Vulkan 35mm thermal monocular review with Chris Parkin

As the HIK brand starts to take off in the UK, Chris Parkin swoops in to test the Vulkan 35mm thermal monocular.

HIK is showing strong growth in the UK so the chance to use one of their monoculars was an excellent opportunity to spread my wings a little. The Vulkan 35mm, 35mK (millikelvin) monocular is a truly ambidextrous unit with a fiercely technical approach to the subject of thermal imaging with focussed functionality for the hunter.

A 384×288, 17µm Vanadium Oxide ‘uncooled’ thermal sensor forms the basis of the unit with sensitive NETD rating of 35mK, assuring delicate thermal gradient sensitivity differentiating tiny temperature variations key to detection range and texture rendering imagery from the 35mm diameter objective.

Using a comparable human (6ft tall), HIK are quoting 1,029 metres as their maximum detection range. It’s all relative though, as a deer, fox or rabbit are significantly shorter, if more lateral in profile.

Unboxing shows a snug neoprene carry case, neck and wrist lanyards plus an objective lens cap which is a bit loose and tends to drop out. The upper surface shows five buttons between the objective and ocular lenses, each showing manual focussing capability.

Vulkan 35mm thermal monocular: specifications

Colour Palettes: 4
Display Resolution: 1024×768
Display Type: OLED
FOV @ 100 yards: 10.0°
Magnification (Digital): 2 or 4x
Magnification (Optical): 2.36x
NETD: <35mK
Objective Lens Diameter: 35mm
Operating Temperature: -25/+50°C
Pixel Pitch: 17μm
Refresh Rate: 50HZ
Sensor Resolution: 384×288
Video: Yes
Sound Recording: No
Wi-Fi: Yes

A five second press on the front power button initiates the “HIK” logo on screen with a further seven seconds until the screen displays the view.

The ocular focus dial that accommodates personal eyesight is nicely recessed with upper and lower access but the first factor that you are struck by is the large 9.9mm display paired to a well ground lens, showing clear edge to edge focus without any globular fish eye effect, or critical requirement to centre your eye behind it every time.

Linear control button layout is spacious and easy for gloved fingers

This is a big factor for me, a large tick mark for HIK immediately from power up. The eyecup’s rectangular profile allows ambidextrous use of either eye behind the OLED screen, with symmetrical body shape and button access for either hand; another plus mark for HIK’s ergonomics.

The objective dial controls image focus and is, again, simple to operate with speed of maximised focal precision on what will always be an increasingly pixelated image as distance increases, regardless of resolution compared to normal eyesight.

Depth of field was plentiful at stalking and foxing ranges. Using an F1 focal length lens shows less optical magnification and gives a shorter, sharper depth of field but wider field of view on what becomes 2.36x optical magnification.

Further digital boost of 2x or 4x is available from button #5 (the rearmost) of the upper keypad layout creating 4.72x and 9.44x magnification.

I prefer mathematical detail rather than marketing rounded numbers and all that translates to a naturally comfortable 10.66°x8° field of view, approximately (4:3 aspect ratio/1024 ×768 pixels), rather than widescreen.

The second button controls the mode or colour palette with white, black, or red equalling hot or multicolour “fusion”. The hot track function constantly scans the field of view highlighting whatever hottest spot can be detected with a green crosshair.

This is dancing busily in use and I’d have preferred a surrounding box to the crosshair that essentially obscured smaller quarry. It can be turned off though. The next button controls capture, a single press for photos or a three second hold for video, all of which can also be controlled via the “T-Vision App” provided for your phone.

I’m not one for using apps other than for function tests, but I’m impressed because connectivity between the HIK and my phone was quick and strong, with a 30m range. It also shows practically zero latency, no ‘satellite delay’ on image update.

Sealed USB charging/data port with power light and ¼” tripod socket

This made it more useful for two people scanning, thanks to a faster appreciation of where the Vulkan was physically pointing with immediate phone screen or tablet update without lag. Internal memory size is 16GB, accessed with the USB-C charging cable or immediate transfer to phone. 50Hz refresh rate is as expected, displaying smooth footage.

Menu functions are all controlled on button number four with many more functions operable after the long hold with a left screen menu. The symbols are visually distinct, you just need to get to know them. Brightness and contrast only have three levels and I found the display brighter than I liked even on its lowest setting but altering contrast helped soften it.

