Pulsar Accolade XP50 LRF BinoS & Trail XP50 LRF scope - test & review
- Credit: Archant
Chris Parkin tests this amazing pair of thermal imagers with laser range-finding systems built in... are these gadgets worth the hype?
FOR: If it is there, you can see it; If it moves, you can follow it, and aim at it; Superb battery system; Both items have good ergonomics; I love the remote for the Trail
AGAINST: 34mm click value is at odds with ‘long range precision’; Picatinny mounts need better fasteners; LRF system functionality is good but reticle isn’t very precise
VERDICT: If you want to go all thermal, both devices offer great capability, but be cautious of too much advertising hype relative to actual usability. The XP50 Accolade with LRF is a great addition to anyone’s armoury, but if you want both, I’d save £1,300 on the Trail and go for the XQ50 model with 20mm clicks and a nice rifle to site it on
RRPs: Trail XP50 LRF Riflescope, £4,879.95; Accolade XP50 LRF Binoculars, £5,199.95
CONTACT: www.scottcountry.co.uk 01556 503587
I reviewed the Pulsar Accolade XP50 binoculars back in the October issue of Rifle Shooter, so other than covering basic details of the LRF, or laser rangefinder addition, I won’t double up on what was said before. The facilities of the Trail XP50’s LRF system are identical in operation and capability to those of the Accolade, so search out your back issue and add the new information to it.
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This XP50 pairing of Pulsar tools for the serious night shooter has been with us for more than six months now, and I haven’t actually reviewed the Trail riflescope’s thermal capabilities in this magazine. It is essentially the same 640x480 thermal core, providing a detection range of up to 1800m on a 1.7m-tall object (a human) with a 50 Hz refresh rate to ensure smooth lifelike imaging.
The 17 µm sensor is the highest capability offered to the civilian market by Pulsar, providing the greatest level of image definition across a digital magnification range from 1.6-12.8x zoom. This is slightly different to the Accolade’s 2.5-20x capability.
Both products feature picture-in-picture showing a zoomed window in the upper half of the screen for more magnification. It is a superb feature as you can keep the base level zoom for maximum use of the 12.4° field of view in the overall picture, or in the case of the Trail, the reticle too. There are 14 reticle shape choices with two colour options of black and white (four combinations), to contrast best on the simpler white or black equalling ‘hot’ inner screen.
Various factory and aftermarket scope-mounting solutions are available to suit your rifle, although the standard price includes a twin claw mount to suit a Picatinny rail. The rail’s adaptor also has three positions where it bolts to the scope’s underside, so eye relief set-up, if you use a rail, is extremely versatile with good height above the bore line and no interference with a bolt-handle. Fairly conventional shooting ergonomics are available with the only real difference being that, instead of your eye relief being free space, you have a rubber bellows type arrangement to seal in the screen reflection from your face in pitch darkness. It also seals out any external light that may disturb your view.
I covered the effects on natural night vision in the previous article and, in simple terms, these types of display will reduce your natural levels of low light vision from a brief and quickly recovered alteration of pupil size, and a longer dip in the chemical sensitivity of your eyes that usually takes a few hours to refresh naturally. If you want to use digital night vision, you have to accept this will happen, yet you can minimise the effects by keeping screens as dim as possible.
Both the Trail and Accolade have easily-accessed menus with reasonably intuitive interaction from combinations of the push button controls on top and, in the case of the Trail, a fantastic little remote control is also supplied. It speeds things up massively – attach it to a lanyard, though, as it is easily dropped and lost! Connection to Stream Vision on your smartphone or tablet enables further viewing and connectivity to your accomplices or other voyeuristic spectators. It works with all the usual connectivity caveats shared by every app laden device.
The thumbscrew to tighten the claws on the standard mount are quite soft steel, requiring an offset screwdriver or special tool which Pulsar makes no mention of. They are a fiddle to operate, and not easy to tighten with a standard multi-tool or torque wrench. However, there is a recently launched aftermarket alternative from Sellmark that features quick-detatch lockable mounting, which would solve these issues.
