THERMAL SCOPE SIDE BY SIDE COMPARISON.

Discussion in 'Night Vision/Thermal' started by TEXASLAWMAN, Jul 22, 2014.

  1. TEXASLAWMAN

    TEXASLAWMAN Lone Star Boars Owner LSB TURKEY BUZZARD PRESERVATION SOCIETY SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    Current info on the thermal scopes can be found at this link below.
    News

    A couple months back I started requesting thermal scopes from all the commercially available scope manufactures for a side by side comparison. My goal in this test was to provide the hunter/shooter with a unbiased review/comparison of these scopes side by side at the same time, with the same targets and weather conditions. We picked July because it would test the scopes in some of the worst conditions for thermals (the Texas heat). Not only did we get the heat but we were blessed with unusually high humidity also. I have been hunting with thermal for about two years now and this weekend was the absolute worst I have seen my thermals perform ever. This is a bonus in my opinion because almost anytime you look through one of these scopes it will look substantially better.

    I did my utmost to make this review the most unbiased possible by picking three reviewers with no know connections to the companies providing the test scopes. All three of the reviewers are hunters and shooters with varying degrees of thermal experience. One reviewer has a high level of experience with thermals in military and hunting situations his background is U.S.M.C., Retired FBI, and multiple overseas tours as a military contractor. Another reviewer has moderate thermal experience having used several current civilian thermals in hunting situations. The last reviewer has little to no thermal experience this was his first encounter with all the scopes, his background is U.S.M.C., and a retired Range Master for a large metro Sheriff's Office. I hope the combination of these three will cover a large portion of people interested in thermals for hunting and shooting.

    The scopes tested were:

    1. Zeus 160 resolution 75mm lens 7x optical magnification.
    2. Zeus 336 resolution 42mm lens 5x magnification.
    3. Zeus 336 resolution 75mm lens 3x magnification.
    4. Zeus 640 resolution 75mm lens 3x magnification.
    5. Apollo 640 resolution 42mm lens 1x magnification (clip on)
    6. W1000-9 320 resolution 100mm lens 3x magnification
    7. LWTS 640 resolution 1x magnification (clip on)
    8. FLIR RS32 320 resolution 19mm lens 1.25x magnification (It was supposed to be the larger lens wrong unit shipped)
    9. Thor 240 resolution 19mm lens 1x magnification (It was supposed to be the larger lens wrong unit shipped)

    We were told it would be six months before we could test the IR hunter.

    Ident Markings and Combat Night Solutions provided the equipment and both sent reps to help the reviewers with the scope functions. THANK YOU FOR THE HELP AND MAKING THIS POSSIBLE!

    Please watch the video test in 1080 resolution where possible for best results.



    A few pic's
    The humidity at the start it only climbed.
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    Apollo weapon mounted in front of acog.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
  2. Brian Shaffer

    Brian Shaffer Pro Staff Third Coast Thermal SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    My review will undoubtedly be the most long winded. I feel this is necessary to explain certain features and considerations. I have tried to keep the observations and details as accurate as is possible while still compiling this information very quickly. I have supplemented information from online sources regarding some of the specifications and from information provided by vendors or from people who have used particular scopes personally (including my own observations from outside of this review).

    Scopes were provided by vendors. Scopes not provided could not be reviewed. So the fact that the FLIR and ATN samples are small and are not of their higher end scopes is a function of what was supplied and not because these specific scopes were requested for this review. It is nice that they were offered for review, but it is hard for these two lower-end scopes to compare well with the other rifle scopes being considered. So for comparative value, the FLIR and ATN do not compare well with the Armasight Zeus models, but do compare well against one another.

    There is some confusion in descriptions of scopes that are in how they are written about and what is shown on display screens. The thermal scopes reviewed here have a fixed optical magnification of a certain amount. NONE of the thermal scopes tested here (or that I have ever seen) have a variable optical magnification. They may be listed as a 3x-12x scope. What that means is that they have an optical magnification of 3x, but that digitally, the image may be blown up in the view finder/diopter to simulate being at a higher magnification. What is actually happening is that you are basically getting a magnified view of a certain area of the display and NOT actual optical magnification. This means that the image pixelates. What that means is that the image is comprised of a set of pixels or tiny dots that comprise the image.

    When you double the digital zoom, you basically see just half of the pixels at double their normal size. That is pixelation. The more you zoom in digitally, the more the image will pixelate and the less useful the image will become, though a small portion of the image will be larger.

    To confound matters even further, the displays of various scopes will show “2x” or “4x” or some other number with an “x” behind it. That is the times (of) magnification. So if you have a 3x (optical) thermal scope and you press the zoom button and see a “2x” in the display, you have multiplied your optical power by 2 to get a simulated 6x zoomed image. If you push the button again, there is a “4x” displayed in the scope and you get a simulated 12x zoomed image. I wanted to explain this here because if you are not familiar with thermal scopes, this gets confusing when numbers with an “x” behind them get thrown about.

    So when you digitally zoom scopes, you get a simulated level of magnification. If this doesn't make sense, you can do this test with your computer screen. Hold a 10x magnifying glass up to a picture displayed on your computer screen. Does the scenery of the picture get 10 times closer with optical clarity like looking through good 10x binoculars, or do the pixels all just get bigger? The pixels just get bigger. That is your simulated optical zoom. It is nothing like actual optical magnification, at least not with the level of technology being considered for civilian thermal scopes. This is because these are actually fairly low resolution images from video. If this images were high resolution like current production digital still camera, digital zoom would be much more helpful, but that just isn't the case.

    I believe all of the weapon units were rated to .308 caliber and each had a sufficient number of different reticles that a given hunter should be able to find a least one that will suit given hunting needs.

    It should also be pointed out that in my reviews of scopes, I tend to focus two areas, features that stand out on products and shortcomings I perceive. Examining shortcomings sounds very negative and maybe it is, but then again, the consumer already has the manufacturer and sellers already telling you why you should buy their products, but they virtually universally fail to point out problem areas, like gun or automotive reviews in their respective magazines. Every gun or truck you see reviewed there is fabulous, right. That is not what you are getting here.

