Thermal imaging optics have been a staple of special forces and operators for quite some time, and now the residual effect is quality thermal and night imaging now hitting the civilian market. Contrary to alarmist claims, there are legitimate applications for thermal imagery in the private sporting market. Optics heavyweight Leupold has answered the call with the LTO Tracker, a 1-6 power thermal imaging monocular.
Is It Worth Your Money?
Since we are all tied to that thing called money, and a lot of us are not working with huge surpluses of it, the stuff we buy had better be worth what we are shelling out. Before delving into whether it is worth the money or not, an important distinction must first be made: what makes it different or better than night vision.
I remember going through the night vision basic course a number of years ago when I was still in the U.S. Air Force, where we used the AN/PVS-7 monocular. While it indeed is remarkable technology and opens a lot of doorways. Night vision lacks depth, essentially giving the illusion of two dimensions. This effect presents some difficulties to hunters and shooters, which is necessarily why the military moved towards thermal optics for their operators. Also, thermal imaging is not limited to darkness.
The price point on this product is very reasonable for a product from a legitimate industry leader. Competing offerings are twice the cost, and thermal imaging is an excellent tool for locating and identifying game in wide open spaces, or through dense foliage. If this is your passion and you take it seriously, then a thermal imaging optic is worth the money. For my personal preference, I am considering one as a defensive posturing tool because there is an awful lot of space on the 20-acre homestead that I just cannot observe with the naked eye and landscape lighting.
Scope Review and Breakdown
This unit is absolutely not to be used on a firearm, and it will void the warranty. That being said, it is a solid little monocular which provides a lot of capability into a really small package. It has adjustable power settings from 1x – 6x. The cool thing is that it has two zoom settings: it is equipped with smooth zoom, and also has incremental zoom which stairsteps up from 1x to 6x.
It is rated out to 600 yards, although reviews indicate that this distance is not very realistic. The magnification is not so much an actual zoom magnification but is instead a magnification of the resolution on the screen.
The display resolution is 240×204, which is apparently not going to win any awards but that is hardly the point of this device. For tracking a blood trail through thick undergrowth in the Appalachians, or picking up blood trail from an antelope in western Kansas in those vast open landscapes (it does have a unique beauty).
- Field of view (FOV) is 21.0
- Detection distance is 600 yards, although most reviews suggest a useable range of 100- to 200 yards.
- Temperature range is rated from -4℉-140℉, so most sportsman should be able to utilize the LTO (sorry North Dakota, you guys may be out of the running for this one). In all seriousness, the bottom end of the temperature range does pose some concern for the sportsman in the vast northern territories.
- Six separate color pallets for the monocular.
Ease of Use and Reliability
It is pretty straight-forward in operation. It runs the ubiquitous CR123 battery, which we all probably have a surplus of lying around, rated for 10 hours of continuous use. While there are a lot of comments floating around about the realistic range of the unit, battery life was never mentioned, so it is likely accurate.
One of its coolest features is the choices of color palettes, of which six are provided (page 34). The standard colors are a black highlight, black hot, white highlight, white hot, red, and green, each one suited for different environments.
Operation of this product is effortless. You have the power switch, zoom plus and minus, and toggle for color palettes. The user can also double-tap power button to switch a standard crosshair on or off.
The advertised battery life is 10 hours, give or take, using the ever-common CR123. The unit powers down automatically after 15 minutes of inactivity, saving you some scratch when you forget to power down in the heat of the moment (red dot owners unite; we have all burned through CR2032s after a range session).
- I think that the best application of this unit is in detecting larger game in the bush, and tracking blood trails.
- It is a very compact unit which seems to have an awful lot to offer if the end user understands its limitations and uses it within the parameters of the unit.
- The most common negative comments which I found were regarding the realistic usable range versus the advertised range. Customers continue to say that 100-200 yards is the most you can expect to get out of it.
- This is not a weapon sight! Strangely enough, though, it is equipped with reticles even though Leupold very clearly states that it is not to be mounted to a firearm.
- The best you can expect to get out of this unit is as an aid. Picture clarity is a common complaint, which is not surprising with a resolution of 240x204.
- A number of users complained that it struggled to pick up even large animals in the open, although other users stated the opposite. The truth probably lies somewhere in between and depends a lot on the user.
Perhaps the most appealing detail is the price point, which is surprising considering it wears the Leupold crest. Leupold is not often synonymous with ‘value priced’, so it comes as a surprise to see the LTO resting considerably lower in price than much of it’s competition.
Retailing for a little below $1,000 with actual retail prices generally falling under $700 make this a fairly reasonable value for commercial thermal or night imaging.
Who is this scope for?
Type of shooter
Ideally, it is a solution for all kinds of athletes. I have a hard time figuring out a niche in the shooting market which would not reap the rewards from a thermal imaging device. Think about it: hunters will use it to locate live game and track wounded game. Landowners will love the ability to find feral swine, coyotes, and just about any other vermin or predators for eradication. For home security, it offers the ability to scan a room, tree lines, etc. In short, it is for anybody and everybody.
Type of gun
Since this product is not to be attached to a firearm at risk of voiding the warranty, so it is ideally suited for any and all guns, or archery for that matter.
It is time for me to opine on this model. I am strangely kind of un-opinionated on this product. As a landowner, it does pique my interest to some extent, but honestly, if I had around $700 in discretionary spending to throw at a rifle optic, I think I would throw it at the Leupold Carbine Optic instead. It just seems to be too limited in terms of range, and the reviews are mixed regarding how well it picks up heat signatures.
Now, if I were a hunter, my tune would be a lot different. I can certainly see where this product would be immensely valuable in not losing game. The verdict seems conclusive that it is well-suited for short distance work like following blood trails and finding recently killed game.
Other options worth looking at
The first that comes to mind is the FLIR Scout TK. The reviews are great, the price point is even a little lower (sub-$600), but there is a downside: the battery is integral and not easily acquired, or priced. You can go to Lowes and pick up a whole slab of CR123s to feed this product for not a whole lot.
If you want to go with night vision which is intended to be mounted to a rifle, the American Technologies Network (ATN) X-SIGHT II may be a viable option. For a price-point of less than the tracker, the X-SIGHT II is impressive. It has too much to list here, to be honest. You do not get the thermal imaging component, but the rest of the scope more than makes up for it.