Pulsar’s latest bioculars prove that thermal imagining technology is evolving rapidly – Chris Parkin finds out more about the amazing Accolade 2 XP50 LFR.
Pulsar’s latest update of the market leading Accolade thermal Binoculars has now received a sensor update to keep it electronically, as well as ergonomically, at the cutting edge of thermal imaging technology.
The new sensor shows sub 40MK NETD with 640×480 pixel ratio for long primary detection range of 1,800 metres, coupled with excellent thermal texture on ambient temperature foliage and topography, as well as buildings and other infrastructure. Coupled to the LRF capability giving accurate distance measurement to 1,000 metres, is this the master of all it surveys?
Sensor technology aside, this is my third or fourth encounter with Accolade units among the other thermal imagers I review in a simpler monocular format; the critical point I have to mention is that the binocular setup does give a more natural immersive feel to thermal imaging with balanced vision.
Although you now diminish natural night vision chemical sensitivity in both eyes, you never encounter any imbalance which can – and does – affect lots of users, some more than others.
Pulsar Accolade 2 XP50 LFR: specifications
- 640×480 Sub 40mK sensor
- 2.5x to 20x magnification
- Up to 1800m detection
- 1,000m laser rangefinder
- User-friendly interface
- Three observation modes – City, Forest, Identification
- Three calibration modes – Manual, Semi-automatic, Automatic
- Built-in Wi-Fi module, Stream Vision Compatible, integrated video recording
- Eight colour palettes for enhanced observation
- Variable interpupillary distance
- Smooth and incremental digital zoom
- Built-in 1000m Laser Rangefinder
- Frost resistant AMOLED displa
- Wide range of operating temperatures (-25°C to +50°C)
- Dual eyepiece configuration
- Long Detection Range with High Resolution Sensor
- Fully Waterproof IPX
- Quick-change long-life rechargeable battery packs
I have myself had migraine type discomfort following long nights using a monocular on one eye only (I have now learned to swap left to right eye regularly). The binocular immersion is exactly that and you do feel utterly involved within the environment rather than just looking for the hot spots of likely quarry.
Coupled to the format, the intrinsic larger shape of the Accolade allows easier tactile access of the operation and menu buttons in a cross shaped layout rather than lined up like a clarinet.
In the dark, with cold fingers, their layout and gentle tactile requirements with easily discerned operation is excellent and they don’t require the strong pressure of some other units to feel them compress. This is particularly beneficial while wearing gloves that limit tactile feel.
The use of both hands also aids support and with bi-lateral neck strap mooting lugs, it always hangs flat to your chest for immediate access and ensured correct rotational orientation either twin or single handed. Weight is just shy of 600 grams which is a blessing and feels less anyway with the ideal neck strap padding
The right-side detachable battery offers strong eight-hour performance and is easily substituted with an additionally purchased spare if you need greater runtime.
Spare batteries are easily available including a physically larger IPS14 unit for extra long run times. Either will charge from the included base unit with supplied USB lead and 240-volt mains plug. This lead is also used for video and stills transfer to a PC and the wi-fi stream vision app can also be used for such purposes.
Fast access rangefinding
Menu controls are logically intuitive although the visual icons on screen are small and require careful attention when scrolling between them. The unit offers fast access to rangefinding from the front button and shutter refresh on the left side, and the sensor counts down to a soft click as it shuts the sensor off to neutralise – so if you are in a critical moment, you can pause its automated momentary vision loss. If you prefer to never be interrupted, this function can be set to truly manual – in addition it will compensate for any dead pixels on screen.
The rangefinder works in metres or yards and base level 2.5x magnification offers a massive field of view for detection and watching quarry before you are ever even tempted to zoom in. Zoom can be done in simple 2.5, 5, 10 or 20x stages or tiny steps.
I found no need to use smaller 0.1x incremental adjustment as the 2.5-5x range was immediately my preference with less time wasted changing magnification for what seemed to me no real benefit.
Increased zoom is all digital and pixilation increases as you would expect, yet as it is based on a primary 640×480 resolution sensor with small pixels, the unit does give noticeably improved capability over lower specification (and priced) units.
Eight colour palettes are available with the main black or white equalling hot mode still the most usable to my mind, offering the most natural look on screen allowing far gentler contrast detail and subconscious feel for landscape and topography – as well as highlighting hotspot animals in the field of view.
The stadiametric rangefinder, although only a general guide for range in my opinion, will work in metres or yards and is also easier to operate with the more tactile feel of the buttons – with less force applied from one finger whilst two complete hands holding the Accolade unit.
The video and photographic functions also enjoy the lighter button press and more steady hold and have the attached time stamp for later encounter reference.
It’s an expensive unit so the IPX7 assured waterproof rating of 1m submersion for up to 30 minutes is very reassuring when it’s raining and, last but not least, the battery has a realistically honest monitoring system for remaining battery capacity in direct, realistic ratio to real time remaining. Experience has shown me these perform well at lower winter temperatures too.
Image in focus
Image focus is controlled with a single central knob like a normal binocular that is small and quite stiff although well knurled for grip with either gloved or bare handed. It can be operated just as easily with either hand’s index or second finger.