    When you buy a product, it comes with both the good and the bad. You already know why you want a product or set of products because of given attributes or features. The other part of the buying decision comes down to knowing why you may not want to buy particular products. So my reviews are not written to try to sell you a product, but to help weed out those that you may not want to buy.

    If you can find magazine reviews of any of these brands/products, or if you look at online reviews, you will find that each has a fairly notable following. There are people who are genuinely happy with all of the brands and products and depending on your needs, you may be able to be as well.

    The basic method of the review process was that all of the units were given to reviewers for handling and sighting in both daylight (evening) and night time viewing. Reviewers were able to get a short exposure to learning the operation of the units and then using them to view targets in surrounding fields comprising other people, trees, grass, cattle, gas wells, and vehicles. For a control, one participant was put on an ATV and run out to fixed distances out to 600 yards for examination. This was done because of the distance, the high grass (up to waist high), and terrain that did not lend itself to being walked. The temperatures during the course of testing was in the 70s with the humidity at 78% at the start of testing.

    I have listed approximate normal retail prices from online sources current as of 7/22/2014

    FLIR RS32 19mm 1.25x (up to 5x digital zoom), 320x240 core ~$4000

    Image was about like PS32, functional for 1.25x but not impressive. I see this an an entry level scope for people who don't expect to shoot over 100 yards. You might be able to shoot further with it, but at 1.25x folks aren't going to be very good (in general) beyond that far. Most aren't that good with irons or red dots, but for the most part, when you see most hunters shooting at distances over 100 yards, they make use of optical advantage via magnified scopes. So if you are a hunter out for hogs at night and think you will be shooting over 100 yards with some regularity, this is not the level of scope you are going to want. If you are shooting smaller game at such distance, then this is the level of scope you definitely don't want. If you are doing short range stuff around the house, barnyard, immediate area surrounding them, in dense woods, etc., then this level of scope is going to be very beneficial.

    However, magnification wasn't the real detraction with the scope. FLIR scopes requested for this specific comparison testing and this example was sent. The first thing I checked was the zoom feature to see how much the image degrades under zoom. It degraded as expected.

    The real problem with this scope was that it could not be used at all for shooting when the digital zoom was engaged. Why? Because the scope suffered from point of point of aim (POA) reticle shift which will result in a perceived point of impact (POI) shift. Elsewhere, this problem has been called “POI shift” and while descriptive, not completely accurate. In this case what happened is this. With the scope held steady with the crosshairs on target at a given spot, engaging the digital zoom reduces the field of view (FOV) by zooming in on a particular section of the image. Ideally, the zoom is tied to the crosshairs such that when you zoom in, the crosshairs remain in the exact same location relative to the view shown. In other words, you should see a magnified image and the crosshairs remain in the same place on the image. This is NOT what happens with this unit. Instead, the crosshairs were now pointing at a different location.

    In our test, the crosshairs were pointed at a specific spot on a tree that was under 100 yards distant. When the zoom was engaged, the crosshairs were then pointed at a spot more than two feet distant in elevation and windage. This is the POA shift as the actual scope has not changed position. If you were to bring the crosshairs back to the original aim point and attempt to shoot the target while zoomed, your POI would be off by more than two feet in elevation and windage (perceived POI shift). This is a firmware issue that has plagued other companies as well. I don't know if FLIR has a firmware update for this scope to correct the problem or not. They probably do, but obtained this scope for testing and took it into the field where upon it would not function properly for us. That is the bottom line. It may be fixable, but we could not do it at the time and quite frankly, don't believe that fixing the scope is what should have to be done when obtaining one.

    As a side note, Delta4-3 mounted the FLIR RS to a rail on his shooting bench (read very solid) and checked the POI shift while zooming. It is between 25 and 26 MOA, according to his 1" grid squares.

    Other considerations –

    The buttons and menu options were fairly easy to use and familiarity gained with cycling through the options without much problem. The buttons on the FLIR were easier to use than on the ATN and Armasight models that I believe to be recessed too far.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2014
  3. Brian Shaffer

    Brian Shaffer Pro Staff Third Coast Thermal SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    This FLIR was one of their fixed focus units which means there was no objective focus. Based on my use of this scope, my FLIR PS32 monocular, and testing of another fixed focus scope previously, the fixed focus concept is a mixed bag. What it means is that at long or short range (and what is long range is relative to the magnification and resolution), the image quality is such that you are going to be able to make out what is there fairly well, but the image isn't going to be sharp at any distance. You don't have to make an adjustments to see your target, but you can't make any actual focus adjustments to see your target better.

    One other feature about the FLIR that is good is that it auto NUCs the image. That means that the image is automatically recalibrated as needed by the scope. The down side to this process is that it happens as necessary and not necessarily when desired by the user. After the unit has warmed up, this happens infrequently, every few minutes, and disrupts (freezes) the image for a fraction of a second.

    The FLIR runs on an internal rechargeable lithium ion battery that cannot be removed by the user. I do not find this to be a problem, though many users do. I don't find this to be a problem because my rifle scope is not what I have turned on during most of my hunts, but I use another optic for the majority of time. If you don't have the benefit of the second optic and need to have the scope on continually during the hunt (for example, you are involved in a spot and stalk hunt), then you are most definite limited by the battery life. You can run the unit via an external power supply (not included with original unit), but that involves having wire run into the scope.

    ATN THOR-240, 240x180 1x optical with up to 4x digital zoom ~$3500

    As with the THOR, this is a short range thermal scope. You can see further than short range, but for hunting purposes, this is not an ideal scope for use beyond 100 yards. The lower optical resolution makes recognition and identification of specific targets more difficult. However, given the lower resolution and idea that this is a short range scope, it is compact and the image is nice for what it has to offer. The crosshairs and display are easy to see.

    The housing is rock solid aluminum construction, actually fairly heavy for the tiny size, but give the user a sense of solid construction.

    I know folks are big fans of ATN scopes and I am not one of them. I do recognize the fact that there are some outstanding videos produced by THOR rifle scopes. A good friend of mine loves his THOR and will likely disagree with much of the following.

