Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 Thermal Monocular Review
The Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 is Pulsar’s premium thermal monocular. New for 2020, the Helion “2” has a new “Highly Sensitive Thermal Imaging Sensor” that is said to be even better than the sensor of the previous Helion XP50. It also has the new Super AMOLED display screen and longer battery life.
If you are new to the world of thermal imaging, a thermal optic’s image is not derived from light that is visible or non-visible to your eyes as does a night vision scope. The image is created by a thermal sensor in the optic that forms an image based upon the heat of everything in view. The warmer an object is in view, the brighter it appears. For example, the temperature of an animal in an open field is usually hotter than the earth and vegetation around it. The image displayed on the screen will look similar to a black and white movie. The higher the temperature of an object in view, the brighter it will appear on the screen. Consequently, an animal in a relatively cool field will appear much brighter than the vegetation around it, and make it easy to detect.
The Pulsar Helion 2 series of thermal optics is not a riflescope, it is designed for hand held use. It is only used for observation, target detection, and target identification. It is basically a very rugged thermal camera used for hunting, search and rescue operations, and security. Hunters use it for finding wildlife at night, security personnel use it for observation, and rescue teams use it for searching for lost people.
The Pulsar Helion XP series Thermal Monocular is recognized industry-wide as one of the best thermal monoculars on the market. Thanks to Jason Robertson, owner of Outdoor Legacy Gear, we got to put the new Helion 2 XP50 to the test in the field and compare it to last year’s Helion XP50. Let’s take a look at the features of the new Helion 2 XP50.
Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 Features
The heart of the Helion 2 XP50 is the new 640×480 resolution micro-bolometric sensor, at 17 μm pixel pitch for highly detailed imaging. The new thermal core’s Noise-Equivalent Temperature Difference (NETD) <40 mk rating is about 10% better than last year’s model. The lower NETD rating means it has better heat separation between all the objects in view for a sharper image. In addition to the new thermal core, it also has a new high-resolution Super AMOLED display screen. Together they combine to provide an improved image in all types of weather conditions.
The Helion 2 is IPX7 waterproof for use all weather conditions in temperatures from -13 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The static rangefinder makes determining distances possible but there is no laser range finder option as there is on the more expensive Pulsar Accolade 2 XP50 LRF. In addition to user-favorite “white hot” and “black hot” imaging, the Helion 2 has an additional six color palettes.
Each of the color palettes is designed for a particular purpose. Red monochrome helps to reduce or prevent bright backlight from exiting the eyepiece. Sepia often improves long-range observation while “Red Hot”, “Rainbow” and “Ultramarine” enhance temperature differences of objects in view. Violet helps to identify objects faster. Transitioning from one of the color palettes to default “white hot” during operation is also fast and easy with the click of a button.
Capturing still images and videos is as easy as pushing a button using the Helion’s built-in camera and video recorder. Image and video content is stored internally (16 gigabytes ) and can easily be transferred to PC/laptop via wired connection or wirelessly to your smartphone or tablet with the iOS and Android compatible Stream Vision App. The Helion 2 uses the AVI format for video and JPEG format for photos.
The Helion 2 XP50 has variable magnification from 2.5-20 power and is powered by the new Pulsar IPS7 rechargeable battery pack that can power the unit 10-12 hours on one charge. It comes with a very nice soft case to protect it while traveling or for storage. Scroll down the end of the review for specifications.
Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 Controls
The control buttons for the menu and recording are very well laid out on the top of the scope in the same pattern as the Pulsar Trail series rifle scopes. With a little practice, you can work most of them in the dark with one hand. A feature I really like is toggling between two color palettes and toggling between the four observation modes without having to go into the menu.
You can save one color palette and toggle between it and the default white hot palette with long clicks of the up-arrow button. You can also toggle through the four observation modes with short clicks of the same button.
A single record button lets you change from image to video with a long click, or take a photo or video with a short click.
With a quick press of the menu button, you can access the brightness and contrast controls, use the static range finder, or scroll through the magnification in .5X increments. The range finder uses two lines to bracket the target to help estimate the range to a target.
The ocular and objective focus rings work smoothly and can help you focus in as close at 10 feet or hundreds of yards away. Together you will be able to get a sharp image even if your eyes are a little old like mine.