The thorough menu system is covered in the handbook but, essentially, the scope can hold zero for three rifles (A, B and C) with each of these storing five customised elevation settings for quick access for longer shots, say 1, 2, 3, 4, 500m. That sounds good, but be careful – the adjustment value is 34mm per ‘click’ at 100m. That is the least precise zeroing unit I have encountered in times where modern riflescopes, whether metric or imperial, have clicks as low as 1/8 MOA, commonly ¼ MOA and regularly 0.1 mRad (1cm@100m). This could effectively leave you 17mm high, low, left or right of zero with no option but to use one click to flip you to the opposite side, and for people using long-range rifles, a 17mm group size, never mind 17mm enforced offset at zero for windage, is irritating to say the least.
I found myself in that situation with the choice of the gun, capable of 15mm groups at 100m, shooting an aggregate of 14mm left of centre. I zeroed the rifle using a handwarmer pouch to offer a hot spot.
Make sure you have the capability to spot your bullet strike optically at your chosen zeroing distance, as you won’t see them through the scope. I have used a piece of thick plywood as a target backer in the past and this has occasionally retained a ‘hot spot’ as bullets have struck it, generating heat energy, but it’s not always reliable. There is a freeze frame capability so you can move the reticle to cover the point of impact relative to the point of aim, but this will only work if you go forward and somehow thermally mark that bullet hole.
To be honest, it’s far easier to spot with binoculars or a spotting scope and alter the clicks manually. It works. It can be a little frustrating and is not something to be rushed, but that 34mm click to my mind is at odds with the ‘precision shooting’ Pulsar feature so heavily emphasised when discussing LRF equipped devices.
On the plus side, the rangefinder on both items allows distances to be laser pinged out to 1,000m, and it also displays the up or downhill angle to target. It will calculate equivalent horizontal range if chosen in menu settings. Lateral cant beyond 5° from vertical is also displayed to help you correctly align the rifle/scope combo toward your target in the dark. Both Accolade and Trail have a choice of calibration modes to reset the thermal sensor either manually, semi- or fully-automatically to remove any lingering heat spots in the field of view.
Rangefinding at night is challenging and your ability to see quarry will vary slightly, depending on air temperature and humidity. The internal display is focused with a collar around the eyepiece, but the display has the usual pinprick focal point so if your eye moves, the screen loses clarity a little.
Image focus on target is controlled by a knob atop the objective bell and will make noticeable improvements when changing between long and short distances, but the image will never be like that of a daylight optic. The best image quality you will see is actually via your connected smartphone, so don’t chase the magic images you may see online in videos that are thus captured – reality is slightly less crisp.
My shooting land presents safe shooting opportunities out to 300m at night (which I have never used), but you will see heat and movement way beyond this distance. 500-600m for a fox is possible, and perhaps 400 on rabbits. Aiming at them is a different matter, and that is after precise identification, so don’t rush your recon. The hot pixelated blobs are only digitally magnified in whichever device you use, and so become grainier. Reasonably precise sighting on a fox at 300m is possible under some conditions, but rabbits at that range are just a small circular dot, a centre mass only proposition for pest control without much left to eat. Of course, deer and boar etc, with the correct licenses, are a larger proposition, so consider a fox to be the baseline and you won’t go far wrong in terms of the reticle subtension on target at range.
The 34mm clicks don’t allow precise zeroing or long-range adjustment so, again, are of minimal value on small targets. Perhaps have 100m and 200m zeroes in the five shot distance menu for UK fox control, maybe even 300m, but test them very thoroughly on targets first. Out of interest, the XQ50 offers 20mm clicks and, while showing slightly weaker image quality, will make for better shot placement.
Eight colour palettes are available from the Accolade, but I prefer white equals hot anyway, and so shared image style between the two for enhanced observation. They have fully-waterproof IPX7 ratings and the trail automatically turns off if you stand the rifle up above 70° or lie it on its side, but these can be disabled if necessary. It’s a nice back-up, but the rechargeable IPS5, 5.2A-h battery is reliable, and larger IPS10 batteries are also available for even longer duration.
