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Best Thermal Binoculars and Bioculars 2020: Top Picks & Buying Guide

Shopping for thermal binoculars or bioculars?

You’ve come to the right place.

Thermal binoculars and bioculars provide improved vision in low-light environments and through obstructions such a smoke, fog, dust, or bush.

Thermal binoculars typically cost more than thermal scopes and monoculars, but they offer better optical performance and are more comfortable.

Thermal binoculars are popular with hunters. They allow hunters to spot and track animals at night and through thickets. They are also useful for security, animal observations as well as search and rescue.

What’s in This Buying Guide?

In this 15-minute buying guide, we review and compare the best thermal binoculars and bioculars. We also explain all you need to know about these thermal optics and how to choose the right ones.


Thermal Imaging for Hunting

Thermal Scopes vs. Thermal Imaging Monoculars

Hunters need to see their targets from a distance and, sometimes, in the dark or through thick brush. Naked eyes are good for close-up animal spotting in an open area, not so much at night when it’s foggy or thickly wooded.

You could get an ordinary pair of binoculars, a monocular or a rifle scope. But these are only useful when there’s plenty of light. That is, during a clear day.

Thermal optics, on the other hand, don’t depend on the presence of light. You can track a wild boar when it’s foggy, through a bush or even in total darkness.

The best thermal imager depends on your needs and budget. Here’s a quick explanation of the most common types of thermal imagers.
  • Thermal binoculars: These look like normal binoculars but use a thermal sensor to collect infrared light from the environment. The environment appears as blobs of different colors representing varying temperatures. An anima will stand out since it gives out more heat than the environment.
  • Thermal bioculars: Bioculars have one objective lens (the part that collects infrared light) like a monocular but two eyepieces like binoculars. Bioculars are slightly cheaper and lighter than binoculars. In terms of optical performance, binoculars are better.
  • Thermal monoculars: A monocular has one eyepiece and one objective lens. You use it with one eye. Though they are not as good as binoculars or bioculars when it comes to optical performance, most hunters prefer thermal monoculars because they are affordable, compact, and light.
  • Thermal scopes: A thermal scope is a monocular designed to be mounted on a hunting rifle. Many thermal scopes come with added built-in features to help hunters track and target prey. These include rangefinder and adjustable reticles.

Thermal Imaging vs. Night Vision?

Thermal Imaging and Night Vision

Many people mix up thermal imaging and night vision. These are two different technologies.

Thermal imaging tools and devices collect infrared radiation and turn it into a thermogram. A thermogram is an image consisting of temperature patterns, with varying heat levels represented by different colors.

Thermal imaging doesn’t rely on visible light. You can use thermal imaging to see in complete darkness or through fog, dust, rain, or smoke.

Read our quick guide to learn more about how thermal imaging cameras work

Night vision, on the other hand, relies primarily on visible light. They collect ambient light (moonlight or starlight) and amplify it to help you see objects in the dark.

Night vision scopes and binoculars can also work if there’s no ambient light (e.g., on a moonless cloudy night) as long as they have an IR illuminator. In that case, they produce infrared light that allows them to ‘see’ in the dark.

Night vision binoculars are usually much cheaper compared to thermal binoculars. On the downside, you cannot use night vision during the day, as it may damage them. Night vision binoculars and scopes cannot see animals through bushes, smoke, fog, or rain.

If you prefer night vision, take a look at our reviews of the best cheap night vision goggles.


The 5 Best Thermal Binoculars and Bioculars Reviewed

Pulsar Accolade XP50
  • Pulsar Accolade XP50

  • Best for long distance hunting
  • Resolution:
    640x480

  • Magnification:
    2.5-20x

  • Detection range:
    2,000 yards

  • Refresh rate:
    50 Hz

  • Video Recording:
    yes (+ streaming)

  • Battery:
    8hrs

  • Weight:
    1.3lbs

ATN BINOX 4T 384
  • ATN BINOX 4T 384

  • Longest battery life
  • Resolution:
    384x288

  • Magnification:
    2-8x

  • Detection range:
    1,000 yards

  • Refresh rate:
    60 Hz

  • Video Recording:
    yes (+ streaming)

  • Battery:
    15hrs

  • Weight:
    2.5lbs

FLIR Command
  • FLIR Command

  • Best biocular
  • Resolution:
    336x256

  • Magnification:
    5-20x

  • Detection range:
    2,400 yards

  • Refresh rate:
    30 Hz

  • Video Recording:
    Using external video recorder

  • Battery:
    4hrs

  • Weight:
    2.8lbs

Pulsar Accolade XQ38
  • Pulsar Accolade XQ38

  • Best value
  • Resolution:
    384x288

  • Magnification:
    3.1-12.4x

  • Detection range:
    1,500 yards

  • Refresh rate:
    50 Hz

  • Video Recording:
    yes (+ streaming)

