Shopping for the best affordable budget thermal scope?
You have come to the right place.
Hunting at night without the proper equipment is as hard for professionals as it is for beginners.
The pitch-black darkness outside makes it quite difficult to locate the prey. For this reason, thermal scopes are gaining vast popularity as a hunting optic.
Usually, thermal scopes are expensive, which limits their use to a fraction of hunters.
However, there are some truly budget-friendly options out there.
In fact, some of the best thermal scopes that have been on the market for a while are not that expensive at all.
Keep reading to learn more.
What's in This Buying Guide
This buying guide recommends, reviews, and compares the most affordable thermal scopes we know of.
Following our recommendations is a detailed guide describing the features you should consider when shopping for a budget thermal scope.
We finish the article by discussing some of the limitations of budget thermal scopes and by answering a few common questions people have about them.
So let's get into it!
Best Affordable Thermal Scopes
ATN Thor 4 Thermal Scope
Best Core Processor
Pulsar Core RXQ30V
Best Waterproof Pick
AGM Rattler TS25-384
Best for Medium Range
ATN ThOR-HD 384
ATN Thor LT Thermal Rifle Scope
ATN ThOR LT TIWSTLT350X
ATN rifle scopes are known for their good performance, and the Thor 4 Thermal scope is no exception. It comes loaded with features that increase the value of the riflescope for the price at which it is sold.
In a very affordable range, you get a superior-quality Obsidian IV Dual Core Processor. To complement the robust processor is a high-performing Gen 4 sensor. Together, the two technologies give an exceptional view of the field of 110,592 pixels.
Depending upon your preference, you can choose between a black and white and bright color palette. Both of the images are shown in HD quality. The recorded video is stored in a 64GB SD card which has a large storage space.
Other noticeable features include:
· Dual-stream 1080p and 120fps video recording.
· 5x magnification power.
· Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.
That’s not all; this thermal scope comes equipped with modern technology like a rangefinder and automatic ballistics calculator that increases the accuracy of every shot. The riflescope consumes very little power and can last for over 16 hours of active use.
- Lightweight; easy to hold
- High-resolution display
- Audio and video recording are stored on an SD card
- Long-lasting battery life
- Magnification might be limited for long-distance use
- Not waterproof
Our next product is a renowned thermal scope by Pulsar. The Pulsar Core RXQ30V is made using Nylon and has robust imaging technologies.
It displays the view by showing heat signatures in green tint. The green tint provides a clean space against which prey is easily detectable. The 384x288 core processes images quickly and displays them on the viewfinder readily with a refresh rate of 50Hz.
A defective pixel repair technology ensures that no part of the displayed images appears distorted. A clear image is produced that makes locating the prey very easy.
The main features of this thermal scope are:
· 2x-4x stepped digital zoom.
· Three rifle profiles, each with its own zero save.
· Picatinny mount is easy to put and remove
· 17-micrometer pitch core
One of the most celebrated features of this product is waterproofing. The scope is IPX7 waterproof and is usable in rain and snow. It boasts a human detection range of 985 yards which makes it suitable for medium to long-range use.
You can use it with different rifles thanks to the easy mounting that comes with using a Picatinny mount. Moreover, the scope has three rifle profiles that allow easy adjustability when exchanged between different rifles.
The product bag comes with the riflescope along with a Torque screwdriver, hex wrench, and weaver rails. A cleaning cloth, a user manual, and wireless remote control are also added to make the user experience convenient. The scope is charged using an external power adapter.
- Weaver rail mount is quite easy to install and remove
- Three rifle profiles and three zero saves make it adapt to different rifles quickly
- Human detection range of 985 yards and processor of 384x288
- IPX7 waterproof
- Frost-resistant AMOLED display has a workable temperature range of -13°F to 122°F
- Detection range is below 1000 yards; not suitable for long-distance use
The AGM Rattler TS25-384 is a compact and lightweight thermal riflescope that also doubles as a handheld monocular. It features a 25mm lens that provides excellent visuals for medium to long-range patrolling and hunting.
The 384x288 thermal sensor provides clear visuals in harsh conditions like complete darkness, fog, smoke, and rain. Therefore, you can use this scope in the rain, snow, and during the early morning when fog persists.
A 1024x768 OLED monitor complements the sensitive thermal sensor and provides clear resolution imagery.
Other main features of this thermal scope include:
· 8x magnification.
· Tactical style.
