The price of thermal imaging has dropped to the range of Gen III night vision – about $2,000. My bug out location has a valley with a stream at bottom and a wooded hillside, plus surrounding pastures and woods. I wanted the tactical advantage to be able to tell if predators (particularly 2 legged) were in the trees at night. I purchased an FLIR PS24 handheld from Sportsman’s Guide, member price $1979.97, and shipping is often free if you wait for a coupon code sale. After waiting about five weeks, it shipped factory direct from FLIR. My darling wife asked: said “How much did you pay for that?!” I had to make it my only Christmas gift this year…
The unit is hand-sized, 12 ounces, pretty rugged and advertised watertight (although I did not try to submerge it). It has lighted push keys for On/Off, Display Brightness, Display color select, and 2X zoom/Freeze frame. The color selection is White on black background, black on white, and white on black with varying levels of red highlight. I like the first “red” setting, called “I1“. There’s an eyepiece focus tab for +- 2 diopters. The unit has an internal Lithium battery, and a USB-Firewire cable with an AC power supply for charging. When off, the brightness button toggles an LED for use as a flashlight. There is an auto-shutdown after 5 minutes if no buttons are pushed, and a 4 second boot-up when turned on. When it first arrives, you need to charge it about 5 hours before use. An LED indicator lights yellow when charging, and green when fully charged. It comes with a wrist lanyard, soft rubber tethered lens cap, and black soft pouch. A MOLLE belt carry pouch is available via mail order. The manual says its range of operation is -4 degrees to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. The unit can be tripod mounted. The manual says that a man is detectable at 350 yards.
Performance is amazing! While the screen resolution is not a crisp as a GEN III NV, the thermal response is fantastic. With it, I was able to determine that my stream has a contributing spring on my property – the water showed a warm underground inflow as bright white. After standing on the deck for about one minute, step back and your boot prints are clearly visible on the deck, as is your hand print on the railing. You can pick up thermal leaks on your cabin doors and walls – where calking or insulation is needed. Retained heat from stone walls is evident, as well as septic tank covers – even when buried under a couple inches of soil, IF there’s no snow cover. You can see a thrown cigar butt in the grass long after red ash fades. The advantage to a hunter seeing game come in range during low light would be considerable. Finding a downed deer in brush would be much easier. The retained warmth from mechanical equipment like cars or electrical equipment like camera pods show up clearly. I’d expect you could also find “warm” electrical junction boxes with the unit, thus potentially saving yourself from a home fire risk. There is no difference in the unit operation daylight vs. night, but of course cold weather makes the thermal contrasts sharper.
Wildlife shows up white hot, easily visible 150 yards away. Closer, animals show tinges of red in the eyes, head and chest. I could immediately see five deer in the pasture, and when nine deer then collected in the trees I could see them move off single file up through the trees across the valley, 200 yards away. Note that with a GEN III ITT monocular I could not see any identifiable shapes or movement in the trees, but with thermal the deer were easily visible.
You can hide from thermal imaging. I found that glass acts as a mirror; a white-hot candelabra bulb is not visible through a double pane window standing only 2 feet away – all you see is your reflection in the window. Thermal images reflect off still water as well. I’d expect a space blanket “hide” to shield a thermal signature about the same. I found that the soft rubber eyecup is easily dislodged – I almost lost it in the grass – I’d recommend that you use black electrical tape to secure it to the unit. Battery life is good, about 4 weeks of use 10 minutes per night. The manual states that the unit has to be returned to the factory for battery replacement. Fog or falling snow does decrease the sharpness of the thermal contrast on the screen. I was not able to test the effect of smoke by the time of this review.
If I could have only one, either the GEN III NV or the FLIR thermal, I’d go with the GEN III but only if it was weapon-mountable and [used in conjunction with] a good NV compatible red dot scope. But as a hand-held only unit, the FLIR is superior, especially if you need to know where anything warm-blooded is at night. I called my darling wife out to the deck the night the deer were playing ‘follow-the-leader’, and she spent a while observing them. Afterward, she asked, “Do you think we should buy a second one of these?”