Looking through a thermal scope

Best Cheap Thermal Scopes [2022]

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You might think night vision scopes are the ultimate in cool optics. That is until you tried a thermal scope. Thermal detection lets you see through the darkness, fog, and even heavy brush. With this baddie, that deer will never escape your clutches again.

If you’ve shopped for a thermal scope before, you’ll find that most of them are expensive. We’ve therefore tried to hunt down the more “affordable” options that still provide all the awesome features. A word of warning first though. When I say affordable note the quotation marks. While these are at the cheaper end for thermal scopes, they are still pretty expensive in my book. But, they are also pretty awesome and worth a few weeks of noodle dinners.

You can also save a few bucks by reading our best budget hunting rifles article when you next are in the market for a new rifle.

Armasight Zeus 336
  • Magnification: 2.8x / 3.4x
  • Dimensions (inches): 10.03 x 2.75 x 3.14
  • Comes with a 60Hz core
  • Most expensive choice
  • Clarity of image goes down at 100 yards and more
$3399 Shop NowClick to read my review
ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope
  • Magnification: 1.25 – 5x
  • Dimensions (inches): 6.85 x 3.16 x 3.14
  • Has 683-yard detection range
  • Uses only non-rechargeable AAA batteries
  • Doesn’t perform as good as a $4,000 thermal scope model
$1622 Shop NowClick to read my review
Pulsar Core RXQ30V Thermal Riflescope
  • Magnification: 1.6 – 6.4x
  • Dimensions (inches): 7 x 2.5 x 2.4
  • Has a ULIS 384×288 thermal microbolometer sensor
  • Lacks video recording capabilities
  • Battery life lasts up to only 4 hours
$1899 Shop NowClick to read my review
Best Budget Buy
Sector Optics T20 3-5.5x Thermal Imaging Scope
  • Magnification: 3 – 5.5x
  • Dimensions (inches): 2.75 x 1.8 x 1.5
  • Automatic power shutdown after 10 minutes if inactivity
  • Little movements on the scope may blur out thermal image
$980 Shop NowClick to read my review

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Why You Should Invest in a Thermal Scope

A close-up shot of an American Soldier using a thermal scope.
A close-up shot of an American Soldier using a thermal scope.
(Image by New National Jersey Guard from CC Search)

With the existence of night vision goggles, you might ask: “Why do I need a thermal scope for my rifle?” Unlike the former, thermal scopes let you have a clear image of your target in all kinds of visibility. To prove this, here are three good reasons why getting a thermal scope is worth your time, energy, and money:

  • Meets your budget. Although there are some that can range up to almost $5,000, you can still find many that cost $3,000 or less. There are even a few that you could buy for less than $1,000. As such, it’s worth a shot buying yourself a superb thermal scope at a lower cost.
  • Doesn’t need an infrared (IR) Illuminator. Unlike night vision scopes, most thermal scopes already include an IR illumination feature. This enables your gadgets to have a clear picture of your targets even in total darkness. With your environment’s ambient light, you’re able to focus more on your prey and fire more accurate shots. Plus, you can access IR illumination using wireless technology. As long as your thermal scope has this function, you’ll have no problems taking a target down, even at night.
  • Increases shot accuracy. Thermal scopes also help you enhance the accuracy of your shots. The feature responsible for this is easy zeroing. With this, the number of times you need to adjust your rifle scope optics gets reduced. Also, this would help you lock your aim on your target and shoot precise bullets to paralyze it.

Where Can You Use a Cheap Thermal Scope?