· Red crosshair that helps lock aim at the target.
The riflescope could be zoomed to a magnification of 8x, which makes it quite suitable for long-range surveillance and shooting. A detection range of 800m also aids in long-distance viewing.
There is an onboard Wi-Fi module for video streaming and image recording. This scope is also supported by live video streaming.
The package comes with two R123 rechargeable batteries. Users can connect an external power adapter to the riflescope to elongate its working time after the battery dies out.
- High 8x magnification for easily zooming on distant objects
- Clear thermal imagery due to the 348x288 thermal sensor and the 1024x768 monitor
- Weighs only one pound and is easy to carry around
- Includes two rechargeable batteries that can be interchanged
- Usable in harsh weather conditions
- Battery lasts for 4.5 hours only
Our next pick is another good-quality thermal scope by ATN. ATN has more than one budget-friendly thermal scopes, and all perform well.
The ATN Thor-HD 384 has features that not only provide clear thermal imagery but also enhance the accuracy of the shot. It also features a 384x288 thermal sensor that can effectively detect heat signatures, allowing the users to detect prey even in complete darkness.
Featuring a 25mm lens, the scope provides an angle of view of 12x9.5. A magnification range of 2x-8x is achieved via smooth zoom. As a result, users can easily zoom in on the target without losing the point of focus.
The defining features of the ATN ThOR HD 384 include:
· A ballistics calculator and a rangefinder for improving shot accuracy.
· 2x-8x Magnification range.
· High sensitivity 384x288 thermal sensor.
· Wi-Fi streaming and recoil-activated video available.
There are two features that work to increase the shot accuracy every time.
The ballistics calculator enables users to map out the trajectory of the bullet before firing the rifle. It takes environmental conditions into account to do so as well. This way, users can improve shot placement by adjusting the point of impact prior to shooting.
The built-in rangefinder determines the distance between the user and the target. The detected range helps users adjust their position and adjustments to ensure a successful shot every time. You can record videos of your trip in HD quality and save them on an SD card for viewing later.
- Built-in rangefinder eliminates the need to carry additional accessories
- 2x-8x magnification range allows zooming in on objects from afar
- A wide 12x9.5 angle of view provides a broad view
- Weighs only two pounds; easy to carry around
Categorized as one of the most affordable thermal scopes on the market, the ATN Thor LT riflescope brings all the necessary features to its users.
Unlike the other ATN Thor riflescopes, it does not feature a ballistics calculator or a rangefinder and hence the lower price.
Seasoned hunters looking for a budget-friendly scope who do not rely on a ballistic calculator for shot accuracy will find this unit quite useful. The heat sensor used is efficient enough to pick heat signatures through thick bush cover, fog, and smoke.
Featuring a traditional design, this model is made of a sturdy Aluminum alloy that is resistant to recoil shock of higher caliber weapons. It can work in a temperature range of - 20°F to +120°F/-28°C to 48°C, which is enough to control most field conditions.
The most noticeable features include:
· A 30mm tube body.
· 10+ hours of battery life.
· One-shot zero function.
· 1280x720 HD Display.
· Sensor resolution of 320x240.
The scope works on low power consumption. A single battery recharge can last for more than 10 hours.
Moreover, to quickly adjust the scope, it features a one-shot zero. The feature zeroes the rifle in one click without the need of taking the eye off the target. The scope features a magnification range of 3x to 6x, which makes it suitable for short to medium-range shooting.
- High sensitivity thermal sensors can detect signatures through thick vegetation and harsh weather
- Very low power consumption extends the working life
- Wide range of workable temperature from -20°F to +120°F/-28°C to 48°C
- One-shot zero function saves time
Known for its versatile compatibility with various firearms, the ATN ThOR LT 320 is quite popular, where weight is a crucial factor. It is usable with crossbows as well as air rifles, among other weapons.
Featuring an updated Lithium-ion battery, the scope runs for approximately 10 hours, providing enough battery to hunt from daylight till dusk.
The control panel is quite easy to get around. There isn’t a wide learning curve involved to accustom the hunter to use it. First-timers can buy it and understand the workings easily.
Some other main features include:
4.4-3.3 degrees field of view.
Picatinny mounting rail.
Display Resolution of 1280x720 pixels
The scope is waterproof, which further widens its usability. You can use it on a range of firearms under various weather conditions. A moderate refresh rate of 60Hz ensures an updated field of view.
