just about everything I need as an airgunner. Yes, there’s only one zero profile, but I only ever saved to one on the 4K Pro anyway.
That said, I do mourn the loss of some features. For example, the LTV will not work with ATN’s Auxiliary Ballistic Laser (ABL) rangefinder.
But that’s a minor gripe as the LTV has prodigious battery life, giving around 10 hours from the onboard li-ion unit. It will also attach via standard 30mm Picatinny mounts and is provided with a couple of sets that enable the 850Nm IR illuminator to be attached.
Sightmark Wraith 4K Max
By the time you’ve added the IR torch and a mount capable of handling recoil more ferocious than anything an air rifle can produce, the Sightmark Wraith 4K Max weighs a little over 1.2kg. But measuring 304mm long, it carries an IP5 water resistance rating and is compact enough.
A collar on the lens focuses the 1280×720 HD display. It provides data for battery life, date and time stamp, video format, compass and inclinometer. Another adjusts image focus.
The fact that the Wraith 4K Max will take a mini SD card up to 256GB hints at its recording capabilities. As the name suggests, the scope will record MP4 footage in a range of resolutions up to 4K and take JPEG photos at 1080×720.
The 3x base optical magnification is enhanced by turning a small dial to achieve 1-8x digital amplification. The effect is a 3-24x range in 3x increments. Inevitably there’s some pixelation at the higher end, but the 4000×3000 pixel CMOS sensor delivers a crisp image. Advanced controls fine-tune aspects such as IR sensitivity to get the best from different IR illuminators and conditions.
Pushing the same dial accesses the menu which comprises seven functions covering settings such as day/night mode, brightness and contrast, reticle and recording. Each of these has its own sub-menu which enables access to functions such as the one-shot zero mode and to select from a range of 10 reticles in nine colours.
Sightmark claims eight hours of use from the integrated li-ion battery but notes that recording and use of the wifi function will reduce run time.
The IR torch takes two CR123 batteries and will deliver 90 minutes of continuous use. It attaches with a gimbal mount to a short Picatinny rail on the left. An adjustable beam gives further refinement.
Pulsar Digisight Ultra N450
Most digital IR scopes aspire to offer the best of both worlds – a daytime colour mode and monochrome by night.
Pulsar’s Digisight Ultra N450 bucks the trend and is clearly optimised for use in the dark which, let’s face it, is what most people buy an IR scope for.
As a result, the black and white image is pin sharp. However, it would be a mistake to think you can’t use the scope during the day because the image is just as clear, it’s just still in black and white.
At 355m long, or 370mm including the rubber eyecup, it weighs 1.1kg including a sturdy steel Picatinny mount and IR torch.
Attached directly to the rechargeable IPS5 battery, which Pulsar says is good for up to six hours, the compact 850Nm IR illuminator provides three levels of intensity and there’s a 940Nm option for extra stealth.
For another £220, the N450 LRF model has a laser rangefinder which, at the press of a button, provides a reading to a target or a scan with a claimed range of 1,000m.
The 4x optical magnification is boosted by 4.5x digital zoom to give a 4-18x range that’s accessible from the main menu. The picture-in-picture mode helps place shots with even more precision, and at the press of a button, you can record them in HD.
In daylight, flipping down the front lens cap, which has a small aperture to limit light, helps ensure a clear image through the range thanks to the 1280×720 CMOS sensor. At night, although there is some pixelation at the upper end, the picture remains very clear at airgun ranges. A large knob sharpens the target image and the ocular collar focuses the 1024×768 AMOLED viewing screen.
As regular Pulsar users have come to expect, the quality on the Digisight Ultra N450 LRF is exceptional. There are 10 different reticle designs in plenty of colours plus five zero profiles for different rifles or pellets.
Wulf 4K 3-24x Day & Night Rifle Scope
Presented in a top quality shockproof case, the Wulf 4K 3-24x Day & Night Vision Rifle Scope comes with two sets of mounts, three rechargeable batteries, an 850nm IR illuminator, USB thumb drive, rubber eye cup and even a mini SD card and remote control.
The scope itself is compact at 325mm and weighs 936g. By the time you’ve added the IR torch, an 18650 battery and either the one-piece or more conventional two 30mm Picatinny mounts, the weight is still a manageable 1.35kg.
Holding down the power button reveals a colour daytime image through the LCOS 1280×720 HD screen that conveys a range of data. There are 10 brightness levels, and an ocular collar adjusts the screen image whilst a second on the objective lens focuses the target image.
The battery provides up to 10 hours of run time and is charged via a USB port located next to a slot to take a mini SD card up to 128GB – something you’ll appreciate as the Wulf will record a range of different resolutions up to 4K 60 fps.
A dial scrolls through the Wulf’s 3-24x magnification range which comprises a fixed 3x optical zoom and 1-8x digital zoom. There is some pixelation at the top end but thanks to the Sony 4K IMX577 sensor, the image is extremely usable at airgun ranges and beyond.
Unscrewing a cover on the objective lens for night use increases light ingress and results in a sharp monochrome picture. Optics Warehouse recommends upgrading from the basic supplied IR illuminator, but for shooting at airgun distances I found it more than adequate.
Pushing the magnification dial accesses the main menu for a toybox of features and sub-menus. In addition to wifi connectivity for streaming, the Wulf has a Bluetooth function which works with a remote control to operate zoom and video.
WRAITH 4K MAX
DIGISIGHT ULTRA N450
|ATN QHD+ M584 Sensor
|1280×720 HD CMOS
|4056×3040 Sony 4K imx577
|MAX VIDEO RESOLUTION
|1280×720 HD CMOS
|4K @ 60 fps
|Li-ion 10 hours
|Li-ion 8 hours
|IPS5 Li-ion 6 hours
|18650 rechargeable 8 hours
|2 x 18650 rechargeable 10 hours
|30mm Picatinny. Two supplied
|One-piece and two-piece Picatinny
|2 x CR123
|2 x CR123