Thermal riflescopes were once unthinkable, but already there’s a model on the market for under £5,000. Chris Parkin tries out the Optix RecognizIR 50
Moving from a night vision intensifier tube to a thermal imaging unit is almost as big a step as trying night vision for the first time. But the Optix RecognizIR 50 unit is an excellent way to make that step as rewarding as possible. The smaller brother of the IdentifiER unit reviewed previously in Sporting Rifle, it’s got 1x base magnification rather than the 3x on the larger unit, and at approximately half the size and weight, it’s a very compact unit.
The RecognizIR mounts to the Picatinny rail atop the action of your rifle using a supplied 80mm extension bar, lifting the unit above the bolt handle and rearwards towards the cheekpiece for an almost normal eye relief setup. The rear of the unit features a rubber eyecup that sits into the eye socket, blocking unwanted light pollution from the outside world – and with 22mm of eye relief, the RecognizIR is rated up to .308 WInchester, though it’s likely to be used on .243s or smaller for pest control. Set-up is easy and repeatable – both the extension rail clamps can be adjusted with a 10mm spanner to allow the desired tension on the QR levers. The mount and unit are low profile, keeping the sight height close to the bore line for a comfortable cheek weld to the stock.
Two supplied CR123A Li-Ion cells slot into the battery compartment on the upper left side of the magnesium body above the push-button on/off switch. The locking knob needs an eighth-rotation to open, and is rubber sealed against water ingress. Being infra-red rather than an intensifier, its use in daylight is acceptable as long as the target is warmer than the background.
Three buttons on top control the intuitive menus on the unit’s monochrome Organic LED screen. Holding the front two buttons down simultaneously opens the menu options and the third button acts as the ‘enter’ key. The front two become up/down or left/right depending on function being altered. There are five reticle options, from simple centre dot with ‘arms’ to more mil-dot styles with harsh marks. Zeroing functions allow you to use the RecognizIR as a riflescope as well as a spotter – remember that the displayed movements alter the reticle, not the image, so the ‘down’ button moves point of impact up 2cm at 100 metres. Elevation and windage are displayed in X/Y axis notation – so if you note them down, the system can be transferred between guns repeatably.
The reticle can be set to remain black or white against the background picture or in ‘auto’ mode, to naturally oppose the display for easier acquisition. With more than 500 ‘clicks’ in both axes, the maximum travel available for zeroing is over 10 metres at 100 metres, but at these limits the reticle can appear far off centre, even out of the picture at 2 or 4x magnification. I ended up setting it around -30 on elevation and -7 on windage, making for a very comfortable picture.
Eyepiece focus is controlled by a knurled ring at the rear with another at the front to focus the image at distances from 20 yards to infinity. Image brightness can be set to automatic or cycled between three manual options, while holding the rear button down flips the image from white-hot to black-hot. Swapping between the two sometimes helps when correlating the presented thermal image against the mental picture you have of your surroundings and terrain. An internal mechanism (NUC) can occasionally be heard flicking in front of the sensor to metaphorically ‘wipe the windscreen’ and re-zero the monochrome balance. This can be turned from automatic to manual mode if your anticipated quarry might hear it, but it is instant and very quiet.
I set the RecognizIR up on a .22 rimfire to familiarise myself with the controls and zeroing. Rovicom advised me that a disposable hand warmer sachet is a simple zeroing aid, and they were absolutely correct. I set up in full daylight to zero thinking I would want to visibly spot my impacts – but it was a lot easier than expected. My wooden target backer highlighted the hand warmer well, and bullet impacts and their inherent energy/heat transfer left white dots on the plywood target holder, making zeroing a cinch.
The first trip out on the rimfire was a general fact-finding mission, but the relaxed operation of the unit soon encouraged me to take safe shots. I was initially cautious about firing live rounds at white/black shapes with limited backstop recognition, but when you have good knowledge of your terrain, you soon relax and grow more comfortable. Staring out over paddocks from the truck showed rabbits at dusk glowing white with good contrast. This improved as light (and ambient temperature) diminished. It was simple to pick a rabbit, and approach it until it presented a 60-70 yard shot. Head shots at 70 yards were possible, though reticle choice is crucial in this regard.
I removed and replaced the RecognizIR a few times deliberately to test the Picatinny mounting system, and used it as a simple monocular when retrieving downed quarry. Rabbits were visible at 170 yards, and I could see the legs separately when they hopped along at 80-90 yards.
Zeroed on the .223 in daylight, I approached dusk wanting to see how far out I could spot, if not necessarily engage, a fox. I spotted a couple at well over 300 yards, and although they stood out well, I wasn’t shooting at that range. I squeaked one in closer; the legs were clearly defined as it trotted along. I settled into position for a shot and confidently aimed on the chest at 180 yards where it crossed through a known hedge gap.
It takes a bit of use and practice to move your visual ‘goalposts’ and gain confidence, but every outing with the unit is an illuminating experience. Seeing other wildlife at night, I found myself learning the thermal cues of what is or isn’t on the quarry list. A flash around with the lamp every now and again backed up my findings and added to the learning experience. My only slight inconvenience was having to reach my head forward to address the rubber eyecup. The steel mounting bar would be better a few millimetres longer, although the four-position image brightness and definition of the optic gave enough flexibility to compensate for this. My eye hovered 2-3cm away from the eyecup with no real loss of field of view, so perhaps a longer rubber eyecup would be satisfactory.
Battery life is advertised at three hours’ continuous use, and I found this to be realistic. I left the unit on constantly, although its boot-up time is just a few seconds. The lightweight proportions make it handy to carry, and it easily slips into a pocket, although having a large rifle attached to it is rather reassuring when you consider the prospect of losing such a valuable piece of kit.
This is not just a tool for baited ambush. With a generous field of view and accessible zoom settings, you can use it to actively hunt. Optix is bringing genuine NATO military specification kit to the market, and in use, the easy handling of the unit soon dissipated my fear of using a piece of kit approaching £5,000. It sounds like a lot of money, but in terms of predator control for the commercial market, it could pay for itself in months, if not weeks. Not just financially – it’ll pay you back in time, too.