The scope only weighs around 1.4pounds, making it the ideal companion for heavy weapons. It features a tube diameter of 30mm and comes with a soft scope cover.
- The objective lens diameter measures 50mm
- Sensor resolution of 320x240 pixels provides discernable visuals
- 5-10x magnification makes it appropriate for medium to long-range usage
- Multiple reticle designs for better adaptability
- Three-year warranty for customer satisfaction
- Mounting rings are not included in the package
Budget Thermal Scopes Buying Guide
Before buying a thermal scope, you need to assess your needs. Not all hunters have similar needs, and hence not every thermal scope suits everyone. To get the most suited thermal scope for your use, you should consider the following things.
The first thing to consider is the conditions in which you would visit the field. If you prefer going out in the middle of the night when there’s complete darkness, it is best to invest in a scope with a sensitive sensor.
The 384x288 is a good start as it can detect thermal signatures and present visuals even in complete darkness. Those who prefer to hunt during the day can invest in a sensor that has good heat detection but needs light to function properly.
Weather conditions also play an important role in determining the functioning of your scope. If you hunt in areas where rainfall is frequent, you cannot work with a rifle scope that is sensitive to water.
Similarly, invest in processors and sensors that can function in the presence of smoke and fog for enhanced usability.
Weight of Your Gear
Hunters often carry a lot of gear with them, especially if they plan on spending more than 24 hours out in the field. Some even carry more than one rifle. In such cases, the weight of the gear becomes quite heavy and difficult to bear.
The weight of the thermal scopes also varies. You can find scopes ranging from 1 pound to up to 15 pounds. Before buying a scope, make sure it is suitable enough for you to carry.
If you don’t mind carrying some additional weight, you can invest in heavier models; however, for beginners, it is best to go for a lightweight option. Lightweight models are easier to handle.
Thermal scopes are easy-to-use and easy-to-comprehend optic devices. Still, some models benefit professionals more than they do beginners. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the scope you buy matches your expertise level.
Easy mounting, illuminated reticle, and quick zeroing are features appreciated by all levels of users. However, there are additional features like ballistics control, built-in rangefinder, rifle profiles, etc., that truly bring the convenience of use for beginners.
Such features eliminate the need to carry additional gear such as a separate rangefinder and increase the accuracy of shots for learners.
Why Should You Choose a Budget Thermal Scope Over an Expensive One?
People generally think that a budget thermal scope lacks quality and performance. This is not true.
After some market research, you can find options that perform well and, at the same time, are pocket-friendly. All of our discussed options are available under $2,000 and carry the necessary features of a good-quality thermal scope.
There is no difference in the working principles of a budget thermal scope and a high-priced thermal scope.
You should choose a budget-friendly scope, especially if you are a beginner. Hunting is a rough sport that involves spending hours in the field. People new to using thermal scopes might not be able to take very good care of the first model they buy.
Therefore, to become accustomed to the working and maintenance a thermal scope requires, it is best to practice with a budget thermal scope.
Thermal scopes take quite some operational beating when used under harsh weather conditions like rain and snow. If you want to protect your high-end thermal scopes from the possible damages of harsh weather or a tough field, you should buy a budget thermal scope.
When the weather is not favorable, you can use a cheaper thermal scope rather than putting the higher-end scope at the risk of damage.
Lastly, if you have an old-fashioned rifle, pairing it with a high-end thermal scope won’t yield much benefit. It would be unwise to buy an expensive thermal scope without getting to use it to its full potential.
Therefore, for older ammunition, it is advised to buy a budget thermal scope and upgrade to a higher-end one when you invest in a newer rifle.
Even though budget thermal riflescopes are much more affordable, they still carry plenty of additional features. As seen above, all our picks have additional features like ballistics control, robust sensors, video recording, etc.
What to Look for When Buying a Budget Thermal Scope
A few basic features make or break a good budget thermal scope. They also determine the suitability of the scope for different needs. Below we take a look at these features so that you know what to look for when buying a budget thermal scope.
You need to consider two different resolutions in a thermal scope. One of these is the resolution of the sensor, and the other is the resolution of the scope lens.
The resolution of the sensor determines how well the scope would be able to detect heat signature. Meanwhile, the resolution of the lens is concerned with the overall clarity of the image.
Ideally, the resolution of the scope should be higher than the resolution of the sensor for a clearer and precise image. Most thermal scopes do have a higher scope resolution.
