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Exploring the World of Thermal Optics: Seeing Heat


Humans may not possess the physical attributes of apex predators, but our intelligence has allowed us to overcome these shortcomings. Through technological advancements, we have developed various optics that enhance our vision and allow us to see things that are invisible to the naked eye. One such category of optics is thermal optics, which enable us to see heat. In this article, we will explore the applications, types, drawbacks, and considerations of thermal optics.

Applications of Thermal Optics

Thermal optics offer a wide range of valuable applications. They are used in search-and-rescue operations to track criminals, locate missing hikers, and find lost pets. These optics can also be used to determine if a vehicle has been driven recently or to detect water leaks in homes. However, one of the most rewarding applications of thermal optics is hunting. They allow hunters to easily spot prey animals, even when they are camouflaged or partially obscured by foliage. It's important to note that some states have made it illegal to possess thermal optics while hunting, so it's essential to check local laws.

Types of Thermal Optics

There are several types of thermal optics available:


Handheld thermal optics include pocket-sized monoculars, binoculars, and thermal cameras. They are versatile and can be used for various purposes such as search and rescue, tracking, and home inspection.


Helmet-mounted thermal optics offer the functionality of handheld optics with hands-free convenience. They can be used alone or alongside a night vision monocular. However, some users may find the slight latency effect disorienting or uncomfortable for prolonged use.

Clip-On Weapon Sights

Clip-on weapon sights are designed to be attached in front of a daytime optic. They allow hunters to add thermal capabilities to their rifles for specific occasions while retaining the weapon's zero setting.

Stand-Alone Weapon Sights

Stand-alone weapon sights are dedicated thermal optics that can be used without a traditional scope. They offer a clear and bright image, a wide field of view, and are usually lighter and more cost-effective than setups with a clip-on thermal and a traditional rifle scope.

Drawbacks & Considerations

While thermal optics are powerful tools, they come with some drawbacks and considerations:


High-quality weapon-mounted thermal optics can be quite expensive, with some models exceeding $15,000. Basic handheld thermals are more affordable, but still require a significant investment.

Battery Life

Thermal optics consume a lot of energy, so it's important to carry multiple spare batteries. While newer models are more efficient, they still go through batteries quickly.


Thermal optics have a slight delay between gathering thermal data and rendering it on the screen. High-end models have faster processors and better screens that reduce this delay, but it is always present.

NUC (Non-Uniformity Correction)

Thermal sensors need to periodically conduct a NUC to reset the sensor to a neutral temperature reading. This can cause a temporary freeze of the display. It's important to let the thermal optic warm up for a couple of minutes before use.

Size & Weight

Thermal optics are larger and heavier than traditional rifle optics due to the inclusion of glass, sensors, electronics, and batteries.

Thermal Barriers

Some materials can block or reflect heat, affecting the performance of thermal optics. Highly reflective materials such as Mylar and glass can act as opaque barriers or mirrors, reflecting ambient heat back at the viewer.

Environmental Conditions

Thermal optics display the temperature difference between a target and its environment. In situations where the temperature difference is small, the image may appear washed-out. A larger temperature difference produces a clearer, higher-contrast image.

Armasight Contractor Thermal Optics

In early 2022, Armasight introduced the Contractor series of weapon-mounted thermals. This series includes two models: the 3-12x25mm and the 6-24x50mm. These optics feature a rugged, water- and dust-proof metal housing with large, tactile controls that can be easily operated with gloved hands.

The Contractor series offers a range of features, including multiple color palettes, image enhancement modes, reticle types, on-screen tools, video streaming, and data transfer capabilities. These optics are powered by batteries and have a run time of a few hours.

About a year later, Armasight released the Contractor 640 series, which features a higher sensor resolution of 640×480. This—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

By: Patrick Diedrich
Title: Exploring the World of Thermal Optics: Seeing Heat
Sourced From:
Published Date: Fri, 19 Jan 2024 12:00:25 +0000

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