    With the test scope and a previously THOR I had for a couple of days, I found the buttons were recessed too far in the unit, making them difficult to press sufficiently to activate. That the buttons are recessed is a good thing because it keeps them from being inadvertently depressed, but I think the combination of how far they are recessed and the depth to which they need to be pressed is just too much. So for a person with large man hands or a person with smaller hands wearing gloves, these buttons are not going to be very easy to use.

    The THOR does not auto-NUC. That means that when the sensor starts to get overwhelmed and the image degrades, the user has to manually press buttons to cause the unit to NUC and this must be done with the lens covered. This is a significant downside in my opinion. To compound matters, the directions provided with the scope stated that to NUC the unit, you have to press the MENU button from the correct display screen and then MENU again, and then the DOWN arrow. The directions were WRONG. Instead of the DOWN arrow, it is the RIGHT arrow.

    Undoubtedly, all of the zero functions, reticle selections, and color palates options can be learned with experience, but I did not find the menu operation to be intuitive. The same goes for the shortcuts. You need to be a little smarter to use this product than the FLIR.

    Other Considerations -

    Startup is just a few seconds – quick.

    The ATN THOR runs on 3 CR123a batteries. I believe it can run on less than 3 but will not run as long. On the unit we received, the threading on the battery compartment was full of filings from the cutting of the threads or milling of the battery compartment which meant that screwing down the battery door felt like twisting through sandpaper. Even after being wiped out, the damage remained with a very gritty feel. The product should not have been assembled with the filings still in the threads.

    No video cable was provided and so we have no video for this unit.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2014
  4. Brian Shaffer

    Brian Shaffer Pro Staff Third Coast Thermal SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    Armasight Zeus Models

    We had several models of Zeus. Pretty much they were all the exact same basic format except for differences in core resolution and optical magnification. The controls/options on each unit were the same, so the benefits of one extend to all as do the shortcomings outside of the core and optics.

    The Zeus models all have recessed buttons, but not as bad at the THOR. The menu options are still a bit cumbersome to go through, but easier than on the THOR. Aside from the manual NUC, I had trouble keeping straight what the shortcut button presses were for some options and more than once ended up in one of the the 1960s psychedelic color palates unintentionally and I found the easiest way to get back to white or black hot was simply to use the MENU system. As with the THOR, these shortcuts can be learned and likely are not difficult to learn, but I did not find them intuitive and in the short time that we had the scopes and testing different types of scopes, I did not manage to learn the shortcuts.

    The MENU system is pretty easy to use because it lets you scroll through selections that involve words, not just symbols. So if I was mistakenly in the wrong color palate, I would select MENU, scroll down to PALATE and select it, then scroll to the color palate I wanted to use and select it, then exit the system by backtracking. It is a bit cumbersome to do, but everything is textually labeled.

    The problem I had with the MENU system as with an older version of the Zeus I tested previously was that there is a very slight delay from when you press a button and an action takes place. So if I needed to scroll down several selections and kept pressing the button until the highlight bar got to my selection, chances are the highlight bar would scroll by my intended selection by 1 or 2 choices. This was because I was over pushing the button because the delay in response made me think that I had not pressed the button sufficiently deep, which also sometimes did happen as well.

    There is a feature on the Zeus scopes that is probably not necessary, but I thought I would give it a try. You can have the scope tell you the temperature of items (no idea how much range the thermometer has or its accuracy) by placing the crosshairs on it. This was cool, but like the psychedelic color palates, not necessary for hunting. The problem I had with this feature is that while it was listed on the menus of all the Zeus scopes, it was not present in most of the scopes. In other words, you could make the selection, but the thermometer would not appear. Obviously, this is a firmware issue, but whether it is because of a glitch, discontinuation, or whatever, I was disappointed to see a menu selection for the item and then not have the item be present.

    The one color palate other than the typical black or white choices I have noted above that I did like and was found in the Zeus was Sepia. This was basically a white hot color palate with a more tan background that was somewhat easier on the eyes in my opinion.

    I found the Zeus models to have good thermal sensitivity, or appeared to do so, certainly more so than the FLIR unit noted above, where more subtle differences in temperature brought out more detail in what was being seen.

    The on/off switch is on the top of the Zeus and it easy to use. Startup is quick, just a few seconds. It also has a standby mode that can be used with a wireless remote. I tested this with only one unit. The remote can be fitted on to another rail on the rifle, such as on the handguard, and the unit will come on instantly when the remote is pushed and go off as quick. I have no idea how this will affect overall battery longevity.

    Speaking of batteries, the Zeus runs on 2 CR123a batteries that can apparently go in in either direction (not polarity sensitive) according to Delta4-3 who was the vendor who brought the Zeus scopes. According to Armasight, battery life is up to about 4 hours. Battery changes are fairly easy with a screw-type side cap similar to the ATN THOR. The Zeus can also be powered from an external battery as well (not included).

    No attempt was made at evaluating the hunting scenario algorithms that are supposed to optimize performance for things like hogs.

    Overall, I thought the Zeus was a solidly built optic, fairly compact in size, and works quite well.

    Observations about specific units tested....

    Zeus 160 75mm 7x 60 hz ~$4500

    This scope was a bit of a surprise. It was the least expensive Zeus scope. When doing our distance sighting of our target, seeing the target (detection) at 600 yards wasn't a problem and the image was probably about as good as the Zeus 330 75mm 5x. The real difference in these scopes showed up at closer ranges where the detail of the target was an issue. Watching a human target at 200 yards wasn't a problem, but the lack of detail was disconcerting. At 7x, you have a fairly narrow field of view and the 160 resolution lacks detail, but long range detection is very good.

    Zeus 336 42mm 3x 60 hz ~$5000
    Nice scope. 3X is a good general magnification, but not with the clarity of the 5x version for target identification. I previously hunted with an 30 hz earlier version of this scope and found it to be very good inside about 250 yards. It does have a wide field of view but enough optical magnification to make shooting shooting hogs or coons at typical night hunting distances (inside 200 yards) to be quite reasonable.

