Pulsar Thermion Thermal Scope Review
Written By: Chester L. Cupp, Colonel, US Army Retired
The Pulsar Thermion Thermal Scope series features a new look, high-performance thermal cores and competitive prices for 2019. Thanks to Outdoor Legacy Gear, we got to put a new Pulsar Thermion to the test. The model we will be reviewing is the Pulsar Thermion XP38 1.5-12x Thermal Rifle Scope. Doug Graham and I had some really good coyote and hog hunts with the Thermion. Doug is a hard-core coyote hunter who expects excellence from his thermal optics who will be able to really put the new design to the test.
UPDATE: The October 30, 2019 firmware update improves the image quality of all Pulsar Thermion models, and adds the audio capability. The audio works properly when videos are downloaded to Windows PCs. The audio will still not work properly when downloaded to Apple products like the MacBook laptop. Hopefully, the next Thermion update will provide audio when working with Apple computers. Firmware update information. Be sure to format the internal memory card after you complete the firmware update.
The first thing you will notice about the Pulsar Thermion is that it looks just like a regular rifle scope instead of a movie camera sitting on top of your rifle. Standard scope rings are used to attach it to your rifle, and it is just as easy to properly mount on a bolt action rifle as it is an AR platform.
Most thermal rifle scopes tend to be less than aesthetically pleasing and bulky. Pulsar has changed all of that with the new Thermion Thermal Rifle Scope Series. Thermions are built within a more traditional looking scope body that attaches to your rifle with any brand of 30mm Picatinny scope rings. The Thermion XP38 has a 32mm Germanium front lens with adjustable front focus, adjustable ocular lens and weighs 26 ounces. All of the electronics are housed within the tube and what looks like target-style windage and elevation knobs. It looks so much like a traditional target scope, most people will not recognize it as a thermal.
Thermion Thermal Scopes are available in two series with either a 640×480 or 340×240 thermal core resolutions. The XP series offers the same high 640×480 thermal core resolution and a 17-micron pixel pitch that the Pulsar Trail XP series uses. The XM series offers a 320×240 thermal core resolution and a 12-micron pixel pitch. This upgraded 12-micron thermal core will provide the user with an improved image quality over previous Trail XQ models. The scopes are available in several base magnifications and all have a 50hz refresh rates. They use the APS-2 Li-Ion battery Pack, are recoil rated up to .375 H&H magnum, IPX7 waterproof rated and Stream Vision App supported. The Thermion series is offered in two focal lengths options, 38 and 50mm. The series designations are not the size of the front lens. The lens diameters are 32 and 42mm respectfully. The Thermion XM30 model production has been officially halted as of Fall 2019.
The model we are reviewing is the Pulsar Thermion XP38 1.5-12x. The Thermion XP38 features a 1024×768 HD AMOLED display, 1,500-yard heat-signature detection range, 8 color pallets, and 15 reticles in up to 4 colors. It has integrated still image and video recording with audio, 16gb of internal storage, Wi-Fi with Pulsars Stream Vision app, and picture in picture capability.
My Thermion arrived with a Quick Start Guide, but if you are new to Thermal or have never used a Pulsar brand thermal scope, you may want to download the Pulsar Thermion User Manual. It will be impossible to mention all of the features of the Thermion Series in this review, so you may want to read through the user’s manual to see everything available.
Pulsar Thermion Installation & Zero
You can mount a Thermion to your rifle using any brand of 30mm rings but I used the high-quality American Defense Manufacturing Quick Detachable mounting system available from Outdoor Legacy Gear. I wanted to use the Thermion on several rifles and American Defense makes one of the best Quick Detachable mounts I have used. It is strong, lightweight and returns to zero.
The Thermion has five weapon zeroing profiles and 10 settings for yardages within each profile. You can move between distances settings by using a long press of the controller knob, followed by turning the knob to the desired setting. The selected profile is shown on the display screen. I found that using this feature for different bullet weights is handy, but trying to change yardage settings during a hunt takes too much time.
