In a crowded market any new night vision product must be exceptional to get ahead – and the Yukon Photon is just that, says Mike Powell
When will it end? Just as you think night vision devices have reached a peak and the lull is setting in, up pops another. Word was there was something revolutionary on the way from Yukon, a brand wholly owned by Pulsar, but what and when was open to conjecture. Then all of a sudden it was here. Night vision has taken off to such a degree over the past five years or so that even though some would say the start of the light evenings was not the best time to launch a new product, it really doesn’t seem to have made any difference. The Photon burst on to the scene.
I suppose the best way to describe the Photon is as a scaled-down Longbow. That icon of night vision from Starlight does away with ‘add-ons’ on a standard day scope and uses a scope body that enables either a day or night unit to be clipped on to the rear of the scope without the necessity to fiddle around with the zero setting. While the Longbow uses an image intensifier system, the Photon uses digital technology. This has the advantage that you can, like the Digisight 550 and 750, use exactly the same unit by day or night.
Mounting the Photon is exactly the same as fitting a scope to your rifle. 30mm rings are standard and fitting it to my CZ512 semi auto 22LR was done in a few minutes. The unit itself rather gives the impression of a scope fitted with a front mounted NV unit, but unlike the recently launched Pulsar DFA75 – which is exactly that – there is absolutely no setting up problems with zero. The Photon is built as a complete unit, useable by day or night.
For a night vision scope it is not overly heavy and certainly didn’t affect the handling of any of the rifles I used it on. It comes with the same built in IR unit as the previous Pulsar night vision offerings. I have to say that, although they do the job, they don’t do it terribly well, giving a somewhat grainy image. However, since the arrival of the groundbreaking Nightmaster 800, which can be fitted with an IR LED doing away with the need for a filter, this is becoming the IR unit of choice for many night vision users and transforms every night vision device including the Photon. Scott Country suggests using the NM200 IR LED with the Photon. I tried both, and will set out my findings later.
The Photon is simple to use, with the same basic controls as a normal day scope. There is an ocular focussing ring to set the reticle focus to your own eyesight, three central turrets, vertical and windage adjustment, along with the illuminated reticle control. This activates a central red dot reticle with 11 settings, plus a night vision setting. The 11 are aimed at day use, while the NV setting is lower and works very well in conjunction with the IR illumination and does not drain the batteries as rapidly.
At the front left of the unit is the on /off switch, a serrated wheel that doubles up as the brightness control. Shooting off my normal tripod sticks, the wheel was conveniently located by my thumb and easy to control. Above the wheel is the IR unit, operated by a rear press on/off switch. Finally, there is the front focussing. This is a ridged rubber ring situated just to the rear of the objective lens cover, and although a bit of a stretch (as is normal with this type of focussing) it didn’t present a problem in use. I found the best way to set this up was to focus at about 100 yards. This will cover pretty well all situations you will encounter.
The test model was powered by 2 AA 1.5 batteries, and I understand the production model will have the facility for a battery pack. This is really essential, as all NV is inclined to be a bit heavy on power usage. Using the 2 AA batteries, I was getting just over two hours continuous usage. On the other side of the Photon is a small Weaver rail for accessory mounting (NM200, battery pack, etc).
There is a video outlet for those who wish to record what’s going on. My own take on this is that, although it may appeal to some, there is enough going on and enough equipment to deal with without adding to it. As we see on YouTube, however, a growing number want to film their exploits!
Now to the important bit: how did it perform?
Zeroing was carried out exactly the same as a normal scope. When you use a digital sight during daylight hours, if it’s quite bright you may have difficulty in seeing the target. To help, the Photon comes with a lens cover with a small window. This cuts down the light entering the device. I use a large sheet of white paper with a central black dot about two inches across; this should soon get you on the target at 50 yards. I would suggest zeroing either late in the day or when it’s cloudy, as you don’t want too much sunlight.
My first outing with the Photon started about an hour before dark. As the light starts to fade any digital device really comes into its own, and this one was no exception. My first shot rolled over a young rabbit at about sixty yards. For those who haven’t used digital NV, as the ambient light fades rabbits show up as dark shapes against a whitish background, in the Photon’s case clearly visible out to a couple of hundred yards. As darkness closes in, the range begins to shorten until the time comes to bring in the infrared.
To start with I used the Nightmaster 200. I was waiting for rabbits to appear rather than travelling round, and this allowed me to have a play and get the settings just right. It is imperative with any night vision unit to spend a bit of time setting it up. Many are a bit disappointed when using NV for the first time, and much of this can be laid at the door of preparation. Have a play with your new device and you will be surprised as to how balancing infrared, focussing, brightness, and so on will improve your enjoyment.
As the light faded into darkness I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the set up worked. Shooting out to about 70 yards, a couple of rabbits fell to the CZ. After this, I switched to the Nightmaster 800IR. This really hit the spot! In fact, I had to turn the brightness control down, as if anything it was too bright (no problem with digital NV, unlike image intensifier tubed NV).
As another rabbit dropped, I decided to see just how far the Photon would be useable. I know the land round here well, and the distances are implanted by many years of night vision use. My findings were rather surprising: for what must be called an entry-level unit, it performed amazingly well. The top hedge of the adjoining field is almost two hundred yards away and there were rabbits clearly visible (both eyes and shape) using the Nightmaster 800. Neither the built-in illuminator nor the Nightmaster 200 worked as well, although the latter produced excellent results out to almost 150 yards – more than enough for most shooters’ requirements. It’s also more compact, lighter and cheaper. As anyone who has used night vision will appreciate, the ambient light conditions will have a considerable affect on the performance of any NV unit.
Since the original outings I have used the Photon on my .17 HMR and the Steyr .223, and have shot both rabbits and foxes. I may be proved wrong, but I suspect this latest offering from Pulsar will cause tremendous interest among after-dark shooters. At under £400 it is well within the reach of those who wish to enter the world of night vision, and for those who want to shoot rabbits and foxes after dark within sensible ranges, the Photon is a good bet. Some old hands may also be tempted, myself included. I suppose it was inevitable that prices would start to drop in the world of digital NV, and Yukon has done a good job here: the Photon is a winner.
It’s finally here
I first tested the Photon way back in April, and at that time delivery was promised by Yukon within a short time. Advance orders were placed with the importers and retailers, Scott Country among them. Since then there have been substantial delays that are in no way down to either the importer or the retailers, and all have had to contend with pressure from prospective purchasers as to when they could expect delivery. Hopefully all will now be resolved, and we will be able to enjoy what is a very good unit.