Helion 2 XP50 vs. Helion XP50
My son and hunting partner Doug has been using the Helion XP50 for about a year, and he likes everything about it. We wanted to compare the two monoculars to see if the upgrades really made a difference. These new improvements come at no price increase over last year’s model and will cost you $3999.97 from any reputable Pulsar dealer. IPS5, IPS7, IPS10 and IPS14 battery packs fit all Helions and can be purchased separately for $99-$119. IPS14 battery packs provide about 20 hours of power. (Note: IPS5 and IPS10 batteries have been discontinued and replaced by longer lasting IPS7 and IPS14 batteries)
So, does the new NETD <40 mK rated thermal sensor make the new Helion 2 model better than the older model? We used them both in the field and ran two side by side tests to see if we could see any difference in the two models.
Using the Helion 2 XP50 in the field, it seemed that the new Helion 2 was slightly better than the first generation Helion in some situations. It could be that the modes were a little different between the two Helions, but the new model just looked a little better to me. I saw a little brighter and more detailed image with the Helion 2. The new <40mk thermal core of the Helion 2 XP50 and Super AMOLED screen seemed to have slightly improved image quality. After more use in the field, I found the “Hot’s” seem hotter and background details are more defined. The trees and other objects in the image have more of a three-dimensional appearance and sharper edges. I made a video with a couple of side by side comparisons with the two models using the same settings. Take a look at the short video below and see if you think the Helion 2 has a little better image. The “Old Deer Hunters” lead-in to the video was also recorded with the Helion 2.
Hunting With the Helion 2 XP50
I have hunted with several very good thermal monoculars in the past year, but nothing I have used compares to the new Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 for image quality or ease of use. When you have a thermal optic this good, your confidence goes up and the enjoyment of the hunt goes up exponentially. There is just something about having such a great optic that takes your hunt up to a new level. You see more game, identify game quicker, capture better videos, and are more successful on every hunt.
My first hunt with the Helion 2 did not disappoint. The conditions were poor with misting rain and the Helion 2 XP50 cut through it like it was a perfectly clear night. Bedded deer were easily identified at 400 yards. The first hog I spotted was through a treeline at about 200 yards. The young boar glowed like a Christmas tree ornament and was easily identified. A few minutes later it was lights out with one round from the Grendel.
When you first look through the Helion 2 XP50, you will be pleasantly surprised at how sharp images are. The details of the image are so good that you can see the hair on animals. This is especially obvious in white hot color palette. I think the new <40mk thermal core separates object temperatures so well that the “hots” actually look brighter in some modes than they do on the older Helion models. Some thermals highlight the animal and flatten the cool background to a point that you lose the three-dimensional effect. The background details in the image of the Helion 2 XP50 give you more depth perception and much sharper details.
The Helion 2 has four observation modes. The purpose of different observation modes is to offer the most suitable settings depending on the current natural conditions of your hunting area. The modes include Forrest mode, Rocks mode, Identification mode, and Personal User mode. Each mode offers different settings designed for forested or more open, rocky terrain.
Pulsar hit the nail on the head when they set the base power of the Helion XP50 at 2.5X. No matter if the optic uses a 640 or 388 thermal core, or what you are hunting, 2.5X is enough, but not too much magnification for any hunting situation. When scanning, you need a wide field of view to see as much of your hunting area as possible without moving and panning so much. The XP50 gives you a wide 72′ field of view at 100 meters, and the clarity of the 640×480 premium thermal core is powerful enough to identify coyotes past 500 yards.
Having the four observation modes at the touch of a button lets you quickly find the best image at that moment. On some nights, I found I may change from one mode to another mode several times on every stand. Superior image quality is what we are all looking for in a thermal monocular, but having all the extra features that are so easy to access, make the Helion even better. I found myself scanning the area first in Forrest mode for detection, then toggling to Rocks or ID mode for identification. Quick and easy control of the unit is another thing that sets it apart from other brands of thermals.
Helion 2 Battery Life
The Pulsar IPS battery system used by the Helion takes the worry out of battery life. Short battery life is a thorn in the side of night hunters and they hate to feed thermals CR123 batteries. I hunted from 10 PM – 2 AM and only used a third of the power of the IPS7 battery. Larger batteries are available for more than 20 hours of run time. For most hunts you will never need a spare battery or a power bank – just concentrate on the hunt!