The “one-shot” zeroing function lets you fire a shot on target, then hold a crosshair on the aiming point while you move a second reticle to the shot. I had to use a few shots instead of one, but the process is easy, and each profile has yardage and reticle coordinates displayed. When zeroing and setting rifle profiles, you can select the reticle shape, reticle color and color pallet along with your zero coordinates. Reticle selection runs from simple crosshair to ranging reticles in several colors.
Pulsar Thermion Controls
The new Pulsar Thermion is more like a regular scope in more ways than just the shape. The layout of the controls is different than most thermal scopes. If you are new to thermal optics and have used traditional scopes with an adjustable objective lens, it will be an easy transition to the Thermion. If you are used to the controls of a Pulsar Trail, Helion or Flir product, you may not like the controls as well. The controls are not difficult to use – just different.
On top of the eyepiece are the controls for power, video recording, and magnification. They are laid out in a triangle grid within a small circle that makes it easy to operate at night for most users. If you have large fingers, you may find the buttons to be a little tricky. On the left side where turrets are normally placed on conventional scopes, you find the controller knob. All menu functions must be accessed through the controller knob. There are no buttons to toggle between white-hot to black-hot like other Pulsar scopes and scanners. Instead, the quick functions of the Thermion controller used while hunting access brightness, contrast, range estimation functions.
The focus ring is in the same place as a regular riflescope with an adjustable objective on the front of the scope. It has a wide rubber covered adjustment ring that is easy to access with the non-shooting hand, but pretty hard to turn. It is not as easy to access or use as a Pulsar trail or Trijicon that have a top-mounted focus button. The flip-up lens cover is made of hard plastic and does a good job keeping dust off the lens.
The removable battery and cable port are under the caps where the elevation and windage adjustments are normally located on conventional scopes. If your hunts last more than 4 hours, you may want to have a spare battery or external power pack. I keep an Anker PowerCore attached to my rifle stock for external backup power. It recharges the Thermion batteries as I hunt.
Thermion Palettes & Reticles
The color palettes range from simple black hot /white hot to all the shades of the rainbow. You are sure to find a combination you like. I normally use the black hot palette, but I really liked Pulsar’s red hot pallet as well. Color Palettes include White Hot, Black Hot, Red Hot, Red Monochrome, Rainbow, Ultramarine, Violet, and Sepia.
You have several different reticle colors to choose from and reticles with colored center dots in several sizes. Reticle colors include Black/Red, White/Red, Black/Green, White/Green, Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, and Orange. I am sure you will find a combination that will help improve your DRT percentage.
Thermion Static Range Estimation
Range Estimation at night is very hard for me. Fortunately, Pulsar has added a static range estimator and ranging reticles to the Thermion . It is not a laser range finder, but the static range finder will give you a good idea of the range by letting you bracket your quarry between two lines and give you an estimate for a stag, boar or rabbit icons. A couple of quick presses of the controller knob gives you access to the range estimator for 10 seconds or until you stop rotating the knob to bracket the animal. As you rotate the knob the reading changes for each icon.
So for example, if you are hog hunting and see hogs across the field with a large boar or sow in the sounder, you can bracket the large hog and read the distance beside the boar icon. In a few seconds, you have the estimate and your reticle automatically reappears. If you were zeroed for 200 yards, and the range reading was 180 yards, you know you are withing range.
Ranging a coyote is a challenge. Things happen so quickly when calling in coyotes, you won’t have time to use the static range finder for them. A better solution is to select one of the ballistic ranging reticles available in the Thermion for quicker range estimation. Using one of these reticles, you can quickly get the estimated range of your target.
The Thermion has three reticles (X51Fi-300, M56Fi, M57Fi) with “Smart Reticle Function”. When the digital zoom is changed, the reticle that is displayed on the display is scaled, i.e. its view will change (increase or decrease) in proportion to the variable magnification. This allows the use of ballistic reticles with any digital zoom power. This function is similar to a conventional front focal plane scope with ranging reticle, ie, it ranges properly at any power. Download the Thermion Reticle Catalog for more information.
Hopefully, a laser range finder like the one on the Pulsar Trail XQ50 LRF will be available in the near future.