    Zeus 336 75mm 5x 60 hz ~$6800

    If you want more magnification and good resolution, then this is a nice scope. At 5x, the FOV at 50 yards arguably small, but the detail is very good. Maybe too much power for spot and stalk and making 20 yard shots. It may be too much power for trying to track running targets inside of 50 yards. It would be nice if this unit had a step down or demagnification, such has a .5x, but it doesn't. I think this is probably a very good hog scope for hunters usually taking hogs between 50 and 300 yards.


    Zeus 640 3x 75mm 30 hz ~$8600


    This is a very nice scope in terms of performance. While we did not zero this scope and put it on a rifle, I shared this scope during one evening of hunting to use it as a spotting scope. It is a little big for a spotting scope, but we were testing it for visual performance, not as a spotting scope. It performed VERY WELL. At 3x, you had a wide FOV, but you could double the magnification to a simulated 6x that would be comparable to a 6x 320 resolution scope (akin to the 5x 336 scope noted above) and still see very well with enlarged targets, not much noticeable pixelation (no more noticeably so than the 336 core). This is the most expensive of the Zeus scopes tested here, but the most versatile.
     
  5. Brian Shaffer

    Brian Shaffer Pro Staff Third Coast Thermal SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    W1000 320x240, 3x (optical) (no digital zoom), 100mm ~$5500

    This is the biggest, heaviest, oldest design scope of the group. It comes in at 3.7 lbs with batteries, nearly double that of the heaviest of the other rifle scopes considered here that came in at just 2 lbs. This scope was designed for the military which in this case means it has certain characteristics. First, this scope is tough. With the exception of lens (a weak point or all large optics scopes, daylight, NV, or thermal), this scope is more apt to hold up to the beating by less careful modern day Neanderthal hunters.

    Second, the controls on this unit are such that you don't have to be a macrocephalic braniac to run the unit. In fact, the overview for operation of this unit took hdfireman about a minute to complete and that covered all of the salient operational features and at that point, everyone equally understood how to work it. There are not a lot of options to change on this unit, but they are all options that a hog hunter would find useful. Missing (as compared to the ATNs, FLIRs, Armasights, etc.) are the psychedelic 60's color palates that you virtually never see anybody (see Youtube vids for thermal hunting) using and that is because they are mostly NOT useful or only useful in a limited amount of situations. Basically, you have your power/brightness control, contrast, objective focus, diopter focus, white/black hot, reticle selector, lens cover, battery compartment, and video out port.

    Third, aside from the limited number of control options, one of the biggest pluses to the operation of the W1000 is its mostly large, easy-to-use controls. Even the guy with the biggest, meatiest, man hands can operate any of the common controls and the controls most apt and most often to be used controls (Power/brightness, contrast, and objective focus) can easily by used by a person in mittens.

    There are multiple considerations concerning the display of the unit. The 320x240 resolution with the benefit of the electronics and giant 100mm lens means you get good long range performance from this unit at longer distances. There is a green filter inside the diopter that gives the view a greenish cast that is like looking through traditional NV, but this is only a cosmetic feature. The two shortcomings to the display through the scope are that it has a fairly short eye relief (less than 2” but did not actually measure it) and the view becomes immediately fish-eyed around the edges if you back away from that distance, becoming more pronounced the further you move back.

    Other considerations …..
    Changing batteries is not difficult. It is set up to run on 6 9v batteries, but will run one only one (for a short while), According to Texas Lawman, you can get 5-6 hours on alkaline batteries, 7-8 on rechargeables, and about 10 on lithium ion batteries. You can buy the military battery and find a surplus charger for it (combined being around another $500 according to hdfireman), but you will be able to get upwards of 14 hours of operation under good environmental conditions. According to Texas Lawman, 5-6 hours on alkaline batteries, 7-8 on rechargeables, and about 10 on lithium ion batteries.

    There is a long boot-up time, given as less than 1 minute. That is several times longer than the other scopes here. If time may be critical, this is a scope that you may want to have up and running during the course of your hunt and not a scope you want to be trying to run battery management by turning off when not in use.

    This scope does auto-NUC, and does so continuously via a process I don't understand, but results in there being no freeze-frame image disruption as found in other auto-NUC scopes.

    Rifle Scope Summary Observations and Considerations

    Any of the 320 or 336 resolution scopes with 3x or more opitical magnification reviewed here should work fine for hog hunting within typical night hunting distances inside of 200 yards and truth be known, the lower end scopes would work fine for hogs inside of 100 yards just fine as well. If you can afford the 640 resolution version, so much the better. Obviously, if you are wanting to shoot smaller game with thermal, better magnification and resolution are beneficial. Each potential owner has to balance cost with performance with specific situational needs.

    Something else to keep in mind that amongst all the electronic features (which I do not pretend to understand fully), scope performance is going to be significantly impacted by lens size (as with typical optical cameras). You should get better visual performance from a larger lens than from a smaller lens, higher resolution rather than lower. As for refresh rates, 30 hz is a quicker rate than the human eye typically sees, but 60hz is better, though it will consume more power.

    While I have harped on the controls, both size and difficulty of use, with the exception of manual NUCing needed for the ATN, after hunters go through the process of getting their scopes on rifles, zeroed, etc., normal day-to-day operation usually will not involve requiring the use of the controls very much or often outside of very basic functions. Hunters typically settle on a given reticle that they like, color palate, level of zoom (if any), and are ready to go. They do not spend a lot of time continually making adjustments, nor should they need to do so, with the one exception being the objective focus (for the scopes that have objective focus). Of course, some will want to play with all the features, and that is fine, but for a typical hunt, once you have settled on a given setup that you like, you won't need to make a lot of adjustments.

    As a final consideration, I am a little disappointed by the whole of the FLIR, ATN, and Armasight units represented because of issues of consistency. The FLIR should not have left the factory with the reticle shift issue. The ATN should not have had metal filings in the threading of the battery compartment and the instructions that came with the unit should have been correct. The Armasight listed a thermometer feature in its menu system that was not present on each of the units despite being in their menus. The bottom line here is that the final check of quality control really comes with the consumer and if you decide to buy any expensive type of product (not just thermal scopes), you should verify that all of the features are present and work as advertised.