  • Battery:
    8hrs

  • Weight:
    1.3lbs

ATN BINOX 4T 640
  • ATN BINOX 4T 640

  • Best for video recording & streaming
  • Resolution:
    640x480

  • Magnification:
    2.5-25x

  • Detection range:
    1,950 yards

  • Refresh rate:
    60 Hz

  • Video Recording:
    yes (+ streaming)

  • Battery:
    15hrs

  • Weight:
    2.5lbs


1. Best for Longer Distance Hunting: Pulsar Accolade XP50 Binoculars

Pulsar Accolade XP50 Binoculars

The Accolade XP50’s long detection range and powerful magnification make it a good choice for hunters who want to track targets from afar.

Pros

  • Long detection range.
  • Powerful magnification.
  • High refresh rate.
  • Includes video recording & streaming.
  • Lightweight.

Cons

  • Expensive.

Our Review 

The Pulsar Accolade XP50 is designed to provide long-range spotting and tracking. The binoculars can pick up the heat signature of a human-sized target from as far as 2,000 yards.

For a closer view, you can zoom in up to 20x.

The XP50 manages to retain a fairly sharp image quality for most of the zoom levels. This is thanks to the high-resolution 640x480 thermal sensor.

Pulsar’s exclusive Image Boost Technology also increases image clarity. Image Boost uses a software algorithm to increase image sharpness and overall quality.

The video recording option is perfect if you’d like to review your adventures later or share them with friends. You can record up to 150 minutes of 640x480 video or take 10,000 images. Media is stored in the internal memory (8GB), and you can download it to a computer through the USB port.

You can also stream live video to a smartphone thanks to the built-in WiFi connectivity. This is handy if you want your hunting partner to also see what you are seeing. You can also live stream directly to YouTube.

Common praise from users of the Accolade XP50 binoculars is how comfortable they are to use. They are light and, thanks to the variable interpupillary distance, you can adjust them for a perfect fit.

Another thing users love about the Accolade XP50 is their hardy construction. These binoculars have an IPX7 weather rating, meaning they are waterproof and dustproof. So don’t be afraid to take them outdoors in any kind of weather.

Battery life is not too bad. The rechargeable battery lasts around 8 hours with continuous use.

Other notable features include built-in stadiametric rangefinder, crisp AMOLED display, and picture-in-picture mode when zooming.

Issues & Limitations 

The biggest limitation of the Accolade XP50 binoculars is the price. These binoculars will cost you a lot more than a scope or monocular with comparable optical performance.

Another issue is the learning curve involved. The XP50 binoculars come with so many features that it takes some time to locate all of them and find out what they do.

Bottom Line 

The Pulsar Accolade XP50 binoculars are well worth the high price tag. They are great for hunters looking for weatherproof binoculars that can spot prey from a long distance.


2. Longest Battery Life: ATN BINOX 4T 384 Thermal Binocular

thermal monocular

If you often go on long hunting trips, the ATN BINOX 4T binoculars are the best choice. With over 15 hours of battery life, you can enjoy days of hunting before you need to recharge.

Pros

  • Extra-long battery life.
  • High refresh rate.
  • Video recording and streaming.
  • Built-in laser rangefinder.
  • Affordable.

Cons

  • Smaller detection range compared to higher-resolution binoculars.

Our Review 

The ATN BINOX 4T series has two sensor variations: a high-res 640x480 sensor and a 384x288 sensor. Both have the same extra-long 15-hour battery life.

In this mini-review, we’ll focus on the cheaper lower-resolution sensor. If you want better resolution and a longer detection range, see further below for our review of the ATN BINOX 4T 640.

ATN BINOX 4T 384 binoculars have a detection range of about 1,000 yards. That’s far enough for most hunters.

If you need a closer look, you can zoom in between 2x and 8x, though image quality degrades significantly as you zoom closer.

For better shot accuracy, the ATN BINOX 4T binoculars come with a built-in laser rangefinder. This is more accurate and easier to use compared to the older stadiametric rangefinder.

Another big feature of the ATN BINOX 4T 384 is dual-stream videoYou can stream live video on a smartphone or tablet while also recording it onto the SD card inside the binoculars.

And unlike the Pulsar XP50, the ATN BINOX 4T records and streams HD video (1280x960 at 60fps).

ATN says the BINOX 4T binoculars are weather resistant but doesn’t provide an exact IP rating. While they are obviously okay for outdoor use, we’d be careful exposing them to extreme elements.

Issues & Limitations 

The lower resolution sensor significantly lowers the price of the BINOX 4T 384 binoculars. On the downside, you get reduced detection range, lower magnification, and image distortion when you zoom.