A sensor resolution of 384x288 is quite good in budget thermal scopes. The clearest HD quality video recording resolution is 1080p and is supported by most thermal scopes.
To zoom in on objects from afar, the magnification power of the scope plays a huge role. It determines the extent to which you can zoom or magnify the image. Magnification power is measured in ‘times,’ which is represented by an x.
Low or close-range scopes have a magnification power of around 2x-4x, whereas medium-range scopes feature a magnification power of 4x-6x. 8x or above magnification is available in long-range rifle scopes.
Another thing concerning the magnification power is the focus. Your scope should be able to magnify the field of view without losing the focus point. A stepped magnification control works best as it does not require the user to take their eyes off the target when adjusting the magnification.
Often overlooked, the detection range is a very important feature that determines your success on the hunting field. It determines the distance to which the scope can see clearly.
It can go as high as 4,000 yards in high-end long-distance scopes; however, the value is quite limited in budget thermal scopes. Usually, a detection range of 1,000 yards is available in budget thermal scopes.
However, when paired with the right rifle, the magnification and detection range work together to provide a long-distance view.
The refresh rate determines how quickly the image you see is processed. A slow refresh rate would take longer to process and display the image. This might result in delaying the information output.
Therefore, the faster the refresh rate, the better. In budget thermal scopes, a refresh rate of around 50Hz works well.
The crosshair or dot reticle patterns are a user’s personal preference. Both these reticle types are available in budget thermal scopes. The two types are the most common; however, many other types of reticle patterns are seen in thermal scopes.
Generally, crosshair reticles provide greater ease of use during nighttime. The four crosshairs make it easier to find a target spot on the prey. The dot reticle increases accuracy and provides a pinpoint reference for shooting the target.
Thermal scopes are made up of many different parts. These parts can malfunction, and without a warranty, your investment in the scope is lost. Therefore, it is always advisable to purchase warranty-supported thermal scopes.
The warranties available depend upon the sellers and manufacturers. You can find thermal scopes with a warranty on selective parts or the whole product.
Ideally, you should buy a thermal scope with a warranty covering all of its parts; however, if a longer warranty for the main parts is available, go for that.
Arguably one of the most important features in a thermal scope is its battery life. The run time of the battery determines how much time you would spend on the field. Hunters who plan day-long or weekend trips should invest in a thermal scope with a battery life of at least 15 hours.
Another useful tip is to buy extra batteries so that you can replace exhausted batteries with new ones for an uninterrupted hunting experience. Similarly, packing a battery adapter that is connectable to the batteries can also help them recharge quickly on the go.
Video and Audio Recording
Most modern thermal scopes support audio and video recording. Some even allow live streaming and viewing the video on smart devices. For hunters who want to record their trip for viewing later, this feature is quite useful. Built-in recording saves the trouble of carrying additional gear.
If you want to record a video every time you fire your rifle, you should get thermal scopes that come with recoil-activated video recording. Make sure that the SD card used to store this media is securely placed in its slot.
Using large-storage SD cards saves the trouble of buying new SD cards frequently or emptying the SD card after every trip. A 64GB SD card is a popular choice in this regard.
The type of mounting rail affects the speed as it determines how quickly you install the scope on a rifle. The right choice of mounting rail is especially important for those who want to use one thermal scope on multiple rifles.
Switching the scope between rifles should be done quickly and efficiently. Hence, it is important to get a mounting rail that is easy to remove and install quickly. A Picatinny or Weaver mounting rail is ideal in this regard.
Limitations of Using a Budget Thermal Scope
Budget thermal scopes make night-time hunting quite easy at an affordable price. They make the experience available to greater masses. However, they have limited capacity. Below we discuss the limitations of using a budget thermal scope.
Limited detection range
Budget thermal scopes do not have a long detection range. Usually, the range falls under a thousand yards. While this is enough for most short to medium-range uses, it might pose limitations for long-range use.
Inability to look through glass
Thermal scopes cannot detect heat signatures through the glass. Therefore, the hunter needs to be in an open area to use them, and no glass should block the view.
Final Verdict: Which is the Best Budget Thermal Scope and Why
We believe that the ATN ThOR-HD 384 is the best budget thermal scope from amongst our discussed options. For a very good price, you get high resolutions, a ballistics calculator, and a rangefinder. The scope also supports all sorts of media recording, making it a great purchase.