A close-up image of two American soldiers aiming to shoot a game while using a cheap thermal scope.
A close-up image of two American soldiers aiming to shoot a game while using a cheap thermal scope.
(Image by The U.S. Army from CC Search)

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of thermal scopes, where can we use them best? The following details some scenarios where these scopes could come in handy:

  • Hunting. Thanks to its IR technology, we can make the best out of a thermal scope through hunting. With enough infrared radiation energy, this increases your night vision to sight targets. If night hunting is your thing, you can relate to the pain of trying to shoot a game in pitch black darkness. Using thermal energy, this separates your target from blending to its environment. Thus, you can focus, aim, and fire an accurate shot at your prey. As such, a thermal scope is ideal to use when hunting for fast-moving animals like coyotes and wild boars. For this, our hunter education study guide can give you extra tips for more victorious hunts.
  • Military operations. Not relevant to most of us, but thermal scopes also provide a huge help in tactical situations. Military soldiers often use these to help enhance their combat effectiveness. By detecting “invisible” objects, soldiers can avoid falling into enemy traps. Due to their long-standing history with the army, trying to buy a thermal scope in the past was a challenge. It used to cost a whopping $10,000 or more. Fortunately, they are a lot more accessible now.
  • Night patrolling. Since they have their biggest edge in the dark, thermal scopes help out a lot when doing night patrols. These let you spot not only your prey but also predators that could put you in potential danger. You can even spot intruders who try to harm or lunge at you when you’re out alone at night. With this in mind, you can react and act fast against any threat that you may encounter while doing night rounds.

What to Consider Before Buying a Thermal Scope

boar photographed up close using thermal scope
A boar was photographed up close on the right side using a cheap thermal scope with IR illumination.
(Image by Hogswat Through the Scope from Flickr)

With a lot of options, a superb thermal scope is never an easy find. To quickly and easily shorten your list consider these factors when buying a good thermal scope:

  • Price: Getting a thermal scope could seriously hurt your wallet. Like I’ve mentioned earlier, many of these scopes could cost $5,000 or more. They do get you a lot of extra bells and whistles, but stick to one that gives you a clear picture without too many fancy extras and you can get most of the benefits for a lot less.
  • Display resolution: Another thing that you should check out in a thermal scope is its display resolution. Also known as sensor resolution. A higher resolution lets you see clearer images of your targets. Most thermal scopes come with either 384×288 or 640×480 resolutions. The former works ok and is great to use for hunting prey at short distances. It is the most common resolution for entry-level thermal scopes. If you got the bucks or need a longer range scope for your hunting, then you need to put a little bit more cash on the table and go for the higher resolution.
  • Battery life: If you’re often out hunting or on tactical missions, it’s crucial to check your scope’s battery life. Most thermal scopes will last up to 8 hours or more thanks to using lithium-ion (Li-on) battery packs. With such time endurance, this is ideal to use for spending a whole night hunting for prey. But, this comes at a price, so if you’re the type that is out there for shorter periods consider cheaper scopes with a 3-5 hours battery life.
  • Weight: As with everything you stick on your gun, a lightweight thermal scope helps maintain your speed and balance when shooting. It affects accuracy and endurance as well, so take a look at the specs before you buy.
  • IR illumination capacity: Most thermal scopes have built-in IR illumination function. This uses infrared light to find targets easier during night hours. With this feature already included, you won’t have to spend extra bucks to get a separate IR illuminator. It is a very useful feature, and I would pay extra to get this.
  • Magnification: Besides resolution, a thermal scope should also have great magnification. Thermal scopes usually have decent magnification powers that could range up to 6x or more. But, not all, so again, take a look at those specs.
  • Reticles: To land more precise shots, a good thermal scope should have more reticle options in it, so you can get one that fits your style. Thermal scopes differ in how many reticle options they have, usually ranging from 2 to 10 choices.

4 Best Cheap Thermal Scopes in 2022

After a careful analysis, I’ve compiled four of this year’s top cheap thermal scopes. But before we proceed, here’s a summarized table of each scope’s main specs:

NameMagnificationDimensions (inches)Price
Armasight Zeus 3362.8x / 3.4x10.03 x 2.75 x 3.14$3,399
ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope1.25 - 5x6.85 x 3.16 x 3.14$1,622.74
Pulsar Core RXQ30V Thermal Riflescope1.6 - 6.4x7 x 2.5 x 2.4$1,899.97
Sector Optics T20 3-5.5x Thermal Imaging Scope3 - 5.5x2.75 x 1.8 x 1.5$980

1. Armasight Zeus 336

Besides the Predator 336, the Zeus 336 is another one of Armasight’s best equipment and it’s no surprise why. This scope boasts itself with its 50mm viewing lens that has a magnification power of 3x12x. Its wide zooming capability makes this scope an ideal accessory for long-distance shooting. With its Germanium-constructed lens, you’re guaranteed a sturdy and waterproof shooting experience.

