Looking for the best thermal-imaging binoculars? This guide will help you invest your money wisely, and help you track down the right price at the best available price.
As observational tools to draw the faraway closer, binoculars come in a range shapes and sizes, yet there are a number of specialisms they fulfill. These include marine binoculars (opens in new tab) waterproofed and equipped with navigational aids, night-vision binoculars (opens in new tab) that provide that amplify available light for night viewing, or image stabilized binoculars (opens in new tab) that to avoid any visible wobble at maximum magnification without the need for a tripod.
Thermal imaging binoculars are different again and very much another niche within a niche. Thermal imaging binoculars differ from night vision binoculars and goggles (opens in new tab), in that thermal binoculars provide us not with a brighter view in the dim, but rather with the heat signature of our subject. Any avid viewer of nature documentaries will be aware, as seen through thermal-imaging cameras (opens in new tab) and thermal drones (opens in new tab), colder parts of any living creature will typically appear blue, while warmer parts will appear as yellow, orange and red. In this way we derive their heat ‘signature’.
As thermal or heat-sensing binoculars are very much a specialist tool, rather than a mass-market device, don’t be surprised by the fact that they cost more than a regular pair of binoculars.
While thermal imaging binos may be used for detecting and observing animals in varying terrains, they can also come in useful for detecting sources of heat loss and retention in man made structures, as well as being used as a security device. By identifying heat signatures, they come in very handy for spotting subjects in environments in which they might otherwise be obscured, for example.
Best thermal binoculars in 2022(opens in new tab)
Looking a bit more pared-back than others when it comes to operation, this thermal imaging option, while pricier than a standard pair of binos, is also a lot more affordable than most rivals. We get the usual built-in sensor as well as USB and AV input/output, plus a slot for a removable SD memory card. Here there’s the ability to record up to Full HD 1080P video at 60fps and take photos of our observational quarry. The core specification marries an 8x magnification to a 50mm objective lens, which is similar to what we’d get from a mid range pair of standard optical binoculars. This makes them suitable for bird watching and nature observation.
Rather than a central focus wheel, as with a camera lens, focus is manually adjustable via a twist of the lens barrel itself. Distance indicators, magnification and battery life are displayed as part of the view, while we also get a built-in compass, plus black and white and color observational modes. Power comes courtesy of four bog standard AA batteries, which provide up to three hours of use.(opens in new tab)
These handheld binoculars are packed with tech. They combine an ultra low light optical detector with a 640x512 thermal detector, 1024x768 OLED display and an eyepiece offering a large field of view. The device can also pinpoint moving subjects even in fog, rain, smoke and snow.
As expected then, the binos are waterproof to IP67 level and built to withstand more challenging weather conditions. We also get the ability to mount the binoculars on a tripod, thus allowing the viewer to enjoy hands-free use. Four rechargeable lithium ion batteries are required for use, providing up to seven hours’ performance, which falls in the middle of the options showcased here for battery life. With both a video and snapshot facility, the thermal imaging unit purports to provide different image palette variants, including white hot or black hot, which are adaptable depending on the environmental conditions at the time. Peace of mind is provided via a limited three-year warranty.(opens in new tab)
Promising 16 hours of active use and the ability to pick out creatures otherwise disguised by thick vegetation are these thermal binoculars, which – although a relatively pricey specialist tool offer cost-effective multi-purpose use. A key benefit is that they can record Full HD video at 60fps stored to microSD card (opens in new tab). We also usefully get a zoom function, as well as remote control via a smartphone app, thanks to on-board Wi-Fi.
A further promise is ease of use, in that subjects can be acquired and distance gauged with just one button click. Featuring a fourth-generation thermal sensor, and pitched as being well suited to bird, wildlife and nature observation, its manufacturer suggests that the built-in laser rangefinder can additionally be used for golfing and other sports. Inter-pupillary distance is adjustable as is eye relief for viewing comfort, meaning that these weather-resistant binos can be shared around and used by different members of the family, if desired. Other handy features include an electronic barometer and compass. A lithium ion battery is required for use; thankfully this is included in the package.(opens in new tab)
Resembling a laser-emitting Star Wars gizmo, this one costs almost as much as one might bid for such a movie prop in a charity auction, yet has a Latin word in its title to further signify the seriousness of its intent. This uses a biocular design, rather than a binocular one - so the eyepieces share the same front objective lens assembly. On the plus side, we get a maximum detection range of an impressive 1500 yards, while its integral sensor’s native resolution of a modest – yet fairly standard for this market – 384x288 pixels can be boosted to 640x480. In terms of the view provided, there are ten color palettes to choose from, while battery life, provided via a pair of CR123 cells, is good for a so-so two to three hours. The device is also IPX5 rated splash-proof, plus displays distance in yards or metres.
For those looking to capture video, we’re gifted the ability for streaming via Wi-Fi to a device running the specific ‘VLC’ app, while there is 32GB of internal storage for recording footage. Rounding off the package is a 1024x678 micro OLED display. If the spec here isn’t quite enough for you, there is also a slightly higher up D-80 model that extends the magnification from 6-24x and provides a 80mm lens, as opposed to the still very useful 50mm objective lens of this iteration.(opens in new tab)
The ATN BinoX 4T 384 4.5-18X binoculars look exactly the same as the ATN BinoX 4T 384 2-8X - and share the same set of impressive features. But the big difference is in the magnification range which offers you the potential of seeing much further into the distance, with a much narrower angle of view. This could be particularly useful for when using thermal imaging at night - allowing you to detact the presence of a human body at upto 1800m (as opposed to just 920m with the 2-8X version). The range for human recognition or identification are not as great, of course, but the workable range is still significantly enhanced with the great magnification.
The core features still include a laser rangefinder, and the ability to record 1280x960-pixel video at 60 fps - which can be saved on a memory card, and transferred to a smartphone via Bluetooth.(opens in new tab)
Fitted with a 640x480 thermal sensor, frost resisting OLED display and boasting a generous 1800 metre detection range plus 13 hour battery life, the specification here is, in part, a cut above the norm for a device of its ilk. That said, the native magnification is a fairly modest 2.5x, even if this can be combined with an 8x digital zoom to offer the total equivalent of 20x.
Like competing devices here, there is the ability to capture videos, along with photos in this particular case, both of which are written to the 16GB internal memory. The provided battery here is good for a robust 13 hours of use and can be recharged via standalone charger or using the USB port, while there’s also a laser rangefinder to help users pinpoint subjects, with a 1000 metre, plus a Stream Vision app to connect these binos to a smart device. It all adds up to another comprehensive package for those requiring a thermal imaging component to their observations, even if the price tag is equivalent to sending a family of four to the Seychelles for a fortnight, no thermals required.
Thermal binoculars: what to look for
Like with any other binoculars, what we want to be looking for amongst the specification is the magnification provided. Thermal binoculars obviously also comprise thermal sensors, so we might also want to take a cursory glance at the thermal resolution of said sensor and, as we’re destined to be using binoculars outdoors in the main, also its operating temperature if given and detection range.
The detection range is related to the resolution of the thermal sensor; the higher the resolution, the further it can detect. Generally speaking, because we’re looking to pick out and identify subjects that we might not be able to spot with the naked eye if viewing at night, thermal binoculars offer a wide or large field of view, so as to give us a better opportunity for observation.
Because these are very much specialist tools, tracking down these thermal imaging products may be less easy than finding your common-or-garden optical binocular, while choice and popularity seems to be greater in the USA than elsewhere. But, thanks to the Internet, we live in a global market, so snagging your thermal imaging binocular of choice is often only a few clicks away…
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