Picture-in-Picture Display – Pulsar Exclusive
Picture-in-picture displays a magnified image at the top-center 10% of the overall field of view for precise shot placement. The smaller display window increases magnification as you zoom the digital power button and the larger bottom portion of the display remains at base magnification. This picture-in-picture feature is an exclusive feature found only in Pulsar Scopes. The feature works very well and usually takes away the need to fumble with the zoom button right before the shot.
I found the picture-in-picture to be extremely useful in the Thermion XP38 with the low 1.5X base power. The larger picture gives you a wide field of view and clear image and you have the small window for precise aiming. For coyotes, I ran small window magnification at 6X and found it very effective.
Thermion Image Quality- The Critical Difference
The Pulsar Thermion XP38 image quality makes night hunting a pleasure. After hunting with entry-level thermal optics, the Thermion made my night hunting a new experience. The video above is very sharp, but the image through the scope is even better quality than the video shows. The image resolution of the scope screen is 1024×768 HD. Videos are recorded in 720 HD.
Pay particular attention to the sharp detail of the entire image and not just the deer in the video above. You can see different shades of trees, sticks on the ground, leaves and other details. The result is a high definition image of everything in view. The image colors are specific to their heat signature, not smudges of white to gray to black. The thermal image contrast of the Thermion lets you see the edges of objects and animals within the image making them sharp and clear. There is no haze over the image like many thermals have.
The Thermion has three different observation modes for the type of terrain you hunt. Each of these modes includes an optimum combination of parameters (brightness, contrast, intensity, etc.) to ensure the best image quality under any given observation conditions.
Rocks Mode, High Contrast Mode – This is the optimum mode for observing wildlife against a background of rocks and soil in an upland situation.
Forest, Low Contrast Mode – This is the optimum mode for observing wildlife against a background of vegetation.
Identification – A universal mode for application under various observation conditions.
The Thermion's sharper image will let you see better at night. Any thermal will give you hot signals of animals, but the Thermion will give you better contrast for easier target identification. I recommend you check the contrast each night you hunt. A single push of the controller enters the menu to easily set the contrast for your hunting terrain and weather conditions.
It will be easier to differentiate a coyote from a fox or determine the type of animal you are viewing at longer ranges. There are big differences in image quality among thermal scopes and image quality is what matters most in a thermal rifle scope. You will not be disappointed with the Thermion XP.
Pulsar Thermion XP38 Hunting
Doug stacked up coyotes and hogs like cordwood using the Pulsar Thermion XP38 1.5-12x. We hunted coyotes and hogs in wide-open fields, in wooded areas and on stands overlooking feeders at close range. The Thermion did a superb job in every situation. The lower base magnification and wide field of view made close-quarters hunting, like hunting over a feeder or in woods, much easier than with scopes with higher base power. The quality of the image let me bump up the digital zoom to take longer shots in open fields and see better in wooded areas to follow hogs walking through the trees and pick a clear shot.
The XP38 starts at a base power of 1.5X making it a great choice for hog hunters and most other predator hunting applications. You get excellent image quality and a wide field of view for follow-up shots. Because you are shooting at lower base power, focusing is not as critical for a good image. For coyote hunters who experience shots over 100 yards, you may want to go to one of the Themion models with higher base magnification.
Thermions also have a wider field of view than traditional scopes or night vision scopes at a given power. The XP38 has a field of view of over 85 feet at 100 yards. The XM38 4.2×16.8 has a field of view of 30 feet at 100 yards with the 4.2X base magnification. An XM38 Thermion’s field of view at 4.2X is almost 50% greater than my Sightmark Wraith 4×32 or my Leupold 4×12 scope at 4X. That wider field of view is a game-changer for me.
When hunting with thermal optics, scanning the area to locate game is a constant task. Scanning will be 95-99% of the hunting time if you are lucky, and very little time tracking a detected target and making the shot. Most thermal hunters use a thermal binocular to search for game, and then move to the rifle with a thermal scope after the quarry is located.
If you do not have a scanner and plan to scan with your scope or depend on a buddy with a scanner, the Thermion XP38 is a great choice. The low base magnification of 1.5X gives you a wide 85 feet wide field of view at 100 yards. It is much easier to locate game with a large view of the area. That total area will be about eight times larger than a scope with a 4X magnification. For a hunter without a separate thermal monocular, the Thermion XP38 can be used to scan a large area with less movement at 1.5X and keep your picture-in-picture at a higher magnification for more precise aiming. I am not saying you do not need a thermal scanner, I am just saying the XP38 is the best choice I have found if you do not have access to a thermal binocular.
