Polaris thermal scope turns up the heat
As someone comparatively new to shooting, one of the major challenges I have is evaluating gear as every manufacturer claims their product is amazing in both quality and price to the point you’d be foolish not to but at least one of their items. And when it comes to optics, technology is moving so fast it’s tough not just to keep up but to work out what’s worth the hype and what’s a modest improvement. If you have a large budget then buying only to shelve or resell might be an option though I suspect most shooters have limited funds but big dreams.
So when Australian Shooter asked if I was interested in reviewing some thermal scopes I certainly was and when instructed to be totally honest in my evaluation I was thrilled, as I’ve no interest in writing virtual advertisements. The items in question came from Cono-Tech, a Queensland firm which specialises in thermal optics and they provided four scopes which allowed me to compare the significant features of their Polaris range.
Each comes well packaged in a black hard case with custom foam, instructions, four batteries and a charger. Out of the box and without even using the rubber eye relief (of which there are two) the scopes were amazingly clear and powerful. I could pick out Angus cattle distinctly at 700m and not just see them but patently make out features such as eyes are ears and with the digital zoom, identifying a 2” plate at 500m was a breeze.
I showed the scopes to an ADF Afghanistan veteran who was impressed and said that while the Polaris don’t compare to military-issue gear, they are indeed amazing. In fact my research into thermal scopes showed Polaris aren’t even top-of-the-line civilian scopes, yet they’re so good I don’t see why you’d want to buy a more expensive model. In terms of system the Polaris scopes screw on to a supplied Picatinny rail (which could be adapted for a weaver rail) with quick release cams. I was puzzled as to why I’d need to quickly swap a thermal scope until I realised this is a great safety feature, specifically allowing the shooter to scan an area without pointing a firearm at anything not ‘shootable’.
Having a thermal monocular and thermal scope would be ideal but the quick release means these scopes can do double duty, a significant cost saver. Additionally, a single Polaris can be given multiple zeros so it could be easily moved between different rifles. Indeed they held the zero between being taken on and off and the rail and cam system proved rock solid, even when firing magnum calibres.
The Polaris with built-in rangefinders can be zeroed at three or more distances and you then use this data to automatically adjust point of aim depending on the rangefinder reading, a great feature which significantly improves accuracy. Indeed the electronics overall are spectacular and include a variety of colours, the ability to record video (not audio) and download footage as well as the previously mentioned electronic zoom.
Two batteries are mounted in a rear compartment accessed by a thumb screw lock, again easy to open even wearing gloves, yet battery life is so good I doubt changing them in the field would be a regular task. More importantly the controls are a simple joystick on the left and again this was easy to operate with gloves on. I even used the controls wearing heavy welding gloves without any problems so even in cooler weather the scope functions beautifully.
Having been so fulsome in my praise it’s worth mentioning the three weaknesses I found in these Polaris scopes. Firstly the Picatinny rails are aluminum which does reduce weight (the scopes themselves aren’t heavy) but means over time and being taken on and off, they’ll wear faster than steel. Secondly, I found some of the screws which attach the scope to the rail were slightly rusted despite being painted though they were from a previously tested unit. Rust suggests the screws are high carbon steel which is prone to such corrosion and in conjunction with the aluminum rails there’s real potential for galvanic decay. But rust is an issue for most firearms and the answer is to dry them if they get wet, then opt for dry storage after wiping down with WD-40 or similar.
The third and final minus was lens caps on three of the scopes were hinged and unlike the rest of the unit looked breakable. The 650RL had a rubber cover which I much preferred but hard cases mean the only time a lens cover could break would be in the field, perhaps moving in heavy cover or if dropped. So with care this weakness is not profound, I just wish the designers had gone with rubber covers for all scopes.
Overall I’ve no hesitation in highly endorsing the Polaris thermal scope range and as I had the privilege of testing four different models, I can make some comparisons. If your budget can stretch I highly recommend a 50mm lens/640-pixel unit with integrated rangefinder (650RL) which also features my preferred rubber lens cap. If buying on price alone the value for money option is the 50mm/384-pixel unit without rangefinder (350R not tested), though seriously consider saving up for the 350RL as a rangefinder is significant and an integrated one means you don’t have another piece of gear to manage. If I could have either a 35mm lens with rangefinder or 50mm without, I’d go for the 50mm without rangefinder (350RL or 650RL).
Before making any purchase I’d take time to enjoy Cono-Tech’s YouTube channel and even if you’re not planning to invest in a thermal scope, I advise having a look at their videos. My final suggestion is to not simply order online but call the team at Cono-Tech as I found them incredibly knowledgeable, wonderfully helpful and their range is significantly bigger than just the four options mentioned here.
|335R||35mm||No||$3499||Best value thermal scope in the review.|
|350RL||50mm||Yes||$4349||Great scope with rangefinder, well worth the additional money.|
|635R||35mm||No||$4999||Great field of view but no rangefinder.|
|650RL||50mm||Yes||$6099||Best thermal scope in the review.|