The folding lens cap holds and clips in place centrally below the Accolade, staying well out of the way, and there is an underside ¼” threaded tripod mount where using a phone or tablet to stream the picture allows immediate image sharing – although there is a delay between the two of a split-second lag, hard to time but long enough to notice.
In personal use the Accolades 50Hz refresh rate is seamless showing graceful movement of all quarry in view and no oddity from any other regular binocular you use in daylight.
This is the factor I rely on most for identification purposes and more time with relaxed viewing cannot be understated as a great tool for learning more about behavioural patterns in your local environment.
This is a specific role where the image quality of the Accolade helps to discern where animals, especially foxes can sneak from view and hide around buildings, seemingly evaporating on some occasions into the tiniest gap.
Start-up takes about five seconds and you are in business straight away. Each eyepiece is independently focussed so that the clear internal screen view can compensate for your eyes, after which the central focus knob controls future viewing, it’s deeply segmented and grippy although requires reasonable force to alter it.
Like any digital device, don’t expect pin sharp clarity that you may have come to expect from modified advertising videos filmed at extremely close ranges but in fairness, the sensor and image quality available on the Accolade 2 is the best I have yet used, but you are paying a price for the privilege.
The main screen still shows Picture in Picture, enabling small area detail whilst retaining full outer field of view, although the firmware was updated some time ago and this now has to be set up in the long press centre button menu structure, rather than with the previous long hold on the upper control button.
The immediate menu functions of brightness, magnification, contrast and the stadiametric rangefinder are as before; quick and simple to operate from a short press of the centre button with up/down on bordering keys. Immediate bulk magnification control is available from the rear button press 2.5/5/10/20x.
I tend to focus thermal and night vision at 150 metres for general detection use and only refine this if required by confined proximity in or around buildings, or when I’m searching for identification detail in difficult scenarios.
The thermal sensitivity here is very good and does show greater detail between the thickness of summer winter coats and the fur with hot spots like thinner skinned ears clearly brighter or redder depending on your chosen palette.
I’m still a white-hot fan as greyscales work better for low light human eyesight but must admit I’m starting to see some benefits to black-hot for the most delightful texture across wide areas if to my eyes, a little less immediately dramatic at the moment something does pop up hot in that vista.
Image details always benefit from refinement dependant on changing conditions and I have to say the Accolade 2 shows strong performance benefit in misty air allowing vision where others fail to pierce. It has optional observation modes to help adapt for these conditions.
Brightness metering is also good with less likelihood of the screen auto dimming if the sky overtakes a larger percentage of the field of view, so you don’t end up with a dark screen on the ground where the quarry no longer ‘pops’ or reveal greater detail.
Watching with both eyes is still the most natural and relaxing for long stints but this must be offset against price and bulk. I cannot say I’m shooting more foxes or seeing more deer after dark but I am seeing them with less strain and more detail, rarely ever needing to increase magnification to be certain of details which is very noticeable between small hares and large rabbits on my land.
With lockdown I have been restricted to local roe deer alone and sadly didn’t have them for use in the Lake District on a rare venture further afield where I would have had a superb opportunity to film distant stags after dark.
A wireless remote is available and the Accolade can be run from external power supply via the USB port, which is reassuringly solid, using a whole plastic socketed insert that mates with the specific USB plug supplied. Bare USB-C sockets alone can be a bit delicate and do get broken so there is subtle benefit in Pulsar’s approach which initially seems a very snug fit.
After breaking a competitor, I’m confident here. It also has a metallic finned radiator section on the underside to assist with cooling and ‘noise’ on the sensor between calibration shutter intervals.
Given the amount of time you can easily spend with it glued to your face, the ocular lenses seem well ventilated and don’t pick up too much condensation from your body heat either.
VIP – Varied eye position
The eyecups offer linear rather than hinged interpupillary spacing adjustment which is beneficial in that it locks each eyepiece hard into the bone structure of your skull more assuredly, placing less issue on the small focal points within each ocular lens which are still quite sensitive to displaced position.
Varied eye position can be tiresome, particularly always looking for the sweet spot on more easily displaced monocular eyepieces with poorly specified single lens.
Another point to mention is these have no extension capability to set eye relief and if you have a big nose like me, there is only a small recess on the underside of the Accolades for this to fit into – I find it’s always in contact so don’t laugh at my red nose in photos of me using one.
Pulsar have long been a market leader for thermal and night vision technology and the more I use them, the more I realise they still lead the field at this high value.
However certain elements could do with a little update now. It’s a fast-paced market where they still lead electronically but have seen ergonomics, especially on their monoculars, overtaken.
Yet I have to admit, the Accolades are still the ones that, if money is no object, have to be considered a delight to use, especially in their ultimate XP50 format.
For professional users that will spend long hours in the dark foxing, the dual eyepiece shows strong benefits, yet daylight stalkers might still want to save some bulk on an easily pocketed monocular. The new sensor is a delight, especially when conditions grow less varied thermally, and is definitely preferable in misty air.
Hunt it down
Pulsar Accolade 2 XP50 LRF Thermal Bioculars
Supplied by Scott Country International
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