Thermal cameras have changed the way we hunt, and FLIR has been at the center of that revolution. The Oregon-based company has been providing high-tech thermal imaging equipment for military and law enforcement agencies for decades, and now that same technology is finding its way into smaller, more affordable packages—and into the hands of hunters.
The latest handheld thermal from FLIR is the Scion, and there are two models available. The Scion PTM (Professional Thermal Monocular) is designed specifically for law enforcement officers and other public safety agencies and features the company’s TruWITNESS® platform that links these handhelds with other smart sensors for real-time communication. The Scion OTM (Outdoor Thermal Monocular) is designed specifically for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, and like its cousin the Scion PTM it’s loaded with features that will make the Scion OTM appealing to its intended audience.
For starters, the Scion OTM comes with FLIR’s superb Boson core. Thermal cameras operate by translating infrared energy given off by objects into a thermogram, or temperature pattern. The thermogram is then translated into electrical images which, in turn, are translated into data for display, and having the right core is critical to the quality and accuracy of the images produced. The Boson core is extraordinarily lightweight and uses less energy than competing cores (for improved battery life). The Scion OTM is available in your choice of 640x480 or 320x240 resolution with either 60 Hz or 9 Hz thermal imaging. 640 models offer improved image resolution (but cost more than 320 cameras), and the number of hertz indicates frame rate: a 9 Hz camera has an infrared detector with a refresh rate of nine times per second, and a 60 Hz camera has a refresh rate of sixty times per second. Selecting which resolution and refresh rate is right for you is a matter of taste and budget, but all Scion OTM models will work perfectly well for the majority of hunters.
The Scion OTM also offers 2 GB of online data storage, which means you can record images and video with the touch of a button, and there’s a micro SD card slot built into the camera that can accommodate cards up to 128 GB, which allows plenty of space for recording high-resolution film. Thanks to its built-in GPS system the Scion OTM also allows you to geotag your images. With high-quality germanium lenses and the Boson core you can expect to detect images out to 550 yards, exceptional range for a handheld thermal. Onboard Wifi and Bluetooth also allow for wireless connectivity and image sharing.
With so much built-in technology you might expect that the Scion is bulky and heavy, but that’s not the case. The Scion OTM266 I tested weighed just 21.6 ounces with the batteries installed and measured 9 inches long, 2.4 inches wide and 3 inches tall. Additionally, it comes with an IP67 rating which means the unit is shock-resistant, dustproof and can survive being immersed in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. The Scion OTM is light enough to carry in the field and durable enough to withstand rough conditions. The unit runs on six 123A lithium batteries (but will also function with 4 or 2 batteries with lower run times with in a pinch) which are housed in a locking compartment in the bottom of the camera, and there’s a ¼ x 20 tripod mount for maximum stability.
The Scion OTM’s controls are easy-to-use and well thought-out. There’s a focus dial on the rear eyepiece and a flip-down polymer cover protects the front lens. A covered USB-C dock connection is located on the bottom of the camera just in front of the battery compartment, and the Scion OTM offers power-in, video-out, and video and image transfer capabilities. There are just five buttons on the top of the unit that allow you to access all of the menus and features available. The front power button turns the unit on and there are two arrow buttons that allow the owner to zoom in or out (the OTM266 features 1x to 8x zoom range), and the button between the up and down arrows allows you to access the onboard computer’s menu to adjust palette, lighten or darken the display, view picture-in-picture display, and much more. The rearmost button on top of the Scion operates the unit’s camera.
In the Field
I’ve had the opportunity to use FLIR products in a variety of settings, from a lion relocation project in Africa to scouting for game in the States. One thing that I’ve always appreciated about FLIR’s products is their ease of use, and the Scion OTM is no exception. Using the onboard display menu I was able to fine-tune the image for optimal day or night viewing in a variety of field conditions. Of the six color palette options (White Hot, Black Hot, Lava, Rainbow, Iron Bow, and Graded Fire) I found myself using White Hot while scouting for game at night. The rear focal adjustment dial makes it easy to zero in on specific objects, and the zoom and picture-in-picture options provide detailed images of distant objects. The soft-touch rubber housing is easy to hold, and the tactile buttons are simple to use in complete darkness.
Once you use the FLIR Scion in the field you’ll find that it’s an invaluable hunting tool that’s difficult to leave at home. Handheld thermals allow you to scout for game like never before, providing more dynamic data on game movements than you could ever experience with traditional trail cameras. Thermal optics don’t spook game like white lights, and by recording video and still images you can collect detailed records of animal behavior and movements. The Scion OTM is also a great tool for finding wounded game since blood trails are visible incomplete darkness and downed game can be seen even behind a screen of brush. Additionally, the Scion OTM serves as a great personal defense tool when you aren’t in the field, allowing you to survey your property with one quick scan.
MSRPs for the Scion OTM range from $2,495 for the OTM136 to $3,495 for the line-topping OTM336 (the OTM266, as tested, carries an MSRP of $2,995). If that seems expensive to you remember that just a decade ago this level of thermal sophistication would have cost well into the five-figure range. Considering the Scion OTM’s leading-edge technology and quality of components (including the Boson core and precision-cut germanium glass) these optics are actually quite affordable, and they offer hunters a way to see the world as never before.
For more information on the Scion OTM or any of FLIR’s other products visit their website at http://www.flir.com/products/scion-otm.