Thermion Pro’s & Con’s
Excellent Image Quality – The image quality of the Thermion XP38 is right up there with the best scopes on the market. The big field of view and 640×480 core provide a great image on its base magnification and a nice image at higher magnification. Using the picture-in-picture lets you have a large clear field of view and higher magnification for precise shots at longer range.
Better Image Quality During Humid Conditions – Doug notices things about thermal optics that most hunters miss. Hunting in Georgia at night means you will usually be fighting humidity and fog. He found the Thermion to be one of the best thermals scopes he has used during foggy or humid conditions. There is not a specific setting for these conditions, but something in the Pulsar technology that gives it an edge.
Superior Video Recording – It has excellent internal video recording that can be downloaded directly to your PC in the popular MPEG4 format. Videos from the Thermion appear to be an improvement over the Trail models. If you want good quality videos for Youtube and social media, the Thermion makes it easy.
Models for Hog Hunters or Coyote Hunters – Within the Thermion XM & XP series, Pulsar gives you an excellent range of feature-rich thermal optics. Low base magnification models for hog hunters and higher base magnification for coyote hunters are available.
Competitive Price – Pulsar Thermion prices are very competitive in today’s thermal optics market with four models priced at $3300-5000. Pulsar’s standard pack of features now include some great new reticles, rechargeable battery packs, easy mounting on all types of rifles, and their renowned customer service is a plus for the whole line up. I am sure you can find a Thermion that will meet any of your night hunting needs.
Base Power of the XP38 is too low for long range shooting – The 2x base magnification on the Thermion XP50 would be better for longer range coyote hunting. I had to zoom the power before the shot for all the coyotes encountered except one. I really like to shoot using that very clear base power, but 1.5X made that difficult at times. The saving grace for the low base power XP38 is the picture-in-picture feature.
Controls Buttons – The Thermion looks are different and the controls are different to go along with the new design. The controller knob takes a lot longer to use when making adjustments on-stand when time is of the essence. The control buttons and focus knob used on the Trails are much quicker to use because the controls are grouped together. The Trail and Helion have controls together on top with larger buttons, while the Thermion spreads controls from front to center to rear of the scope. If you are a “set it and forget it” hunter the controls won’t be an issue. If you are the more hard-core coyote hunter who uses all the features available, the controls may slow you down.
Side note – Rechargeable batteries are an awesome feature. However, Pulsar changed the battery packs from the larger IPS 5/ IPS 10 packs used in the Trail and Helion models to the smaller APS batteries in the Thermion and Axion models. The APS batteries do not last as long as their predecessors. Also, I would prefer a more secure charging cradle for the APS. This really doesn’t come up if the charging cradle never leaves your home. Sometimes we hunt all night so I keep a charger in my truck for my batteries. I found the APS batteries would easily come out of the cradle.
Bottom Line – The new Pulsar Thermion is a great scope the I highly recommend it. The image quality is of the XP38 is very hard to beat and about as good as you will find on those nights with humid conditions. The special features like the picture-in-picture and ranging reticles can help make long shots easier and dispatch animals humanely. If you like to video your hunts, the Thermion makes it easy. The Thermion does everything you need in a thermal optic and does it well.
If you shoot a bolt action rifle, choosing a Thermion is a no-brainer. Mounting it will not be a problem as it can be for most other thermal scopes.
Mounts on Standard 30 mm Scope Rings
Recoil Rated up to .375 H&H, 12-Gauge and 9.3×64
Video and Still-Photo Recording
Stream Vision App Supported
B-Pack Mini Combined Power System
Variable Digital Zoom
IPX7 Waterproof Rated
High Definition Image
Zeroing Profiles Management
Customizable Reticle Options
Full-Color, HD AMOLED Display
16GB of on-board storage for pictures and videos
8 Color Modes
Visit Outdoor Legacy to purchase a Thermion or other quality thermal optics. If you have questions, please call Jason Robertson at (877)350-1818.
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