    Monoculars....

    All four of the monoculars examined would be useful for spotting scopes for hog or varmint hunting as I use spotting scopes which is for the process of locating potential targets at longer distances, and maybe recognizing them at moderate ranges inside of 200 yards or identifying them inside of 100 yards. All four had problems with the humidity and the rider on the ATV all but disappeared from view by the time he reached 600 yards in all units, though the Pulsar performed slightly better with its 2.1x optical magnification and the FLIR and X320 both lost the rider at 600 yards at various points in the testing. From my experience with the FLIR and as its owner, and in talking with participants familiar with the X320 and MTM, under better conditions, spotting the rider at that distance, standing up on the ATV, should not have been a problem, but it certainly was during our tests.

    So this section of the review really isn't about stressing negatives. Each of the 4 spotting scopes is sufficiently different to appeal to different niche markets and each are sufficient for hunting. None had what I would consider to be fatal flaws (though others may differ with this opinion), just different attributes and price points.

    L-3 Insight MTM 320 320x240 19mm 1x 60 hz ~$12,000

    This is a great little thermal monocular, crazy expensive at something like $12K. However, it is very small, has a great display, does video-out. Boot-up is about 5 seconds and as I understood it, involves use of the menu selection to get started. NUC is not automatic and may be needed on startup. Among participants who were familiar with this unit, it was noted that service, if needed, can be problematic. This unit runs on 2 CR123a batteries and can get about 3-4 hours of run time from them. If money was no option, this is the unit I would definitely buy.

    Eotech X320 1x (optical) to 4x digital, 30 hz ~$3400

    This is a fairly small, lightweight monocular as well that runs on 2 AA batteries (lithium preferred, 3-4 hours run time). The image is fairly small and the boot time is about 6 seconds. It does have auto NUC, has a limited selection of color palates, can tell temperature, and has a lanyard attachment. This seems to be a ruggedly built unit. The display is small, but very functional. There isn't a lot to say about this scope otherwise as it is a fairly simple to operate, utilitarian monocular. It works as advertised.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2014
  6. Brian Shaffer

    Brian Shaffer Pro Staff Third Coast Thermal SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    Forestburg, Texas
    FLIR PS32 1x (optical) to 2x digital, 19mm, 7hz ~$3000

    I have owned this unit for close to 2 years and used it for ~200 or so hunting sessions (I hunt about twice a week). It boots in about 4 seconds, auto-NUCs and has simple 4 button operation including the power button. It does have limited color options and will do black hot and white hot. I find the color options to be annoying. Like the X320, the display is small, but functional. This unit is powered by an internal lithium ion battery that is not user serviceable. New, it was rated at approximately 5 hours of run time. It is still getting over 4 hours of run time, but I don't know how much more. I turn the unit off when not in use and unless I am engaged in spot and stalk, a single charge will last me for 2 hunts. If I am doing spot and stalk, then I get one hunt out of a charge. If you are a more normal hunter who isn't out for a lot of hours at a single time, then this is a great unit. If you are a die hard, blow and go all night long hunter, this unit may not be for you.

    The slow 7hz refresh rate is notable. It can make the image a little choppy, especially if you are in motion. However, I have found this to not be a serious problem under normal circumstances. It does have the benefit of canceling out some of the hand shake (unsteadiness) of many users as well. I do think a higher refresh rate is better, but I don't see this low refresh rate as a significant problem.

    While not recommended, I have dropped my FLIR PS32 from a height of approximately 8 feet into the soil. It does appear to be a fairly rugged unit.

    Unlike ALL of the other scopes reviewed here, the FLIR PS32 does not have a video out feature. There is a hack you can find on Youtube to get video from the PS32, however.
    At the time of purchase, I thought it was the best value on the market for my needs. If making my purchase today and had more money, I would probably go with one of the other units.

    Pulsar HD38s 384x288, 2.1x (optical) to 4.2x (digital) Auto NUC, 38 mm, 30 hz ~$3800

    I have been testing this unit for approximately a month before this review event. It is the largest of the monoculars tested, has the greatest optical magnification, largest lens size, uses the most batteries (4 AA, lithium ion preferred for 6-7 hours of operation) with the longest boot up time (10-13 seconds). This unit has an accessory rail for an external power supply or DVR.

    I like this unit because I figured out during testing that the additional optical magnification, lens size, and slightly higher resolution really helped with performance without a huge difference in size. This makes identifications at longer distances possible. This unit performed best of the groups at 600 yards in the abysmal testing conditions we had. However, it is large enough that it may not pocket carry well except in a cargo pocket.

    At $3800, this is the most expensive of the three reasonably priced monoculars tested here (the MTM does not count as reasonably-priced).

    The controls on this unit are easy to use with the on shortcoming of the power button that is too easy to use. While I complained above about recessed buttons on the ATN and Armasight rifle scopes, the power button here is not recessed enough and if you are not careful, can be incidentally depressed and the scope turned on or off.

    I have enjoyed using this scope. If your needs are longer range or better identification capability, the extra optical magnification is a real benefit.

    Clip-on Rifle Units

    This was really interesting for me. I do not use clip-on units, but two were submitted for testing. The first was the L-3 Insight LWTS and the second was the Armasight Apollo. Both work as clip-ons in front of other optics, stand alone optics, or as high dollar spotting scopes. I am sorry to say that I did not spend much time with either scope, but have watched both being manipulated/adjusted and have actually spent more time behind the LWTS outside of this testing as a hunting partner has one. From the brief time I spent with each performance was impressive.

    L-3 Insight LWTS 640x480 1x (optical) to 2x (digital) 30 hz, Auto-NUC ~$12,000

    The owner of this scope, my hunting buddy who also owns one, and folks I have talked to that know owners of this scope or otherwise have experience with it have virtually nothing bad to say about it. It has great optics and resolution. My hunting partner was not familiar with this unit before purchasing one and an little trouble learning the controls and operating the scope. This is pretty much about the best such clip-on thermal scope on the market, but it does have shortcomings.