Helion 2 Weight & Size
The new Axion Thermal monocular that came to market last year made many hunters think about weight and size when shopping for a scanner. The tiny Pulsar Axion thermal monocular only weighs about 9 ounces and is very compact. Many hunters look at these two monoculars and get the idea that the Helion looks too large and heavy. I thought that myself until I hunted with it. I used a lanyard around my neck to carry it and I really never noticed it was there. It only weighs about 16 ounches, fits the hand well, and I never felt it a burden to carry. With that little bit of extra weight, you get a much better image than the Axion and the Helion has a 12-hour battery. If the price is not an issue, the Helion is the better choice for coyote and hog hunters.
Pulsar Helion 2 Video Excitement
I like to make videos of my hunts to share on Youtube. Before I used the Helion 2 XP50, I never thought about using my scanning monocular for video during the hunt. On my last outing, all of that changed. In fact, the Helion 2 is truly a magnificent thermal camera, not just a hunting scope. I was able to use the Helion 2 to capture footage of my hunting companions as the hunt was in progress. That is not possible using your thermal riflescope on your loaded rifle!
The Helion 2 XP50’s video is so clear, I was able to get closeup shots and capture the mood of the hunt, not just a kill shot. You hear the calls, see types of equipment being used, and capture the expressions on hunters’ faces as the excitement of the hunt unfolds. The close focus lets you capture amazing video shots from only feet away from the lens, and then clearly record that old coyote coming in from hundreds of yards away. The Helion 2 XP50 can help you see and capture the drama of the hunt for more exciting videos.
Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 Likes & Dislikes
I like just about everything about the new Helion 2 XP50. The image quality is bright and clear, and after comparing the Helion 2 with last year’s Helion, I really do see an improvement in image quality. It may not be enough to warrant an upgrade from a Helion to a Helion 2, but the image quality of the Helion 2 is a little better.
The only thing I would change is to make the video file format MP4 instead of AVI. The Pulsar Themion uses MP4, so I do not understand why the Helion uses AVI.
And then there is one more good thing I like – the battery, the battery, the battery…you have a real IPS7 12-hour battery pack that will last all night! I like that! Most thermals have about a 4-hour battery life. Having a thermal monocular with a battery life of thee times the average means I will never have to worry about running out of power before the end of my hunt. The Helion 2 battery will last longer than most hunts.
The price of the Helion 2 XP50 is high. It puts it out of reach for many hunters, but the quality and performance of the unit puts it in the category of the very best thermal optics on the market. Pulsar keeps improving the quality of the unit, keeps improving the firmware, and still keeps the price the same. That speaks very well of a company when most everything else is going higher in price.
I really like and use the mode toggle button to give me four different variations of the image. Walk out of the field and into the woods and I can toggle to a different mode in second. Scan in one observation mode for hotspots in the distance and then toggle to a different mode for identification. Toggle between palettes to rest my eyes or better target identification. I really like the extra features.
I like the video capability of the Helion 2. I am able to get great videos of the hunters and not just the hunted. It helps me tell the story. I look forward to telling the story of our hunts and using the Helion 2 to do that in the years ahead.
To put the cork in the bottle and tell you how much I really like this Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 – I bought it!
Pulsar Helion Specifications
- 640×480 Resolution
- 50 Hz Refresh Rate
- 17 µm Pixel Pitch
- Updated Thermal Core w/ <40 Milli Kelvin temperature sensitivity
- Greater temperature sensitivity than previous units
- 1800 Meter Detection Range
- Field of View of 72 feet @ 100 meters
- 2.5-20x Magnification
- 15mm Eye Relief
- IPX7 Waterproof
- 10-12 Hours Continuous Operation Time (Rechargeable)
- Helion 2 can also be power externally from a USB power source
- Stadiametric Rangefinder
- Firmware updates at home through the Pulsar Stream Vision App
- 3 Year Factory Warranty
- Pulsar Helion 2 XP50 Thermal Monocular
- Soft Tactical Carrying Case
- IPS7 Rechargeable Battery
- Battery Charger
- Charging / Data Cable
- Hand Strap
- Microfiber Cleaning Cloth
- Quick Start Guide
- Warranty Card
If you’re looking for great reviews and commentary on the latest in the night vision and thermal industry be sure to tune into The Late Night Vision Show, a weekly podcast hosted by Jason Robertson and HansETX.
To learn more about the author of this review, check out Col. Cupp’s bio HERE.
- Chester Cupp