Chris Parkin hopes for an otherworldly performance he assesses the newest thermal imager from ATN, the Mars 4
The ATN Mars 4 has looks similar to its NV sibling, the X-Sight, except for the reflective silver sheen to the 47mm objective lens. And in terms of performance, there’s one big difference to report: the Mars has none of the failings some have reported online about X-Sights. I never had any issues with power loss, crashing or lost zero while the scope was in use.
This Mars has an 1280×720 HD internal display projecting from the 384×388 sensor; a 640 sensor option is also available in slightly different magnification specifications for cleaner image quality, but significantly higher price.
The objective is surrounded by an adjustable collar to focus the image at varying ranges, which I found straightforward to operate yet retaining a decent depth of focal field, enabling me to leave it alone most of the time from 50 to 150 metres.
No thermal device can give a comparable picture to a daylight optic, so unless wound up to maximum magnification at short range, I never found the need to waste time dialling the focus on what will always be a reasonably grainy image like any other thermal device.
A cuboid saddle shows five crucifix buttons on top with twinned data port and charging socket to the right side for the supplied USB-C cable. The left side looks like it has a parallax dial, but this is actually the magnification control dial, zooming the image digitally from 4.5-18x magnification.
A collar on the ocular body focuses the internal image screen with notably crisp display rendition side to side – I was glad to find there’s no specific ‘sweet spot’ requiring your eye to stay perfectly stationary and in position.
Threading within the ocular body enables the screw-fitting of an 85mm concertinaed rubber eye shield to dismiss glare from external daylight or reflection onto your otherwise silhouetted image in darkness.
Critically, with a 30mm body tube either side of the saddle, this unit fits into normal scope rings, and with general overall proportions, as well as 90mm of eye relief, it closely matches the commonly found ergonomics of a conventional riflescope. A neoprene cover is supplied to protect the unit, though this does need you to remove the rubber eyecup.
Weaver/Picatinny mounts are supplied but are too high for a conventional bolt-action sporting rifle, yet may well suit a flat-topped chassis rifle with extended rail.
I used a set of Tier-One rings to retain a low-slung shooting position on a Picatinny rail-equipped Howa .223 for reliable return to zero when swapped with a daylight optic. Though the centre saddle is quite large, there was enough space for rings to suit the action bridge spacing on this short-actioned rifle, but the picatinny rail always makes life simpler.
I had casually used the Mars as a thermal spotter straight after arrival so knew that the image quality and thermal sensitivity in daylight was pretty good, spying crows at 300 metres with no problem.
I zeroed the scope using large Birchwood Casey Shoot-n-C targets on a white backer – they warmed satisfactorily in July sunlight to give an assured circular aimpoint.
I often use a handwarmer sachet in darkness if needed; aluminium foil can work well too, and this process alone can indicate sensitivity in varying air/ground temperature environments, the results of which were quite pleasing.
After bore sighting, it’s just a matter of firing a shot, then with the rifle held securely, moving the secondary crosshairs to the new point of impact before entering the new value. You can alter zoom to improve precision – I found somewhere around the mid-point to give the best balance between target clarity and an assured aim at all times.
The click value effectively gets smaller with the relevant zoom setting, but if you keep a note of the coordinates displayed, you can return to the known setting. Several guns can be programmed in with varying ranges too.
I tend to leave thermal scopes on one gun and set a 150-200 metre point-blank zero for foxing. I like things kept simple, and that way, if it’s close enough to identify, all I have to do is aim in the centre of the kill zone and take the shot unless particularly windy.
It should be noted that residual heat was seen at 100 metres from the bullet’s passage through 6mm plywood target board for 10-15 seconds. I will be using inch-thick ply in the future as it makes the mark last longer. I had a spotting scope on hand, but this would make life still easier with a direct hot spot to place the moving reticle on to.
With an SD card loaded into the Mars, the battery is rated to last 16 hours from a 6-hour full charge, and I found this to be an honest figure in the 10-20 degree temperatures out shooting or in storage. The battery is internal so the 1.5-metre charging lead supplied may need to be routed into your cabinet if you can’t leave the gun out while at home charging.
Opposingly, the video, data and photographic storage is on a removable SD card, so you aren’t left trying to stretch a lead from device to computer when downloading footage.
The onboard screen has an adjustable automatic timed shut-off with immediate return to use. Overall, the battery power impressed me, with 100 per cent reliability and accurate remaining storage displayed on screen.
A plethora of on-board functions – stadiametric rangefinder, ballistic computer, recoil activated video and so on – are listed in the comprehensive manual, though I don’t give much thought to these when in the field, preferring to spend as little time as possible staring at a bright internal screen that is diminishing my natural night vision capability.
I think the critical matters to cover are immediate capability, and ease of setup to use basic functions, both of which I found well-presented and easy to do. The buttons atop the scope are tactile with no excessive effort needed to operate them, as well as the ability to completely turn off the lesser functions from the immediate menu.
Zoom on the left side was intuitive and fast to use, with familiar ergonomic comfort, eye relief comparable to a regular scope, and similar height above the cheekpiece with conventional scope mounts in use.
Powering up leads to a ten-second warm up before the image stabilises and the reticle pops into view. This might sound slow, but that ‘sturdy’ battery life means you don’t need to turn it off or power the screen down.
A typical 4-5 hour trip out with auto shutdown never saw the internal indicator dip below a half measure. Any kind of USB power bank is compatible, so it’s no big problem to plan for emergency power.
The Mars can pair up and transfer data to the Obsidian app, but all images seen here are from SD card transfer. In daylight the Mars shows a good picture with a decent level of topography and foliage shown, as well as fence lines.
I found 4.5-10x magnification most capable of relaxed use without eye strain, and only tended to wind the zoom up if tackling smaller, distant targets where aiming needed greater precision.
The image pixelates with all that digital zoom, so you have to be realistic with your expectation, but tackling foxes out to 300 metres felt possible, if rarely necessary on my patch.
Movement of the reticle in your field of view when zooming is obvious, but a point to note is that it remains locked in relation to the image picture – so you’re not losing zero and will get used to the fact it looks like it’s having a jumping spell as you wind the mag on and off.
Elsewhere on the screen, a compass spans the top half, with inclinometer on the right side for up and downhill on display. There are also cant/roll sensors to display any unwanted lean you may have applied to the rifle.
The core technology within thermal may have reached something of a temporary plateau, but there is no doubt that they are continuing to improve integration with a broader selection of rifles, interaction with the shooter and usability with familiar ergonomics.
The ATN Mars is another step forward, with its 30mm body tube architecture and electronics that allow relaxed ease of use in daylight and darkness, where the true benefits of thermal have changed vermin control forever.