There is a laser pointer function, I could track this pinprick of light through a night vision riflescope at about 100m, or with the naked eye at 250m, but in fairness I knew where I was looking and it’s not as helpful outdoors foxing as it was indoors, ratting. It was quite awesome there with a partner, allowing for some fast-paced point and shoot activity with both airgun and .22 shotshells.

The unit boasts an IP67 rating for water and dust proofing (temporary submersion in water and a -30°C to 55°C operating range) and rubberised buttons that appear well sealed with the underside port shielded too. Charging took 4-6 hours, with a real world 4-hour operating time.

There is an internal battery indicator and a warning message at 20 per cent. It can be run from an additional power source through the USB. Four hours was long enough for my forays but many will want longer and will have to plan for that limit. Battery capacity after 1000 cycles is rated at 80 per cent and additional drains like Wi-Fi, laser and hot tracker use more.

I found leaving the hot tracker off gave me an extra half hour, quite close to HIK’s suggested five, which is always subject to temperature and internal screen brightness and so on. More power would equate to more size/weight and at 460gr, 189mm long and tapered 78-66mm diameter, the unit is truly single-handed and compact, so you win something there. 

The underside lanyard and ¼” tripod mount add security, although were the unit mine, I would improvise a double anchor point for the neck strap to stop the HIK swaying and twisting. Zeiss used twin anchor points with the similar shape DTI 3/35 – a definite ergonomic benefit that would work with the Vulkan. 

The green ‘hot track’ crosshair works but can obscure smaller animals like hares

So, with all that said, what is it like from my perspective? Well, I rather liked it. I have used less expensive and distinctly less capable thermal, as well as significantly more expensive luxurious kit. My comment when the luxury kit is gone becomes, “what’s the least I still feel fully functional with when foxing?”

Identification capability at diminishing cost is lessened, yet I feel the HIK has found itself an excellent mid-point, offering good electronics, optics and handling ergonomics with plentiful range detection capability.

My first night out was to set up functionality without a rifle to hand and the next was daytime in woodland. I was pleased to find the optical viewfinder relaxing, without constant focus chasing.

I appreciate the added safety factor of thermal detecting anyone intruding where they shouldn’t be, as well as the desired quarry, and on this outing was pleased to see some very vocal ramblers, safely lit up on screen, behind closely packed foliage.

Misty conditions after dark saw the 17 Micron sensor struggle to pierce quite as strongly as the latest 12s do but price wise, I found it most usable as long as I accepted a lesser range capability, where banding air quality formed distinctly contrasting ‘blinds’ drifting in the breeze.

The following night, I enjoyed much colder, cleaner and still air, under strong full moon conditions that I rarely venture out in. I saw plenty of activity with hares beyond 150m, and a couple of foxes I picked up over 400m away, crossing paddocks, tracking them comfortably as they closed into the calls and the rifle came to bear.

The HIK was easy to use with large buttons although once familiar, I only really used the record button with focus left relaxed around 200m for scanning the land I was on. I was able to see roosting birds over 500m, distant on the skyline.

I found it important to use the upper field of view when spanning field to sky, the image matrix meters brightness across its full span so large areas of differing temperature distract you from the centre of the screen where we all subconsciously concentrate our attention.

I would prefer more ‘centre weighted’ metering. I like the shutter’s fast neutralising operation that didn’t cause a lag on the image, even if it was perhaps a little noisier in operation than some others.

The easy-to-use unit leaves the other hand free to control the rifle in dynamic hunting situations

I rely on animal movement and behaviour to identify quarry and shoot with night vision which I can strongly rely on before a shot. I know my land has a lot of hares and no rabbits, but at 150m, I could not have identified which was which purely through static observation yet with movement I could.

Digital zoom increases pixilation and I rarely find it helps on small quarry, I liked white/hot and found the base level optical magnification of 2.36x to be ideally suited to long periods of relaxed scanning with a wide field of view and immediate detection of interesting hot spots and potential quarry.

Features like the stadiametric rangefinder aren’t particularly helpful to me and I’d like slightly shorter button press time, particularly for menus, but button #4 turns the screen on/off instantly to save battery – so the 12 second initial start-up time isn’t an issue, but I would carry spare power. 

I was pleased to read HIK’s three year warranty is supported in a UK service centre, a factor which 2020 has highlighted as useful. This is a great product and although I have criticism, I think this is a very usable product with capability at – or even above – its RRP.

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