The Best Thermal Monoculars of 2022

Written By Kim Goodwin

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If you’re looking for a great handheld thermal imaging device, they have some excellent thermal monoculars on the market right now. They’re lightweight and portable and come equipped with some the best of thermal imaging technology available.

However, they can be quite expensive, so it’s important to do your research before making a purchase. With a little knowledge of what to look for, you can get the most for your money and end up with an amazing device.

You’ll find some budget-friendly thermal monoculars for less than $450, while some high-end models cost more than $2,000. While the affordable models will get the job done for beginners, high-end models are necessary for serious hunters.

Here’s our breakdown of the best thermal monoculars on the market and what we like about each model.

Best Compact
Best Overall
Best Professional
Description:

Pocket-sized and designed for single-handed use, FLIR Scout TK is a great everyday tool for personal and home security at night.

Description:

Lightweight, smooth, and crystal clear imaging make the Burris BTH 50 the best model on the market.

Description:

A high-quality monocular that has the highest recommendations from hunters and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

Best Compact
Description:

Pocket-sized and designed for single-handed use, FLIR Scout TK is a great everyday tool for personal and home security at night.

Best Overall
Description:

Lightweight, smooth, and crystal clear imaging make the Burris BTH 50 the best model on the market.

Best Professional
Description:

A high-quality monocular that has the highest recommendations from hunters and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

The Best Overall Thermal Monocular: Burris Handheld BTH 50

Our Best Overall Pick
Burris Handheld Thermal Vision Device
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The Burris Thermal Handheld Viewer BTH 50 is a fantastic thermal vision scope. Burris offers both a BTH 35 and BTH 50 model. It was close, but we decided on the BTH 50 due to the increased focal length and magnification range.

With this hunting monocular, you can view in thermal vision in varying conditions using its five color palettes. It also has adjustable contrast and brightness.

The Burris BTH 50 Thermal Viewer has a high magnification range of 3.3x-13.2x in its optics with a 50mm objective. The smooth zoom and wifi connection keeps you locked in on your target.

This monocular is very compact size that can easily fit in your palm or in a standard jacket pocket. The excellent portability makes it a perfect tool for spotting and scouting.

You can connect the Burris BTH 50 Thermal Viewer to your iPhone or Android and load as many photos and videos as you need.

For anyone serious about coyote hunting or any other hunting that requires thermal vision, this model is top of the line.


The Best Compact Thermal Monocular: FLIR Scout TK

Best Compact
FLIR Scout TK Handheld Thermal Imaging Monocular

Pocket-sized and designed for single-handed use, FLIR Scout TK is a great everyday tool for personal and home security at night.

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The FLIR Scout TK is a compact handheld thermal monocular that’s easy to use, pocket-sized, and perfect for security or short-range hunting.

The thermal imaging technology used in this monocular includes microbolometers which deliver a top-notch performance while minimizing power consumption and reducing weight.

While the Scout TK doesn’t have a top-grade high-resolution sensor, it is an entry-level thermal monocular with good enough quality for a beginner.

The frame rate of this monocular is 9 frames per second. The 640 x 480 LCD display offers good clarity and brightness levels, and the field of view of 20×16 degrees makes it good for outdoor use.

It’s one of the lightest models you’ll find with a size of 6″ x 2″ x 2″ and a weight of 6 oz.

The FLIR Scout TK thermal monocular has an easy-to-use intuitive user-interface. There are four easy buttons to control the device, and it has different color palettes that allow you to choose which you would like. 

A rechargeable lithium-Ion battery used to power the monocular which can long up to five hours of processing time.


The Best Budget-Friendly Thermal Monocular: AGM Global Vision Asp-Micro TM160

Best Budget-Friendly
AGM Global Vision Asp-Micro TM160 Thermal Monocular
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The AGM Global Vision TM160 Asp-Micro Short Range thermal monocular is a short-range thermal imaging mini system that very much resembles a small torch. The light weight (10 oz) and affordable price makes this a handy device for outdoor use.

This monocular is not only easy to use, but it’s also one of the best durable and waterproof monoculars. It has a IP67 waterproof rating, and a 5 ft drop test height.

The 160 x 120 resolution display isn’t large but offers great clarity and contrast. So, spotting objects even in total darkness isn’t an issue. The 1x, 2x, and 4x digital zooms are also a useful feature in outdoor scenarios.