The BINOX 4T 384 also has the same learning curve disadvantage as the Pulsar XQ50. All the features and extras included are great, but it means spending more time fiddling around with the binoculars until you know your way around it.

Bottom Line 

The ATN BINOX 4T 384 is great for hunters who often spend days on hunting trips. Even without an external power pack, the internal battery in the BINOX 4T will last quite a while.


FLIR Command Thermal Biocular

Prefer a biocular? The FLIR Command is the best one we found. It comes with a 75mm objective lens and a 336x256 thermal sensor.

Pros

  • Good resolution.
  • Powerful magnification.
  • Waterproof.

Cons

  • Relatively short battery life.
  • Low refresh rate.
  • Expensive.

Our Review 

Some hunters find bioculars to be easier to use and with better depth perception compared to monoculars and binoculars.

The FLIR Command biocular uses a single 75mm objective lens to collect infrared radiation and two AMOLED 800x600 displays to display thermographic images.

For a 336x256 resolution biocular, the FLIR Command has a surprisingly long detection range. You can pick out human-sized targets from up to 2,400 yards away.

With a zoom of up to 20x (5x optical zoom and up to 4x digital zoom), you can bring faraway targets closer with minimal loss in image quality.

The FLIR Command biocular has fewer features compared to the ATN and Pulsar binoculars. You’ll be up and running sooner with the FLIR Command compared to the binoculars.

The user menu is easy and intuitive, making it easy and quick to select options like color palettes.

Issues & Limitations

The FLIR Command biocular is expensive, especially considering it has a lower thermal resolution than similarly priced binoculars.

The battery life is also disappointing. The non-rechargeable CR123 batteries provide only four hours of continuous use. If you want longer battery life, the separately available external battery pack provided up to 12 hours of battery life.

The FLIR Command biocular also lacks built-in video recording. If you want to record and share videos, you’ll have to connect an external video recorder.

Bottom Line

Overall, we think Pulsar and ATN binoculars provide better value for money. But if you really want a biocular, the FLIR Command is a good choice.

Pulsar Accolade XQ38 Binoculars

If you are looking for a good bargain on thermal binoculars, get the Pulsar Accolade XQ38. They offer a good resolution, video recording, and streaming and plenty of other features for a great price.

Pros

  • Good value for money.
  • Video recording and streaming.
  • Long battery life.
  • Waterproof and dustproof.

Cons

  • Reduced detection range.

Our Review 

The Pulsar XQ38 binoculars offer most of the features and specs of the XP50, at a lower price.

The biggest sacrifice you’ll need to make is in resolution. The 384x288 sensor is a downgrade from the XP50’s 640x480 sensor.

But image quality is still very good as long as you don’t zoom in too close. You are free to use the full 3.1x-12.4x magnification range but expect some image distortion as you go higher.

A built-in stadiametric rangefinder lets your approximate distance to a target.

Like the XP50, the XQ38 has WiFi connectivity that lets you stream live video on YouTube or a smartphone. You can also record videos and take images and later transfer them to a computer through the USB port.

The XQ38 has an IPX7 weather rating, meaning it is dust and waterproof. It’s also much lighter compared to most binoculars, making it perfect for prolonged tracking.

The 8-hour battery life should last you a good while.

Issues & Limitations 

If you do a lot of long-range hunting, we recommend the Pulsar XP50 binoculars instead. The XQ38 binoculars have a shorter range of 1,500 yards. Also, the magnification on the XQ38 is less powerful.

Bottom Line 

The Pulsar XQ38 binoculars are great for hunters looking for cheaper thermal binoculars with the excellent optical performance.

5. Best for Video Recording & Streaming: ATN BINOX 4T 640

ATN BINOX 4T 640 binoculars

The ATN BINOX 4T 640 is the more powerful (and pricier) sibling to the ATN BINOX 4T 384. We recommend the BINOX 4T 640 for hunters who want to record or stream their adventures.

The BINOX 4T 640 streams and record video in HD, ensuring other people enjoy the same clarity and image quality you are getting through the binoculars.

Pros

  • High resolution.
  • Powerful magnification.
  • HD video recording and streaming.
  • Built-in laser rangefinder.
  • Long battery life.

Cons

  • Pricey, as expected.

Our Review 

The ATN BINOX 4T 640 has most of the same specs as the ATN BINOX 4T 384, so we will not repeat them in detail.

They include a built-in laser rangefinder, dual HD video streaming and recording, and insanely long battery life (15+ hours).

The biggest upgrades you get for spending more money on the ATN BINOX 4T 640 are better resolution, magnification, and detection range.

The ATN BINOX 4T 640 offers a 640x480 resolution, which produces crisp and sharp images even when you zoom.

The high resolution also results in a longer detection range of almost 2,000 yards. You can also access more powerful magnification up to 25x.

