Nightmaster Atom Digital Add-on
- By Pete Moore
- 0 Comments
- Last updated: 17/03/2017
The face of night vision (NV) shooting in the UK has changed dramatically since we hunters started to realise that there was more to night shooting than just strapping a hi-power lamp to our rifles. But back then, gun light technology was big and we also had not educated all the foxes and other critters that bright light = danger! Today, it’s a whole different ball game, with options on the types of system available and more importantly price. The truth is the more dosh you throw at NV the better it gets, as you can buy top end technology like Gen 2/3 image intensifiers or thermal scopes and observation devices.
But we are talking big bucks, fine for the dedicated game keepers and similar individuals whose job it is the stop the foxes eating the pheasants or keeping the rabbits down. But for the majority of us, and I include myself in this group, who are best described as casual night shooters; the outlay is often not worth the return. However, for we mortals, digital is perhaps the most cost-effective path, either as complete optics or front or rear add-ons. With ball park prices ranging from £500 to just over £1000 we too can go day for night to a greater degree.
So what is a digital add-on? Usually a smaller and lighter device that attaches to your day scope to give it an NV capability. This is attractive, as on the surface you no longer need a dedicated NV optic or even rig out a rifle purely for night work, two areas that the casual shooter might not want to consider.
Nightmaster needs little introduction, as they have been offering for some time now professional illumination systems for NV and conventional optics for night shooting, which we have showcased. Some time ago, MD Tony Jones announced his latest product the ATOM; a rear-mounted, digital add-on. Looking like a tiny day scope, and light as a feather, I was intrigued. The design has been through a number of evolutions, and now I have one and again like every NV system I have tested, offers its own plus and minus points.
The ATOM comes as a kit that includes the digital NV device with integral battery and removable eye cup, scope adaptor socket, six fitting rings, instruction manual and mains charger. It weighs around 150-grams, so is nice and light, and it’s 100 mm long not including the rubber eye cup and 75 mm scope adaptor body. Control are simple with -/+ buttons that control brightness on the right side of the body, small focus ring integral to the eyepiece, ON/OFF button on top and a multi-point socket in front. This last is for mains charging, or an external power supply, along with AV out and wireless transmitter (both not included).
The trick with any NV is focus, as the nature of the beast means the device must have both separate reticule and target focusing abilities. Range changes are critical, with even a few yards putting the target out of focus, hence the need. With an add-on, all this must be provided by the day scope, I used three; a Falcon Menace 10x50, Nikko Stirling 4-16x50 Diamond Target Master and Swarovski 2.5-16x56 P Z6i II HD, with some interesting results! Set up is simple and the scope adaptor will fit both lock ring and fast focus-type eyepiece bells. However, in the case of the latter it must attach to the rotary focus tube and not the fixed (bell) section, the former is not a problem as the whole thing rotates!
The tubular plastic scope adaptor has clamping screws front and rear. The front section (to scope) is large enough to cover most diameters and a series of six split shims of different circumference widths are included that fit inside, so the unit can be securely attached to the focusing ring. The rear is just one size for the ATOM’s front end.
The only possible problem with any rear-mounted unit is length, as the ATOM + adaptor will add an extra 175mm at the rear, which will mean pushing back your head position. The logical thing is to move the scope forward if possible, which then makes it awkward for normal, daytime use. Conversely, have a rifle with an adjustable length of pull (LOP).
I tried three different rifles – Anschutz 1416 (fixed butt), S&W M&P 15/22 (Picatinny forend and telescopic butt) and my CZ527 custom with adjustable LOP butt. The best set up was the S&W, with the scope forward on the forend and the butt fully extended. The worst was the Anschutz, as I managed to get the scope as far forward as I could on the dovetail, but this screwed up the daytime eye relief. With the CZ, I did not have to move the scope forward, though my head was near the rear of the butt with the full extension on the LOP.
Whatever, for night time use, which is what the ATOM is for, all rifles were shootable. Regardless of where the scope ends up you zero without the ATOM on board, then fit it and the adaptor and remove the eye cup. Turning on shows a white/grey view and you see the scope’s reticule (in black), which will be out of focus. Rotate the adaptor/ATOM and get the ret as sharp as possible, then you can fine tune with the integral wheel on the eyepiece, which helps a bit, then slacken off the rear clamp and set the ATOM upright. Brightness is adjusted by the +/- buttons on the right with the ON/ OFF on top.
The ATOM to scope connection needs to be tight as there is a bit of movement, which shows as an off centre view through the eyepiece. Equally, you will need to check this prior to shooting and realign as necessary.
Obviously you’ll need a separate illuminator and I fitted a Venom Strike torch from Nightmaster (who else?). The ATOM uses an internal battery and currently is mainscharged only, which, combined with its 1.5-2 hour continuous run time, means you need to be aware of power drain. The first night out I ran out and had no means of re-charging, an alternative vehicle charger would be better and an optional battery pack too.
What became evident over the test period was the difference that the three scopes made to performance! I started off with the fixed power Falcon Menace x10 and in full darkness I could easily see hares out to 140/150-yards. They came up as pure black on the white/grey background and were instantly recognisable as hares and not anything else, with just the IR reflection off their eyes. Focus was just a shade off crisp and the black reticule did not show up that well against the targets, so I thought how about some reticule illumination?
Pleased with the ATOM’s apparent ability, the next time out I swapped to the Target Master, as that has red and green illumination. However, this scope did not suit and the view was nowhere near as crisp as the Falcons’, cutting down effective range to a foggy 50-yards. The illumination did not come up red or green but a sort of mix of the two and at higher magnification you got a treble image of the lit reticule. To be fair, not all scopes suit this sort of use, as the Nikko works well in the day and Nightmaster says that they favour MTC Optics, which also work well.
The Swarovski proved to be the best of the bunch but then again we are talking £2000 + of glass here! In the case of illumination, the centre dot came up as off white but without any trebling. Effective visual range increased a bit as to target ID, and you could pick up eyes out.
The testing proved that scope choice is critical to the ATOM, though brands like the Falcon and MTC will not break the bank and provide a good pairing. Without doubt the most annoying aspect of the build is the screw-in charging connector, which has a double nut fixing with the top one tending to unscrew as you wind in the bottom one. Battery life is a concern; especially in the field with no access to a 3-pin outlet, so a separate battery pack or car charger is mandatory for peace of mind.
However, with the right scope and an eye on run time, the ATOM is a cost effective NV scope well up to airgun, rimfire and even fullbore use out to 140/150-yards with a decent illuminator. Nightmaster’s website shows a number of ATOM package deals that includes IR torch kits at half price.
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