The high-quality infrared sensor delivers good quality images even at the long end of the optical range. On top of that, you get four color palettes to customize the display as you need. You have a choice of Black Hot, Red Hot, White Hot, and Fusion.

But beware – this is a short-range affordable thermal viewer. AGM does not give a specific detection range for the TM160. It does, however, offer excellent bang for your buck. This is the perfect thermal viewer for anyone just getting started.


The Best Thermal Monocular for Professionals: ATN OTS 4T Smart 640 (1-10x)

Best For Professionals
ATN OTS 4T 640, 1-10x Thermal Smart HD Monocular
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The ATN OTS Thermal Smart HD 640 Monocular is a fantastic and high-quality monocular that has the highest recommendations from hunters and wildlife enthusiasts.

The ATN OTS 4T Smart Thermal Monocular has lots of specifications to choose from with different sensor ratings and zoom options, but we like the 640 (1-10x) variation the best since it offer the high-end sensor resolution and great zoom for a reasonable price.

Its thermal sensor has a high-level resolution of 640×480 pixels which is better than the pixel rating of standard television. The eminent thermal sensor used in this ATN OTS Thermal Smart Monocular can detect even a minute temperature change.

The additional features like 3D gyroscope and E-compass allow you to see in complete darkness.

If you want videos and photos with the excellent resolution, this is a great piece of gear. With the upgraded Wi-Fi module in this edition, you can share your adventures with friends in a few simple steps.

The inbuilt rangefinder detects targets crazy fast, and it comes with an SD card for image storage.


Our Top Picks

Here’s a review of our top picks:

Want more thermal imaging device recommendations? Check out our recent article about The Best Thermal Scopes.


Important Things to Know Before Choosing a Thermal Imaging Monocular

What is a Heat Signature?

Every object in the world emits radiations with various wavelengths.  However, these radiations differ from each other.

Humans and certain animals emit radiation in the range of 0.75 to 1000 microns. This is very much similar to the wavelengths of the infrared radiations aka infrared signature.

This heat radiation from each object is called the heat signature.

Needless to say, infrared radiation cannot be seen by the naked eye because of the ocular limitations of the human eye.

Difference between Thermal and Night Vision Monocular

Basically, both thermal imaging and Night Vision are used for viewing in the darkness and unclear weather conditions. But they are two different technologies.

Thermal Imaging Monoculars

Thermal imaging technology relies on the heat signature. This is nothing but the emitted Infrared (thermal) energy from humans, animals, and any other object.

In reality, the emitted energy rate differs with every object. 

The IR radiations from various objects are captured by the sensitive thermal imaging sensor of the monocular. The elements inside the sensor create a thermogram, i.e. a precise temperature pattern. To form an image, this is converted into electrical impulses

The images produced by these monoculars usually are grayscale in nature. The object which emits a good amount of heat appears to be white on the screen while the cold objects appear to be black.

Many monoculars use a color palette where colder temperatures are marked by shades of purple, blue, or green. The higher temperatures are assigned a shade of red, orange, or yellow.

Night Vision Monocular

On the other hand, Night Vision Devices (NVDs) work based on amplifying the available light and ambient light to provide night vision.

These are often called Star/Moon devices as they use the light from star and moon to provide better viewing at night.

Night vision devices fail to work when it’s cloudy or there’s no light. In such scenarios, thermal devices are a more reliable choice.

Types of Thermal Monoculars

There are many types of thermal monoculars available. These are broadly categorized into two types based on the way they are being used.

Handheld thermal monocular vs Head-mounted thermal monocular

Thermal Handheld Monocular

Thermal Handheld Monocular is the most commonly used type and very popular among the hunters and wildlife observers.

Basically, these thermal devices are compact and rugged enough to carry around your work field.

Most of the handheld monoculars are lightweight for easy carry.

When compared to other types, these handheld devices are cost-effective and have a long work life.

Now, let us come to the downsides of handheld monoculars.

Using a handheld monocular for an extended time can be tiring. Imagine that you need to run or move fast with a monocular in your pocket or around your neck.

Sounds familiar?

In such cases, you need to be careful about your device. So chances are there you’ll lose your focus on the game.

Prolonged use of monoculars can also lead to eye fatigue as they aren’t the best choice for relaxed viewing.