Issues & Limitation 

The ATN BINOX 4T 640 is not cheap. If you are on a budget, get the Pulsar XQ38 or buy a monocular (it’ll be cheaper than most binoculars).

Bottom Line 

The ATN BINOX 4T 640 binoculars are great for hunters who want thermal binoculars to record and stream HD video. They are also great for pro hunters who want the best optical performance money can get them.

How to Choose the Best Thermal Binocular/Biocular

thermal binoculars for hunting

Determine the Right Resolution 

The most important aspect of thermal binoculars and bioculars is thermal resolution. It tells you the quality of thermal imaging you can expect.

If you are on a budget, look for binoculars with a resolution of 384x288 or thereabouts. Images won’t be as crisp and detailed, but you’ll still see targets clearly at short to mid ranges.

One downside of a lower resolution is that you’ll rapidly lose image sharpness as you zoom. If you are buying lower-resolution binoculars, a magnification of up to 10x-15x is plenty; don’t pay for more zoom as it’ll prove useless outdoors.

If you don’t mind spending more, get a 640x480 pair of binoculars. You’ll be able to pick out an animal from further out and see more detail.

A high-resolution sensor also maintains good image quality as you zoom. With a 640x480 resolution, you can splurge on higher magnification.

Pick the Best Magnification 

The best magnification depends on your hunting environment and needs.

If you hunt in a thickly wooded area, a 25x zoom won’t help you see through trees and bushes. Get a cheaper lower-magnification binocular instead.

But if you hunt in open areas, higher magnification will help you spot and track animals from afar.

And remember what we’ve discussed above about pairing the right resolution and magnification. A low resolution and high magnification don’t go well together.

What’s the Detection Range? 

The detection range of binoculars depends a lot on the sensor resolution. Higher-resolution sensors can ‘see’ further.

640x480 sensors typically have a detection range of 2,000 yards or more. Binoculars with 384x288 resolution have a range of 700-1,500 yards.

Note that the specified detection range doesn’t mean you can identify an animal from that distance. The recognition range is usually less. But a long detection range is still useful as it tells you which direction to head.

Refresh Rate 

Refresh rate refers to the number of frames the binocular captures in a second. A higher frame rate results in smoother and more fluid images, especially when moving or tracking a moving target.

A 50 Hz or 60 Hz refresh rate is the best. But if you are on a budget, a 30 Hz binocular will do though images will be a bit choppy when you are on the move or observing a moving animal.

Built-in Features 

Video recording: Most binoculars let you record video and take images. Cheaper models have a video out option meaning you have to use a DVR if you want to record video.

Video streaming: Usually provided along with video recording. Video streaming is available only in binoculars with WiFi connectivity.

Rangefinder: Most binoculars come with a built-in rangefinder that calculates the distance to targets. Laser rangefinders are the best, but stadiametric rangefinders are more covert.

Weather Protection 

You will be using the binoculars outdoors, so you want something that can withstand rough environments and some elements.

We recommend buying a waterproof and dustproof binocular.

Battery Life 

If you go on long hunting trips, look for thermal binoculars that offer a long battery life of at least 8 hours.

Comfort 

When it comes to comfort, there are two important aspects to consider.

One, the weight of the binoculars. If you think you’ll use them for extended periods, look for a lightweight model that won’t tire you out.

Two, check whether the binocular has an adjustable interpupillary distanceThis is the distance between your eyes. Binoculars with adjustable interpupillary distance offer a guaranteed fit.

FAQs

Are thermal binoculars good for daytime hunting?

Are thermal binoculars good for daytime hunting? 

Yes, they are. Thermal imaging can help you see through bushes, dust, fog, rain, and smoke. Unlike night vision binoculars, thermal binoculars are perfectly safe to use during the day.

Can thermal binoculars see through walls? 

No, and the same applies to glass. Walls and glass provide enough insulation that heat from whatever is on the other side cannot pass through.

You’ll have the same problem when hunting. Thermal binoculars cannot see through trees or very thick bushes.

Are thermal binoculars better than night vision binoculars? 

In some aspects, they are. For instance, thermal binoculars can see through fog, rain, and smoke, while night vision (NV) binoculars cannot.

Also, you can use thermal binoculars during the day while NV binoculars are restricted to nighttime use.

The main downside of thermal vision is the cost. Thermal binoculars can be more than ten times more expensive than night vision binoculars.

How far can thermal binoculars see?

It depends on the resolution of the sensor as well as the environment.

With a high-resolution sensor, you can see as far as 2,000 yards or longer, while a lower-resolution sensor may only allow you to see up to 1,000 yards.

In a wooded environment, you won’t see very far even with high-resolution binoculars.

About the Author Rob Carson

I work in commercial construction, in Dallas, TX.

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