    The owner of the scope tested, plus my hunting partner, and hdfireman from Ident Marking all report the scope being delivered to customers missing a couple of accessories that are supposed to come with the unit and nobody seems to be able to get the accessories from L-3.

    For example the shroud that goes between the LWTS and the daylight scope did not come with the unit. The unit is still functional without the shroud, but it was omitted.

    The other major shortcoming is that these units are exceptionally rare. Even if you can afford one of these units, you may be on a long waiting list to get one. If you can afford one and can wait, this is an outstanding clip-on. Plus it can be used as a stand alone scope (has a reticle) or as a spotting scope.

    Armasight Apollo 640x480 1x (optical) to 8x (digital), 42mm, ~$8500

    The unit tested could be used like the LWTS, as a clip-on, stand alone rifle scope, or as a spotting scope. We mounted this in front of an ACOG and the image quality was superb. It was not quite on par with the LWTS as was the consensus amongst testers, but it really was quite good. Discussions with the other participants agreed that this would be a reasonably priced substitute for the LWTS. Personally, I don't think the image difference to be significant.

    There was some concern found by me that the current listing for the scope on the Armasight website does not include the fact that it has magnification or reticles. According to Delta4-3, Armasight discontinued the reticles briefly and are reintegrating them into the Apollo. So if you are interested in this scope and want one that is full featured, but sure to verify that is what you are getting before purchasing.

    {Thanks to shooter and DaveABQ for providing feedback}
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2014
  7. Shooter

    Shooter Bedford, Texas SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2013
    Messages:
    571
    Thermal Reviews

    Brian Shaffer did an excellent job explaining how thermal devices work. My reviews will be based on my ability to have target acquisition and positive target identification, hopefully from 250 yards and in. That is the distance that I limit myself to when shooting at night. The thermal devices that will be reviewed cover a fairly large area. We asked for samples to be forwarded by manufacturers and what we reviewed is what we received. None of the reviewers have a dog in this fight. My comments are being made from observations made both during the day and night.

    We chose an area for the review that was wide open and had trees, open fields, and cattle present. Fortunately, the cattle were located approximately 250 yards from where we chose to do our reviews. The following comments are mine and may very well be different from our other two reviewers.

    FLIR RS32 19mm 1.25x

    The FLIR had a 320x240 core image. It was definitely an entry level scope. During daylight hours the image was too dark and in my opinion, not usable out to 250 yards. During night hours, I found the same to be true. I felt that the maximum usual distance for this thermal device would be at the very most 100 to 150 yards. The zoom capability of this scope showed considerable pixilation as the zoom was increased. It was noted that there was a considerable problem with the point of aim shift which resulted in a point of impact shift. I put this scope on a tripod and aimed it at a tree which was approximately 100 yards away and when the zoom was used, I could not get the reticle cross hair to return to its original position. The FLIR utilizes an internal rechargeable lithium battery. While I am not in favor of rechargeable batteries, I do not believe that this would be a problem for most hunters who hunt for short periods of time.

    There are two features that are positive and certainly worth mentioning. The control buttons and the menu options are easy to reach and are self-explanatory. The FLIR image is automatically recalibrated as is needed by the scope. In my opinion this is an entry level thermal device for someone who may not have the money to purchase something more expensive. I personally would have liked to have had the ability to review one of the top end FLIR units, but this is what we had.

    ATN THOR-240, 240x180 1x with 4x Digital Zoom

    The THOR is a compact aluminum construction device. The operating buttons were satisfactory but not as easy to use as the previously mentioned FLIR. They were slightly recesses and this does keep them from being accidentally bumped during usage.

    Here again, the resolution does not allow this scope to meet my particular demands of 250 yards. The cross hairs are easy to see, however, the image is very easily pixilated. As a side note, I have had the opportunity to use other THOR thermal devices and found them to be very satisfactory. This is definitely an entry level model. The THOR does not auto-Nuc. The user must press control buttons to have the device Nuc. The THOR runs on three CR 123 batteries. The battery cap was not easily removed or replaced. I believe the threading was poorly manufactured. You will note in the videos that were compiled, that there is no video for this unit as there was no cable provided.

    I know that THOR makes some excellent units since I have used them. This is definitely an entry level unit and would not meet my needs for positive target acquisition or identification.

    Armasight Zeus Models

    Brian did an excellent job in his review of the basic Armasight models and in summarizing the totality of the units reviewed. I am not going to repeat what has already been said, since I totally agree with his general comments.

    Zeus 160 75mm 7x60

    This is an entry level Zeus thermal device. It had the capability of detecting targets out to 600 yards. I didn’t feel that the target clarity was what it should be. At 250 yards and in, I didn’t feel that the clarity would allow me to take a shot based on positive identification. As you increased the digital zoom your field of view becomes less. That is the case with every model we evaluated.

    Zeus 336 42mm 3x60

    This thermal device is the first one that I felt fairly comfortable with as far as positive target identification inside of 250 yards. I believe that is because it is a 3x model. While in my opinion, it is not an ideal thermal hunting device, it is the first one that I could work with.

    Zeus 336 75mm 5x60

    This thermal device has both very good resolution and magnification. The 75mm lens makes a very nice difference on this unit. Given that it is a 5x model, the field of view is fairly limited. It would not be a good device to use on fast moving targets. During both daylight and night time operations, the target clarity on this model was satisfactory.
    Zeus 640 75mm 3x30

    This is a very nice and easy to use thermal device. The 3x magnification allows you to have a fairly wide field of view and still have very good target identification. The pixilation was satisfactory and this is a scope that I would enjoy using on a hunt.

    Raytheon W1000 100mm 3x

    This thermal device has been around and in use for a long time. The scope was designed for the military with their standards. It is a very well built scope and relatively easy to use. The controls on this scope are easy to identify and access. Target identification and acquisition are excellent. It has both white hot and black hot capability. You get both long and close range target acquisition capabilities. There are numerous videos on shooting sights that have been made using this thermal device. One thing to consider is that this device runs on six 9 volt batteries. With alkaline batteries you should get five to six hours of usage; seven to eight hours on re-chargeable batteries; and nine to ten hours on lithium. You can also buy a recharging unit and surplus military batteries which should give you twelve to fourteen hours of use.