For excellent image quality, the Zeus 336 also uses a premier FLIR camera. Even in total darkness or during night hunts, you’ll not lose sight of your target thanks to the FLIR camera it has. Not to mention, this thermal scope also comes with a 60Hz core. Many consider this feature as one of the speediest technologies in thermal scoping. As such, using this in catching fast-moving prey like gazelles becomes an easy feat. To see how this scope works, Ultimate Night Vision performs a field test on it to shoot star boars:

Compared to Predator 336, this thermal scope is a more expensive buy. At almost $4,000, you need to dish out an extra $1,000 to get it. Still, I’d say that the price is reasonable for this thermal scope. This is because the Zeus 336 includes many cool features that are absent in other devices. For instance, it gives you an optional recorder, optional replay, and output for video. Plus, its onboard shutter corrections don’t make sounds when you use them. Like Predator 336, it also offers six different reticle options. Since you can attach this to any Picatinny or Weaver rail, you can pair this up with different rifles. The Zeus 336 also comes with a single mounting point and a quick-detach lever. These two parts complete the scope’s entire package.

Pros
  • Provides a 3x-12x magnification power
  • Lens made of Germanium material
  • Includes a FLIR camera
  • Comes with a 60Hz core
  • Has an output for video, optional recorder, and optional replay
  • Silent onboard shutter corrections
  • Offers six different reticle options
  • Attaches to any Picatinny or Weaver rail
Cons
  • Most expensive choice
  • Clarity of image goes down at 100 yards and more

2. ATN ThOR HD 384 Smart Thermal Riflescope

ATN Corp is the home for many of its supreme thermal scopes sold in the market today. One of these, of course, is the ThOR HD 384. Despite its inexpensive price, it offers many high-quality functions. For instance, its 683-yard detection range lets you find a human-sized object from afar. Again, remember that this only detects a target and doesn’t identify it. As such, you need a 200 yards or less distance range to do so.

For its components, the ThOR HD 384 uses a quick-detach mount for fast and easy attachment. To add, it’s 19mm lens includes a 384×288 thermal sensor. This lets you detect targets in short distances at around 100 yards. When combined with its 1.25-5x magnification, you’ll get a clear and smooth image of your target. Other ThOR models can offer you a variety of magnification options like 2x-8x, 4.5x-18x, and 9x-36x. Moreover, this cheap thermal scope comes with a built-in ballistic calculator. This computes your bullet trajectories every time you fire a shot. The calculated data then helps you improve your shooting accuracy. To see this in action, the hunting demo video below shows you how it fares when tracking down hogs in the dark:

Also, this scope includes a gyroscope, compass, e-barometer, and GPS. Using all four of these features lets you zoom in on your prey and fire a precise shot. Plus, its range finder tells you how far the distance in between yourself and your target. In case you want to upload or share your video footage, you can use its built-in high-definition (HD) video recorder. Moreover, it also has an ATN Obsidian app that lets you stream your videos on YouTube.

If you only want to take pictures, you can turn on this scope’s recoil-activated video function. With this, your scope will have an automatic restore of what happened before, during, and after firing a shot. Though it includes a  4GB SD card, you can always upgrade this with a higher storage capacity of 64GB.

Pros
  • Has 683-yard detection range
  • Great for short-distance shooting
  • Includes a 384×288 thermal sensor
  • Offers many smart features like ballistic calculator
  • 1.25x-5x magnification
  • Comes with a recoil activated video (RAV) feature
Cons
  • Uses only non-rechargeable AAA batteries
  • Doesn’t perform as good as a $4,000 thermal scope model

3. Pulsar Core RXQ30V Thermal Riflescope

The Core RXQ30V by Pulsar is another top cheap thermal scope on our list. Although it lacks smart features, this scope still has many excellent functions. One of this scope’s trademarks is its ability to operate as both a thermal scope and monocular. If you don’t want to mount it on your rifle, you can hold it instead while finding targets. This is one of the few scopes that can do this. Hence, many hunters consider the Core RXQ30V as their favorite cheap thermal scope.