Lastly, if you’re looking for a wide “field of view”, the thermal monocular is not the best choice.

Thermal Head Mount Monocular

Another major type of thermal monocular is head-mounted devices. As you can realize, these monoculars are used as mounting on the helmet or headgears.

The most important point is…

You don’t have to hold this device as it’s a hands-free operation. 

With these devices you can use your hands for other activities like climbing, using a rifle or weapon, or any other physical activity.

The right attachment of a helmet with a mounted monocular offers better stability. So you’ll get a clear thermal image.

Unlike handheld monoculars, you can use head-mounted devices for longer periods. 

You can simply stand or sit in a place and continuously monitor the target areas or surfaces. Moving around with these devices is also much easier.

The main drawback of this head-mounting device is its price range. These devices are priced higher than handheld devices.

Thermal Monoculars – Buying Guide

So you have decided to buy a thermal monocular. But what are the factors that a quality thermal monocular should have?

Good question.

Here’s our guide that will help you to choose the best monocular from the crowded market.

Durability

The durability of any device is the first and foremost factor that you need to consider. More so as a thermal monocular is mostly for outdoor use.

Naturally, a thermal monocular is subjected to stress, pressure, and climatic changes. So it should come with robust construction and waterproof features.

It should also be able to function effectively within a relatively large temperature range.

The truth is, monoculars with poor durability will come cheap but won’t serve your cause.

When maintained well, a night vision monocular can last for a decade. So make sure that the product comes with a solid warranty.

Magnifying factor

The magnifying factor is determined by the ratio between the image distance and the object distance. Monoculars should be able to provide proper imaging even when the object is several hundreds of yards away.

Usually, magnification is specified with two numerals like 10 x 18. Here, the first digit (10) means that it magnifies the image 10 times larger than normal. The second digit’s about the diameter of the lens in millimeters (in our case it’s an 18 mm lens).

Keep in mind that higher magnification levels amplify any lens movement. So moving anything more than 10x magnification will need an image stabilizer or a tripod.

Moreover, higher magnification will also narrow down the field of view.

The Refresh Rate

This is the frequency at which the screen image is refreshed. it’s measured by ‘Hertz’.

The common refresh rates found in monoculars are 9Hz, 30Hz, 50Hz, and 60Hz. The higher the value, the faster is the refresh rate. Slower refresh rates can cause image blurring for a fast-moving object.

For professional use related to hunting or wildlife watching a refresh rate of 30Hz or more is the best choice. Higher refresh rates also make the image appear smoother on the screen.

​​Resolution

The resolution determines the clarity of an image. Clarity is based on the number of pixels in that image.

Basically, pixels are small squares that collectively build the image.

Allow me to explain.

Fetch a hand full of yeast and draw your initial with it.

Repeat the same with some white mustard. Of course, the one with the mustard will be more clear and vivid to the eyes. 

Why does this happen?

It’s because the number of mustards is definitely more compared to the number of yeasts.

This is the same as how the pixels operate.

Usually, the resolution is specified with two numbers; like 2000 x 1000. This means there are 2000000 pixels (or 2 Megapixels) in the image.

So it’s necessary to check the number of pixels in the thermal sensor in your monocular while purchasing it. Ideally, 480 x 640 pixels is the minimum standard that you need to pick.

Power

Whatever may be the features in a monocular, without the proper power source it’s totally useless.

Imagine a monocular running out of time in the critical phase of a hunting expedition. Annoying, isn’t it?

Point to be noted- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity can drain the battery faster. So make sure that you pick a device that offers a battery life good enough for your purpose.

Anywhere around 7 to 10 hours of battery life is good enough for most purposes.

Handy and recordable

A thermal monocular should be light and compact for easy carrying. This also makes sure that you can operate it with ease.

In addition, you can easily stuff them inside the backpack or a pocket when needed.

A few monoculars can be supported with tripods that are tightened with screws. Now that’s a great way to get clear and stable images. However, you have the extra burden of carrying a tripod and setting it up for use.

Advanced Features

Some of the additional and smart features offered by thermal monoculars are as follows.

Thermal Monocular with Rangefinder

Nowadays, almost all thermal monoculars and thermal scopes from popular brands have a built-in rangefinder. This rangefinder makes the hunter’s life easy by eliminating the need for guesswork.

The rangefinder displays the accurate distance between you and the object on the screen. In most cases, the smart range finder starts the range calculation automatically.