    The w1000 is rated for 7.62 usage, where many of the others are 5.56. The w1000 is a very large, bulky and cumbersome device to be mounted on an AR platform. Once again, this is my opinion, as several people that I know utilize it as an AR mounted device and have been very successful in killing a lot of pigs.

    Clip-on Units

    There were two units available for review. Both units can be utilized as either a clip on unit, a stand alone unit, or as a hand held observation device. I was very favorably impressed with both units. My personal preference would be to use clip on devices. Clip on units work in front of other observation devices. I have used the LWTS in front of an ACOG, an EOTECH, and a Leopold CQBSS. I have been very happy with all of those options. The LWTS is a 640x480 1x to 2x digital, the 30HZ, and auto-NUC.

    The LWTS has both excellent target recognition and acquisition and is very clear. The auto NUC capability is very quick. The controls are on the top of the device and are clearly marked and slightly recessed. I have absolutely no negative comments about the thermal device itself; however, I am disappointed in the way L-3 decided to ship this scope since it is missing several important accessories such as a boot hood and a video cord for a DVR. When one spends $12,000.00 on a thermal device, they should expect a complete package. I am pleased with the vendor that I purchased this device from, but I certainly am not pleased with L-3. As far as a clip on device goes, I don’t think there is a better product out there. At the current time, the availability of the LWTS is extremely limited, even if you have 12 K sitting in your pocket.

    Armasight Apollo 640 x 480 1x to 8x digital, 42mm

    If I did not already own an LWTS, I would give very serious consideration to owning this model. This scope, while not quite the quality of the LWTS, would fully meet my objectives at 2/3 of the price. I did not get a chance to mount this on a weapon and shoot with it. I did get a chance to use it as a hand held device during both daylight and night time hours and I was very impressed with it. I would have no hesitation in buying this scope and using it just as I do my LWTS.

    As I said in the beginning, these comments are mine and are based on positive target acquisition and target identification out to 250 yards. People may differ on the evaluation of these devices depending upon what they wish to use them for. Here again, we were not sent the top of the line thermal devices for evaluation. This is too bad, since I would have enjoyed a more thorough review of the FLIR products.

    I give a lot of credit to Texas Lawman and the others involved for taking the time and effort to set up the opportunity for this review. Everyone present is an active hunter and has years of experience with weapons and observation devices.

    Jim Adams
     
  8. Shooter273

    Shooter273 New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2014
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    2
    Recently, I was invited by TLM to attend a Thermal Imaging Scope review that was held this past weekend. At the time I knew nothing and now very little of this type of weapons system except what I’ve seen on TV. I have however used firearms my whole adult life as at 17 I enlisted in the Marine Corps and spent the next 4 years around the old M-16 and Colt 1911. After discharge I spent the next 27 plus years in law enforcement where I again spent every day around firearms including three years as my departments Rangemaster where I not only got to fire every type of weapon being used in law enforcement but also work on them.


    When TLM invited me to the review I explained to him that I knew literally nothing about them and that I didn’t think I would be able to give you the reader a clear comprehensive review of the devices and all I would be able to do is prove to those who know me that they were right, I am a complete bumbling idiot. TLM assured me that a novice’s review of the devices may help others with similar experience and interest in procuring a Thermal Imaging Scope a place to start. With this in mind I approached the review with 2 requirements in mind. If I had deep pockets and could get any scope I wanted what would it be and then the reality question, knowing my budget which scope would provide me with what I need to consistently fulfil the requirements of target acquisition.


    TLM also told me that after the review we would be able to take some of the devices into the field and hunt. I am a person who likes to hunt so I overcame my fears and agreed to participate in this review. I arrived at the location for the review and met the others who would be participating in the review TLM (the Legend), Brian Shaffer and Shooter. Also present were two reps. Aaron Fouraker from Night Combat Solutions and Eric Hix from Ident. TLM was very gracious in his introduction of me to everyone and explained that I had a little experience with the scopes. After the introductions were completed we loaded up in vehicles and went to set up the tables for the review. Once everything was laid out and turned on the review followed. Below is what I noted about each device and am sorry if I fail to pass on to the reader a proper review of the device they are specifically interested in. During the review I found that no matter which scope I used I was unable to determine distances through the scopes and had to depend on TLM and the others in setting up shots. I was told that it takes time and a knowledge of the area you are hunting in to become accustomed to identifying distances.


    All prices were obtained by searching Amazon and may vary significantly.
     
  9. Shooter273

    Shooter273 New Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2014
    Messages:
    2
    1) Flir RS32 1.25 – 5X with a 19mm lens. $ 4,000.00

    This device is light weight and easy to work but had a major fault when zooming in. Once the device was mounted in a stationary spot and aimed at a target a shift of the reticle occurred when zooming in digitally.


    2) ATN Thor -240 240X180 1X Optical to 4X digital zoom, $3,500.00

    During the initial review this scope was very dark and impossible to use. Attempts to (Nuc) the device failed so the device was not reviewed. The next day while we were again looking at the scopes Eric and Brian were able to figure out the correct way to Nuc the scope and once done the scope was great.







    3) Armasight Zeus Family of scopes (640, 336, 160)

    All of the below listed scopes appear to be built to hold up to normal hunting pressures and appear to be able, sturdy and tough. I did however find the buttons to be hard to push with my big fat fingers. I had to use the tip of my finger and firmly push down. Once I had the angle of my finger correct I had no other problems with the scopes and found them easy to operate.


    a. 640 3X 75mm (30Hz) $8,600.00

    This is the top of the line of Armasight scopes, While hunting I shared it with Brian as a spotting scope and was amazed at the clarity of the images and the large field of view. While Brian was using the 640 I was spotting with an EOTech X320. Although the X320 and 640 both were able to pick out heat signatures several hundred yards away, the 640 was able to identify the target while the X320 still only showed a spot of heat source.


    b. 336 75mm 5X (60Hz) $6,500.00

    This scope performed great at long distance and like the 640 I was able to identify the targets several hundred yards out. While identifying close up targets I found the scope to have a smaller field of view which made it a little harder picking up moving targets.


    c. 336 42mm 3X (60Hz) $5,000.00

    I found that this scope allowed me a greater field of view closer to the target and still allowed me to identify targets at long range.


    d. 160 75mm 7X (60Hz) $4,500.00

    This scope performed well at close range but had a narrow field of view. Once you started zooming in to identify targets further out, the quality of the picture started degrading immediately.