The rangefinder can be used in single ‘ping’ or ‘scan’ mode. On the Accolade you have no reticle so can quite happily perform with a quick press of the uppermost front button to initiate the reticle (of which there are three shape choices) before a second press emits the laser, calculating distance in the split second taken for the beam to return. A longer hold on the same button initiates ‘scan’ mode that sends out repeated laser pulses and displays range once every second when you are tracking moving quarry.
On the Trail, depending on your exact primary zero or selected extended shooting range, the bullet aiming reticle’s position might not exactly coincide with the LRF reticle, so you will find yourself aiming and re-aiming the shot or LRF reticle. I found it easier to apply scan mode and when the shot looked good, a single press disengages it and returns the shot aiming reticle to screen (which is more than likely NOT where the LRF reticle just disappeared from), allowing you to aim and squeeze the trigger. To be fair, I have made it sound more difficult than it is, but don’t rush to use the rifle and scope without a decent amount of practice to familiarise yourself with the controls.
It is also worth noting that when you initiate the LRF reticle in either device, the thermal image returns to baseline (1.6x in the Trail, 2.5x in the Accolade) magnification. If you aren’t expecting it, this may confuse your perception of the thermal environment, so be aware. The picture-in-picture image will remain at your chosen higher magnification setting, allowing immediate reference to what was seen before, but don’t expect your rangefinder to precisely measure distance to pinpoint objects using a high magnification to render the image in more detail, regardless of how stable you can hold it.
I have been quite hard on these units that together share intuitive control functions with similar functionality and, in the case of the Accolade, have blended the LRF capability seamlessly within the current overall binocular body shape for its excellent ergonomics and field of view.
Image quality on the Accolade is noticeably more relaxed than the Trail thanks to this, with both eyes more surely locked in position behind the eyepiece lenses. Both have heat sinks to divert as much heat out of the bodies as possible before it can affect these critically sensitive devices, and with a warning to tell you the shutter is about to flick closed for a second and freeze the view, it’s not hard to work around. Through either device, the joy is being able to watch and assess the movement of quarry completely undetected by the animal, so you have plenty of time to asses its movements, habits, gait and, especially on the Trail, wait patiently for that split second where the target’s position suits your rifle’s ballistics perfectly for the shot. Nothing really goes unmissed, but look carefully at minimum magnification and field of view figures to suit your hunting environments before jumping in. The most expensive Pulsar is not necessarily the best for your needs.
Using thermal to shoot at a hotspot needs massive respect and caution, and I think the suggested capability of extra range, alleged certainty of shooting at that range and especially the large ‘click’ value should be tempered by good sense. Long-range shooting in daylight is not child’s play, so you can multiply that tenfold in darkness. Personally, I would rely on the LRF Accolade before being tempted to take rushed shots thinking the Trail has all the correct numbers to hand. I will admit that I nearly got carried away with it myself.
Accolade LRF TECH SPECS
Microbolometer resolution: 640x480, 17micron
Objective Lens: F50/1.2
Frame Rate: 50hz super smooth refresh
Magnification: 2.5x to 20x
Rangefinder: on board laser rangefinder, clinometer and anti-cant with 1000 metre capability +/-1m accuracy
Field of View: 12.4x9.3
Range of Detection: 1800 metres
Stream Vision: Integrated Video recording and Wi-Fi
Storage: 8GB internal capacity
Power Supply: IPS5 battery pack with up to 8hrs run time
Trail LRF TECH SPECS
Base Optical Magnification: 1.6x
Digital Zoom: 1.6-12.8x
Refresh rate (Hz): 50
Objective Lens (mm): 50-F/1.2
Dioptre Adjustment: +/-4
Exit Pupil (mm): 5
Eye Relief (mm): 50
Focal Range (m): 5-?
Horizontal field of view (m@100m): 21.8-16.3(8x zoom optic)
Estimated observation range to 1.7m tall animal (m): 1800
Sensor Type: Uncooled Microbolometer
Sensor Resolution: 640x480
Display resolution: 640x480
Max Operating Time (hrs.): 8
Output Video Resolution (pixels): 640x480
Built in Memory (GB): 8
WIFI Capable: Yes
Click Value (mm@100m): 34
Maximum Recoil Shock Resistance: 6000
Waterproof rating: IPX7
Reticle Colours: 2/4