Let’s discuss the other cool features that this scope has. First, its ULIS 384×288 thermal Microbolometer sensor lets you scout prey from afar. For instance, you can still have a clear image of your target even from more than 985 yards away. This also comes with a high 50Hz refresh rate and has a wide magnification power of 1.6x-6.4x. Due to its high zooming ability, you can see your target through its 640×480 AMOLED screen. Like the Zeus 336, the RXQ30V is ideal to use for shooting prey found at long distances. For more information, here’s YouTuber HansETX’s full review on this cheap thermal scope:

Second, it’s 22mm lens also has an IPX7 rating, making it light and waterproof to use. Moreover, the scope also includes a picture-in-picture function. This lets you show an extra 2x magnified picture on the screen. As such, you can focus your aim more on your target. Like many scopes, the RXQ30V provides 10 reticle options to choose from. Since it uses 2 CR123 batteries, you can run this scope for up to 4 hours of continuous use.

Next, you can mount this scope on a double-attachment single-piece construction. Also, its quick-detach levers remove the need for screws and tooling. Even if it has no recording features, the scope still comes with wireless remote control. Thus, you can operate it without laying your hands on your riflescope.

Pros
  • Can function as both a thermal scope and a monocular
  • Detects targets up to 985 yards away
  • Has a wide magnification scope of 1.6x-6.4x
  • Has a ULIS 384×288 thermal Microbolometer sensor
  • Includes a picture-in-picture function
  • Lens are sturdy and waterproof
  • Offers 10 reticle options
  • Perfect for long-distance shooting
Cons
  • Lacks video recording capabilities
  • Battery life lasts up to only 4 hours

4. Sector Optics T20 3-5.5x Thermal Imaging Scope

The Sector Optics T20 is a cheap thermal scope that consists of aircraft-grade, anodized aluminum material. This gives the thermal scope its durability, protecting it from easy breakage. One of its best features is its automatic shutdown motion sensor. After 10 minutes of inactivity, the scope powers itself off to avoid battery drain when not in use. Besides its automatic power-off feature, this scope also has a shutter with an automatic nonuniformity correction (NUC). With this, there’s no need for you to make many adjustments when zooming on a target. Instead, the scope itself adjusts each pixel of your image, giving you a clearer view of your prey in the dark.

This scope has dimensions of 2.75×1.8×1.5 inches, dubbing it as one of the smallest thermal scopes found in today’s market. Since it weighs 4.69 ounces, you’ll have no problems carrying or mounting this scope on your rifle. Also, it comes with two 30mm Riflescope Rings which can fit Picatinny and Weaver rails. You can get this scope in its standard black color, giving it its polished and sturdy appearance.

Next, let’s talk about the scoping abilities that the Sector Optics T20 has. Despite its small and rugged design, this scope has a magnification power of 3x-5.5x. As such, you can use it to detect a target from short- to mid-range distances. Moreover, it provides you with several color displays that you can choose to view your prey. For instance, you can select white hot, black hot, and even NV green colors. For only $980, you can get yourself an affordable yet high-quality thermal scope for your gun.

Pros
  • Made of anodized aluminum material
  • Is scratch-free and durable
  • Affordable
  • Automatic power shutdown after 10 minutes if inactivity
  • Small and lightweight
  • Can fit any Picatinny and Weaver rail
  • Has a magnification power of 3x-5.5x
  • Includes various color display options
Cons
  • Little movements on the scope may blur out thermal image

Conclusion

For the best budget thermal scope, I recommend the Sector Optics T20. Its various color displays and 3x-5.5x magnification come at the price of only $980. But if you want a scope that has the most versatile magnification power, then the Core RXQ30V is your best shot. Which of these cheap thermal scopes do you want to buy next? Share your thoughts through our comments section below.

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