Thermal Monocular with Wi-fi

Thermal monocular with Wi-Fi features allow their users to connect to smartphones or tablets. This makes it possible to view the images on these devices.

In addition, you can also share the files from your gallery with your friends in real-time. Some of the thermal monoculars also allow live Wi-Fi video streaming on YouTube.

Thermal Monocular with Built-in Compass

The built-in compass in the device provides the angle observations. This makes it easy for users who are out in the wilderness.

The reading of the compass is from 0 to 360 degrees. The meaning of readings is determined as under:

» 360°: North Direction

» 270°: West Direction

» 180°: South Direction

» 90°: East Direction

If the reading is 100°, it means 10 degrees east to south.

Thermal Monocular with Smooth Zoom

Apart from a fixed zoom, recent thermal monoculars have been equipped with Smooth Zoom. This provides you sensitive ultra-slow zooming that’s easy to use.

This is a great feature to identify the target from a close range. A variable magnification anywhere between 2x to 4x will be effective for practical use.

So these are the main factors that you need to check before picking the best thermal monoculars. Make sure you go through all these factors before investing.

Applications of Thermal Monocular

Monoculars are mostly used in military, law enforcement, hunting, and wildlife observations.

Thermal Monocular for Hunting

In hunting, thermal monoculars offer a clear view of the target from long distances.

In addition, most of the advanced monoculars are designed with a range finder and enhanced magnification.

This means you can stay away from any attacking animal and hunt safely.

Thermal Monocular for Military and law enforcement

Thermal monoculars used for the military and law enforcement have a rugged and strong construction. So the devices are weatherproof, dustproof, and impact-resistant, to face more tactical and tough situations

There are a few brands that have designed the tools specifically for military and security use. 

MH Technology Group is one of the leading manufacturers developing Night vision optics and Thermal gears for the Military.

Thermal Monocular for Law Enforcement

Night vision devices for law enforcement help the cops or security officials in special situations.  This can involve locating the criminals who are hiding in buildings or construction by detecting infrared thermal energy or radiation.

Since these thermal monoculars come as lightweight, portable, and are one-hand operated, they are easy to carry for long hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

How law enforcement use this thermal technology?

These devices are useful in various ways for law enforcement. Thermal imaging devices help the police officers to stay safe while searching or trapping the criminals who are hiding in a building or dark places. Thermal devices can also be used to identify a recently running car by detecting the heat signature of the engine. These features are also used to collect the evidence from the crime spot that can help to find the suspects.

Can thermal imaging see through clothing?

Thermal imaging monoculars can detect temperature differences under clothing. This can be used when a person is hiding a gun or any other form of weapon. The image is developed based on the temperature gradient.

Can thermal imaging devices see-through walls into the building?

The answer in one word is “NO”. Thermal devices only detect the heat that radiated from the objects. In general, walls are thick enough to block infrared radiation. So the device will detect the heat coming out from the wall but it can’t see what is behind it.

What does Emissivity mean in Infrared Imaging?

Emissivity, also known as “e” value, is a measurement of how effectively a body or surface radiated heat. In theory, the value can range from 0 to 1. But, in reality, the value ranges between 0.1 to 0.99. For example, a polished and smooth metallic surface can have an emissivity of less than 0.10. On the other hand, human skin and water have values around 0.98. In general, if the emissivity of the target is below 0.5 it’s not possible to get an accurate temperature reading through a thermal monocular.

Is thermal imaging dangerous?

Not at all! Thermal imaging is just another technique to see in the dark which is risk-free. Everything that emits infrared radiation is detected and recorded as an image or video by a handheld thermal monocular.

Conclusion

A thermal monocular is an excellent gadget to assist you in various outdoor situations. Moreover, it’s also effective for security purposes and search and rescue operations.

Obviously, the choice of the device will depend on your level of usage and the budget. Keep in mind that the best thermal vision technology is expensive. So make sure that you choose a dependable brand with the right reputation.

I hope this article has been helpful in clearing up the various aspects related to thermal monoculars to you.

Now that you have all the information related to thermal imaging monoculars, it’s time to make the right choice.

About Kim Goodwin

Kim Goodwin holds a Master's in thermal engineering from the University of Rhode Island. At Thermo Gears, she reviews most equipment that uses thermal imaging technologies.