    4) W1000 320X240 3X optical with a 100mm lens $5,500.00

    I found this scope to have an excellent field of view and very easy to use. Since it was built to be used by young soldiers with little experience the device is sturdy and idiot proof. The problem with this scope is the size and weight. It is bulky and heavy requiring shooting sticks for pen point aiming. I used TLM’s system later that night during the hunt and found it to be excellent and the bulk and weight of the system was long forgotten while aiming at targets.



    Like I said in the beginning of this review if I had unlimited funds I would choose the Armasight 640 and be happy. Since I am a retired cop and don’t have unlimited funds and have little experience with Thermal Imaging I would purchase the Armasight 336 42mm 3X since it performs extremely well within a couple hundred yards and still allows me to identify targets several hundred yards further out. The field of view with this scope allowed me to acquire moving targets easier and with the savings in the difference between the 640 and this I didn’t feel the difference was worth an additional $3,600.00.
     
  10. FrankT

    FrankT Destin FL LSB TURKEY BUZZARD PRESERVATION SOCIETY LoneStarBoars Supporter

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Destin FL, lease in Bay County
    Well, what can I say, a review by hunters for hunters without the factory hype about each one? YES Can I say why done in terrible conditions? YES But then those are my normal conditions 6 mos out of the year as well as for millions of hunter across the South especially coastal areas.

    The video is great, perfectly timed, the green type was unreadable on the light screens though for these old eyes. I wish there were video cables for all scopes on hand and the people sending units and sent more and the better imagers. but that was not directed at the reviewers or participants.

    You can clearly see and then read how each imager performed, it is very clear, well written by the reviewers and well filmed. There is nothing like this out there for the public and you guy are to be applauded for your time and energy putting this together. I would like to see double or triple the amount of gear presented but that may become too difficult to follow and laborious to do.

    Thank you all for the effort, very well done! AND to the Vendors present ^5

    Finally, I can see all are out of my price range but just as Night vision has been improved and cost come down tremendously of the past few years, I believe thermal will too so there is hope in a couple of years for the common man.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2014
  11. Delta4-3

    Delta4-3 LSB Member Vendor

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2014
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    171
    Start typing with your "man hands"! You guys did a great job conveying your thoughts on the different thermals present. I really like that they are written by people from different backgrounds with different levels of experience. Well done lads!
     
  12. Ident Marking

    Ident Marking Rockwall, Texas Vendor

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    248
    Location:
    Rockwall, Texas
    We have had some questions about why this comparison was done in bad conditions so here is an answer. If you want to see great conditions you can take a look at advertising/dealer's video or pictures. Making them look great is what is done for marketing, this was done to show people the differences in features, magnification, lens size, etc.... Lets face it, we don't always have the best conditions. That is why we thought it would be best to show the guy that has saved all his lunch money for thermal how they fair in bad conditions. No matter how awesome a scope looks on a good night it is worthless if it's crap on bad night.
     
  13. Delta4-3

    Delta4-3 LSB Member Vendor

    Joined:
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    Well said!
     
  14. rgilbert

    rgilbert LSB Active Member LSB TURKEY BUZZARD PRESERVATION SOCIETY SUS VENATOR CLUB

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    Caldwell, Texas
    Thanks guys. You answered my question about which unit I would purchase if I were going the thermal route. I'm not though. I'm going to get a dedicated NV scope and a thermal monocular
     
  15. Hard_ware

    Hard_ware Here piggy piggy! Deep Deep S. TX.

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2013
    Messages:
    310
    Location:
    Deep Deep South Texas
    Thanks for the reviews!

    So far South not able to get hands on to test the different thermals out there (8-9hr drive to dallas area for me).

    I am glad the conditions were what they were, that is where you can see which units rise to the top.
    The heat and high humidity are the conditions that exist in most areas that have a lot of hogs, so best to see what they can do in those conditions

    The flir ls64 I have been using over a yr now, has only impressed me a couple times. Under ideal conditions you can see the big difference between it and the ps24/ps32. The ps24 is very consistent regardless of the conditions, just got a ps32 in like new condition($1625.00 off ebay) and I like it much better then the ps24.

    The pan tilt franken mount for mounting a thermal on the truck roof has been ordered $50.00 (20lb camera rated) will post a thread when I get it up and running for a DIY project. Been using the ps32 on a PVC stick mount I made to scan and drive around, tall enough to look over the truck cab 360 degree rotation. 7" LCD screen in the cab.
     
    TEXASLAWMAN likes this.
  16. TEXASLAWMAN

    TEXASLAWMAN Lone Star Boars Owner LSB TURKEY BUZZARD PRESERVATION SOCIETY SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    We are already working on a I^2 scope/clipon review!
     
  17. Duffy

    Duffy LSB Active Member SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    Victoria, TX
    Great info guys! Thanks for conducting and posting the review. I've been using an auto gated pinnacle Gen 3 scope now for lil over a year and have loved it but shopping for another device and trying to decide on nv or thermal, handheld or dedicated scope or clip on. This helps tremendously! Thanks again!

    Also, what's the latest on the meet and greet?
     
  18. rob072770

    rob072770 Lewisville NC SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    That is way cool!
     
  19. rgilbert

    rgilbert LSB Active Member LSB TURKEY BUZZARD PRESERVATION SOCIETY SUS VENATOR CLUB

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    It's still scheduled as far as I'm concerned.
     
  20. rob072770

    rob072770 Lewisville NC SUS VENATOR CLUB LoneStarBoars Supporter

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    What is NUC?
     

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